Thursday, November 14, 2013

Letters of Love (though not exactly Love Letters)

Eleven years ago today the writer of these letters, and I assume the licker of these stamps, left this life for the next phase of his life's experience of Love.

I don't know what he would think or say if he knew I would be writing about him on my blog, but I think he might say that as long as I chose my words carefully, included no dangling participles, and allowed my emotion to cool before writing so that my words were recollected in tranquility, then I would have his blessing.
He was my high school English teacher, but most of the letters I have from him were written while I was in college and he was in the student role, working on a doctorate after many years of teaching high school, getting ready to move on to teaching college. (I thought it was neat that my favorite number, 26, was part of his address at Ole Miss. He would likely tease me for using the word "neat.")

My asking about something from a Frost poem about how difficult life could be winds up with his response, "All in all, I would say, there is a pretty good balance of agony and ecstasy. It takes both to make us wonderful people, you know." He was right.

He did "moan" in his letters about both his workload and the worldviews of some of his professors and how he felt their impoverished ideas did little justice to the literature he was studying. At some point in a later letter, however, he gave me permission to stop feeling sorry for him, that he was adjusting and would make it.

He writes in response to my comment that music can be so moving (referring to Barber's "Adagio for Strings"), that music often brings him to tears. Able to sing with one of the choirs at Ole Miss, he participated in a concert in Avery Fisher Hall that he wrote about more than once. Here he writes out some of the text of the "Prayers of Kierkegaard" set to music by Samuel Barber. Many years later, after his death, my own chorus sang the piece, so it will always remind me of him. I appreciated it much more as an adult than I could as a college freshman reading his letter.

In response to my suggestion of a Trivial Pursuit party, which he okayed if it were a small enough group, he writes, "I like my friendships deep, not wide." I have a perfect dozen of his letters, all at least two handwritten pages, often more, some typed and therefore even longer. At the time I was receiving these letters, I treasured them because they were from him, and they brought hope and wisdom into my life, but I didn't find it unusual that he spent time writing to me.
These days, working on a doctorate myself, I look at these letters with a sense of awe, knowing the sacrifice of time he took to sit and read letters from a former student and respond to them. It's clear he enjoyed writing about things, but it's also clearer to me now how much he meant the "Love" in "Love, Ray A. Wright." And I appreciate being someone he included in his not wide, but deep, circle of friends. One of the many blessings-beyond-measure in my little life.
(And we did have that Trivial Pursuit party, about fifteen years after the letter--just him, his wife, and me. I think we kept it small enough.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Happy Birthday, Grandmother

Today is my grandmother's birthday. A day and a life I will always celebrate, even though she has been gone for over ten years now. Depending on whether the family Bible or the official record was correct, she would have been ninety-seven or ninety-eight today. (It was late in her life that she learned they said two different things!)
She was a letter writer, which meant so much to me when I lived in Italy and Croatia, but the letters continued when we lived only an hour apart. When we chose the furniture we would like to have after her death, I knew I wanted to have the "housewife's desk" with its drop-down writing surface and organizing slots for stationery and such, because her letters had been such a part of our relationship.
She was an amazing cook, with a huge deep freeze full of all kinds of things that she shared generously and bountifully and beautifully.

She loved beauty in many forms, and when I left to live in Croatia, the magazine Victoria had just come out. She saw to it that I received it overseas and for many more years, until she died.

She is among my earliest memories, and she often wrote my entire name. When I married, she made a point of encouraging me to keep my last name as my middle name, because, as she said, "It's important to remember where you come from and who you are."

She had a beautiful smile. She was not a people pleaser; she did not smile because a camera was around or because she needed to impress anyone. She lived a life of courage and deep determination through many hardships. And when she smiled, you knew it was for real.