During the night of an ice storm in March 1957, my baby sister was born. While Mom was in the hospital, my four-year-old sister and I, a ten-year-old, stayed with our paternal grandparents. My nine-year-old brother stayed with our maternal grandparents.
When the time came for Mom to bring baby Sharon home from the hospital, we were excited about going home as well. However, my sister and I started developing red spots . . . Measles! The only way we were allowed to see our baby sister for the next two weeks was by walking on the hard-packed winter trail across a cornfield, going to the back of our house, and peering through the bedroom window.
Mom would tear an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper into quarters, and write a personal note to each of us every day. She would slide the bedroom window open far enough to pass the notes out to us. I delivered my brother’s note to him on the school bus the next morning and carried my notes in my pocket.
Those quarter-page notes were the first of many letters to come in the following years.
After graduating from high school in 1964, I moved from a small town of 2,000 to Minneapolis, seventy miles away. As a country girl, I found the city overwhelming—there were no wide-open spaces and the houses were too close together for my liking. I missed the lake near our home and my family. The University of Minnesota, which I attended that fall, had 40,000 students. It was many times larger than our entire town.
Mom’s weekly letters, my source of encouragement, would arrive like clockwork. I would write my letter on Sunday, she would receive it on Tuesday, and her reply would be in my mailbox on Thursday. Often when I had a tough day in class, Mom’s letter would be waiting for me.
She wrote of ordinary things—what my dad was doing on the farm; who had gotten married, joined the army or had a baby; what my brother and sisters were doing; which elderly person at church had died; how her large garden was doing. Often the letters were written late at night, while she was finishing a batch of beans in the pressure cooker or had a kettle of tomatoes boiling on the stove. On more than one occasion, a spatter of tomato juice landed on the letter. “It’s midnight now,” she would write, “so I guess I should head to bed. I’m falling asleep while writing this.”
After university, I worked at various jobs—in a medical research lab, as a teacher, and at a community college. One constant throughout that time was my mother’s caring correspondence.
After I got married, my husband and I went overseas to do mission work in Papua New Guinea. I was so lonely at first that I would dream of being back home, only to wake up and find myself half a world away from all that was familiar. In 1977, personal computers didn’t exist and we had no telephone, so letters were the only means of communication for the next four years. Mom’s letters were my lifeline, my connection with home. By this time, my brother and two sisters were also away from home, so she was burning the midnight oil, as she would put it, writing to my siblings as well.
She now numbered the front of each envelope to make certain each one arrived safely, and surprisingly enough, they all did. It took two weeks for the letter to reach us, and two more weeks for my reply to get back to her. This was particularly worrisome when she had exploratory surgery for colon cancer. By the time the letter telling us that she would have surgery reached us, she had already had the surgery (her “grand opening”, she called it), and it took another two weeks for us to learn the outcome! It turned out to be polyps, not cancer.
Our mission work eventually took us to the Philippines, Australia, and Dallas, Texas. In the late ’80s, I began saving Mom’s letters, knowing that someday she wouldn’t be with us. I had no idea how soon that time would come.
My dad passed away in 1989 and we moved back to the U.S. in 1990. After twenty-six years of weekly letters, Mom and I switched to talking on the telephone more often than writing.
Then in the spring of 1992, Mom came down with a mysterious illness. After many trips to doctors and courses of antibiotics, she only got worse. The whole family was with her in intensive care on a June evening as Jesus called her Home. I was holding her hand as she slipped away. She was sixty-seven.
There would be no more encouraging letters or phone calls. Later I found nearly 200 letters from her that I had saved. Sometimes I would find a letter tucked away in a dresser drawer or as a marker in a recipe book. Nine years later, while cleaning out a storage shed, I even located some of those original quarter-page well-creased notes from 1957.
If I could write just one more letter to Mom, this is what I would say:
Mom, thanks for the unconditional love you showered on my siblings and me. You treated us all equally and had no favorites. Thanks for making do with so little when we were growing up. We never realized how poor we were materially, because we were rich in so many other ways. Thanks for your example of courage, faithfulness and determination as you lived out your life in situations that were often difficult. Thanks for making the time to write letters when you were too tired and too busy. You’ll never know how much they encouraged me. Thank you for always providing a listening ear to your family and to many others. I thank God for the privilege of having you as my mother. Your grateful daughter, Janet
© Janet Seever 2006 [email protected]