Saturday, March 17, 2012
i collect letters written by strangers. i have fat little clutches tied with tattered ribbons. and ragged folders with pages of different sizes and different handwriting. i have bought them online. i have bought them locally. i've bought some because i fell in love and some i bought thinking i'd use in collage, but then fell in love with them and couldn't.
one little bundle of letters is a lifetime worth of letters. the first letter is june of 1904, from walter, a newly ordained anglican minister in kingston ontario, to his mother in new brunswick. his father is also an anglican minister. there are no letters from his mother, but several from his father. and very quickly there are letters between his new fiancee, florence and his father, by way of introduction. they are very formal and the handwriting is calligraphic. and suddenly the letters move to the 1920s. they are to and from phyllis, walter and florence's only child who has gone to toronto to study music. and letters to florence and phyllis from walter when he is away. and then there are letters of support to florence and phyllis during walter's illness, and then of sympathy after his death. it is the story of a life. there are recital programs and report cards from the university of toronto conservatory of music. the last letters are dated in the 1950's from florence to phyllis, in a shaky hand and signed 'mother'. the story is loving and touching and you feel thoroughly part of their lives.
i have read through this collection dozens of times in the 18 years i've had it. after i moved to portsmouth village, i noticed that the family from these letters also lived in portsmouth village. which delighted me. there were photo enlargement envelopes from peter's drugs, our neighborhood pharmacy that has been owned by the same family for generations and generations. but i'll never know how it took me so many years to notice that the return address, properly written in the top right corner of so many of the letters, was 53 mowat avenue. the address of the house that is my studio is 55 mowat avenue. it's like my little life on this little corner in portsmouth village knew the neighbors from a lifetime ago.