A Collection of Letters

By Nicole Roth

She used to send me letters on my birthday and on holidays. Inside each letter, her careful cursive spread across the pages where she described the weather in Milwaukee and the news from her neighborhood. Somehow her narration transformed the mundane and the trivial into sprawling epics of daily life. For years, she wrote on both sides of her monogrammed stationery and ended each tale with the flourish of her signature.

Now, when I read and reread her letters, I can imagine her sitting down to write. She has just wiped the crumbs off the plastic sheet that covers her kitchen tablecloth. A cup of tea steams next to her, its tea bag tired from yet another use. She places the stationery in front of her, adjusts her glasses, then moves her hand steadily along the page.

I used to call her after I received each letter, at first because my mother told me to and later because I knew I should.

“Why don’t you write to me?” she’d ask. “You’re a writer. Don’t you write all the time?”

“Letters are different, Grandma.”


“Oh, I don’t know.” The words would come out of me like a sigh. I suppose I could have told her the truth—that I didn’t write because I didn’t think that I had anything worth telling. I was waiting for something big to happen to me, something she could put in the letters that she wrote to other people.

I could hear her waiting for an explanation, so I would try one. “My handwriting is terrible.”

It felt like it could be true. Everything I wrote looked like a hodge-podge of cursive and print. Each word was a strange collection of letters that tumbled onto the page.

She never bought it. “That’s exactly why you should practice your writing.”

Over the years, her letters got shorter. Double-sided became single-sided. Three pages became two. Her confident hand turned hesitant and meandering, and her intricate anecdotes became clipped summaries of time spent. Before long, two pages became one.

Around this time, I let her letters pile up. I kept meaning to call her and fill in the blanks that her shorter letters made obvious. But instead I told myself that I was too busy waiting for my life to begin.

Her last letter was a single line. In it, her handwriting shook across the page where she wrote: “Weather’s fine. Nothing new to report. Wish you’d write.”

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