The theme of this piece appeared in this photo I took yesterday in my mother’s bedroom, where I have set up a card table to write, and a sheet on her bed to spread the contents of drawers, old luggage, and boxes that have been shoved under the eaves for years and years. I am here to disperse my mother’s final remains on paper.
In the few short weeks after her death, I have unearthed a small mountain of cards she stored away - received from family and friends.
Many are funny, still more are caring and sweet and there’s even a small pool of correspondence from the various boyfriends she cycled through after she was widowed the second time. Cha cha!
There are the oversized rose-adorned Hallmark testimonies to love, unsullied by the postal system as they were sweetly delivered by John, the retired bus driver who lived across the street from mom at On Top of the World (a retirement community in central Florida at sea level).
There’s another missive, a letter, written by a gentleman she was seeing at the same time as another suitor. Poor Mort is up at 2:30, worried to death that my mother might make the wrong decision, and choose - I believe the competition was either Leland the airline exec or the fun-loving rascal who liked to relax in women’s clothing, who shall remain unnamed at this time.
(Hey, I bet I’ve whet your appetite for more of that Sylvia chapter. No kidding! Imagine my Old-School Bennington-born mama hanging out in Some Old Dude’s RV watching TV, both in their nicest lingerie… I did ask whether he borrowed any of her wardrobe, to which Sylvia sniffed, “Of course not. His shoulders were much bigger.”
My mother saved a black leather folder of sympathy letters, written with tenderness and concern after her mother Gladys died - it seemed shockingly - from cancer. Mom had a new baby, so they hadn’t told her Gladys was terminal. Actually, few knew how bad it was.
Only two years prior, mom and Gladys, her sister Ruthie and their father Lt. Colonel Charles P. Hayward, had returned from two years in Japan, where Grandpa was a military governor during the Occupation.
Look at this gorgeous photo my grandfather took of his daughters on the ship, watching the Japan coastline recede in the sunset.
This was a time of glamour, of performing in a theater company, receiving ardent letters from my father and another beau who was also stationed in the Pacific - but thankfully for us Myers kids, would be consumed by sharks when his ship sank.
And oh! The wedding to my father. The hand-made wedding dress, the 200 year-old veil, the filigreed cake, the spark in my dad’s eyes as he’d waited two long years for my mother to return stateside. Satin glows on a coat lining, the confetti like snow just graces their heads. Nothing tough or dark following that will ever diminish the magic.
It occurs to me that we can actually write our life in chapters, and at the end of every chapter, just let it be. We are these souls who get to live on earth in these human suits. We get to do this. We each get to live a magnificent story. And see how each chapter leads to the next.
My greatest thrill as I sort through this trove of stored material, is to find more watercolors that my mother painted on the fly, then shoved into whatever other pile of Important Information she was collecting… to be gone through at Some Time In the Future. Here’s two samples from the recovered pile:
As Syl would say, “I was tickled about to pieces” that I have uncovered some artifacts from my own life. I have set eyes again on my first marathon finish photo, my actor composite headshot on a postcard at age 22, and a non-sequitur newsy letter I wrote at age 9 in swooping cursive to my grandparents in Vermont, who were coming out to see us in Ohio - “I’m anxious to see you near Christmas... Oh yeah! Bring heavy coats!“
Isn’t it wonderful to look back on a time in your life and say, “Ah, how precious.” To fill full of love with the memory of who you were and what happened to you. I happen to think that little nine year-old is a kick. I like her, very much. I am grateful that my mother kept it.
A huge portion of our lives is simply lived and forgotten. Sylvia lived in interesting times - from time to time. There were periods of undaunting courage and growth because events demanded it and decades of stillness in-between. Life at On Top of the World was so quiet you could hear the golf carts rolling one street over.
It occurs to me that we are these souls who get to live on earth in these human suits. We get to do this. We each get to live a magnificent story. And see how each chapter leads to the next.
What makes our life magnificent? Perhaps…to declare it so. And live accordingly.