A Lifetime of Letters
The sound of the van driving into my compound drew more than just my attention. No one could miss the white van, covered in red dust from the road, with the Peace Corps logo affixed to the side. With two beeps to announce its arrival I raced the children to meet the driver and what he carried. Once a month the white PC van was my life line to the outside world, bringing letters and packages from friends and family back home, as well as notes from my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. One Saturday every month for two years my heart began to race at the anticipation of opening notes from family and friends.
The driver and two helpers would hand me my mail sharing any recent news before they had to keep to their schedule and find their way to the next volunteer’s village. Most months I would take the letters and packages and immediately go into my hut opening the notes one by one, simultaneously crying and laughing. My friends recounted their latest adventures in grad school or serving overseas while church members told of the latest happenings in worship. I read every note over and over and delighted in the American chocolate sent in packages. Each note provided a small thread to my life back home, a beautiful mosaic of connections, to the people who were cheering me on half a world away.
To this day I still have the collection of letters sent to me during my PC tenure lining a shelf in my office. I owe much thanks to my mother specifically for all the letters she wrote to me. Some days it was a letter a day, other times a letter a week. She filled them with her day-to-day activities, life teaching middle school, the places she visited, the food she ate, and how my dog was doing. She also always included notes of encouragement and pep talks. As only a mother could know, she knew the words I needed to hear to keep going and reframe my doubts and fears.
My father also wrote to me ending each note with the reminder to always wear my boots. My dad died a number of years after I returned from West Africa, but I still have every letter he sent me. A top the stack of letters and cards I keep his first note written to me dated 6 July 2004. On a half-sheet of lined yellow paper, it’s his neat cursive writing that draws my attention first:
It’s evening. I’m sitting in my kitchen thinking of you. There is so much I want to say, but words fail me…..The best advice I can give you is lead with your heart, live one day at a time, know that you are loved….As you run your own race I can only applaud, knowing you will far excell my expectations. Throughout your life develop and nurture your faith, walking with God and listening for his song.
God bless and love,
My dad’s letters remind me of his love and in rereading them I hear his voice. They serve as both blessing and benediction; offering peace and hope for my service as a Peace Corps volunteer and still today send me out into the world with the reminder that I am loved. Thanks to my parents and dear friends, I know the power of the written word; the beauty found in reading a handwritten note by candlelight, and remembering that what distance separates us can be made up for in the love shared between words.
Today I write letters to my children -- observations, what they say, their favorite toys and things to do, how we spend our days, and even their tempers. I remind them over and over again how much I love them.
Some day, a long time from now, I hope to give them these letters. Who knows where they’ll keep them or if they’ll even open them, but they’ll be waiting for them; filled with a life of love shared one sentence at a time.
Image created by @phoenixfeatherscalligraphy for C+C, 2020
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Love Languages."