Old Letters

My youngest sister found a small packet of letters, I sent to Mum in 1986 when I was in the Coast Guard, among her things. She threatened promised to send them to me. They arrived yesterday. I opened the first one with more than a little trepidation. There are things I prefer not to recall, unfortunate flashbacks of the hedonist I used to be. I made a lot of mistakes, some of them intentional. Other people, the recipients of benevolent forgiveness, are allowed their transgressions. The lofty principles I aspire to leave me vulnerable to scathing self-criticism. I have been thoughtlessly selfish on occasion. Those are the times that have resided within lo these many years. The letters are evidence of who I used to be. They reveal a person who was generous and amusing along with being sarcastic, impetuous, and miscast.

I’ve correctly assumed that I’ve always been somewhat political. There are vague references to heated debates regarding Wretched Ronnie Reagan and his promotion of an imperialist America. I remember commenting acerbically when an alert was raised in the threat of Libyan attack and I was stationed on Lake Michigan, “Yeah, I’ll be on the lookout for camels swimming across the lake.” I’d written to Mum opining that the strategic space defense initiative, “Star Wars”, was the alien that swallowed the treasury.

I’d put money in an account that she was a signer on and requested a disbursement in one letter. In the following missive, I told her to buy a present for herself with the balance left in the account. I wrote that I was “sick of men or at least the selection, and I use the term generously, that we have here in the back forty”. She planned to visit me at one point. I wrote enthusiastically of her advent, “I’ve been making lists- people I want Mum to meet, things Mum might like to see, places Mum might like to eat, items I should buy so Mum can feel pampered…  I feel intellectually isolated here. No one has the sense of humor we have; people aren’t interested in the same things. It will be such a relief to have you visit.” I was rooting for the Mets in the series and wrote “Mets go!!!” on an envelope flap.  My return address on another envelope reflects my discontent- 591 Thayer Street, beautiful desolate City/Town MI.

I happened to mention a couple of things she could have lived without knowing. “Luckily, no one got popped for urinalysis. Chief told us if we had, we’d all be OUT. No more drugs for me.” Apparently my friends were a bit more frugal than I- “The people I work with can’t think of anything to do but get drunk. Most of them are incredibly CHEAP!!! I don’t have anything against partying (an understatement) but I am sick of going to the cheapest bars all the time.” (Even at 24, I had standards.) We were a bunch of McHale’s Navy delinquents. We worked well together and had outstanding inspections, the showcase of our group, but our leisure performances were commensurate with our work achievements.

Yesterday, when I received the letters I was happy to know that I was a better person than I recall having been. When I woke up this morning I thought- “Mum was going through her own stuff. Gramp had died. Brian (my brother) was among the missing for the first time. She had worries, I shouldn’t have told her I was lonely.” Maybe I shouldn’t have but in the telling I was really saying, “I love you, I miss you, no one else is nearly as interesting as you are.”


About elroyjones

Equal Elroy, searching for the best answer.
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28 Responses to Old Letters

  1. I have over 100 letters my mother wrote to me, but none that I wrote to her. I think I would find it interesting. Very cool post. It sounds like you had a pretty open relationship with her. I lied like a rug to my mother, didn’t think she could handle who I was, although I’m sure she knew… 🙂

    • elroyjones says:

      My mother was very accepting of who I was because my gram hadn’t been accepting of who my mom was. My parents divorced in 1970, which was a pivotal time for defining family so my mother was quite similar to Bea Arthur’s Maud. You make me grin in saying this is a cool post, thank you!

  2. I would have like to known the Coast Guard you. How long did you serve? What rank did you obtain? What was your occupation specialty? As you know, I am a Navy man. I was a radioman and made it to 2nd Class PO. HF

    • elroyjones says:

      Oh Harper, hanging my head, heaving a big old sigh, it’s a long story covering a short enlistment. Suffice it to say, I was honorably discharged due to complications from an unfortunate first marriage.

  3. What I learned from this is that somewhere along the way you grew up and I didn’t… Good post.

  4. The relationship between you and your mom sounds kinda nice to me. Pretty open, with mutual thoughts about some things in life. I don’t know if it can get any better than that.

    Whether we actually get wiser and more mature as we age is debatable. Maybe we just lose some of the energy that drove us to do crazy things, start thinking about being more comfortable instead.

    • elroyjones says:

      Yes, we want to be comfortable and we don’t want to be the oldest person bellying up to the bar. If we’re lucky we bumble on to someone who makes us want to be a better person because they believe we are that better person already.

      I am who I am because my mother encouraged me to live a happy life.

  5. I enjoy it so much when you write about your mother. You have such a wonderful love for her.

  6. Pink Ninjabi says:

    Your writing always reveals another interesting side to you that makes us realize how unique and special you are. Thank you.


  7. Peggy says:

    Wow, good for you for being able to read them. That was incredibly brave. I don’t know if I could have done it. I’m glad it turned out the way it did. Maybe we don’t give our younger selves enough credit and beat ourselves up too much. Sure felt like we were doing it all wrong though, doesn’t it? LOVE YOU!

    • elroyjones says:

      In the interest of complete disclosure- I did find some letters I would have preferred not to find after Mum died and I thought, “Dear Gawd, I can’t believe I wrote this shit to her. ” I was embarrassed for myself.
      Reading those letters was COURAGEOUS. One of the MANY things I love about you is that you are so onto to me that you KNOW.
      We must cut ourselves some slack. I think one of the difficulties in doing that is we do not like to be wrong. Regardless of the failings of our younger selves, we were funny and entertaining, ha!

  8. Runoffwriter says:

    Great read. I think we all would look with trepidation on our old letters… it’s like hearing how your voice really sounds to everyone but you…

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, happy you found something you enjoyed there. All the best!

  9. judithatwood says:

    Concerning the comment above, I have always hated the sound of my voice as recorded — your letters remind me of the same kind of thing — any of us is truly a different person from who we were 20 years or 20 minutes ago.

    • elroyjones says:

      The quandary, for me, is I knew better than do some of the things I did but for whatever reason I said, “Fuck it, who cares.” I suppose in some ways I am a different person but I don’t get a pass because of that.

  10. sacha1nch1 says:

    I’d’ve liked to have had a long letter exchange with somebody, and even have the chance to read back over them – it’s not the same with email, there’s a whole other letter to read in the handwriting alone; I’ve considered picking random addresses and trying to start something up…but then i think that that’s just odd!

    • elroyjones says:

      Mailed correspondence offers a lot beginning with the tactile satisfaction of opening a packet of mystery, wondering what it may say, anticipating the best or the worst. Cell phones and email have been the ruination of suspended gratification. As a young girl, I had a long distance romance; waiting for the mail was an excruciating delight.

  11. John says:

    I suspect that whatever it was you said in your letters that your mother was just happy to get them.

    It’s always interesting reading things we wrote long ago, seeing the changes we’ve made. I’m thinking it might be sad if one read letters from 20 years ago and realized they weren’t any different….

  12. George says:

    The “time capsule” showed you something important about yourself: “. . . I was a better person than I recall having been.”

    • elroyjones says:

      George, all of your comments have shown up in a flood this morning. I am distressed. I haven’t been ignoring you and I wondered where you went.

      • George says:

        Hi Chief!!!

        I hear tell – though I don’t know if it’s true – that WordPress stopped certain types of notifications. That may explain it . . . I don’t know.

        Nope, I never thought you were ignoring me! I have not been very active on the old internet as of late; I keep looking for all that spare time that ‘fogeys’ like me are supposed to have.

        I am going to try to head over to your place tonight so be sure “lower your shields,” Capitan. 🙂

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