Friday, June 26, 2009

What A Letter Brings, Part One

I received a letter from my father yesterday. From several yards away I caught sight of the envelope tossed onto a heap of newspapers and mail and instantly went into alert. I don’t need to see the envelope from close up to know it’s from Hungary. It’s in the handwriting. It wasn’t my father’s handwriting. He doesn’t write his own envelopes anymore. It was that I recognized that type of handwriting that I associate with Hungary and with Europe in general. I see that handwriting on an envelope and I am pretty sure there is a message from my father. Letters like this only arrive a few times a year.

I open the letter immediately, standing in the kitchen while Fred opens the oven and stirs something in a frying pan.

The letter is typed, another clue that my father is not well enough to write. I imagine someone else typing it, probably the woman who comes every week or so to do his secretarial things. She speaks English. She has been working for my father for twenty-five years and – with her husband -- has become a close friend of his. A surrogate daughter perhaps.

He is writing because he received the copy of my book that I sent. I only sent it because my mother asked me to, even slipped me a $20-bill to make sure I did it. It’s true – I probably wouldn’t have sent it except that I knew I had her money. Plus, she had gone and told him about it. I wouldn’t have done that either, but there it was, she had told him just as if he didn’t appear in the book.

My father isn’t a huge figure in the book, but there’s a few paragraphs I’d just as soon he didn’t read, ones in which he stars. But my mother somehow didn’t get that and just thought well, if someone writes a book their parents will be proud and ought to know about it.

My father’s letter was short, less than a page, typed and double-spaced, with many grammatical mistakes he never would have made 25 years ago when he returned to Budapest after 30 years in the States.

He thanks me for the book. Says that he and his sister are reading it together – he must be translating out loud to her. He says they have read only 50 pages so far. They are reading slowly, he says. Proof, he says, that they are reading carefully. There is a tone of sincerity in his voice that I note, but still hold at arm’s length.

There, finally, is his signature, this definitely in his own hand. It is a spindly version of the proud hieroglyph that used to be his flourish.

For a moment I think to call. And immediately think no. I dislike our calls, our conversations, our contact so much. I can’t bear it, ever. Just because there will be a time when I will not be able to hear the voice that was the soundtrack of my childhood doesn’t make me want to listen to it now.

Or does it? I could call. Hear his voice. I don’t think there’s a lot of time left. It’s not that I want to hear or say anything in particular. Maybe just be there. Maybe.

1 comment:

bh said...

You're brave to share so openly in this form...
Lost both my parents within a short time recently. One I had a great relationship, the other not. Yet equally with both now gone, the last moments and exchange of words we had resonate deeply inside me. And I feel incredibly glad I had them. ...if that helps in any way.