THE LETTER | BACK OF THE DRAWER #WEPFF CHALLENGE

62 Comments#WEPFF, Blogfests, Creative Writing, Memoir, The "She" Chronicles, Writing Contests, Writing/Blogging

Welcome to the “BACK OF THE DRAWER” creative challenge!

The Letter | Back of the Drawer | WEP Challenge, Feb. 2017Brought to you by WEP (click image for more info) and hosted by Denise Covey and Yolanda Renée. Their directive:
“Rummaging at the back of the drawer, you find…. a clue to a murder/mystery or a note from an old flame…. a key to an old house…anything really. Could be interpreted any way– a broad prompt for you if you don’t like February to be all about Valentines. But if you’re a romantic soul who does, go for it.”

Since I’m not a fan of “Hallmark” holidays (i.e. invented by the retail industry to fatten their coffers), my contribution is another chapter in the ongoing “She Chronicles”, a series of vignettes, told in the third person by “she who shall remain nameless”. Click HERE for previous installments.

THE LETTER

THE “SHE” CHRONICLES

EPISODE FIVE

Her eyes swept over the familiar contents of her mother’s room. Theirs had always been a contentious relationship; the strains softened by decades of physical distance. Now it was over. The 92-year-old woman had passed away peacefully, and it was time to sort through her belongings. “I’m an orphan” seemed like a silly thought for a sexagenarian, but that was her current reality. When her father died in 2011, she knew the next few years would be stressful and so they were! Between her mother’s ailments, medical expenses and discontentment, she had experienced high levels of anxiety.

~~~~~~

Finding the right home had been a challenge. She lived over 4100 km (2500 mi) away and therefore needed a facility with one on one, 24-hour care. Fortunately, she found such a place; a large bungalow in a lovely neighbourhood with space for six residents. The owner and caregivers were all dedicated to the well-being of their charges, and it gave her some peace of mind. Her mother, on the other hand, was miserable and bombarded her daughter with phone calls, complaining about every little thing. The street was too noisy; the food was terrible, she couldn’t go out when she wanted, etc. It was only in the last two years, bedridden and suffering from dementia that the old woman became appreciative.

~~~~~~

Feeling a mixture of relief and sorrow, she opened the first drawer. Damn that packrat mentality! Her mother kept everything, from old receipts to newspaper articles. Cleaning out the house had been a nightmare, but this would surely be easier. After all, it was only one dresser and a closet.

The Letter, #WEPFF Challenge
flickr.com

Among the useless flotsam were several documents of historical and sentimental value; birth, death and marriage certificates, report cards, even her old baby shoes! Best of all, she was delighted to find a large box of family photos, many she hadn’t seen before, going back to the 1920s. Once again, she was keenly aware that everyone, except her, was gone. Who would go through her belongings when the time came? There were no children to pass things on to.

~~~~~~

Her task seemingly complete, she checked the drawers one last time. There was something jammed at the back of the middle one. It was a letter from her father, addressed to her mother:

The Letter #WEPFF Challenge
“In view of yesterday and also the several times in recent days that I have spoiled things through drinking, I hereby pledge to you, in writing, that I shall from this day forward not touch alcohol again. This pledge is given so that you may have a better chance for a happy life and so that I will not lose my self-respect.”

~~~~~~

Stunned and tearful, she read it again, flashbacks cascading over her like giant angry waves. All of those ruined weekends and holidays, when she was left to fend for herself as her parents hurled invective at each other. If only this letter had fulfilled its promise! Yes, there had been peace for a few months, but chaos inevitably returned, over and over again. It was not until 1987, after sustaining severe injuries in an accident, that her father took his last drink. Her parents had separated several years before, and this brought them back together. He spent five months in the hospital and rehab, trying to regain the use of his shattered right leg and swore off alcohol and cigarettes during that time. To his credit, his resolve never wavered, and life became more pleasant than it had been in decades. Not that her mother was ever truly content. A perfectionist mindset precluded that. There was always cause for complaint!

~~~~~~

She shook off the bitter memories, folded the letter and added it to the “keep” pile. Why did she want to hold on to this reminder of her dysfunctional childhood? To drive home the point that she had overcome her disadvantages? Or, could it be a compassionate connection to her late mother, whom she hadn’t felt close to since childhood? The answer eludes her.

Parents in happier days

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All episodes of The “She” Chronicles are jagged fragments of my life.
They are told in the third person by a nameless protagonist
to allow for a modicum of emotional detachment.

 

Have you found something interesting at the back of a drawer? Do tell!

Looking forward to your comments. Full critiques welcome.

Debbie

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHO’S PARTICIPATING IN THIS CHALLENGE.
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Canine Innkeeper in suburban Toronto, Canada, known as “The Doglady”. Writer/website owner, photographer, animal lover, music fanatic, inveterate traveller. History, literature and cinema buff. Eternal “hippie/rockchick”. Binational, German/Canadian and multilingual. Looking for the next adventure!

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62 thoughts on “THE LETTER | BACK OF THE DRAWER #WEPFF CHALLENGE

  1. This made me sad, Debbie. Since the story is sad, I’d say that you wrote it well.
    I’m sorry that your life was plagued by your father’s alcoholism and your mother’s inability to leave him or the injury behind. We hold on to painful things like this to our detriment. May we all learn something from this!

    1. Thanks for reading my story, Robin. Yes, it was a sad situation and the letter triggered a lot of bad memories, BUT, it also made me feel compassion for my mother and her struggles. All in all, a cathartic experience.

  2. It’s sad finding words in a letter which explain things after that person is gone. We found out about my dad’s illness after he passed on, and about my hubs hidden sister after his mother passed on. Jeez – I guess those who do this are embarrassed about what happened or don’t think it’s appropriate for the kids to know. It’s a big pain, IMO and a leftover from Victorian times when ‘skeletons’ or family history was kept secured in the deepest closet that could be found.

    1. Sounds like you had some truly shocking revelations! I was used to the same vicious cycle over and over again, growing up. My father would promise to quit drinking, and he always did, for a few months, then it was back to same old, same old. My mother never mentioned the note and finding it triggered some nasty flashbacks, as well as compassion for both parents. Thanks for reading my story!

  3. The things we do can have such a devastating effect on those close to us. My father was an alcoholic. I know how a good man can slip into the shoes of a monster. And monsters never keep their promises. If this is a true story, I’m sorry for your suffering.
    Nancy

    1. You know what I’m talking about, obviously. Yes, this is a true story, told in the third person, to allow for some emotional detachment. Thankfully, my father was finally shocked into sobriety after being run over by (ironically) a drunk driver. Thanks for your kind words!

  4. Hi Deb, I’m so glad I stopped at your site, since I’m not getting messages about your blog anymore I will register again, and see what happens
    I can relate how that letter stirred you up. I found letters between my parents too, and have to admit I was more than curious to read them. They were all pretty harmless…which is good, I guess.
    I believe most parents don’t divulge all the pain they go through to their children. The letter was apparently a little life saver for your mother, just something to hold on to.
    As far as wondering who will go through your letters, since you have no children… having children is no guarantee that they will be interested either. Maybe daughters are different,… but I don’t think my sons could care less. They just don’t have the time.
    Your post was touching, and it is all a part of processing the loss of a parent. Sending you a hug my friend

    1. Nice to see you, Angelika! 🙂 This is the first thing I’ve published in weeks, but hopefully, the notices will work for you again. I’m glad the letters you found didn’t contain any sad revelations. Yes, I think the note meant a great deal to my mother, even though my father broke that promise and myriad verbal ones as well. That was just a fleeting thought about leaving stuff behind. I think it’s time, though, that hubby and I start getting rid of all the accumulated junk. Unfortunately, we are both packrats, too. 😛 Thanks for dropping in. Hugs back!

    1. Yes, he tried many, many times. Unfortunately, it took a severe accident to make it stick, but at least my parents’ lives improved after that. Thanks for reading my story, Donna. 🙂

  5. I used to wonder about who would go through my things when I passed since I don’t have kids, but I’m pretty sure one or some of my nieces, nephews, and young cousins will. My family is very close. Thanks for sharing this personal story. It says a lot about closure and the process of moving on.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my story. It’s great that you have other family members around. We don’t, but it was just a passing thought. Unfortunately, I inherited my mother’s packrat mentality and there’s a lot of junk around here. 🙂 Thanks for dropping in!

  6. Such a touching story. A candid and superbly written piece of a jigsawed life. Well done, Debbie.
    My grandma constantly complained of someone stealing her socks (when she wasn’t instigating food fights). I must have bought her 12 dozen pairs and wrote her initials on them with a Sharpy pen. After she passed away, grandma’s caregiver presented me with a large tin barrel (the kind popcorn comes in) that she’d found in the back of grandma’s closet – filled with all those socks I bought!

    1. Hi, diedre; Thanks for those kind words! Sometimes I think I’m too candid, but it does make for interesting material. Your grandma sounds like a real character. Food fights? 😀 What became of the socks? You never know what you’ll find in somebody’s closet.

      1. You had me from the title “She” – don’t change a thing or ever stop until it’s finished!
        With grandma’s food fights, one quasi-clinical term always consoled me. It was called “Sundowning”, an onset of usually irrational agitation occurring right about twilight – or sundown. She was much more civilized before Alzheimer’s 😉 Regrettably, her feet were even smaller than mine, so I had to give all those socks away.

        1. These episodes seem to write themselves. Memoirs are more my forte than fiction. 🙂 Yes, I’m familiar with “Sundowning”. One of the other residents where my mother lived had to be relocated because she would turn violent at night. At least somebody was able to make good use of the socks. 🙂

  7. Hello Debbie. Of course I’ve been swinging by, but haven’t had time to digest this and comment until now. What a powerful tale, and even more so knowing it is a true story, although told with a modicum of emotional detachment. I’m going to go back and read all previous extract from the She Chronicles. There’s nothing like letters to bring back memories, good or bad. In this email generation, I worry that the delights of old letters has been stolen from us. Who’s going to enjoy reading through emails? Pfft!

    Thanks for this quality entry to the WEP prompt. It has brought forth many powerful stories, yours being one of note.

    Denise 🙂

    1. Hi, Denise; Thank you so much for that high praise! 🙂 Writing these vignettes is cathartic, and the anonymous, third-person voice makes it a lot easier emotionally. Good point about letters vs. emails. Sadly, I think future generations will have little to hold onto in the way of memories. Thanks also for providing this wonderful creative outlet. I’ll have to miss April’s prompt (doing the A to Z), but I there’s a photo essay idea percolating for “Bridges” in June.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Debbie.

    Losing a parent is difficult enough, but to discover an unfulfilled promise of an alternate life must bring forth so many conflicting emotions. I’m glad you decided to hold on to that letter in the end, despite the pain it unleashed.

    1. Thanks for reading my entry, Arpan. 🙂 There were many such verbal unfulfilled promises, so I was used to that. The letter, however, was a bit of a shock and more so, the fact that my mother kept it all these years.

  9. DEBBIE, the pain is unmistakable in your writing.

    My Ma outlived my Pa by eleven years, which was astounding. Given her poor health for much of her life, and my Pa’s vibrant, youthful attitude, it was shocking when he went first. And oddly, when my Ma (also a packrat) passed away in 2005, several times I too had the thought and said, “I’m an orphan now.”

    I’m glad your Dad was finally able to give up drinking. My Pa talked about doing that from his hospital bed a day or two before he passed away. My parents also separated, a couple times, but got back together for the sake of my siblings and I.

    I will check out other installments in this series of yours.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Check out my new blog @
    (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews…

    1. Thank you, Stephen. I was going for true emotion with this. I remember even my father made that “orphan” pronouncement when his mother died; he was in his ’70s at the time. No childhood is perfect, it seems. Thanks also for checking out the other episodes.

  10. Seeing what one leaves behind can be hard to go through sometimes, even harder still beating an addiction and watching as it brings strife all around. Great write indeed.

    1. Welcome to The Den, Sally. Thank you for those kind words. 🙂 Yes, addiction is hard to break, but thankfully, it did happen, albeit after a serious accident. Thanks for reading my story!

  11. Debbie, Nope I haven’t found anything in the back of a dresser drawer. Your writing is poignant of bittersweet memories. Could this be a peak in your life’s experiences or just the cleverness of your imagination working with the prompt at hand? Either way, it’s beautiful and well-written, my friend!

    1. Thank you for those kind words, Cathy. I’m glad you liked the story. 🙂 It’s actually a memoir that took place this past November. Telling it in the third person gives me a little emotional distance. Makes it easier to write.

  12. Hello, Debbie,
    This is a beautiful, yet sad story. It’s hard going through someone’s life in papers and trinkets. I’ve done it now twice, both times for grandmothers: one who passed and one who went to a retirement home. You’ve captured the frustration and the nostalgia, the joy and the sadness perfectly.

    I like how your protagonist is Unnamed. It really allows the reader to insert herself into the story and really feel the emotion.

    Well done!
    Jen

    1. Welcome to The Den, Jennifer. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the story. The unnamed third person narration is a coping mechanism for me. Gives me a little distance from these painful episodes. Thanks for your kind words.

  13. Hi Debbie – I certainly could easily relate … and that pledge: I wonder how many others had been written, or would be written … sad way for his life to end, but then her mother was free .. but she was obviously demanding. I wonder if ‘she’ knew about these pledges – her mother had presumably kept secret … and did she ever enjoy her life … except those last two years …

    Cheers – interesting episode 5 to your She Chronicles …

    1. Thanks for coming by, Hilary. 🙂 I can remember multiple verbal pledges that were broken, but I’d never seen this letter before. (This is a memoir, told in the third person.) My father didn’t die in the accident, (he lived another 24 years), but successfully gave up alcohol (and cigarettes) while hospitalized. (Not much choice, as it wasn’t allowed.) Yes, my mother was incredibly demanding, and her standards were impossibly high, so she was rarely content. Once the dementia set in, she became much less fixated on perfection. I’m glad you enjoyed this latest chapter in the saga. Cheers!

  14. A very well done emotional visit to the past. Being a parent is hard, but often being a child caught up in the tragedy of the parents lives is much more difficult. An excellent handling of memories that were not the most pleasant.

  15. I loved your style, so beautiful, so honest, so real! I’m sorry, for your pain, but it is in the recognition of their pain that we learn acceptance and forgiveness, isn’t it.
    I’ll take lessons from your technique. I have the hardest time writing about such things.

    Thank you, Debbie, for participating in the WEP challenge. I do hope you’ll share more of your stories with in the future!

    1. Such high praise truly makes my day! Thank you, Yolanda. Writing in the third person gives me the emotional detachment needed to tell these stories. Thanks also for providing this creative platform several times a year. This is the most interesting blogfest around!

  16. Beautiful and engaging Debbie. She realised through finding that letter, the hell and the disappointment her mother had gone through and wanted to be close to her.
    I enjoyed reading the story and felt the intensity within it.
    Excellent job.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

    1. Yes, it did cast my mother in a different light. (I tell these stories in the third person because it’s easier emotionally.) I tried to capture the essence of my feelings at the time. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for reading it!

    1. Yes, writing is so cathartic. Certainly better than drinking. 😉 My feelings towards my mother did soften after reading the letter. I realize now that my father suffered from PTSD, caused by his tour of duty on the front lines of the Korean War, which led to his alcoholism. I saw the headings on your blog and will come by and read your memoirs. Thanks for coming by!

  17. So touching and emotional, Debbie. I like how you wrote it in a fictional style to distance yourself a bit instead of totally autobiographical. Must have been hard for you in your childhood with your dad’s drinking and your mother’s perfectionism, but you overcame the obstacles. What an amazing letter to find! Your mother must have treasured it to keep it all those years.

    My parents were heavy drinkers and smokers as was the way of the military lifestyle. It definitely coloured my childhood. I don’t think I suffered as badly as you though as my dad was never violent and belligerent, he was more of a weepy drunk. My mom was often frustrated and distracted as she often felt trapped being a mother, wife and homemaker, preferring her nursing career and her passion for art and painting.

    I feel for you but you overcame and it made you the strong woman you are today. Bravo, Debbie! Great story!

    1. Thank you, Cathy. Yes, the third person voice makes it easier to write these snippets and they are cathartic. In hindsight, I realize my father suffered from PTSD because of his time on the front lines of the Korean War. He was a mean drunk, but it was mostly verbal. My mother was more physically violent towards him, actually. Sounds like your childhood was no picnic either, but we have both survived and thrived, yes? Definitely, drinking was a huge deal in the military; smoking too, just like everywhere else. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Cheers!

  18. Hi Debbie,

    I found this very moving and poignant. Lucidly written, honest and engaging, I could connect instantly with the story.

    Losing a parent must be the greatest trauma, no matter what the strength of the relationship. Of course any shred of the mother’s tangible presence, and of the daughter’s childhood, must be held onto for compelling reasons. They’d be a reassurance and remembrance, integral part of the grieving process, even if the childhood was not very happy.

    Thank you for sharing this.
    Best always,
    Nilanjana.

  19. Debbie, you are one master raconteur! I loved the easy flow of the narration with vivid descriptions and emotions that brought alive the whole situation. Its not easy writing about chapters close to your heart yet stay detached. Creative writing at its best!

    1. Thank you so much, Kala! 🙂 I find that using third person works best for these personal snippets. P.S. I tried to leave a comment on your last post at RelaxnRave, but it wouldn’t work. Some problem with javascript. Here it is: Wishing you and your baby many more years of successful blogging, Kala! 🙂 I’ve been self-hosted since 2013, and while I do enjoy the freedom, there are always technical issues to worry about. You have to be truly ready for it.

  20. I knew you had said you weren’t going to do BOTB this time around, but when I saw the title “The Letter” I expected the old song by the Boxtops.

    Still, a well written story to which I can relate in some ways. Not the dysfunctional family part, but reading through letters after my mother died. My brothers and sisters sat around the living room of my mother’s house for several nights after her funeral reading through old letters that she had kept. I was kind of fun, but very poignant and at times quite surprising.

    Nice job.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Haha! Fooled you, did I? As much as I love BOTB (and I do), it gives me less time to indulge the writing muse. I will definitely come back to it in May. Finding this letter was quite a shock, but it’s part of our family history and obviously meant something to my mother. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.