While re-reading letters I received in Hawaii as research for the memoir, I came upon one from Mom with a newspaper clipping. She’d spent several days with me at Kalani Honua, the jungle retreat setting where most of the story occurs, and had met a young acrobat, Tom Foolery, who liked listening to her stories. Tom appears briefly in the memoir.
“I cut it out just for you,” she wrote, “so you could maybe enclose it in your daily log or whatever. It’s really neat of the two Toms. Love their assumed names.”
Mom was always clipping out pieces of paper and sending them, not just to me but to almost everyone on her letter list. She wrote a lot of letters after she stopped writing a column for the newspaper. Well, actually, she wrote a lot of letters even while she was writing a column.
Here’s the joy of her letter: after telling me what the family was doing, she ended with. “Janet I did enjoy so much spending time with you and seeing your garden. It’s laid out so neatly and evenly. Surely wish Dad could have seen it. And lots of other things…” Dad had died two years earlier.
That had been her first trip back to Hawaii after he died. They had traveled to Hawaii for more than ten years to spend the worst of the winter months at my sister’s. The trip must have called up many memories.
Memory. I write and read about memory, how the brain works, why it works that way, where memory is stored (mine is mostly stored in letters and journals). And I’m reminded again of how much I am like my mother. Actually, I’m reminded often. Her memory was less than stellar, and less so as she became older. I take heed of that.
But it’s more than memory, or lack of, that mirrors. She was a reader and a writer. My love of both comes through her.
And along with writing, I save newspaper clippings. Some because I want to read again, some with a scrawled note essay title I could/should write (which I often don’t get around to), some about books I want to read. One of her mementos I treasure is a folder of partially completed essays. In her own handwriting.
At Kalani, people gathered around her “like a lighthouse from home” as I wrote. She looked like every dream grandma looks: short, white hair, short body too, at 4’11” although she always added another half-inch because it made her feel taller and no one could see the difference anyway. A grandma who baked cookies and told stories. People loved being around her and easily teased out story after story. She didn’t bake any cookies at Kalani, but whenever she’d pass the open air kitchen and ask for a cup of coffee, the kitchen worker always brought her a cookie with it. She didn’t even have to ask.
At the end of her letter, she added “Tell everyone I said hello.”