Before I set out for my cross-country cycling adventure, my dad gave me a cardboard box. We were sitting in the living room of the little cabin he had built, where when we'd go visit, we'd walk in and see Mom sitting on the loveseat, surrounded by her magazines, books, paper, and pens. I opened the box to find several rubberbanded stacks of letters written by my mom to her parents, my grandparents. On top of the first stack was a sticky note, and in Dad's precise engineering handwriting I saw '79, '80, and so on, all the way to '86. He had painstakingly gone through all of the letters, putting them into order by year. Several more rubberbanded stacks of letters were labeled the same way underneath the first stack. As I stared at the letter on top, at Mom's clear and elegant handwriting, I wondered how many tears Dad shed while reading through the hundreds of letters. I closed the lid on the box. I would wait until we got home to begin reading them.
The next day I stood at the kitchen counter, the box open in front of me. I began reading the first letter written on March 17, 1979. Mom had noted just under the date that it was Saturday. I got as far as "Dear Mom n' Dad" before the tears started falling. I kept going, but the farther I got into the letter, the less I could see. Hubby walked into the kitchen then took one look at my face and suggested I put the letters away for awhile, until after the ride even. Maybe by then, he said, I'd feel some peace and be able to read the letters. So I arranged the letters back in the box and closed the lid. Hubby took it upstairs and placed it on top of bookshelves where I could see it, know the letters were waiting for me.
This evening, I pulled the box down. I read through the first letter, the second letter, and began the third. Rather than feeling the sadness I felt a few months ago, I felt a joy at being able to hear my mom's voice, see her face, and remember the moments she shared with my grandparents in her lengthy letters. With her words I was transported back to a time I haven't thought about in many years: feeling the brisk March days in Indiana, seeing the puppy my brother brought home, and telling my mom how pretty she looked in the new red blouse she'd bought for her first day at a new job. My mom is still very much with me, just as she was all summer.
At the end of one letter, after being at her new job for several months, Mom wrote, "Question of the day--what am I doing here, when I could be home by the fire, reading a good book?" I had to smile at this as ever since returning to work this semester, I have asked every single day, "What am I doing here?"