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Traveling Letter

“Will you participate in a group letter?” I texted to six college girlfriends.

            “I don’t like chain letters. Please don’t send one to me,” one friend responded. I explained that I wanted to begin a traveling letter and each of us would write a brief note and pass it on.  Like the letters we sent each other years ago, before email.  

            “I want to know how long it takes a letter to get to all of you and back to me.  It’ll be fun to read your writings. I’ll include stamps, and it’ll be fodder for a column,” I wrote.

            I smiled as I read the responses on the text thread.  “Is there a time limit?”  No.  “Only if you promise to share it with all of us after we’ve all written.” Yes. “Count me in! I love getting mail!”  “A column, of course!”  My friends texted laughing emojis and agreed to participate.

            In the late 1970s, we girlfriends kept a traveling letter going for several years.  When I received it, there were seven letters. I took out my letter, wrote a new one, and mailed it along with the other six pages to the next person on the list.  How I wish I had those letters.  

            So recently, I mailed a letter and suggested that writings could be about anything.  Weather. Dreams.  Pandemic.  Anything.  I wrote a paragraph about my backyard bluebird box.  Each person would add a few lines, to this same page and the back if needed, or write on another page, and mail it on.

            It took fifty-five days for our letter to travel to five addresses in Tennessee, one in Florida, and one in Kentucky.  Because two friends were vacationing when the letter arrived in their mailboxes, it took a bit more time than expected.  

            I received a fat envelope that required two stamps, and I didn’t open it immediately.  I waited until late afternoon after the day’s busyness.  With a glass of wine, I settled onto my front porch rocker and took five pages out of the envelope. 

            Snippets from each person’s writing are similar.  Frustrations with changed plans.  One wrote, ‘I have been reminded yet again that making plans is over rated.’

            Changes caused by the pandemic. ‘Harry (her husband) and I have been together more than we have in our 53 years of marriage.’  ‘No friends came to our house for months until we were all vaccinated.’

            Finding positives. ‘In my garden, flowers bloom, birds sing, the sun shines.’ ‘During the pandemic, we cooked more, visited with family, became friends with close neighbors, had time to read and exercise, and took up birdwatching.’ ‘It’s a beautiful quiet, peaceful Sunday afternoon.  The dappled sunlight is magical as I look into the woods.’

            I treasure my friends’ writings and have read our traveling letter several times.  Each time, I read something new, and after sharing it with friends, I’ll keep it.              This time next year, it’ll be history, and I’ll suggest we write a 2022 traveling letter.

What’s inside that Prince Albert Can?

When Granny tucked things into a Prince Albert tobacco can, I’m sure she didn’t think I’d look in that tin can 76 years later and find gifts.  But I did.

The four-inch tall, flat can is wrapped in thick grocery bag brown paper and penciled on the paper is Property Ett Rich Sept 25 -1941. I chuckle when I read Ett. Named Juda Etta Rich, her friends called her Ett, but she signed Etta Rich on checks. I never knew she referred to herself as Ett.

The red on the front and back of the can is worn off, imprinted on the backside of the brown paper wrapper. The can’s top and bottom are rusty. As I carefully force the lid open, I see fabric. A woman’s silk handkerchief, wadded into a ball, with black embroidered edges. The fabric so delicate, I fear I’ll tear it. It’s like others that Granny carried – stuffed in her bosom or sometimes she knotted a few coins tightly in the handkerchief corner and then stuck it in her apron pocket.

And a small, crocheted bag. Only about three inches across the bottom, a semi-circle shape with a one-inch handle. Surely it was white or cream colored at one time; not the dingy beige it is now. Was this someone’s change purse? Who made these treasures? Not Granny. She quilted, but never held a crochet hook. Maybe her mother, Elizabeth Huddleston Rich who died in 1921? Or one of Granny’s two sisters?

Tucked in the bottom of the can is a folded paper. Using tweezers I ease it out. A 5” x 8” blue-lined tan school paper. It’s a letter penciled in cursive in the traditional friendly letter format: heading, greeting, body, closing, and signature. Granny’s sister, Mary, signed it.

This family document is headed with Caddo, Oklahoma, dated June 28, 1922, and addressed Dear Sir. With no corrections, the one sentence body of the letter reads as follows: Please permit Ett Rich to take my part of Father Bank account To Pay expencies. Signed: Yours Truly, Mrs. Mary Pierce.

As I hold this crinkled old paper, I can see Granny at Pickett County Bank in Byrdstown, Tennessee, as she signed forms to transfer her father’s money from her sister’s name to hers. David Rich died March 1922, just months after his wife’s death. Granny and her sister Dona lived in Byrdstown; Mary and her husband had moved west.

So Granny was the executor of her father’s estate. I knew she continued to live on the family farm, the home place, for a many years. Where did Granny keep this document for almost twenty years before she stored it in the Prince Albert can? Why were that handkerchief and small bag inside?

I have to think Granny valued these items as family keepsakes. And reading the letter and handling the crocheted bag and handkerchief connects me with great-grandparents and a great aunt I never knew. Thank you for this gift, Granny.