Remember how exciting it used to be to get a white envelope filled with scribbling on lined paper from a good friend, instead of just a “bloop” on your inbox showing you have a new email message? In “The Last Letter,” Kristina Wright pays tribute to the lost art of letter writing, and to an unlikely penpal who became a treasured friend: her husband’s grandmother.
“Our friendship began in the early years of my marriage. I wrote letters to Jay’s family, both out of loneliness and in an attempt to get to know my new husband–who seemed to always be away on deployment–a little better. His father had died when he was a little boy, and you were the next closest link to that side of the family. You matched me letter for letter telling me stories of Jay’s childhood and of your own life and interests. I began to feel a kinship with you–as if we really were family. The funny thing about our friendship is that it blossomed in a way a face-to-face relationship couldn’t. I only saw you a handful of times over the years as we’ve moved around for Jay’s naval career. With you living in Tennessee, and your hearing loss making it hard for you to talk on the phone, I had only your letters to reflect the woman I came to know and love. The woman who remembered events that occurred sixty years in the past with such vivid detail. The woman who didn’t travel outside the United States until she was in her fifties, but remembered so much about England that I felt as if I were traveling with you when I finally visited myself. The woman who took care of her family, who wrote poetry, who loved her garden beyond all reason, who married the wrong man against her family’s wishes, who raised three sons and lost two of them, who took care of her mother past the age of 100, who loved cats and whimsically added an extra ‘b’ to her beloved Tab’s name when Jay and I got married in Tabb, Virginia. The woman who would have liked to be a writer, but life got in the way. The woman who joked that her letters were her ‘blog,’ filled with silly thoughts and nonsense. The Julia I know is full of fire and gumption. The Julia I know is shrewd and clever, always ready with a unique turn of phrase to describe something mundane. The Julia I know reads voraciously–every book I send her is read within days. The Julia I know is homebound, because she doesn’t drive, but her mind lets her travel to all corners of the world through books and memories of the places she’s been. The Julia I know–the Julia I knew…”
KRISTINA WRIGHT (www.kristinawright.com) has been calling herself a writer since Miss Gilmore gave her an A+ on her first short story in the first grade. In the thirty-five years since, she has traded in her wide-rule paper and fat pencils for a PowerBook laptop, and she has managed to rack up hundreds of writing credits for everything from greeting cards to book reviews. Her first novel was published in 1999, and her short fiction has appeared in more than seventy anthologies. She holds a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in humanities (with an emphasis on women’s studies and popular culture) and teaches both English and humanities at her local community college. She lives in Virginia with her husband, Jay, and a menagerie of pets. Her friend and penpal Julia died in February 2009, thirteen months after her stroke. She would have been ninety in November. Her memory–and her words–live on.
Read the rest of Kristina’s letter, and 35 others, in P.S. What I Didn’t Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, now available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide!