I am stealing borrowing this idea from City Wendy. The idea is to work through the alphabet in short, memoir-like pieces. Anyone who wants to join in, should!
A is for Anna
When I was in the seventh grade, my mom suggested I become pen-pals with my cousin Anna, who at the time lived in Indiana. Anna is my mom’s cousin Jeanne’s daughter, a year younger than I am in age but smart enough to have skipped a grade, so our school years paralleled one another. My mom had spoken with Jeanne, she said, and they both thought it would be a wonderful way for Anna and I to get to know one another.
My mother’s side of the family had long been a mystery to me. While I was extremely close with my maternal grandmother and, if I couldn’t claim familial closeness to him, at least spent quite a bit of time with her brother, my Uncle Pete, most of my mom’s cousins, aunts and uncles remained nothing more than a vague suggestion. Unlike my father’s side of the family, her side didn’t hold regular family reunions, didn’t make a point of seeing each other with any sort of regularity. There was a time, years before I was born, when my grandmother and her four siblings (three sisters, one brother), lived in the same large, rambling house on Walloon Lake, the children of the only doctor in town – the doctor who treated Hemingway’s family during the summers and collected pieces of land the way some people collect stamps. Long before I was born, though, those five siblings scattered across the country and began their own families and whatever it is that ties families together never held them and nobody, including my mother, seemed to mind.
I’m not sure why she suggested I become pen-pals with Anna – whether she thought it would be nice to correspond with a cousin closer to my own age, or if she wanted to somehow anchor me more firmly in her family, or if she was just trying to find yet another way to harness my creative energies, which at the time were overflowing in a way that all the plays, ballet classes and story-writing couldn’t encompass. Possibly it was a combination of all three. Together she and I went to the downtown Hallmark store and picked out some stationary, some new pens – and oh! How I loved the fresh sheets of flowered paper, the flow of a decent pen. It makes me sad to think how many teenagers now have probably never even opened a letter.
I have no idea what I penned in that first letter, or what Anna wrote back to me, but we wrote regularly, long letters detailing all the aspects of our lives, from the boys we liked to the classes we took. Soon enough our letters became more nuanced as we began considering where we might go to college, what sorts of careers we might pursue. We discussed Anna’s search for her birth parents and the struggle her adoptive mother, my aunt, had with depression. We shared a passionate commitment to Anne of Green Gables, and reading in general. I visited her the summer after my eighth grade year. She lived with her parents in a condo with a pool and we spent the long, langorous, heat-soaked days of July tanning ourselves by the pool, coming inside to munch on bagel sandwiches and work on the play we had decided to write together. I remember it so clearly – it was supposed to be a musical version of Lewis and Clark…I wrote the script and Anna, always a talented musician, wrote the music.
A summer later she came to visit me and we spent days at the beach and the evenings going out with the friends I had made during my freshman year of high school, back when making friends was a full commitment – a passionate endeavor – my friends embraced Anna much the same way they had embraced me and in honor of her we had bonfires on the beach every night. One evening we took off to an unchaperoned party and when we were returned, having, after all, been caught, my parents lived up to their promise of showing me a grounding the likes of which I had never seen before. I promised Anna it had been worth it, and quite frankly, it was. Years later we would learn that sneaking off to a party paled in comparison to the actions of our grandmothers and mothers when they were teenagers.
We don’t keep in very good touch anymore. When our letter-writing was transferred to email something was lost and we stopped sharing as easily as we once did. It can’t all be blamed on email – in many ways our lives simply took very different directions and without the grounding factor of family get-togethers there haven’t been many opportunities to see one another.
This December, Anna sent me a Christmas card with a long letter inside, detailing her life in New York city, sharing the news of her recent engagement, her life at a big law firm. She didn’t put a return address on the card and it has been driving me crazy. My aunt, for reasons unexplained, won’t return my email requests for her address, and nobody else in my family has it. I no longer have an email address for Anna, and she isn’t on facebook, which I find astounding. I have made it my August mission to somehow find her address – I have stationery and a new pen and a thousand things to share with her.