Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.
For many years, as a result of my husband’s job with the Central Intelligence Agency, our family did a lot of traveling and relocating. We spent many years living in West Africa, Asia, the Middle East and in Europe. I once counted that we had moved eighteen times in twenty-one years.
Over the years I wrote letters to my maternal grandmother to whom I was very close. In my letters to her I described our daily adventures of living abroad, our unusual cultural experiences and the stories of giving birth to and raising our two daughters in foreign countries. My husband is now retired and we have put down our familial roots in Northern Virginia.
In 2004 I visited my grandmother in her home in San Francisco. During this visit my grandmother handed me a large, beautifully wrapped gift box. Upon opening the box, I saw all the letters that I had written to her. The letters were neatly tied up with different colors of satin ribbon – a bundle for each year of our travels. Over the next few days, I was delighted to read my letters again and to reflect on so many of the adventures I had experienced and shared on paper with my grandmother. What my grandmother had been unaware of until that time was that I had saved her letters, too. Eventually, I was to see that together our letters numbered over 500.
Fast-forward a few years…
You were expecting your first baby on December 27, 2007. As your pregnancy progressed, you became more and more uncomfortable and longed for the pregnancy to be over. I then remembered the letters that I had written to my grandmother 27 years earlier. I remembered writing in great detail about being pregnant with my first baby (you) — and remembered how I, too, suffered nausea, indigestion, swollen ankles and late-night awakenings from pains in my legs; and how I, too, longed for the waiting to be over. Maybe you would take comfort in reading that I had dealt with the same inconveniences.
I decided to share my letters with you, now saved in a large white binder, in the hopes that it would reflect my love, compassion and empathy for what you were going through. I presented the large stack of letters to you. Early the next day you called me on the telephone.The excitement in your voice was all I needed to hear. You had read all of my letters in one night.
You were thrilled to read about my pregnancy experiences and even more about what my life was like at the time of her birth. You said that she had no idea of what I went through – the experience of giving birth at the Al Khalidi Maternity Hospital in Amman, Jordan, not having family nearby to help me, and not having the comforts of Westernized medicine throughout my pregnancy, labor and delivery.
After reading my letters, you told me that she gained a new and deeper understanding of what my life had been like and how difficult it must have been for me. You said that it must have taken a lot of courage to go to Jordan not knowing how things would turn out or what things would be like.
This mother-to-daughter insight was all made possible because my grandmother had the foresight to save my letters. They are only pieces of paper but the thoughts, memories and stories reflected on them are priceless.
Now my sweet daughter is the mother of three — a beautiful five-year-old daughter and active twin two-year-old boys. She is making her own memories and one day will have some amazing stories of her own to tell her kids.
P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.