Friday, November 20, 2009

The Accidental Letter

292 Centre Street,
Brockton, Mass.
June 22, 1926

Dear Maragret:
This is the last day of school and the teacher let us write a letter to anyone we pleasee. We have hust come from opening exercises where Mr. Getchell presided for the last time. The school athletic committee presented him with a white sweater with a football letter and also basketball and baseball letters for his good work in helping along the athletics of the school.
In just five minutes I wil be free for two months and then I will come back to the compaign for a diploma. Mr. Lewis was selectex to succeed Mr. Getchell and the class of 1927 will be the first calss to graduate under his head.
The old puff buggy is working overtime now-adays as we take it to school and run it every nitht. We have already been to Boston in the Harvard Stadium to see the state track meet. The top on the buggy is broken so that when it is pleasant we do not have any top at all but when it is raining we put it on although it does not do much good.
I suppose you know that I am working down to the American Railway sticking waybills. Although the work is hard and the hours long the pay is nice. I expect to get throuch in a week because the work is getting slck.
The gand is going to the race at Rocking ham on the fourth of July but as yet I have not decided whether to go or not because it is a pretty long trip for the buggy. They say that they are going to Niagara Falls after a few weeks have gone by in July. But I will not try that one as I should nto like to be stranded in Niagara Falls.
You will have to excuse the errors becase I had to write this in a hurry. There goes the bell.
Yours truly,
Charles the first.


It is easy for me to magnify my grandfather. The temptation is always there to make out of him an archetype. I suppose this is natural. He was the only grandfather I knew, and that in the autumn of his life. In my childish eyes, he seemed to know everything.

He was given to making little private jokes. Even when it was just the two of us, he would make them for his own amusement. I could tell by a certain sparkle in his eyes, a quick hint of a smile. I was not expected to understand. They usually had something to do with Latin, or a point from Homer or Scripture. He almost never explained them. He seemed satisfied by my realization that I had missed a deeper meaning.

Of course, that was the lesson. He wanted me to know that uneasy feeling that we have missed the point; that restlessness that compels us to search for meaning. My grandfather was a master of economy, the quality Spalding Gray called "New England Zen".

It is easy for me to magnify my grandfather. I could carve him in marble and put him on a shelf. It would be easy and it would be a mistake. To make an ideal of him would diminish his humanity. Such a man could never be anything but a fraud. Possibly a glorious fraud, but a fraud all the same.

The letter above is one of my prized possessions. Perhaps it was not meant for me. Perhaps, in a larger sense, it was. It is easy to forget that my grandfather was not always the grave paterfamilias that I knew. He was once a sixteen year-old boy, typing a quick note to his big sister on the last day of school. Anticipating a summer vacation of road-trips and good times. Worrying about the condition of the "puff buggy". Working a boring high-school job. Out the door at the sound of the final bell of the year.

I wonder that he signed his name Charles the first. I'm sure it was one of his little jokes. Yet he had three sons of his own and named none of them Charles. His great-grandson, Charles the second, would not be born for eighty years. Perhaps the letter was meant for me after all.

I have his photograph from 1928. I keep it with the letter. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I'm not so sure. If I could keep only one of the two, I would keep the letter.

The Greeks carved marble statues of their heroes. Too often we forget that they painted these statues as well.

Respectfully Yours,



Ananda girl said...

I love this... maybe it's the typos. Maybe its that feeling of antisipation of summer vacation. (Truth is I still get summer vacation and it is still very exciting to watch it show up.) Whatever it is, I connect to it in a way that feels familiar. Thank you for sharing it.

Suldog said...

I liked this a lot, and it also gave me a nudge to do a post I've been meaning to do. I have a handwritten letter, from my grandfather to my father, that's amusing and shows where I get some of my sense of humor. I'll have to post it when I get back from vacation. Thanks!

Thumbelina said...

I really loved this. The innocence of it - your grandfather's writing and yours.
And the pictures you paint.

lime said...

the last line took my breath away. you summed it all up so completely perfectly.

Hilary said...

What a treasure to possess.

Your last line is perfect.