Tag Archives: Kathleen Hughes

DEAR MRS. LINDBERGH

I wrote recently about finding a note from my mother tucked into this novel by Kathleen Hughes.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Frequently I dog ear pages that resonate with me as I read, whether it’s factual stuff I want to dig into deeper, or passages I find particularly lovely or funny or that show me something about the art of writing.

Often, though, I’ll revisit these passages after a week or two and they won’t light me up like they did before.

But these from DEAR MRS. LINDBERGH still work for me.

Water traveled well over this land. From time to time, her father had to reinforce the drainage ditches so that the water didn’t take over and start running any course it liked. She felt her life was like this sometimes, and the sadness, the urgency, was endurable so long as she didn’t let it get too far out of bounds. Give it a course, keep it there.

I love how that passage gives a perfect snapshot of this woman’s emotions. It also struck me, I think, because I’m cogitating over a rewrite of my own where I could do something like this. It would be easy for the author to have the character say, “Golly, I must keep control of my emotions,” but how boring. Mine has to do with light rather than water, however, and I’m not quite there yet. My passage is still at the boring stage.

What used to be a sanctuary from loneliness, these letters, eventually became a sanctuary of privacy, too, and maybe that’s what children and a husband at home do to you, they climb into every nook and cranny of your life until you have to search, to boot them away with a swift kick in the bottom, to have something, anything, to yourself. Writing the letters was the place she got to be alone.

I know this pings every writer’s heart. Surely it must speak to everyone in any kind of relationship who fears leaving that piece of self behind — that essence of you-ness which, when stripped away, renders you flat and stale, like week-old root beer. As much as we might love our kids and spouse, we need a sanctuary to remain fizzy.

He thought of the ghost story about the woman who wore a perfect scarlet ribbon around her beautiful neck at all times and the husband who finally could not resist removing it to see all of his wife’s neck. As it came away, her head fell off. If Ruth wanted to keep her scarlet ribbon in place, so be it.

Passages like this make me happy. Whether this is a real ghost story that Kathleen Hughes heard once or one she just made up, I love how she did that.

How ‘bout you? Do you find these passages as lyrical and evocative as I do? And Kathleen Hughes … if you’re out there … I’d love to interview you!

Running Away

My sister scolded me. But my mom understood.

I got mad at my three children one day when they were youngish and terrible. I needed more than a time-out. I ran away. Only as far as the local library in our little Colorado town, but it was far enough. Far enough for me; too far for them.

I don’t think she was particularly scared, but my daughter called my sister anyway. I think she just wanted me to get in trouble with someone. Anyone.

My daughter also called my mother who lived in California at the time. Talk about tattling!

When I returned home, my sister called, asked the obligatory questions and got the appropriate answers to determine I wasn’t in immediate need of medical or psychiatric care. But then she scolded me.

Later, my mother called too. When I told her the story of the behavioral chaos of my children, expecting more scolding, she laughed. “I’ve done the same thing,” she said.  “Many times.”

I was immediately calmed and exonerated.

I was reminded of this story today because I sat on the deck reading DEAR MRS LINDBERGH by Kathleen Hughes. It was a book I had given my mother as a gift several months earlier. She’s becoming more and more housebound caring for her declining husband. She has very few needs, so books, I’ve decided, are an excellent gift.

She lives in an apartment without much shelf space, though, so she carefully writes the name of the gift giver on a sticky note and returns the books when she’s finished. Often, she’ll include a note about how she enjoyed it — or didn’t.

Sometimes I give books I’ve read that I know she’ll like. Other times I browse and find books I think she’ll like.

Such was the case with DEAR MRS LINDBERGH. I hadn’t read it, didn’t know anything about it. But I know Mom likes historical fiction, which this wasn’t, really, but it had that feel to it.

When I got to the end, I found a note from my mom tucked into it. In her precise cursive she told me she liked this one. She added, “On a very small scale I can relate to Ruth’s desire to fly away for an adventure of her own.”

Reading her note literally took my breath away.

My mother had eight children. I’m number seven. I was an adult before I ever knew — or thought to ask — if she had dreams for her life that didn’t involve a swarm of kids. She was a young teenager during World War II and the nurses captured her imagination. But then she turned 18, got married and immediately started having children. She and my dad never had any money. Nursing school was out of the question.

“On a very small scale I can relate to Ruth’s desire to fly away for an adventure of her own.”

I know Mom would say she’s had a perfectly fine life. But my heart has several tiny Mom-shaped cracks in it today.