Message in a bottle

In creativity, the writing life by ami3 Comments

Mom and Ibby - Roomies at Michigan State

The other day I sat down at my table and wrote a note – with pen on paper. When I was finished, I folded it in half and placed it in an envelope bearing stamps I had to lick to get to stick.  There was something quite nostalgic about the ritual, and the fact that I found myself feeling sentimental over it (more-so than the thoughts I’d scribbled on the page) made me feel, in the end, rather sad. I admit, I don’t take the time to write letters like I used to and it worries me that there will be no trove of foxed stationary and correspondence for my children to discover after I’m gone.

As a writer of historical fiction, I often dream about finding messages from the past. Diaries and letters, even receipts from the butcher or an apothecary can yield valuable hints about the day-to-day workings of a life. One scrap of paper can give way to shaping a character’s entire personality.

Recently, in a box of old photographs I found one such letter, written to my mother by her friend, “Ibby.” (I’m crazy over the font used for her name on her stationary!) The envelope was missing, but the two page letter, composed on a typewriter with a rogue W that always hit a bit too high, brought a young woman and a summer day in 1952 clearly in focus.

Ibby and my mom were roommates their freshman year at Michigan State University, and although I never met her or knew her last name, she looms large in my family history. By cajoling my mom into going out with her boyfriend’s pal on a blind date, she set a love affair into motion that would last over fifty years.

Sadly, my mom and Ibby didn’t keep in touch and I’ve no idea what ever became of the mythical girl who introduced my parents – “the girl who couldn’t hear without her glasses.”

In the letter I found, she’s writing Mom to see how she’s fairing for the summer, both young women considering their options for the fall.

“Say kid, when do you think you’ll get a chance to come to the big city? I was even thinking of taking a little trip to Detroit and area if I can scare up the money, parents OK, and some place to stay. What I’d like to do is make off with the car, but that of course is impossible. Speaking of the car, boy is it a honey and a cinch to drive, too. I’ve caught on to the automatic drive already nd just go buzzing all over town.”

With their “men” about to leave to be stationed in Japan during the Korean war, she ends on this note:

Dick is coming down July 4th weekend, and the way I feel now I’d just as soon elope with him then and get away from everybody, everything and be happy for at least a little while before we get really separated for a longer time. Right now I feel like saying the hell with school. I think you have the right idea. What good is it going to do me anyway. All I want now is to get married.

Well, kid, it’s 10:30 at night and I am getting sleepy. Guess I’ll close for now. Do write soon and tell me all about your fascinating summer.

Love and stuff,

Ibby (the cheery pop kid)

With summer quickly coming to a close, bees bumbling ever slower, perhaps it’s time to get out the stationary and write.




  1. Fonda Raymer

    My Dear Ami, So glad you found this letter. I remember Ibby. She helped your Mom smuggle a fuzzy kitty home to me on the train. I also remember the trip to MSU to meet the handsome young man who would become your Daddy. I am soo blessed to have these memories. Thinking of you with love as you travel in your heart with pictures and precious words of your Mom and Dad’s Love Story!!

  2. Cheryl Martyn

    Ami – Thank you for writing that blog. My Mom passed away this month and I am to write the thank you notes. It’s not the words that bother me but my handwriting which has deteriorated from lack of use.I don’t think emails cut it for thank you notes! I keep putting it off but now I see there are others who are as rusty as I am so I’ll do it – I’ll practice first!!

  3. Judi MacKenzie

    I’m afraid handwritten letters are lost in the past. How sad for the future! My mom recently brought me a bag of over 100 letters I had kept from the early 70’s from a dear friend I had met at camp. We kept in touch for 3 or 4 years. We recently reconnected on facebook, but it’s not the same! I treasure all handwritten material I have from my Grandmother as much as I do her quilts.
    Love your book The Birth House, I am anxiously awaiting The Virgin Cure!

Leave a Comment