Monday, March 31, 2014

Dear Frances

"The only time I got into trouble was in college when I accidentally cut a class during my first semester.... I looked at my schedule and thought I had a free period, so I went out to the woods to collect ferns for my biology class collection. 

I thought it was funny that everyone was at the tennis court - I had cut physical education! I got called before the House Committee. Fortunately my biology teacher was a member. When I told them I had been collecting ferns, he broke out laughing, so they forgave me." 

My grandmother Frances has told me so many unbelievable stories about her life, and I'm not sure I will ever forgive myself for not writing them down immediately, and subsequently forgetting many of the rich details. 

I've never been good at retaining details and retelling stories in a way that does them justice - unlike my grandmother, whose clarity of even her earliest of memories is almost startling. (Frances, on her first grade experience: "I attended a one room schoolhouse at Birch Harbor and loved it. I was so interested in what the older students were doing that I didn't do my own work, so the teacher gave up on me and I got put in subprimary class, where I colored pictures of fruit bowls and butterflies. That was fine with me."

She loves to talk to people - all people - and tell stories. Stories about herself, stories about others. Stories about decades of the past, stories about yesterday. Thankfully she also loves to write. Over the past year her voice has diminished to barely a whisper, mainly due to radiation treatments she had 20 years ago. Talking is now difficult for her - and presumably quite painful, though she'd never say so. 

While it used to be difficult to get a word in edgewise, conversations are now almost entirely one sided, with her doing almost all of the listening, and almost none of the talking. It doesn't feel right to me, this role reversal. While I used to wish for a little more listening on her end, this new reality seems patently unfair - and the world is worse off for it. 

So while I still call and yammer on and on, filling her in on my day to day adventures with Colin, work and life overall, I've decided to start writing her letters more frequently, and to leave her with a few questions per letter to answer in writing, at her leisure. I wasn't really sure how she would take to an "assignment" - she is a very busy woman, and - despite all of the talking and storytelling she is famous for - doesn't exactly relish the exercise of talking about herself. But I gather from the seven page letter that I received from her today that she enjoyed recounting several of her school related memories in response to my first round of questioning. 

So I will press on. Tomorrow I will put another letter in the mail, with a few new questions (and a few follow ups that this ex-journalism major can't stop herself from asking). 

But first - Frances, on not being sure what she wanted to "do" after college: 

"I always thought I'd like to be a writer, and still might do that." 


PS - "I'm back" sounds a little too  bombastic?  but as my fingers itch to peck away longer and longer Instagram captions lately, it has occurred to me that there might be a better venue for such observations  So I will say that I do hope and intend to get things going again here on Dear Frances. Thank you to one of the blog's namesakes for inspiring me to write again. Both here, and on paper. And thank you for visiting - I have missed this.