Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends. Richard Bach
I love it, how a story comes back to you when you are busy cleaning out a closet:
My brother and I stood on the Wyman’s wharf at high tide in Fish House Cove. The day was crystal clear and the breeze was off the shore. Our mother had told us that the turning tide and the blowing-things-out-to-sea winds were perfect for the launching of our plan. We had worked hard at the wording. I was ten that summer after fourth grade and my brother, who we called Kippy, was almost eight. On a piece of our father’s fancy typewriter paper, I wrote a short note saying who we were and including both our summer address at the cottage and our winter address in Bath. Our mother supplied the vehicle, an empty bottle for Prell and a plastic bag, and, just like we had read about in adventure books, we rolled our note up in a tight little package, wrapped it in plastic, then stuffed it into the bottle that had once held our emerald green shampoo. And then there was the moment, when we stood at the very edge of the wharf and tossed that bottle into the cove, letting that breeze carry it outward – maybe to Portugal or Africa or Boston, to somewhere faraway.
I’m sure we carried on with our summer of flounder fishing and blueberry-picking and swimming daily in our little cove. And I’m sure our minds were filled with other things, when weeks or months later, an envelope arrived in the mail. A letter addressed to Kippy and I from Mrs. John Freebern with a return address of Maple Avenue, Saratoga Springs, New York. She had found our message! It hadn’t sailed away to Africa or Florida, but our words nestled in that empty bottle had made it over a hundred miles all the way down to a beach on the Maine/New Hampshire border where she and her husband had found it washed up on the shore while vacationing in Maine.
Mrs. Freebern and I, who in fifth grade loved to write letters, became fast friends. Her husband was a fireman and her kids were older than my big brother who was a sophomore in college. I wrote to her about school and swimteam and my friends, Maureen and Sally and Curtis. She wrote back about horseracing and her husband, John, and the summer place that they had in Maine. And even though I wasn’t a girl who loved horses, I delighted in the collection of china race horses I was accumulating when Mrs. Freebern sent me gloriously wrapped packages. The summer when I was twelve, Mrs. Freebern and her husband, John, visited us at our cottage home in the cove. My mother helped me host my guests and we fed them crabmeat sandwiches on our fancy plates and my mother’s homemade mint iced tea. I showed them the woods and Sister Point and the wharf where the Prell bottle had begun its journey.
And somewhere after graduations and marriage and the birth of my boys, somewhere in the late eighties, well into Mrs. Freebern’s old age and her husband John’s retirement, we lost touch. I lost touch. Caught up in the stories of my current life, I found no time to write to Mrs. Freebern. And I haven’t thought about her in years.
But I did this morning. While cleaning out the closet, while tossing away a pile of letters I haven’t replied to and the guilt globbed onto them, I found it, the last letter that Mary Freebern ever wrote to me, in December of 1990. I’ve saved it all these years. I’m still saving it. I’m sure that Mrs. Freebern, at least ten years older than my ninety-two year old mother, no longer lives on Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs. I’m sure I’ll never mail a letter to her again. But I feel connected, connected to that little girl inside of me who knew, who still knows, that we carry our connection on the airwaves and the seawaves, and the magicwaves, that we don’t really lose touch.
The year after my father-in-law died, I found him again while weeding our garden. There I was, kneeling down among the jewelweed and wild roses, my bare feet in the dirt of the earth, and there he was; I felt his presence as clear as if he were kneeling down with me, and it filled me with such happiness. And today, I feel it again, the delight in a connection, a connection with a woman I once called Mrs. Freebern, and now call Mary. Mary Freebern, my pen pal.