Friday, March 23, 2012

Dear Mr. President

I have a drawer stuffed with old letters from my grandmother. She was a consummate letter writer, detailing the minutiae of her days as well as her thoughts on current events that she recorded on pages and pages of slanted script. Her writing scrawled across the lines and into the margins. I don't believe I ever got a letter shorter than seven pages. Nor did anyone else.

I saved all her letters because they were a diary of sorts, of not only her life, but mine. Once she moved back to Ohio the letters ceased. There was no need to write once she was back in the vicinity of family and we saw each other face-to-face instead. And now that her dementia has progressed so much that she doesn't venture into conversations about daily life anymore, she couldn't write letters these days even if she wanted to.

Which made it all the more intriguing when I stopped by her apartment and discovered a plain white business envelope atop of a stack of papers in her chair. The envelope was addressed to: The President, c/o The White House, Washington, D.C.

Naturally, I opened it. But the envelope was empty.

My mind was a-whirl. Why was she writing to The President? For a moment, I was fooled into hoping that she knew who the president was and that some current event (or more likely, some sort of injustice) had spurned her into sitting down and writing a letter of complaint. This would have been so like her.

Then I realized-- it would have been just like her. She'd probably written to 'The President' hundreds of times, sending each current man in office her thoughts and opinions on current events just as she'd written them to me. It was an aspect of my grandmother's life I hadn't been aware of but was not surprised to discover. In fact, as I looked through the stack of papers on her chair I saw that they were old letters and journals from the 1980's. The presidential envelope was typewritten. I couldn't find a letter anywhere in the stack beneath it. Apparently the envelope was just at-the-ready.

When my grandmother came back into the room I wanted to ask her what she'd written to the president, but knew she'd never remember. I knew she didn't know who the current president was, and had no recollections of writing to The President in the past. I wanted to snatch up that envelope and add it to the collection of old letters in my drawer. I wish I had. Because empty or not, it told me as much about my grandmother as her newsy letters did.


  1. I love this post/story. And I can identify with it, because dementia has touched a couple of my elderly family members. In high school I wrote about a particular instance with my grandmother:

  2. I read your story about your grandmother, Kristan. It's beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. I have kept all my letters from my friends and family and put them into a large tin. These are from the 1980's, 1990s and beyond and now, I rarely write snail mail but I sometimes to because it's so lovely to receive something in the mail.

    However, some years ago, my Aunt asked me about something to do with when I was overseas and I dug up one of the letters from the tin. She balked at how I had stored them and asked me why I kept all the letters from my friends 'like that?'. I asked: 'Like how?' and she pointed to the tin. I said that they were from my friends, were very personal and I wasn't going to throw them out. My Aunt said she had scanned all of her letters from everyone, saved them onto the computer and then burned the originals. I was shocked... why would she want to do that? She suggested I do that and I almost hugged the tin because I just wouldn't do that kind of thing to my friends' writings.

    However, how your grandmother wrote to the President is wonderful. It makes me wonder what she wrote in the letters and if she ever received a reply from him; or any of them that ruled your country. :)

  4. The idea of scanning her letters and burning the originals makes me shudder. No way!

    And to your comment, Mozette, "...It makes me wonder what she wrote in the letters and if she ever received a reply from him; or any of them that ruled your country..." I wonder what she wrote, too, and wonder how large the government file on her is???

  5. This is such a lovely story, and you are so lucky to have this history of your grandmother to keep for years to come. It reminds me of Googling my father after he died and finding a letter to Time Magazine he'd had published when he was sixteen--a snippet of who he was long before I was even imagined.