family

Mystery Envelope

A self-addressed stamped envelope on the kitchen table. (Who even does that anymore?) My own handwriting. A return address sticker with a name I didn’t know. Confusion.

Opened the envelope to find a letter and some photos. A pile of very old and very unexpected memories.

It was her very first plane ride. A whiplash trip to Naples, Florida. Me and my little baby.

Took the 8am flight out, the 8pm flight back. Nothing but a car carrier, diaper bag, formula, a ton of diapers, my little front baby pouch, and some food. Her Great Grandma was nearing the end of life, and I wanted them to meet each other before Great Grandma passed away.

We took a shuttle straight to the nursing home. Met her Great Grandma during recreation time. She sat in her wheelchair. My little Anne, still wobbly on her feet, reached up for her. Great Grandma was deep into dementia by then. I’m sure she didn’t know me, she didn’t know Anne. But still, even through the fog and confusion, Great Grandma’s face lit up. A sweet little baby, soft and curious, reaching up to be held. Their smiles echoed each other’s – wide and cheerful.

We spent a couple of hours. Just talking about nothing in particular. Great Grandma hadn’t been my family for very long. She was my Grandpa’s fourth wife. He had been her third husband. He passed away first, leaving my little known new Grandma to handle his affairs. This wasn’t an easy process, but my Dad loved and accepted her because she had been his Dad’s choice. He still called her every week. But she hardly knew me. I hardly knew her. There was just a lot of smiling and playing with the baby.

We flew home. I wrote her a letter and sent her photos of the visit. As I wrote in the letter, I knew she didn’t have much use for clutter in her tiny single room. So I sent a self-addressed stamped envelope in case she wanted to return them.

Fifteen years later, 2021, the envelope, the photos, appear in my mailbox. My sweet baby in the photos now drives her own car. Still has the blond hair, but she’s five foot nine. She still reaches up. She still smiles, and brings smiles to many.

A letter from her daughter came with it. She had just found the photos, with my letter and envelope, in a long packed away box of photos and keepsakes. Obviously Great Grandma wanted to keep them, she wrote. What can you do but wistfully smile at fate and memory and times long gone?

I got to share the story with Anne, and the pictures. Shortly after that visit, I learned that those were the very last photos ever taken of Great Grandma. Her own children appreciated them, and cherished that we took the time to visit.

Across fifteen years, a whisper from a daughter I may have met once. A memory of an experience that mattered, even if Great Grandma and Anne wouldn’t have known it at the time.

When I think about it, it was kind of crazy. Take a baby on a plane? By myself? Twice in one day? Just to see someone who probably won’t recognize me? Who may not even know why we are there? Yup, I did that. I’m still that kind of crazy. The kind of crazy that will drive hours out of my way for a hug. That will go over and above just to do something little. The little things are the big things.

Take time for people. Take time to write. To chronicle and share. To connect and care.