When Adam, my first grandchild, arrived in March 1989, I began a tradition. Every year on or about his birthday, I wrote him a letter, usually four or five pages, describing a little about what was going on in his immediate family, his extended family, and in the state, nation and world. When he turned one, I wrote him another letter. I did this because I’d always been curious to know first hand what had been happening in my family and in the world as I grew up. I tried to include details and small incidents that were at risk for being lost to time.
Fifteen months later, when Adam’s sister, Amy, arrived, I wrote a letter for her. And as the years went by and the grandkid kid count climbed to eleven a decade later, I did the same for each of them on or around their birthdays every year.
When Brenna, number twelve, the final arrival, showed up, of course she began getting annual letters as well.
I did not share these letters with my grandchildren. Instead I put each letter into a folder and stored it away on my bookshelf. I don’t remember just when I decided that when each child turned twelve, I would give them the folder and the flow of letters would end for that grandchild. There are now eleven folders in the hands of my grandchildren. Maybe they read their letters, and maybe they didn’t. Perhaps some of them ended up in the trash. I’ve never asked, so I don’t know their fate. Perhaps some of the folders hung around until the kids got old enough and decided it might be fun to read the letters. It doesn’t really matter.
Brenna turned twelve a week ago and I’m about to write the final letter to go in her folder. I remember wondering, somewhere along the way, whether I’d even be around to complete her letter collection. Looks like I made it so here goes.
A few words from Brenna’s final letter.
On July 2, 2017, you turned 12 years old which means that this will be the last of the letters I’ve been writing to you every year since you were born. I will give them all to you when you come this summer. You have been living in Tokyo since you were two, so I worried a bit about how you might fit in surrounded by all those cousins, ages 17 to 27, who gathered for a big party in Fort Collins. I didn’t need to worry. It took you about two minutes to join in the fun and games. You loved hanging out with your five girl cousins and they thought you were something special, which you are.
Your visit was short, but you managed to pack lots into a few days and you went home knowing a whole lot of relatives you’d only seen in photos. You stopped in Hawaii with your mom to attend a tennis camp. You are athletic, love to act, play the violin, and your dad says you don’t have a shy bone in your body. He predicts that you will be an entertainer.
The letter goes on to describe what her immediate and extended family is up to these days, a bit about the political situation in the U.S. and my hope that she will return this summer for some more tennis coaching. These letters are easy to write and hopefully will have some meaning for the recipients at some time in the future.
Libby James is the author of several children’s books. She writes for the North Forty News and is an award-winning runner.