Life Sentences: Sibling Correspondence

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A perusal of old letters gives perspective on life.

We are doing lots of spring dreaming about home improvement this month. While we dream, we seem to attract more clutter to our space. It’s like a horror movie:

“Three generations of Stuff in Basement”

“Do Not Open that door!”

“Cellar as crowded as a Bowery flophouse. The flotsam just keeps floating in!

In an inspiration to clear my closet, I came across a plastic bag of old letters from family and friends.

My sister, Mary Ellen, spent her junior college year in Spain while I was a senior in high school deciding which college to grace with my presence. Mair asked me repeatedly if I had made my decision yet. I suspect I was thinking of going to her college, Wheeling College in West Virginia. 

She would also ask me for favors, such as would I forward addresses of aunts and cousins so that she could send Christmas cards and thank-you notes to those who sent her gifts. And things to tell our Mom and Dad because I was living right there with them.

I had taken a trip with two friends visiting colleges, and one of them was Wheeling, but it was not at the top of my list.

“Also, don’t write to Pie.” (Only the foxiest rugby playing friend she ever introduced me to.)

“He’s got his pots on and it’s half my fault for feeding him and his friends Ex-Lax brownies. You know what they say about people who can’t take a joke. I am writing him from here but I doubt he wants to straighten things out, and I refuse to cringe at his feet begging forgiveness, if you know what I mean.”

Classic Mair: Gorgeous long red hair and great legs, but gets pissy when stared at. Favorite outfit? Denim overalls.

Next, I found a sheet of cartoon stationery (Wallace and Grommet) written by our friends Chas and Sally on June 24, 2005, the day I was released after open-heart surgery at University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

I barely remembered that they had taken the train from Virginia to Philadelphia to make sure I was okay.

Sally, who believes it’s best to bring someone to write down the surgeon’s post-operative instructions, wrote out a whole page of notes: No lifting, no strenuous exercise, pat scar dry after showering, no driving for four weeks. Take six pills several times daily for heart protection, etc.

Chas, who believes everything is better when you’re laughing, recommended his own in-home treatment:

Ice cream twice daily, preferably Butter Pecan but anything in the nut family will do. Daily breakfast at Larry’s II with a side of dry Italian toast. Daily slice of Sal’s pepperoni pizza. Mail order. Weekly dinner at Maplewood III. Lastly, 24/7 All Fran, all the time. Signed, Chas Sumser, MD.

The next letter, from my brother Mick, who spent two years doing reforestation projects in Nepal. He was almost finished his stint there and he had applied for some forestry jobs in the U.S. but also applied to take the GRE (graduate record exam, usually required to attend graduate school in the U.S.).

“If you ever want to feel like a real idiot, study a few chapters of the GRE guidebook. So far I’m scoring high in the Doofus category and I am looking forward to moving up to the lower range of the Lame scale next week.”

“We raised some chickens and a pig during training and today’s the day we turn them into dinner. Normally I would feel bad about such a thing but eating rice for a month can turn your sails. They sometimes have meat with their meals but it’s nothing recognizable.”

The pork is usually one part meat and four parts fat and one part skin, he said. The goat meat is mostly skin (hair optional). There’s always some strange parts in the meat, too. They don’t waste anything, so you can find intestine tubes, internal organs and other delicacies.

“I’m lucky my family is poor. Some of my friends have eaten chicken brains that they sucked out of the intact head. Also, whole kidneys and the comb from the top of a rooster’s head.

“Send me a picture of a cheeseburger, will you?

“Things are going well on our projects. We’ll be turning our first tract of woodland over to a village community this month. That’s the meat of community forestry.

I’ll leave next year’s planting season for the next volunteers.

It’s time for me to come home and eat pizza.”


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