For California Bookstore Day, Bookshop Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz Writes invited me to serve as a letter writer. A Bookshop patron sat down before me with his request for a letter. “This is for my mother,” Carlos said, “for Mother’s Day.” When I asked him to describe her he said, “Strong-minded, independent, self-willed.” “Bet I’d like her,” I replied, and asked for an example of her independence.
“She’s just like her mother! When my grandmother was 83 she decided to go dancing, in Mexico City. I told her she was too old to do that but she insisted. So I said I’d take her. ‘No,’ she told me, ‘I’ll take the bus and the metro.’ I warned her against that—it’s too crowded. But she insisted. On her way to the dance the subway was so full that my little grandmother’s rib was broken by the crush of people.
‘Yes, it hurt,’ she told me later, ‘but I went dancing anyway.’ On the way home she slipped and someone stepped on her arm. At the hospital, she told me, ‘Soon as this rib and my arm get better, I’m going back; I had a great time!’ My mother is just like that,” said Carlos.
So I began, “Dear daughter of the woman who dances no matter what…”
There’s a long history of professional letter writers. Carlos told me that in Mexico City it’s still a thriving business. In fact, he hired a letter writer to help him with his graduate school application—he got in!
With only a single day at this post, I found it to be an intimate way to be with strangers. One young woman asked for a letter for her brother who’s having a difficult time. Another asked for a letter to her mother who’s help with wedding planning she’s most grateful for.
Just yesterday, going through my father’s things, I found a cache of letters he wrote. Were they drafts or had they gone unsent? I’ll never know. It’s in our very human nature to extend ourselves to others through the written word. Who’s received a paper letter in a stamped envelope from you lately?