My husband’s parents love to tell the story of the first letter they received from him when he went to sleepaway camp. “Dear Mom and Dad,” it began, “things are very bad here.” This letter has become a family joke to the point that my father-in-law will sometimes walk around just grimly intoning, “Things are very bad here.”
My own father wrote a similar series of dire missives from camp in the late 1940s, which he and I found in my grandmother’s possessions when she died in 2002. In my dad’s letters, he did not come right out and say directly, “Things are very bad here,” but he did, with increasing passion, tell his parents how very homesick the neighbor boy who had come to camp with him, John, was. John, not my dad, was miserable, and John, not my dad, wanted badly to come home. Perhaps, he suggested, his parents could come early so that John could hitch a ride back with them. It would really be the neighborly thing to do.
I certainly didn’t want to get sad letters from Ruby, but as the days passed and I would run to the mailbox only to find it crammed with bills and catalogs and crap addressed to people who haven’t lived at this address since before Katrina, I started to think that even a depressing letter would be better than nothing.
“I bought her $25 worth of stationery,” I ranted to Robert. “Fun stationery – with stickers.”
“Two books of stamps!” I texted my mom. “I made a special trip to the post office to buy her two books of stamps. And not even one letter? In 10 days?”
Both of them said some variation of, “She’s having too much fun to write.”
On Monday, though, I finally got a letter. In fact, I got four letters at once. She was not, it seems, having too much fun to write them, just too much fun to remember to mail them.
But they did not say that things were very bad there or that she – or any of her friends – were wasting away from homesickness.
“We found a rabbit that wasn’t moving so we asked the counselors if it was dead and they said no, it was a stuffed rabbit that they set up as a prank but then it moved so haha,” one letter said.
“We canoed to an island and I found a bird skull and three clams,” another one read. “Then I played tennis. I never even held a racket [sic] before but I hit like 62 balls.”
The last one just said, “Went sailing, ate hamburgers. Water-skiing is hard. Miss you. P.S. And Georgia.”
She has made no attempt to answer the many boring “mom” questions I’ve asked in my daily emails: Are you using your best manners? Are you brushing your hair? Have you used the floss I sent you?
But it seems like she is at least indirectly answering my most fervently asked question, the most important one of all: Are you having fun?
I pick her up early Sunday morning. I can barely even wait. Until then, I’m hoping for at least one more letter to tide me over.