The envelope was sandwiched between a November 1968 Good Housekeeping magazine and the latest edition of Arizona Highways. I nearly missed it among the clutter of holiday advertisements piled in the bottom of the mailbox. It was a small envelope, probably left over from a box of old Christmas cards. The edges were worn and stained on the lower corners. She had scrawled my address across the face in blue ink – she never used black – and had only written “Wilson” in the upper corner as a clue to her identity. Nevertheless, I knew who the letter was from.
My mother never wrote. She preferred phone calls every other week on Sunday afternoons while my father watched his weekly football game. I would call from a pay phone, armed with just enough change to cover the cost of about eight minutes – enough time to catch up on family news, her nasty neighbors, my grandparents’ health, and a bit of chatter about my job and the weather, but not long enough for any in-depth probing into my personal life. She would start with questions right out of the gate – plenty of them - delivered in a rat-a-tat style that reminded me of machine guns firing away in old black-and-white movies about World War II – but I was a hard nut to crack, and the sixteen-hundred miles between Wilmington, Delaware and Phoenix, Arizona prohibited unexpected drop-in visits or protracted long-distance phone conversations with her reluctant daughter.
I fingered the envelope warily as I opened the front door of my tiny one-bedroom efficiency apartment. The envelope was thin, and I doubted it held more than one undersized slip of paper. Fearing a written diatribe about a subject I probably couldn’t remember, I deposited it on the kitchen table along with the rest of the magazines, the latest Book-of-the-Month Club selection and the local newspaper, and headed for the kitchen for a cold drink.
I opened the refrigerator door and enjoyed the sudden onslaught of cold air as it poured out of the metal box. It had been a hot day, easily in the 80s, and the walk home from work had seemed long. Even though I worked in an air-conditioned office, there was something wonderful about the first good wave of refrigerated air. Such a delicious and immediate feeling of relief. I lifted a pitcher of iced tea from a middle shelf, grabbed a glass from the drying rack on the counter, and wandered back to the kitchen table. The letter lay there, taunting me. I eased onto a comfortable chair, poured myself a drink, and picked up the envelope, slowly examining all of its surfaces for clues to the contents inside. Nothing. Oh, well, I thought, better get it over with…
The paper was white and lined, with rounded corners and a raggedy edge along the left-hand side, presumably torn from a small, old-fashioned notebook. More blue ink and surprisingly meaningful contents:
Dear Barbara –
Here are the recipes for the cookies we used to make when we lived on Clayton Street.
Fancy Christmas Cookies
½ pound of butter 1-1/2 cups sugar
4 cups of flour 2 eggs 1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tsp milk.
Chill the dough. Grease pans? Bake at 400 until lightly brown.
6 cups flour 1/2 tsp baking powder
6 eggs – fluffy 1/2 cup sugar
Add to eggs 1/2 lb of melted butter, juice of 1 orange + and grated rind of 1/2 lemon.
Grease pan – 375 – lightly brown.
Roll dough into balls – smaller than golf balls – Ice when cool with white, pink & chocolate.