I usually found them sitting on the edge of the dresser positioned perfectly, so as not to be lost as I breezed through my bedroom in a hurry to be someplace else. My name, just the first, would be written on a bulging envelope in the unmistakable hand of Mother.
Its appearance was a trigger: my mind would begin searching for an incident that might have prompted it. Was it the late hour I returned from partying with friends last night? Maybe it would be about the company I kept. Would I be hearing a fresh version of “you are what you hang out with” again?
Whatever it was, deep down inside I knew I had earned its contents. My actions warranted another of Mother’s letters.
I can’t say that I recognized the wisdom in her messages at the time. And they almost never resulted in an immediate change in behavior. But I saved them, just in case. Maybe they would explain some deep dark mystery of life to me in the future.
They usually carried a central message, a deeper meaning that Mother thought I needed to understand. Often, there was a bible verse, which I was directed to read or meditate on (and I always at least looked it up).
Ironically, in my own search for self-improvement, I kept bumping into the bits of truth from Mother’s letters: a quote highlighted in a book, a topic that I began a mini collection on, a person who represented an answer I had been searching for. Years later, I would re-read the letters and realize my character had been affected by those exact points that she had so passionately tried to get across to me at an earlier stage.
I am the last child in our family of six and not the only one who received Mother’s letters. One of my sisters said she feared the hand-recorded sermons so much that she walked around for two days, moving the unopened envelope from desktop to dresser, in anticipation of its contents. She knew it would cut deep, slice easily from marrow to bone.
Mom wasn’t really preachy; her tone was caring, the way a trusted friend might advise. Her points were often directed in the context of Christian beliefs, as a reference point only, but she drew just as frequently from the philosophers of the day as well.
Like most mothers and daughters, there was tension in our relationship, which severed verbal communication at times. But where the spoken word faltered, pen and ink marched bravely on.
“Julie, Dear,” they often began. The thoughts that followed sought to link the heart and mind, and revealed much about her own search for identity and correctness of living. Often—though not always—I would come to that painful realization: Mother was right. The friend she warned me about disappointed me. The love of my life turned out to be just a passing phase of lust. And there was something to be said for good character.
My Mother’s letters served a purpose in my life. They were a handrail between parental wisdom and a daughter’s need to experience the world for herself. I also understand what they must have meant for my mother: a chance to complete an important thought without a volcano of emotions interrupting. I know this only because sometimes, when arguments with my husband seem weak, or a friend or colleague has disappointed me, I find myself writing letters.