Spreading Happiness by Sharing Memories in Letters

July 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Memoir Space

Red Rose by Bo Mackison Cropped

A Rose for Pauline © 2010 Bo Mackison

The wife of my mother’s only cousin is turning 90 in a few days. (Happy Birthday, Cousin Pauline!) I had a card ready to pop in the mail, but I didn’t want to send off wishes for her big day without adding a personal note.

It would have been easier for me to scribble a few words and sign a big “I love you!” at the bottom of the card, but while I was trying to come up with the right few words, I realized that this birthday event would be a perfect time to do some memoir writing “on the fly.”

That’s mostly how I do my memoir writing anyway. In little projects that add up over time. And so I thought, how easy would it be to pen a special memory to a special person when it is time to send out a special card?  Sure, it adds 20 minutes to the card choosing and address writing routine, but how much more meaningful is a card with a handwritten note, especially if it recounts a memorable time for the recipient.

(Especially, I thought to myself, to a wonderful woman who was soon to be celebrating her 90th birthday.)

So I chose a photo-art card that featured a bright red rose on the cover, because I remembered that even though Pauline only had a very small garden, she always had rose bushes flanking her home’s front door. Then I brainstormed to recall a few memories from the weekends I had spent with Pauline and her husband. In less than a half hour I had come up with a few details I thought Pauline would enjoy reading, and I began.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

I always loved visiting your home in the big city. There were always special trips to the mall. I still remember how fascinated I was that the largest department store in your mall had a roof shaped like a two-story-tall woman’s hat — complete with a pink bow and tiny windows.

But one weekend when we visited, I was too distracted to enjoy myself.

We visited a few weeks before the end of the school semester and I was struggling with my math assignments and worried about the upcoming comprehensive exam. Math was never much to my liking, and I had taken an aversion to memorizing the multiplication and division tables.

To make matters even worse, I knew you were a highly respected math teacher at the junior high school where you taught, and the math department head, and that you had recently completed the coursework for your masters’ degree in mathematics. I was so impressed that you were so great at math, but also petrified that you would quiz me on my math facts and I would embarrass myself, not knowing the right answers.

But you surprised me. When you asked how I was doing in school, I blurted out, “I love school, all but math. I hate math!”

I remember you looked at me, first with surprise, and then you broke into prolonged laughter. Finally, after you wiped a few tears from your eyes, you called me over to your overstuffed chair, pulled me onto your lap, and whispered, “Why don’t you tell me the part of math you hate the very most?”

Pauline, I remember you gave me a big hug after I told you I was “no good at multiplying.”

You nodded your head, and you said, “There are things that you can do very well and things you can’t do nearly so well. And that is OK. If math is one of those not so good things, maybe I can teach you a few tricks to make it easier.”

You called it “math magic” and you showed me how to maneuver the numbers in my head while I was multiplying.  If I was trying to figure out the answer to 8 times 6, and I didn’t know the 6 tables very well, but I did know the 5 tables, you told me how to multiply 8 times 5 (easy!) and just add another 8 for the right total.

Presto! That math trick, and several others, helped me conquer some of my math fear and I went home with a much better attitude about math facts.

But, Pauline, this is the more important thing you taught me that weekend – that it is OK if you are good at some things, and not so good at others. Thank you for that lesson about all of life, not just the math lesson.

I wrote the letter to Pauline, but I made a copy of the card before I mailed it, and put the little story in my memoir container.

I also checked my calendar for the remainder of 2010 and picked one special event — birthday, anniversary, graduation — each month. Then I put a reminder on my calendar to send a card for these special occasions with a “memoir letter.”

I notice that when I break my life writing into tiny steps and make them serve a special purpose, such as writing a quick story in a card, it is easy for snippets of memories to get captured on paper.

Do you have any special occasions that are coming up in the next month or two? Why not put a note on your calendar to add a story to your card? You’ll document a bit more of your life story, and the recipient will get a special gift, too.


11 Responses to “Spreading Happiness by Sharing Memories in Letters”
  1. What a thoughtful gesture that was for Cousin Pauline. She sounds like a wonderful member of the family to share time with!

    Most of my special people have their birthdays in the earlier part of the year, so I will keep this idea in mind for next year. It’s a lovely extra something to give to a special person on their special day. :)

  2. Hilary says:

    Hi Bo .. that is a lovely tribute to a birthday lady – I hope she has a wonderful day .. and she will be so pleased to have your card, your thoughts and your letter.

    As you know .. that’s what I do – and have always done .. even though at school I was hopeless at English .. but I am writing about my Mama for my next post and I’ve done a couple (I see – I’d forgotten!) .. but I also wrote for my uncle and those letters were appreciated.

    People love having informative letters .. about what’s going on and how things are progressing, and when I write back to letters we receive I always drop a note with the card and probably round robin letter pertinent to their information, their questions etc .. it takes time – but it’s so worth it and friends and family so appreciate it.

    People love getting a personal card .. it gives a lift and a cheer to the day & everytime you look at it. thanks – Hilary

  3. Marcie says:

    What a thoughtful and wonderful way to honor someone’s life..and one’s own. Such a great idea..perfect!

  4. Sue says:

    I’ve been putting off writing (and sending) a sympathy card. You have inspired me to get right to it. You make writing seem to easy. Thank you for the inspiration.

  5. Molly says:

    Wow… I loved that. Truly I did. So beautiful.

  6. Bo Mackison says:

    People really do seem to appreciate a special touch in mail these days — probably because getting anything with a personal touch in the mailbox is almost a special occasion.

  7. Bo Mackison says:

    Hilary, you are so right. And any time we can add cheer to another person’s day, we give ourselves the gift of a good day, too.

  8. Bo Mackison says:

    Hi Marcie! Yes, especially honoring those who have contributed to our well being is a wonderful thing.

  9. Bo Mackison says:

    Thinking about writing a card is the hard thing. Sitting down and doing it, as you;ve just discovered, is much easier. ANd we don’t have to keep reminding ourselves of the same thing and taking precious brain space!! :-)

  10. Bo Mackison says:

    Thanks Molly. Writers of the world — unite!