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Friday, October 24, 2008

The Unexpected Letter

A few days ago, I received a letter in the mail addressed to me, the me I have never forgotten, the me before I took my husband's last name. On the return address I read the name of a distant uncle I rarely ever see or speak to even though we live just a few miles apart. In the envelope, I found an old black and white picture.

On the back of the photo, I saw my grandmother's signature and a note detailing where the picture was taken and the date. My grandmother, my father's mother, died in 2001 at the age of 94. My father died shortly after in 2006 at the age of 75. Seeing her writing next to his signature (F.R.O.) on the back of that very old and faded photograph brought tremendous sadness to my heart. My body trembled as I gazed on my father's face. It was impossible for me to hold back the tears and so I allowed them to flow freely.

A tiny note, half the size of a business card, accompanied the photograph. My uncle must have found the picture rummaging through his drawers, a shoe box or perhaps even an old photo album. Or maybe someone from the island sent him the photo. Who knows...

The note had a poignant and coded message that he had for some strange and unknown reason felt a need to share with me. The English translation reads something like this

In the inscrutable designs of providence, time is the best sculptor.

signed Turkey

Why did he sign it "Turkey?" Well, it was my nickname for him when I was younger. When he arrived from Cuba in 1980, he had such an insatiable appetite for turkey and ham that he made himself sick one day. His life on the island had been so difficult and his tall skinny body craved everything and anything he had not eaten for years. And so, his nickname stuck. The day of my father's funeral, he stood by my side and made a point to mention how he had never forgotten all my father had done for him and how there was nothing that would keep him from standing by my father's casket and seeing him one last time.

The gratitude was well deserved. For almost one year, my mother and father had slept on a mattress on the floor of my brother's room so my uncle and his wife could have their own room. My father wanted to help them save enough money so they could move into their own place some day. Helping the family meant giving up our rooms, beds, closets any other of our modest comforts...this was my father's way. Any ill feelings I carried from the past were soon erased the moment my uncle spoke those words of gratitude.

New Orleans, Louisiana 1969
My father, my baby brother and me at the zoo.


  1. Fearless - a piece I can identify with. It is "nuestra manera" to bring over our dear ones and give them a shot at that which we are blessed to enjoy. My mom and dad sponsored/helped/housed many relatives through the years.
    I sensed the emotion that came forth when you saw the picture.

  2. Cassy
    Perhaps you and I should write a book and include all those stories...stories of great happiness and hope embellished with sadness and disappointment. It has always been difficult for me to look back and try to understand and accept "nuestra manera" without feeling a bit unsettled. But I guess I will never truly understand, for I have always been so blessed even when I had so little.

  3. This story made me tear up.

  4. It's interesting how a brief, enigmatic note and a photo from the past can bring up memories, the good and bad all intertwined.

    Wonderful post -- great to be reading your words again.

  5. I can also relate to parts of your story.
    My Mother recently moved out of the home I grew up in. The house my Mother and Father build over 60 years ago. The place was in really bad shape and Mama had sold most of the land and could afford a better house with good heat and air.
    Anyway, when I went back to the old house to help her get some more "stuff" I saw she had 7 little ziploc bags stuffed with items. One bag for each of the 7 children. I looked in my bag. Old report cards, birthday cards, etc. Also several photos. One I had never saw before. It was Daddy, Mama, and 2 year old me in front of a 1950's car. Just the 3 of us. Something I didn't have before. Just the 3 of us out of some many of us.
    I guess I am just saying..I understand the importance of something simple like a unknown photo.
    Didn't mean to rattle on here.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  6. Fearless,
    This is just lovely. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I enjoyed this post so much. My grandmother died recently,and when I got home from the funeral I started looking through all my old photos. I realized that most of them had come from her. On the back of each one was her handwriting with the place it was taken, and the names of the people in the picture. It made me feel closer to her somehow.

  8. Anonymous
    Me too!

    Thank you for "your" words as well. Ah yes...remembering the past...

    I sometimes avoid past memories the ones that conjure up feelings I would rather not dwell on in any way.(I am, as I have said before, a bit of a wimp--too sentimental I guess)

    But the past is, as you say intertwined with the good and the bad, and so to deny one would mean to deny them all. I surely cannot deny them all...can I?

    Georgia Farm Woman

    You never rattle on and in fact I thought of you when I was preparing this post. Your posts and your photographs have always been extremely inspiring to me.

    Hi Cy

    Thank you for stopping by and providing me with your positive feedback.

    I read about your loss on your blog. Again...I am sorry. It sounds like we were both very close to our grandmothers. Believe it or not, I can still hear my grandma's voice sometimes, and I can see her face so clearly in my mind. She is with me all the time.

  9. Wow, what a powerful story. What a fantastic gift from your uncle.

  10. What a beautiful story. Yay, Turkey! For being so thoughtful, sending that photo. AND for redeeming the possibility of there being something nice in the USPS in this day-n-age.

    (There's a photo of my dad, my mom, my brother and I taken at the N.O. zoo in that same gazebo in 1965. We're surrounded by about a trillion of my Crazy Cajun relatives. I may never get it from my aunt.)

  11. Hi Dancing Monkey

    Thanks or the comment.

    Hey Nards

    I believe you. Your writing and your stories touch me deeply as well. You and I can read between the lines. True? Be well my friend.

    Hi Carol

    I wonder if the gazebo still stands. ;)
    I doubt it, for it has been some years...has it not? Funny you mention the crazy relatives. I guess we all have plenty of those to go around. Thanks frthe visit.

  12. What an amazing story! I love the photo. Thanks for sharing it.

  13. Wow!! This story gave me shivers because it made me realize how much more we are connected that we might think. Here you've not seen this uncle in ages and then he sends you the photo. So he was not only thinking of your father but you as well. Connections can be astounding things. Even when we aren't fully aware that they are going on. As if our souls are all out there interacting even though our "active day to day lives" may not bring us in contact with that person.

    I've had experiences like this before myself and they are beyond powerful. They seem to transcend time, distance, and death. Very beautifully told and written. I am glad you cried. It is a reflection of your deep connection to those other souls in your family.

    Just a beautiful story, Mar. So poignant and universal in many ways. Thank you for taking the time to share it.

  14. Namaste' Oh fearless one. It must have brought back a lot of different feelings to receive such a letter, both with your maiden name and signed by someone, whom cared enough about you to sign his name with your nickname for him! wow...this was a really great post.

    I am sorry I have not been around this summer to have missed some of your own journeys. I absolutely LOVED seeing this picture of you with your dad and brother and the little coded message from your uncle Turkey. It did not say much, but spoke volumes indeed.


  15. This is such a wonderful story, my heart felt warm when i read this story, i can only imagine what you felt when you where reading the letter!

    P.S. you are so adorable in the picture :D i'm sure you are going to treasure for a lifetime.

  16. "Memories are visions they tell us who we are".

    I wrote these words with almost the same sentiment in mind. People don't forget, they just stray. Someday they remember and when they do something magical happens.

  17. This story tugged at my heartstrings. What a heartwarming post. Thanks for sharing.

    Btw, I have given you an award at my blog Gewgaw Writings.

    Do pick it up.
    Thanks for sharing a poignant but beautiful story.

  18. It's so cool to find pictures which bring back memories of our loved ones and things they wrote. I remember finding my grandmother's little journal written when she was living with us in her last days. She wrote how she enjoyed listening to my piano playing. I never knew she enjoyed it because she never said anything. I wish I had known because I would have played more for her. I was very touched.


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