Letters give a look into the distant past


I have been engaging in some late-night reading of an extraordinary series of correspondence.

They are letters written by the woman pictured here. She is my mother, Mnostoula. The kids in the photo are my sister and me.

It’s instructive and always eye-opening if you get the chance to see a side of your elders back before they became your elders. The letters I have been reading offer an astonishing glimpse into my mother’s past and, in its way, into my own past as well.

I find myself smiling and reading with slack-jawed amazement at the woman she was so very young.

Mom and Dad were married in August 1946 and the earliest letters are written by Mom to the younger of her two brothers. She wrote them while she and Dad were on their honeymoon. They were married in Portland, Ore., and drove to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles to cavort and carry on the way newlyweds do.

All the letters, 18 of them, were sent to my uncle Jim. They speak to a whole array of experiences that Mom and Dad were enjoying as they began their life together.

The letters, which my uncle gave to me some years ago, end in June 1948, more than a year before I was born.

They simply amaze me to the max.

Mom’s perfect penmanship tells of her meeting up — on her honeymoon, no less — with old friends from Portland who decided to travel south to meet up with the newlyweds. I shake my head a bit at that, remembering my own honeymoon and enjoying the time my bride and I had all to ourselves.

There is another astounding observation she made while walking through downtown San Francisco. Remember that this was in 1946 and Mom told her brother about seeing “all the queers” on the street. She writes about busting out laughing at the sight of what I presume was a significant gay population in the City By the Bay.

She complains about her other brother who, according to Mom, didn’t bother to wish their own mother a happy Mother’s Day.

Most of the material is routine. I suppose one could be bored reading it, unless you’re a descendant of the individual whose correspondence reveals a side of herself that wasn’t always apparent when you’re growing up.

That would be me. I didn’t know much about my mother life prior to her marriage and motherhood, although she did confide in me a time or two about her zest for life when she was a young woman just coming of age.

I feel compelled to share this message with you as a reminder that we all have histories. We all have stories. I have taken a glimpse into my own past and been given the opportunity to read a bit of my dear mother’s story.

Mom was dealt a bad hand in life. Mom and Dad didn’t get to grow old. Mom died at 61 of Alzheimer’s complications. Dad died at 59 in a boating accident. That all happened a long time ago.

Seeing this history unfold from Mom’s own hand, though, reveals a snapshot at who she was and who wanted to become.

If you have a chance to read your elders’ thoughts from back before they became your elders, take it. It’s rewarding beyond measure.