Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Letter

Peter McMillan

My sister wrote last week.  I always enjoy her letters.  She has a gift for understating things.  When the hurricane hit, her house "suffered some serious damage."  It was washed away.  She was like that as a kid, too.  I remember she broke her hand in the third or fourth grade, and before a week was up she was writing with the other hand and showing off her pink cast.

She's a sport. Actually, she didn't write much this time, just "Here, found this in Liviabel's papers, and thought you might get a kick out of it."  Inside was a 4x6 envelope, brittle and yellowed around the edges.

Couldn’t figure it out at first.  Why was she sending me this?  The envelope was addressed in large block letters to Mr. Santa, and the 5-cent stamp was even cancelled.  On the other side a week’s worth of names in three columns—morning, afternoon, evening.  The names were familiar, and it was definitely my father's writing, virtually unreadable to anyone but family.

Ainsworth, Huggins, Lawley, Rosen, Whitaker—first these, then the rest came back to me like a gust.  These were folks my father used to visit long ago, before he got retired.  Some of the names I didn't recognize, but those might have been from the nearby hospital or local jail.

And this was how the old man spent his time and why he never had time to play baseball or football and even missed dinner sometimes and forgot Momma’s birthday once and wouldn’t take us to the Gulf one summer and—

My resentment and bitterness were all coming back.  It didn’t matter that I couldn't remember whether I got the bicycle or the Indian or the baseball cards.  I probably did.  It wasn’t about stuff.  It was about what was really important to him.  For years I'd blamed him, and everyone thought I was scapegoating him like a jealous child, but now I had evidence.  It wasn't just in my head.

I mean!  Just imagine, an innocent little kid, six or seven, writes a cute little letter to Santa—probably the last year I actually believed in Santa Claus—and the old man takes the envelope and on the back scribbles down his schedule for the next week, which I bet was Christmas week, because work always came first and everything was always about work.

But ... I can’t see why he saved it.  That wasn’t like him.  Ahhh yeah!  It wasn't him.  It was Momma.  She saved it just like she saved all our stuff. He couldn’t have been bothered.  Too busy.  Places to go, people to see.  Everybody wanting his attention and getting it ... at my expense.

Why did she send this?  It isn’t helpful at all.  Only stirs up bad feelings.  Don’t know what she must have been thinking.  I don’t throw anything away anymore, but this sure came close.

"Hey, Stokes, I mean, Mr. Stokes.  Has the Reverend been by yet?  It’s not like him to be late.  You’ll let me know?  Thanks."


Peter McMillan, whose roots are in Alabama and Georgia, is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.

© Peter McMillan

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2010