I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., and our mother felt that you could well afford that amount and would jump at the chance to support baby brother in his work.
I don’t say this in an effort to pass the buck, but that letter was not my idea. Mama suggested it, and at the same time she had me write to Willis, our dad, and ask him for money—no specific amount was requested, and I received no specific amount—none, zilch, zip, zero—and my letter was neither answered nor returned, much the same result as my letter to you. I wrote a letter to Willis, but the only thing I remember about it is the sign-off that Hester composed:
No mon, no fun, your son—Mikey
I was really having trouble balancing that heavy paperbag, especially on Sundays because of the increased weight of the papers. As one might expect, much of my paper route was on unpaved streets—it was mostly on the south side of Columbus, Mississippi, and the city’s southside was the last in line for upgrades such as converting graveled streets to asphalt paving. I have since learned that such niceties depend on the tax base, and relatively few dollars flowed into the city’s coffers from southside residents and businesses.
I found the cycle of my choice in a magazine advertisement—it was black, low-slung with a Harley Hog saddle seat and a kick-starter, and it was belt driven—it sported the requisites of headlight and tail light, and in those days tags and a driver’s license were not required.
Note that I said belt driven—the motorcycle belts advertised and used nowadays are steel, not rubber. The cycle of my dreams was driven by a rubber belt identical to the fan belt on an automobile—can you believe it! The name of the bike has faded from my memory, lost in the dim mists of the past, but I believe it was called a Service Cycle, or perhaps a Servi-cycle—anyway, something on that order.
Apparently your response was lost in the mail because I never received an answer, and in our contacts in later years the subject was never broached. It’s also possible, of course, that you never received the letter. No matter—that’s a moot point in view of the fact that I lost my exalted newspaper delivery boy status soon after that—I was fired by the son of a—no, not that kind of son—I was fired by the son of the owner of the Commercial Dispatch, a junior unless my memory fails me.
If they provide you with a computer where you are, you can Google my version of the incident here—the true version, regardless of what that son of a—well, regardless of other versions, whether of the home owner involved or the Circulation Manager of the Commercial Dispatch.
I’m sorry that I was not able to attend your funeral back in the fall of 1983. When our sister, Jessie, called my hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, I was preparing to leave for National Airport—now Ronald Reagan International—to board a plane for Miami. I was in Washington on a 90-day special detail, and the trip to Miami was very important to my assignment in Washington, an assignment that culminated in a promotion to a higher level in the U.S. Customs hierarchy, a significant increase in salary and a three-year stay at Customs’ national headquarters.
All things are possible, of course—I could have canceled my flight, but the cancellation and my failure to participate in the activities in Miami would have made a major difference in my burgeoning career. I know my apology is rather belated because 27 years have passed since that day, but at least I’m making the effort now to express my regrets.
Larry, I remember that you like jokes, and I intend to include some of yours in future letters to remind you of the jokes you told me and the songs I learned from you. Just as a sample, I’ll show one of those ditties—it is hilarious!
There was an old woman that lived in the grass,
And when she bent over you could see her . . .
Ruffles and tuffels and also her tucks,
She said she was learning a new way to . . . .
Bring up her daughters and teach them to knit
While the boys in the barnyard were shoveling up . . . .
Contents of the stables and also the sod
And if that isn’t poetry I’ll hang by my . . . .
I must tell you that I am using this letter-writing method on the premise of contacting you because of my daughters. I’m sure you remember them, but perhaps not their children. Debbie is the elder of the three, Cindy was born seven years later and Kelley just four years after that. All are well and loving life. Debbie is married and has a grown son and daughter, Cindy is married and has two cats and numerous species of aquarium fish, and Kelley is married and has a young son and daughter, both in grade school.
All three women would like to know more about our family, and my middle daughter, Cindy, has convinced me that the best way to inform them of their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins is for me to convey the information in the form of a letter to each relative. This letter to you is the second letter I’ve written. The first was to our sister Hattie, the little girl that only lived one day after her birth in 1917, just two years before you were born. You can Google it here if you would like to read the letter. Neither of us knew her on earth, but perhaps you have met her in the hereafter—if so, please give her our love and best regards.
Here are a couple of off-beat poems I’ve carried around in my brain for many years. I realize that this letter is rather somber in nature, and perhaps this will lighten things up a bit:
An epitaph found on an old tombstone:
Know, my friend, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare yourself to follow me.
Some wag added this below the epitaph:
To follow you
I’m not content,
Until I know
Which way you went.
Larry, you and I were together for brief periods, widely spaced, and away from each other for years at a time. Those years covered more than a half-century—51 of them, from the year of my birth to the year of your death. Other than the two years or so that I lived with you and your family in Maryland and for a few weeks in El Paso, Texas we were together for very short periods of time. We may think we know each other, but I don’t believe that we know each other very well.
Much of what I know, or think I know, about you comes from you—you’ve told me many things about yourself and about incidents and people that I never knew, so my knowledge must be considered secondhand at its best—hearsay, if you will—because I wasn’t there. I intend to discuss those incidents and people based on your stories for the benefit of my children, to help them understand our relationship to each other and to other family members. By the time I finish, if in fact I ever finish, there should be a good-sized portfolio of letters such as this one.
And be forewarned—some of the things I will discuss are a bit far out and in certain instances bear the scent of braggadocio, but as the little boy accused of bragging said, If you done it, it ain’t bragging!
Larry, you should consider this letter a harbinger of things to come, the first of many. I’ll talk about locations and events and people, some that you knew and I didn’t, and some that I know and you didn’t. Throughout the process I will make every effort to document the source of my information. Those other than you that read the letters can either accept them as fact or dismiss them as fiction, and you of course have the same choice. Whichever you and they choose to do, I promise that everyone will be enlightened, and perhaps even entertained, in the process.
I’ll get back to you with more details. Please take care of yourself.
Lots of love,