Letters from St. Kevin

This all started because of a family Vacation Summer 1982 with my Dad, Mom, little brother. I am 20 at the time.

The route:

  • Nanaimo
  • Campbell River
  • Port Hardy
  • Prince Rupert
  • Hazelton
  • K’san
  • Smithers
  • Houston
  • Burns Lake
  • Fort St. James
  • Prince George
  • Quesnel
  • Williams Lake
  • 108 Ranch
  • 100 Mile House
  • Cache Creek
  • Kamloops
  • Vernon
  • Kelowna
  • Summerland
  • Penticton

On a visit to South Hazelton on August 23 1982, we met William (Bill) Rea, age 75. I think the family and I had parked the car and gone to a cafe. When we were walking back to the car, we stopped to admire a quaint little house decorated with leprechaun paintings and its yard filled with treasures. My brother and I may have come across a little white kitten:

 

 

That’s when Bill stepped out and started up a conversation. We chatted with Bill for a long time.

 

 

He gave us vegetables from his garden.

 

 

He ended up suggesting that I move in with him and if I did, he’d buy me a “new” (i.e. refurbished) washing machine! My mom commented later on how beautiful Bill’s skin was (“like a peach”).

Bill was a local treasure and he would dress up annually as St. Kevin and walk about the town.

 

 

I am so thankful for my Dad who captured the visit.

Bill and I began a correspondence and these are some of his charming letters:

 

 

December 16, 1983:

Dear Miss Katarina

So nice to have got your letter for last Xmas, 1982. Did you guess who sent you the flowers from the 14th Feb last with a note from faraway places, over the HILL? I am sending you the same plus some interest on what you sent me last Xmas. I hope to hear or see you sometime, next year, or the next.

I sure had a nice day on St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe one day you would like to be St. Alena and come around with me, and have a grand day out to visit my friends.

Will as ever, Bill

See you

I sure hope you like my story:

 

Extra little envelope inside:

To St. Alena From You Know Who (St. Kevin):

Last year I pulled a piece of bone out of my foot with my Vice Grips. It was in my foot for 11 weeks and 4 days. What pain for all that timeAlso, I sent a lady flowers and a pot of gold (chocolates) for her return overseas.

 

 

February 7, 1984:

Hello Katarina

I am sure glad you still remember me! I have lots of stories to tell you, but I am not much good at putting them on paper. I like to tell them to others, so I guess you will have more fun out of the them one day when we meet. I was in Smithers 2-2-84 to do my banking etc. I went into the Florists to send you some flowers. I could not make up my mind what kind you would like for Valentine’s Day so I thought to myself, Katarina won’t mind if I send her the cash, so I got you a cheque at the Royal Bank so you can go with your mom to the florists and pick out some kind of plant you would like and maybe there will be something over and you two can have a pot of TEA on me, sure, that would be nice. I gave your love to our cat and the cat said to me, “don’t forget to send Katarina our love, Bill.”

So, with lots of love from the two of us up here

As ever, Bill

In a few weeks when you get time let me know what you got for Valentine’s Day. Oh yes, give my love to the Deer. She is beautiful.

Bye for now, Bill

I enclose some mint. Sure is nice.

 

April 12, 1984

Hellow St. Alena

I am sure glad that my Valentine’s present made you feel much better? If you and your mom and friends call on me in May or some other time, try to let me know ahead of time and about the day. I have no time for a phone in my cabin. I may be away working on one of my other houses or in Smithers or Terrace and would not wish to miss you.

I am sending you a Birthday Present. It is not a lot, but I think you will like it? I have a feeling you will. If you folks have a day or two you would like to spend around the Hazeltons, there is quiet motel, and trailer, camper and camping, lots of room, or if you are camping there is lots of room down by the river, quiet as you wish. Why the hotel is so quiet, they moved Highway 16 over now the folks there can’t sell the place. What a shame. Nice place. I will foot the BILL in full for the FOUR of you up to two days or 48 hours, wherever you stay, if you have time to spare.

So St. Alena can put it down to the other part of her birthday present, that might give you a chance to do a painting. Sorry, can’t go into more about your letter now. We can talk later. I will be going to Smithers within the hour. The time is 6AM now. Why I am always on the go I don’t know, and don’t seem to get much done.

David Livingstone. Have you read about the great Doctor Livingstone? Born 1813. Near Glasgow, Scotland. He nearly failed his final examination through his stubborn belief in the stethoscope, a new invention, then held in contempt by most medical men. But he scraped through. Well, I must get cracking or you won’t get your birthday present, my sweet.

By the way, I call the kitten, Kitty.

So lots of love from St. Kevin and Kitty.

PS. I put your paintings over the arch in my Rest Room. Bye for now, Bill,

PSS. I have friends 10 miles out of New Hazelton and they have their own private plane and they are home. Plus if you have time, they will take you up and show you around. Looks wonderful with all the lakes.

Bye now. B.

 

November 4, 1984:

My Dearest little friend

Many thanks for all your good NEWS.

Will be nice for you when you have your own home, family, and car. I enclose a small present for you so you can have some nice tea when you have a party or shower. You know the tea you like, Earl Grey Tea.

I’m going to upgrade where I live in New Hazelton, then if all goes well, I am going to work on my new house in South Hazelton so when you are up this way again and if you want to find me, ask at the Post Office in SOUTH Hazelton. My place in South Hazelton has 7 acres of land and sits outside of town facing west-north on the side of the hill with view for miles only of great river, mountains and trees.

Lots of good wishes, from Bill Rea

Don’t forget to, when you get time, to SEND ME ALL YOUR NEWS.

I sent you two presents for when you got back from Stockholm on the 5 Aug 1984, one of flowers and the other one a Box of Rain Chocolates, or as it says on the Box, POT OF GOLD.

I was wondering if you got them as you always let me know when I send you presents. If you got them, don’t let me know as I will take it that you did. If you did NOT get the presents I sent to, let me know and I will try to find out who got them.

All the Best,

Bill

 

Christmas 1984:

Merry Christmas

A good year to you all in 1985

From Faraway Places

DRINKS ON ME FOLKS

My nest in the West

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL. 

 

Christmas 1985:

Merry Xmas

I send to my friends far away.

From the lights of my home in New Hazelton.

Do you like the lights on my Xmas tree? It was 3’8” when planted. Now 43’ something tall. I put lights on the tree when it was about 12’ tall and it just keeps taking them up. There is [sic] no lights within 12’ from the ground. Good thing they told me when I got them, they would last 100 YEARS for the branches are now so close together no one could climb up there to change the bulbs. All the lights go on and off in turn then they all go off for 2 minutes, then they all try to play some sort of guessing game to see who can come on first or stay on the longest, then after about 10 minutes of playing that game, they all go out, then start it all over again. The Big light in the front of my house is the shamrock. It has a game going on its own. It is nice and green, not like in the picture.

Well, I may see someone when walking one day?

From UP North

Home where in the west

I build a Little Nest,

A place that known to God alone.

We will be the nest of the world.

So Bye

BILL

Related:

Dear Richard: corresponding with Richard Selzer, M.D.

I was going through some old journals two days ago and in the one dated June 2, 2002, I came across printouts of a very special email correspondence.

Background:

In the mid 90’s, I was told about a bookstore in Seattle by my dear friend, Patti.

My (then)partner and I went down to Seattle a while later and when visiting the shop, my partner found a lovely little book:

Mortal Lessons by Richard Selzer, MD:

In this collection of nineteen unforgettable essays, Dr. Selzer describes unsparingly the surgeon’s art. Both moving and perversely funny, Mortal Lessons is an established classic that considers not only the workings and misworkings of the human body but also the meaning of life and death. [source]

 

I loved this book. Read it many times.

One particular passage made me weep:

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks, “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. Richard Selzer, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery

Why did this passage move me so deeply? In the late 70s and early 80s I had several surgeries (and radiation treatments) for a parotid gland tumor that wrapped around my left side facial nerve and the threat of facial nerve damage looms. Always looms.

Eventually my younger brother and Patti read the book as well and folded it in to their creative work. And we began collecting Selzer’s work.

 

Patti, ever the diligent sleuth/creative, found Dr. Selzer’s email address. In 2002, my brother visited Dr. Selzer in Connecticut to explore the potential of a collaboration. He had a glorious visit and had Dr. Selzer sign the inside of the Mortal Lessons book.

I then connected with Dr. Selzer through email and what followed was a short-lived exchange of letters. My marriage was in the midst of unraveling and this correspondence was a sweet interlude during a very painful and transformative time.

Excerpts from some of the letters in the June 2, 2002 journal:

June 7, 2002

Dear Richard,

At my brother’s encouragement, I am writing your directly. I do hope that you don’t mind. As I write this, I am sitting on the ferry heading home to Roberts Creek… I have put aside my psychology studies and read your manuscript. I know that Nabokov detested readers who see themselves in the words they read, whose hearts bleed in recognition. I admit I have felt embarrassment at being that kind of reader. But why? As Anthony Burgess writes about Shakespeare- to see his face, we need only to look in the mirror.

I read your words in “The Atrium” and they are the exact ones I needed at that moment. In this moment…

… Working with the families of the missing and murdered women this Spring, my thoughts have been centred on death…

Death has always been strangely reassuring to me (personally). I can write with sincerity that I am not frightened of my death – BUT what scares me is leaving my kids…

I read your words and cried. Could one become blind by seeing too much? I have experienced intense sadness in the past year, and during that year I often walked alone in the woods to lay down in the moss – being one in the forest – rehearsing your dream.

… I am blessed to love reading. For it takes me to places far beyond what is possible in “reality.” And today I spent time in the atrium, observing you, through your words. Thank you.

The ferry is docking.

Love Katarina

June 8, 2002

Very dear Katarina,

You cannot imagine how touched I was to read your letter to me. I can see precisely why your brother loves you so much. You have a great heart that is both open and vulnerable.

I had not heard about the disappearance of the women of Vancouver, but now I know. It is a chilling tale. To take part in the healing is your destiny; I believe it will guide you for the rest of your life.

Your words about my “Atrium” serve as reassurance that I have not miscalculated in writing that piece. Just to think that I have you for a reader is thrilling. 

Love Richard

June 8, 2002

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your kind and inspirational words. I do feel like I’m riding a thrilling wave of learning. To connect with humans hungry to explore circumstance is wonderful. That is what I admire so much in your spirit! It is truly exciting to witness some of your creative process. The manuscript, the photo of you on the park bench…

Time for coffee on this early Saturday morning. I like this time of the year, day and week. The kids sleep in, the sun shining through the greenery, the birds singing and I have my coffee and mountain of books strewn on my bed. 

Love Katarina

June 9, 2002

Dear Katarina,

It is so good to imagine you lying on a bed bestrewn with books, one of which is “Down From Troy,” a variety of intimacy I don’t often enjoy.

Warmly, Richard

June 11, 2002

Dear Richard,

My brother and I wrote our Canadian Citizenship exam yesterday. We knew we arrived at the right place when we saw a line up of dozens and dozens of people from different nationalities lining up clutching their papers. It was surreal and wonderful.

The process took quite a while and as I was waiting in my seat, I pulled out my copy of “Down From Troy”… the page opened to:

For the more than sixty years that he lived on the continent of North America, Grandpa remained blissfuly stateless. The idea of citizenship never occurred to him, neither in Canada, which he had entered illegally, nor in the United States.

Miraculous coincidence. My copy is beginning to bulge with post-its… Many things I want to ask you, discuss, share! You’ll have to excuse my obvious enthusiasm. 

All the best to you,

Katarina

June 11, 2002

Dear Katarina,

In you I have found my ideal reader. It is infinitely touching to me, the way in which my words echo in your heart. Fate was looking over my shoulder when she decreed we should come together. You are one of those things for which I am grateful to your brother. Please don’t hesitate to write to me as often as you wish. 

In warmest friendship, Richard

June 12, 2002

Dear Richard,

I woke with a start this morning… my dreams were heavy with images of people I love, morphing into ones I didn’t know, words swimming around me: subatomic physics, Feyman’s Sum Over Histories, ethical issues in psychology… all the while I was spitting out little white pills that formed on my tongue – some the size of a tic tac, others the size of a pinhead.

I had fallen asleep with your book beside me. I recall the heaviness of p. 51: Whatever their true domestic drama, it was not naked but clothed in civility. Whatever their secret disappointments or resentments, each of their mouths was closed upon a pill of silence. 

It is precisely this civility I have fought against, played into, cursed, embraced, uncovered, shied away from, discovered, torn apart, understood…

It’s a beautiful day. I picture you in the library… I can smell the books.

Cheers, Katarina

June 12, 2002

Dear Katarina,

Yes, I am in the library, daydreaming away the afternoon. My mind is not mine to control; it wanderers whithersoever it listeth. It was always thus. It’s because I was a changeling. It was your lovely message that brought me back from… where was it? Scotland! I’ve never been there except in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, but I’m sure that the Scotland of my imagination is more “Scottish” than the real one. This wool-gathering can turn one topsy-turvy. I sometimes wonder if something really did happen or whether I dreamt it. One’s grip on reality loosens after a while. But then, what IS reality? Certainly it is not the truth.

You are lucky for all sorts of reasons, but the two I’m thinking of are that you are engaged in study of a new discipline; nothing is more satisfying to the spirit than mastering a new art or craft or field of endeavour. The other is that you have passed through the flames and come out whole with new understanding of yourself, having shed the falseness of a former life.

I have to tell you two things, One is that our correspondence will end up in the Archive of my papers at the University of Texas in Galveston. One day, it will be read by others. I can say that I’ll see that doesn’t happen, but whenever I’ve tried, I find I can’t sort. I just thought I’d better tell you that I’m no longer Richard Selzer but “Richard Selzer.” There is a woman in Finland who was quite horrified to think that her letters to me weren’t going to be private.

The other confession is that there is a woman, also in Texas, who is engaged in writing my biography! I have tried mightily to dissuade her, but she persists… if you prefer, I shan’t give give her your address. 

Please write to me again soon.

Affectionately, Richard

June 12, 2002

Taking a break from studying… both kids made it to school today – my son’s weekly migraine is looming, but he wants to make it today as it is his last chance to talk to a girl in his science class who he has had a crush on since September… in his pocket is a beeswax candle and a cinnamon stick – and ancient love booster recipe that I gave him before he left.

What is reality? “Not the truth…” concepts I have been struggling with and fighting against. And finally I accept! How often I have cried, “is this not real? and this? and this?!” There was much camaraderie when I read your words: “Things do matter, I am not opposed to owning property…”

Re: emails not being private – I have no qualms about that. Myself, I am an avid journal/image-idea-file keeper and ALL gets inserted, much to my mother’s concern. I am in full support of correspondence being kept for future eyes… I love books of letters, private diaries.

Given the choice between two discoveries – that of an unknown play by Shakespeare and that of one of Will’s laundry list – we would all plump for the dirty washing every time.  (Anthony Burgess)

How exciting and bizarre it must be to have a biography written about oneself! Where does truth fit in there? If you would like her to have my email address, please feel free.

I am in awe of the “writer.” My art is the 2-D visual. Do you process your thoughts, then write? Does it flow through you? Are you a careful writer, going back, correcting, changing? Or is the final product simply a dictation of what you have already worked out? And the “surgeon” in you. Does your writing parallel your art as a surgeon? Oh, for a simple few seconds, to see the human body as you have seen.

Love, Katarina

June 13, 2002

Dear Richard,

Having spent hours in the garden, I took a break on the porch and started rereading your book, “Raising the Dead.” Your command of the English language astounds, for it is not only storytelling, but word-plays. When I teach drawing, I tell my students – you must be able to extract a small segment of your drawing, any segment, and have the composition work within those limits.  I feel that technique of analysis works with your sentences.

I love when I read and have to put the book down and pace the room in excitement before getting back to it. I am completely humbled and gratified that I get to be the reader and not the creator. Creation can be exhausting.

Is that the torment of the artist? To always have to be the creator and not the observer of one’s own work? I struggle with the need to create that which I already know, see, feel INSIDE. To interpret and regurgitate in order to see it, see it, see it. But as creator, I am always a step behind. The process of creation includes a time delay between the internal conversation and the actual act of creating the work. The real vision spills out ahead of me into the dark abyss of eternity and I am left behind scampering and clawing, desperately trying to capture the minutest glimpse of what I have already experienced just a spit second before.

I love to fantasize about the writer’s palette of words. It is often theorized that “Lolita” in the guise of a prepubescent was actually the English language. Nabokov, being Russian was new to the language and he adored it, coveted it, explored it dangerously. 

Here comes my cat with a garter snake in his mouth. Must be a signal to get back to work!

Love, Katarina

June 14, 2002

How to speak about the creative act? It deliquesces while you are still applying pen to paper, or, I imagine, brush to canvas. It is, in that respect, most like a moment of ecstasy, physical or spiritual. Nor can it be recalled with any exactitude. The bright colours of retrospect cannot be precisely applied, only approximated, as you so powerfully expressed it. 

What moves me most is the human body. Last evening on the shuttle bus, I sat next to man whose cheek was gray, pocked and fitted as though a Satyr with sharp hooves had danced across it. Had such a cheek ever been kissed? I wondered. And thought Apollo chasing the nymph Daphne who, just as he caught her, metamorphosed into a laurel tree, thought of the lustful god pressing his ramous mouth not to wet warm flesh but to the ridged bark of the tree. What’s more, at that moment, I wanted to lean toward the man and kiss his cheek — just to see. It is the unspeakable length to which the true artist will go in search of the truth. 

Whatever else can be said of my work, it cannot be said that I have shirked the body to dwell upon the soul. I’ve never been able to distinguish between the two. And it is particularly the malformed, afflicted and even repulsive body that is the most revealing of what is called the soul. Precisely through the declaration of its vulnerability. Through the flaws and fissures and festering of the flesh, the soul swims closer to the surface where it can be glimpsed. The soul is only visible as it wears the flesh. Otherwise it is a pallid wasp.

I was wondering if I should erase all of the above. No, I’ll let it stand, and count on Katarina to forgive any unintended offense.

Love, Richard

 

The New York Times June 15, 2016:


The third letter home. November 18, 1968

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Previous posts:

Package of letters to Sweden

A letter home. November 1, 1968

Dream. Letters. Thought and Memory.

Writing exercise.

The Second Letter.

As these translations focus on the letters from my mother to her best friends in Sweden, I will not be including letters from my Dad (this project is for mom, Drawn Together  was for Dad).  I will however include some interesting bits and pieces from Dad’s letters that give insight into mom and home life.

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Mom’s third letter, dated Monday November 18, 1968 

[Note: my nickname in my family is Nina]

Thank you for two very interesting letters the other day,  I both cried and laughed when I read them.  Cried when I read that Eivor is starting to bring in money, which led to, amongst other things, us heading out on the weekend in search of a larger apartment.  It is true that it is quite nice here, but a little awkward.  You enter the living room onto wall-to-wall carpeting and that is a pain, you understand, as you know our angels.

At least we found a townhouse with access to a swimming pool.  Super fancy, 4 large bedrooms, combined living room and dining room, gorgeous kitchen with a dishwasher.  Two washing machines and two dryers in the basement.  Beautiful colours on the inside and a whole new neighborhood.  

We have a view of the mountains even here.  One of the bedrooms is downstairs and three up with thick, luxurious wall-to-wall carpets, with hardwood in the living room (which I am so grateful for).  There is even a front hall when you enter.  It will be much nicer for hosting and having guests as there are two floors.  We are making our decision in the morning.  

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Otherwise things are moving along well.  I miss you all.  (strangely)

Last Saturday we were invited to an English family.  He works at Sandwell.  They live close by in an absolutely adorable log cabin, with a wood stove made of rough granite.  It turns out they are real tough people.  Every year they do a road trip with boat and tent (they are in their 60’s) to Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.  On the last trip, they were out in the wilderness the whole holiday.  They didn’t see any humans, except maybe for natives and farmers.  It takes about 8 hours to drive to the Rocky Mountains from here to a place called Williams Lake.  It is supposed to be a great place.  

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He showed us slides and you, Rolf, would have cried if you saw the trout they caught every day.  There are several small cottages built in the wilderness for any visitors– anyone can use them.  They would repeatedly run into moose and bears.  Anders will go crazy with anticipation before we get there.  But there is no point to going there until the Spring as it is really cold up there in the winter.  It is better head South in the winter.  In two days we can be in Florida.

It +10ºC here today.   Girls are still wearing ankle socks.  But not Nina.  She has to wear leotards.  But it rains a lot here during the winter.  Last Saturday, we took the kids up the gondola.  Maybe Roar already wrote about that.  He bought a book and mailed it to you (as temptation), but it was not sent by air mail so it will probably take awhile before it arrives.  I haven’t received photos from Åke yet– maybe these were also sent by boat.  

It is going really well for the kids at school.  Nina goes 9-1 and Anders goes to 3.  There is no bad day for grade 1.  I am surprised.  And they really go hard.  Nina has to write long essays.  She has such a great accent.  It helps when they have start so young.  Sometimes she is grumpy when she comes home for lunch, but after she has eaten, she is satisfied and happy again.  

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I can’t believe this is true– girls are not allowed to wear pants at school.  Luckily, it does not get that cold here.  I think it is a bit more strict here, and they don’t have the same approach.  Vern’s two young girls are already reading fluently.  I can’t believe it is true.  Nina (and I) hope that she will be able to be in the same class as Ann-Christine in a few years.  That’s the story I use when Nina doesn’t want to go to school. 

This coming Friday, we are going to the boss for dinner.  Blah!  I am not allowed to wear my long pants according to Roar.  Otherwise he doesn’t dare to go.  The old bag called me the other day.  I thought it was Fru Koppel.  I have never heard anything more close.  She is Danish and has lived in Stockholm for six years (stewardess), so she speaks Swedish.  She is supposed to be really attractive (gross).  But she actually sounded rather fun.  Everyone is pretty much a bunch of old bags and bitches otherwise, I think.  

Yeah, I guess one will survive this as well.  There is so much to arrange, and one can’t catch up.  Just imagine how much we will have time to do this summer when we come.  We won’t need many clothes.  Just money for the trip.  The rest we can take care of.  By the way, what the hell did Eivor receive from Roar through the window?  Luckily it wasn’t at the door.  

On Saturday, we are going to Vern for dinner because the kids are going to the ice rink to skate.  Vern is the same.  He must be so clever.  He has built a large house with three storeys.  His kids are girls ages 15 and 14, boys ages 12 and 10, and twin girls ages 6 and a half.  Sheila is really nice but not exactly a party gal.  Everyone seems so damn well-behaved here.  Lucky for me, Roar spoke to the neighbor the other day and I asked if he was cool.  Roar then said, “not as cool as Rolf.”  (Which I agree with)  Roar was quiet for a bit and then said, “and the broad wasn’t as perky as Eivor Carlson either.”  And somehow that was followed by me saying, “and that I am very thankful for.”  It just came out of me.  I am going to ensure things are relaxed and calm for awhile so I don’t have to chase Roar, etc.  

But I miss other types of exchanges of course.  Who knows, maybe a moose hunting family will show up this summer.  NOTE!  But not without the kids.  If I have to pay for them, I will.  

I am writing myself to death.  My fingers hurt.  Roar is also writing letters.  

I must tell you, we had some problems the other day.  They aired Bonanza, Laredo and High Chaparall on three different channels at the same time the other day.  This drove Anders crazy.  One channel is just cartoons.  Batman and the sort.  The boss’s wife told me I should watch TV as much as possible to learn English, but I actually just write letters.  

Say hello to Gunhild, with best wishes on the baptism.  The same happened with Katarina, if you remember.  The ceremony lasted an hour and Stake had dementia but there was just six of us, so it worked out anyhow.  

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Now I can’t write anymore.  I will write another day.  Please write back or I will die an old man.  I play Sven Ingvars every day and long for home.  But time passes quite quickly.  Pan and Pia [the dogs] are welcome to sneak around outside our house some night.  I will let you know when Rolf should give Moritz arsenic in a few years.  Or Max could have snuck it into the coffee.  I assume Rolf can buy it cheap.

Karin

PS.  Excuse the handwriting.  I have written to Dad, Helga, Ulla-Britt, Sivan as well.

EXCERPT: Dad’s letter dated November 17, 1968

… There is a hell of a difference between Gruvöns Sågverk where one was only an errand boy to Moritz.  If I only get over this initial uncertain time, it will be an astounding school in which one learns to become the boss.  Hope this will be of value when we return to Sweden in the future.  

Well, I will end it here– will write more later.  Please write again soon, it is so nice to hear from you both.  I am starting to get over that difficult day when we left you– but I will never forget it.  

Heartfelt greetings. – Roar

The second letter. November 5, 1968.

Why when I close my eyes and think about myself at a young age do I find myself immediately at the age of 6?  What makes me go back to that little girl?  That time?

These days I feel tears well up easily.  Not of sadness, but of fullness.  Today I walked home from the bus stop the long way via the heron nests.  I stopped, breathing in the scent of blossoms, looking up at the springtime activity as the birds were busy showing off for each other, building nests.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all– my heart full, knowing that I am ready.  That tonight I would finally commit to translating mom’s letters here in this sacred space of mine, my blog.

I don’t write this blog for anyone but myself.  It is a depository.  A way to journal.  I only write it for me.  Sharing it in the ether gives me perspective.  I get a chance to step back.  To process.  So this is the place for me to translate the letters.

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Sweden before we left for Canada

It is November, 1968.

My mom is 32 , the same age my daughter is now, and she is writing letters home to her best friends in Sweden.  Newly arrived to Canada.  And I am 6.  And she is writing letters.  And I have those letters in a pile here.  I have had them since December 2013.  I have only read the first one.

Previous posts:

Package of letters to Sweden

A letter home. November 1, 1968

Dream. Letters. Thought and Memory.

Writing exercise.

From what I see, as I sift through them, is that they are positive reflections of a young mother sitting at the kitchen table, likely children in bed, or at school, scratching out a connection to her best friends back home.  So why have I left the package untouched in my bookshelf on top of my father’s drawings all this time?  Me- the person that voraciously sifts through historical documents?

What is it that makes me well up in tears as I make this commitment now to go through the letters?  What is it I am grieving?  Remembering?

That young woman at the kitchen table, writing to her best friends.  The words flowing out of her mind, onto paper, into envelope, into mailbox, over the ocean, into her friends’ hand, 45 years later back into envelope, back across the ocean, into my hands.

And so…

Mom’s first letter to her friends was written the day after we arrived in Canada (we arrived October 31, 1968).  Today’s letter was written a few days later.

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Vancouver 5/11-68

Hi!

I was so damn mad- the freezer has mould, so I have stood with my head in it all day scrubbing.  [We had that freezer until 2004].  I guess I didn’t wipe it dry properly and it has been developing mould for 5 weeks.  Now, at least, it is ship-shape.  We have now furnished and decorated the house and as usual every corner is full.  It actually turned out really well.  I am so mad at this wall-to-wall carpeting they have here.  They get dirty just by looking at them.  

If you only knew how gorgeous it is to lie on the bed and look out the bedroom window.  All the mountaintops were totally white this morning.  The restaurant [at the top of Grouse Mountain] is always all lit up.  The gondola is not far from here.  There is also  park not far from here with mysterious totems for the kids and a suspension bridge that swings too darn much.

There are quite lovely things all over the place here.  It is funny that in the house next door there is a two year old girl named Nickolina.  Fredrik’s head is spinning [our friends’ son in Sweden, also 2 at the time, is named Niklas].  Fredrik, by the way, is still saying “damn” whenever something happens.  He throws the toothbrush in the toilet every morning and looks at me and there comes the long drawn out “daaaaaaamn.”  I am not buying anymore toothbrushes until he stops that.  

The meat here is so cheap and juice of all sorts cost just a few cents per can.  Other than that, things are pretty much the same.  Please say hello to everyone at the grocery store, by the way.  I bet there is loss of revenue now that I am not shopping there for hundreds of dollars every month.  

How is Rolf doing without me?  Hope he doesn’t fall out too badly.  Roar is connecting a lamp today and is swearing as nothing fits and he is saying, “What a stupid country.”  You know how he gets when he is going to do something.  

Have any bills arrived?  Please let me know if funds are needed.  (Of course, I mean not regarding you!)  It is a long weekend here, so Roar has three days off.  I guess we will head home to [?] if you don’t invite us on Saturday?  How goes the pyramid scheme?

Do you know that we have 11 channels here to choose from every evening?  We are up to our necks with TV but I have to say there are some beautiful movies.  They run from 10 in the morning to 5-6 AM the next day.  

A response is requested within the next three years, otherwise it is too late.

Karin

PS.  Kiss the kids.  Would give a million dollars to look after them while you are at the gym.

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In Canada, early 1969

Dream. Letters. Thought and Memory.

I had a terrible dream last night.

In the dream, I haven’t been home to visit my parents for four years.  In the dream, they are still living at the house on Braemar (the one we moved into in 1977, the one before they downsized in 2004).  In the dream, they are both as sick as they were before they died.  My dad after his stroke, unwinding with bladder cancer.  My mom shrinking from pancreatic cancer.  I haven’t been home for 4 years and the realization happens as I am sitting in my car (which I don’t have anymore).  In the dream, I choke on panic and try to open the car door, but it so heavy as if pushing against water.  I finally get out and start running up Lonsdale… but it is like wading through mud and I am screaming at the top of my lungs but there is no sound.  I keep calculating in my head obsessively- it’s been 9 years and 4 months since mom passed away.  It’s been 5 years and 4 months since Dad died.  It’s been 15 years since we moved from the Sunshine Coast…  I keep lining up all the pets that have passed, calculating, calculating.  The crushing panic of not having visited mom and dad is drowning me…

I woke soaked in sweat.

I sit here now at the kitchen table…

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… staring at a package of letters.

I received the package in Dec 2013.

Recall:

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The first letter written 50 years ago this year:

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And I have managed to only get through one since receiving them.  For though the letters are likely optimistic, I know my mother’s pain.  And I am preparing, now that it is 9 years and 4 months since mom passed away.  It’s been 5 years and 4 months since Dad died.  It’s been 15 years since we moved from the Sunshine Coast… 50 years since we first moved here from Sweden, 40 years since we came back… preparing to finally to process my grief about mom by translating those letters.  My relationship with my mom was extraordinary and complicated.

As I start to work through the pile at last, I feel the (re)connection to my heritage.  The THOUGHTS and MEMORIES contained in those letters, in my DNA, are now ready to surface.

Huginn (THOUGHT) and Muninn (MEMORY)

The other day I found a photo in the big family mish-mash photo box.   I don’t recall ever seeing it before.  My mom and dad look happy and at peace.

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What about the dream?  In reality, I did caregive for mom and dad as best as I could.  In reality, I saw them almost every day.  They were my partners in crime on the Molly project, which is entering it’s 15th year and which is entering a new exciting phase.

Maybe the dream was some kind of cleansing.

A gift from mom and dad to let me know they are OK, and that I am OK, and that I am free now to flow with the current.  I made it.

 

More than kisses, letters mingle souls… and I am not your fault.

This past weekend, my sweet friend from university days gave me a bunch of letters I had written to her around 1984-86. Fascinating look into my “reality” then.  I put reality in quotation marks.  It is so painful and funny (and relieving that I survived) as I see “through the sunny cellophane of which not very appetizing frustrations can be readily distinguished.” [Nabokov]  I was wearing a mask of perfection and hope.

I recall my friend once confronted me- a few years after this collection of letters- (though it wasn’t confrontation- it was actually care and concern) regarding my relationship.  You’re not happy, she said.  In my naive, young, anxious, perfectionist self in the 80’s, I heard you’re not happy as a judgment, as coming from someone who couldn’t possibly understand how happy I actually was.

Gulp.

She saw something I couldn’t/wouldn’t see.  I was in self-preservation mode.  She called me on it.  But it took many 20+ years to understand that.  To understand what she saw that I didn’t.  Thankfully, she and I have connected deeply since then, and indeed the friendship is building profoundly and significantly.  And so the gift of these letters is very moving.  And thankfully, I am happy how my life (the blood and guts and pains and joys) have unfolded.

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A letter of my daughter’s birth that included intimate details about the labour.

My letters read so positive.  But my heart aches for me as I read between the lines and fall into a black hole of the past.  I recall my choices towards freedom were always questioned.  When I gave myself to a relationship against the wishes of my family, I took a huge risk.  Then I experienced the heartache of betrayal- but needed to keep the mask of perfection.  I found myself out on my own, young, naive, frightened, then pregnant [a story left for another day], then back to that relationship, withdrawing from university when about to start med school, then trust, then the beautiful child, about to marry, then more betrayal, more masks, then married, then another beautiful child, and art school, awakening, more masks- but oh- oh OH— there was such beauty and joy!

Motherhood and the children- so GLORIOUS, and art- GLORIOUS.  And in the midst of extreme heartache there was also deep love and laughter and family and life.  LIFE LIFE LIFE!

I can’t, won’t change it.  So I sit here now, surrounded by the words of my early 20’s self.  I am all about un-peeling the layers now.  Taking a closer look at the hints and reasons.  To forgive that young anxious woman I was, trying her absolute best to be a good mom- caught between two other people- two extremely strong personalities- pulling me apart at the seams.  As I forgive myself, I forgive them.

I am not a broken heart.
I am not collarbones or drunken letters never sent. I am not the way I leave or left or didn’t know how to handle anything,
at any time,
and I am not your fault.
― Charlotte Eriksson

 

I was going to type out some excerpts.  In fact I did type out a bunch.  But highlighted it all and pressed delete.

More than kisses, letters mingle souls.― John Donne


Related:

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A letter home. November 1, 1968

Recall the package of letters I received from my mom and dad’s friends in Sweden.  LINK

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today I look at the first one… A letter from my mom to Rolf and Eivor dated November 1, 1968.  We moved from Sweden to Canada (the first time) October 31, 1968.  My mom was 32 at the time.

Leaving Sweden, October 1968
Leaving Sweden, October 1968 Mom (Karin), Anders (oldest), Baby Fredrik, Dad (Roar), Katarina (Nina)

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Some excerpts [approximate translation]:

Ah, so here we are.  Dang it is sad to not be able to run back and forth to drink coffee with you all day.  [Our two families lived next to each other on Råbäcksgatan in Grums, Sweden]  Alas, one has the habit instilled…  

We were at our new house today.  It’s beautifully situated below a mountain…

I bought a washer and dryer today as there is no basement…

The neighbor came over with coffee today and I guess she is my age (18)…  

Fredrik swears like a chimney sweep and Nina looks at me all worried and claims that Auntie Eivor taught him…

You’re coming on Saturday, right?  The trip went well and I wasn’t too scared, but God, I am tired.  We traveled for 24 hours…

 

letter 2

 

… Anders and Nina were allowed to visit the captain on the way to Amsterdam.  O’boy that was really something for Anders…

What do Ann-Christine and Niklas say?  Katarina speaks of them as if she will see them tomorrow.

The kids are starting school on Monday.  Nina played with a five year old today and Roar laughed because Nina asked her, “Can you hopping?” because they were going to jump rope.  

She makes up her own words, and it seems to work…

Oh, how I am going to miss home.  O’boy but you are coming next summer.  It’s so damn beautiful here and lots to see and do.   

Package of letters to Sweden by Mom and Dad since 1968, now in my hands

This morning I woke to my very old cat bravely climbing wobbly into my bed and cuddling.  I turned off the alarm clock to savour the moment and decided to change the way I approach the day.  I was going to dive right in to work.  But I decided instead to take it slow.  To allow my heart to beat gently and slower.  To allow myself to rest a bit and enjoy the quiet purr of my cat.  And to take time.  Let the morning unfold.  By letting it go, it all gets done.

A coffee, a bagel with PB and Jam…

A knock at the door.  I thought it was the pipers (who are refitting the whole building).  Instead it was the postman.  With a package from Sweden- from my mom and dad’s best friends, Eivor and Rolf.

A collection of letters.  Written by mom and dad to Eivor and Rolf since 1968 when we emigrated to Canada.  I am stunned.  Tears.  I am happy I opened up my time this AM to allow my heart to be fully present to this moment.

These are sacred documents and I will savour going through them.  And the package included the most beautiful letter to me from Rolf.  It could not have come at a more opportune time, as I take stock of what is important.

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Eivor, Rolf, Mom (Karin)