Finding Alice

What I Can't Help But Say

At the bottom of a musty box of family memorabilia, I found a letter written in fountain pen, ink fading between blue and black. It was dated September 21, 1965, sent from my maternal grandmother to my mother who was in Europe with my dad and eldest sister. Mom ‘abandoned’ (…my word…) my twin brothers and me at home in the care of distant older cousins and beloved housekeepers.

I was in kindergarten at the time, and my inner child still stands in the back of Mom’s closet, nose buried deep in a rack of hanging clothes, straining to get a whiff of Elizabeth Arden’s “Blue Grass” – her signature fragrance.

(But I am over it. Really.)

 3333 Pacific Avenue

San Francisco

September 21, 1965


Dear Traveling Trio –

             Received your very welcome letter – written in London and mailed in Paris. I hope Beth’s cold is better – it is so difficult to avoid sniffles when getting overtired.

            Now – News from your San Francisco home – I telephoned early this a.m. and talked to your youngest daughter. (…that would be me…) She was very excited about school. (That doesn’t sound much like me…) Today she gets her own desk! Pat, Townie and the Moses’ are carrying on beautifully so have no anxiety there. Kelly will be well behaved and trained when his beloved master and mistress have returned. (…I think Kelly was female but I’m not sure. I do know that Kelly bit the next-door neighbor’s boy, then eventually bit my mother in a tug of war over a chicken bone. Unfortunately, I don’t think that dog saw my mother as his/her beloved mistress…)

            Alice was over to see me and we made out the list for Thanksgiving. It was all her own idea and I hope will meet with the approval of all. When we had finished the menu, Alice rubbed her stomach and smacked her lips and said, “I can hardly wait – How long is it before Thanksgiving?” (…Now that sounds more like me! And it’s a safe bet that spooned corn bread with butter and syrup was on the menu…)

            Jim (…my older 1st cousin…) came in before returning to college and gave me a play by play description of his trip – how he is back at U.C. and studying business administration. He is not looking forward to it but “life is real and life is earnest,” n’est pas mes chéries? (Turns out Cousin Jim must have applied himself at Cal. He did quite well in his career…)

            The weather here is perfect – real Indian summer and in the a.m. flights of quail fly out of the tops of the cypress trees and forage among the weeds and dry grass for dainty morsels. (…Ok, this sentence made me fear that the art of letter writing is either dead or dying. I hope it inspires you to write a letter to a loved one – in cursive, maybe even in fountain pen. Make it poetic! Then put a “Forever” stamp on it and drop it in one of the few remaining blue metal boxes in your town. Maybe we can save poetic letter writing and Saturday delivery! Two quails with one pen!)

            I read in the papers that Mary Martin was not allowed to bring her company in “Hello Dolly” to Moscow so she went to Tokyo instead and made a great hit. Remember I am saving my two tickets for you November 3rd with the original Dolly. (Mom didn’t take me to see Mary Martin, but my sister and I did see Carol Channing play ‘Dolly’ at the Curran Theater several years ago. She waved at us from the stage as we cheered and waved back from our cheap seats up high in the ‘nosebleed’ section. Still makes me proud…)

            Alice’s “Night Night” has been rebound and needs washing. I wonder will that spoil the aroma… (…”Night Night” was my ‘go to’ security blanket, made by the loving hands of this very same woman. It had rows of bunnies with cream-colored pompon tails, web-footed paddling ducks, nubby baby lambs and a thumb-sucking satin border. My trademark technique was left thumb inserted in mouth with left index finger hooked over the bridge of my nose while right hand fingers stroked the cool silk binding. Currently, a shredded version of ‘Blanket-Formerly-Know-As-Night-Night’ remains in the dark abyss at the top of a ladder in our attic crawl space. Those women laundered him – yes, him – all my bedtime cuddly companions were of the masculine gender – too frequently. And, between you and me, Grandma did spoil the aroma…)

            The boys look so very smart in their Cathedral School outfits. (Ok – Watch for it, dearest brothers – It’s payback for all those years of teasing. She said you looked smart. You know that old line about judging book covers? Don’t let Grandma’s kind words go to those darling twin heads.)

            Of course I am not at all proud of my grandchildren! (Runaway pride runs rampant among grandparents. I know they are out there, but I have never heard a single grandparent say aloud that they are ashamed or embarrassed by their own grandchildren. Although I have no grandchildren – yet – don’t get me started about my grand-puppy, grand-bunnies and grand-chickens. I have pictures on my phone. Plenty. And I probably know where you live…)

            You have already been gone over one week and soon you will be flying homeward. It will be so good to see you and hear of your adventures. (My mother was gone for a total of three weeks, seemed like three years, and I missed her with the same intense inconsolable mourning as when I lost her for good almost 25 years later.)

            Hugs and kisses all round,

             Mother and Grandma

A mother, a grandmother, and family memories captured in blue-black ink on fragile yellowed letterhead. I will hold onto them as long as possible. Think about sending a letter to someone you love. If they keep it long enough, it will turn to gold.

Gma letter001



3 thoughts on “SNAIL MAIL

  1. Chris Bailey says:

    LOVED waking to a fantastic new post. Writing a thank you letter to family friend for the 7, YES 7, boxes of Girl Scout cookies she sent me. Really should t be a thanking her, ha! In my sickness…I ate 2 boxes between Sunday and Thursday. Ugh. But the rest have been given away. The point? I have lots of newsy bits I can include in my handwritten letter. She has, historically, given me blank cards and stamps for Christmas…presumably to send letters to her. Today I return the favor.

  2. Greg Fischer says:

    Great post, Alice. With the exception of an older woman friend that we met on a cruise to Alaska in ’99, I don’t usually send written letters, although I am addicted to the practice of sending postcards. They’re tangible reminders of where someone has been, and more meaningful than an email or text message from faraway. May I suggest that your readers do without the dull forever “flags” and “bell” stamps? The USPS now sells commemorative stamps that are also “forever”, and believe me they’re a lot nicer to look at than the flags and bells. Order online at and they come to your door for a tiny additional fee. (No, I don’t work for the postal service!)

  3. Beautifully written, Alice. And containing such good advice, not to mention a prescription for saving the good ol’ USPS. Talk about golden!

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