The first letter arrived in our mailbox in early July of 1973. Smiling, my mom handed me the envelope. I don’t know who was more excited or relieved, me or her. Sometimes adults get busy and can’t find the time to write, she said. And although I wanted to believe him when he said he’d write, I wasn’t quite sure until then.
It was postmarked Lansing, Michigan and was hand written in black ink on Howard Johnson letterhead. I learned that he had gotten a job teaching summer school and his wife found a position teaching dance. He said the drive from Massachusetts to Michigan was long, but they enjoyed seeing all the cities and states in between. Did I have plans for the summer, he wanted to know. If so, what were they? Was I still reading Nancy Drew mysteries? If so, which ones?
Major life events and tidbits of everyday living were shared on the pages folded into those envelopes. Photos and drawings were tucked inside at times, too. To me, they were a life line. As a kid, each letter was a glimpse into the world outside of my small hometown. Every one was like a beautifully wrapped gift with a treasure of wonder and surprise inside.
Over the years and miles, he wrote about how being a parent was one of his greatest joys. Pictures of his son were included now and then. He wrote about spending time at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. There he learned self-awareness comes from meditation and he highly recommended the practice. He sent postcards from London, Edinburgh and Dublin and said that all of Europe should be on my Must-See list when I was old enough to travel.
I wrote about my new guitar and how my lessons were going with Mr. Morelli. I told him about getting my driver’s license and how thankful I was when I got it on my first try. I dashed off a note about getting accepted to college and where I planned to go. And when older, I sent postcards from Paris, Munich and Florence and told him he was right about Europe.
Some time after I was married and working for a non-profit in northern California and before we had moved to Arizona and I became a teacher, the letters became less frequent and then ended. Maybe it was just the natural progression of things, like any chapter in our lives. Although I haven’t seen him since I was 11 years old, I can still clearly picture him. Mr. Carman, my 5th grade teacher. He wore his dark hair long, Birkenstocks on his feet and a guitar slung over his back. And although he graced our school with his presence for only one year, our relationship through letters, lasted twenty more. His influence, much longer.
From my journal: June 19, 1992 Los Altos, California
“Got a letter from Mr. Carman today! Can’t believe we’re still corresponding and he’s still teaching…Lucky students.”