Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The family epistolary

Old stuff from plastic boxes 

 Joyous and painful time for me

My son Charlie and I are going through two huge tubs of my late daughter Laura’s memorabilia, photographs, letters, report cards, certificates of commendation. There are even news clippings and photos of Laura in Madison High School drama department productions, as Cornelia Otis Skinner in Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, Mrs. Einsford-Hill in My Fair Lady, and Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible.
Laura as Mrs. Einsford-Hill

 I ran across an excruciatingly funny, undated letter from Laura. If I recall the circa 1978 incident correctly, Laura and our Finnish, American Field Service daughter, Birgitta Kraus, had become stranded after a day of swimming at Pacific Beach. They had spent their bus fare on food, didn’t have even a dime for a pay phone (that was long before the advent of cellphones), and failed to appear at the appointed time.

We were frantic. When the girls finally appeared, we saw them emerge from a ratty looking panel truck down the street. Under parental grilling, they confessed that they had hitchhiked home. We read them the riot act. The letter is in response to our parental terror, our worry over what might have happened, our admonitions and the question of suitable punishment.

Always the arbitrator, Laura offered several options for restrictions, starting with the most severe. I can’t remember how we reacted, but after all these years, the letter is stunning evidence and reminder of the incident.

Laura Jeanne Costales

Birgitta Krause
This morning, it dawns on me how similar the hitchhiking letter is to one written by my sisters Lynn and Jeanne explaining how the black India ink was spilled on mother’s yellow silk chair. Both letters point out the penchant for pragmatism that runs so deep in our family.

Here, for your delectation, are the letters:

Undated letter from Laura:
Dad and Mom,
Yes, we hitchhiked. We bought lunch and forgot to save enough money for the ride home. It didn’t dawn us until just before we left the beach. I didn’t find out what time it was until too late. I’m sorry about this – I think that I should have a punishment – if you feel that it’s fit – 1-2 weeks of restriction, ie: lose of time to go to a friend’s hose, etc. & should lose* 1 week of my already drawn upon allowance. That would be 3 weeks from now. * (or maybe TV & Reading).
I’m sorry I worried you & hope you enjoyed your evening anyway. You’ve had to put up with a lot from me & you deserve to have someone better than me. I’m sorry – really, truly – I’m sorry & I love you both very much. I’m so sorry.
Laura and Birgitta on the day of Birgitta's arrival
            Give me whatever punishment you see fit – love you both, Laura J. Costales.

Two other girls
From my memoir titled Zingers: I did find the missives [from Jeanne and Marilin (which is what she called herself then) written on yellow paper. They were left for mother and dad when the girls spilled ink on mother’s yellow silk chair. The writing was as I recalled it: Lynn’s was ornate and neat, and Jeanne’s was scrawled all over the page.
            Jeanne had also written in crayon all over Lynn’s part of the note: “This is all a lie. Beleive [sic] me — Please.”
            Dear Mother, wrote Lynn, I didn’t mean too [sic] honestly. Don’t blame me about the pen its [sic] mine and I needed it. Jeanne started after it and caught hold of my arms. I threatened to throw it if she didn’t stop. But she paid no heed.
            P.S. About the gum [in Jeanne’s hair]. I meant to get it on her forehead but I missed. I then tried to get it out before she would notice but she discovered and put up her hand and got it entangled more deeply.
            Jeanne wrote: Dear Mother & Daddy:
            There were no phone calls, but Marilin put gum in my hair and we can’t get it out. Please wake me up and cut it off. She also said if I tried to get the pen she would toss it some place which she did. It landed on the yellow chair and ink went all over the chair. It was the yellow one. The ink is washable, thank hevens [sic], because it is Blink blue washable ink. She threw the ink first of all, then she put the gum in my hair.
            P.S. See if you can see the ink.

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