Tattered Jeans

Long live letters: Finding a hidden treasure trove of handwritten messages proves to be priceless

Long live letters: Hidden treasure trove of messages proves priceless

Katie Oxford sixth grade graduation letter
Courtesy photo

I went looking for something, feeling anxiety grow. It was a notebook full of information I’d accumulated over five years. In it were names and numbers of folks in Louisiana, now friends, and maps tracing where I’d traveled there during the BP oil spill and its aftermath.

On land and in water. On one, a circle drawn in pencil, marked the place where hell itself had torn through the sea floor and just kept comin’ — like dirty orange paint vomiting into outer space.

I opened box after box, pulling crap out of closets and still . . .  no notebook.  Had I accidentally tossed it, I wondered. “No way,” I said. I settled myself and the next morning hit the hunt again. As things go, while looking for one thing, I found something else. A brown box filled with letters I’d received from the fifth grade on into my thirties. I knew when I opened it that, for the moment anyway, my hunt for the notebook was on hold.

 When I finally got up from the chair, I felt that somehow — I'd come full circle. Long live letters, I thought. 

I carried it to my favorite chair and there, sat for hours reading letters. Traveling far. By the end of the day  — deep. 

As I read them, I realized that some events I’d completely forgotten. Others were just plain funny and sweet as hell. Sweetly silly now but serious matters to kids fresh out of elementary school — on their way to junior high.

Some came from girlfriends in my sixth grade class, then, writing from camp. “Have you heard anything from Sam?” one asked. “If you see him please tell him to write. P.S.  I'm not homesick anymore."  

Another friend, visiting her grandmother in Laredo, wanted to know if there’d been any parties. She mentioned another classmate, who, apparently, was off to Arkansas that summer with her mother to attend church camp.  “ . . .  that serves her right for being so mean to me!”

One letter, typed, made me smile from inside out. It came from a boy apologizing for something he’d said (who knows what) but didn’t mean. The envelope, also typed, read “PERSONAL” in all caps. His closing was short and sweet too, “I am a very crumy tiper,” he typed.  “Like ya always.” I love that.

In the mix, I found a copy of a handwritten note, xeroxed and probably passed out to everyone in our sixth grade graduating class — all 25 us.  It invited us to a party on the day of our graduation but emphasized, “This is not a graduation party.”

Suddenly, the letters jumped from the '60s to the early '80s — a different time entirely.  These letters came from friends of my parents, written soon after they died. One held special significance. It was written from a friend of my father’s, who interestingly, had visited him three days before Daddy collapsed on the floor from a massive heart attack

In it, he did two things. He gave tribute to my father in ways that only a genuine friend could. He wrote with eloquence and understanding of who Daddy was — as a man and as a friend. In a different way, he gave tribute to someone else too. He described my father’s love for me — using words Daddy had spoken but, for reasons unknown, never to me.

Years ago, I’d have read this letter and cried like a baby. Felt the loss of my parents and felt empty inside. Now, my heart felt full. Grateful. For everything that had passed (good and bad) and for these friends and their letters affirming it.

Amazingly, some of these girlfriends, I’m still in touch with today.   

When I finally got up from the chair, I felt that somehow — I'd come full circle. Long live letters, I thought. I put the brown box back where it belonged.

It was after this when I found the notebook — tucked under a bookshelf a few feet away.