Every day, my mother tells me she is going to write to her sister. And every day, her sister wonders whose turn it is to write. When, after many weeks, no letter from my mother arrives, her sister finally decides it must be her turn. But the letter she writes is almost an exact duplicate of the one she sent previously, because she doesn�t remember what she wrote before. When my mother reads the letter, she is unaware that she has already heard the news it contains, even though she keeps all of her sister�s letters, and frequently rereads the most recent ones. Now and then, a letter that is two or three years old will surface, but my mother doesn�t notice when it was written. So on the day she finally does respond, there is a good chance she will address some past detail. Her sister, of course, doesn�t find this odd at all. Or, if she does, she forgets that it�s odd and temporarily loses track of the letter in a stack of other letters.

It�s sad, of course, but it�s funny too � just as is my mother�s gentle snoring in the next room as I write this letter, and a dozen other things she says and does during the journey of a day. They are funny in part because, if I don�t laugh, I will cry. But they are also funny because even my mother finds them so, and when she hears what she has said and recognizes its unlikelihood or impossibility, she ends up laughing herself. The beauty of this is that the laughter makes her feel better, which in turn makes more laughter possible.

My mother�s sister is ninety years old, but she isn�t my mother�s only, or eldest, sister. She has three sisters in all. The oldest is ninety-two, the other is eighty-six. My mother will be eighty-four on the Fourth of July. There are no brothers.

The letters my mother and her sister exchange usually contain mention of the other sisters. This is good, because when my mother wonders aloud about them, I am at least able to give her some news, knowing full well that if anything of true importance arises, a bulletin will be issued by a cousin.

One thing I like and find touching is that the letters are so important, as is the mode of communication itself. The telephone is always available, but my mother and her sister haven�t called each other in ages. When they first learned to read, the telephone was still a relatively new device � as my mother proved yesterday when we were talking about past events and she popped up with �Number, please.� A letter has permanence. After a telephone call, it�s almost as if what was said evaporates into thin air. On the other hand, hearing a person�s voice can awaken all sorts of memories and feelings. And we all know how seeing that person, especially after a few or many years have passed, creates its own kind of magic. But there is little chance my mother will see any of her sisters again. They live hundreds of miles apart, and are able to travel only short distances. My mother rarely thinks of this. When she does, it is soon forgotten.

May 25, 2006

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