It’s hard to start a letter like this.
You’ve been gone for a long time now. After I finish writing this, I’m going to burn it. I’ve been reading this book, and writing letters to dead people and burning them is supposed to be a good thing for your soul, or something dumb like that.
You probably have no sense of time wherever you are, but I’ll spare you the boredom of listing what’s happened. I’m sure you know this, but Warren’s dead.
He was twenty-two. Just about to visit us for Christmas.
Hurts a bit, you know? Still. It’s been three or so years now. Still smarts.
Anyway. This year I’m hosting Christmas. Chelsea’s trying to make your old sand cookies again. I’ve got a lot of fond memories from those. I’m glad she’s taking them up. You were always so mean, but those cookies seemed to sweet you a bit.
And neither of us have that recipe anymore. I’m going to try and remember it, but my memory’s shot these days. I’m glad you were still sharp as a knife until the bitter end.
Well, I’ll talk to you later I guess. I’ll write these until I get tired of it.
So nice to hear from you again. I’m glad to see you’re not a total failure after all.
I hated those sand cookies but it made me laugh to see you all stuffing yourselves.
I’ll tell you one ingredient each time.
Here’s my question: Did you and Ron divorce after all?
i’m writing this in the metro. mom, is that you? i’m weirded out by this. i bet this is just a sick joke. i got your letter sitting in the ashes of my first letter. how are you communicating with me?? here’s a test: what did you eat while you were in taos all by yourself?
I assure you this is no joke. You think that poorly of me?
I lived on brown rice and cocaine in Taos. I was a dancer then. I was lean and pretty. My father always said I had a strong face, and that helped. Dance is some kind of pristine transparency. It’s lovely. Your dad was too sweet. Just like dance. I left dance because it was too sweet, but your dad... It was seduction, no two ways about it. He had a job at a grocery store and wooed me with free brown rice and cheap milk bottles.
So I married him and regretted it only when you came along.
And fix your penmanship, Carla, it’s disgusting.
Very well then. Are you still alive, Mom? How are you communicating with me? I saw you die. You’re gone.
Brown rice and cocaine. I didn’t know the brown rice part.
You’re cruel. I never told you that in real life, but you are. You’re mean. You’re heartless. And I just had you as my role model. You don’t like me? You have no one to blame but yourself.
Anyway, I know the sand cookie recipe calls for butter. Chelsea will probably want to use coconut oil instead. She has some odd ideas sometimes. She’s vegetarian, I think.
I can only imagine what you’d say if you were still alive and saw her picking out lactose-free milk and gluten-free granola. You’d have a conniption fit.
No, Ron and I never divorced. We never even discussed it. We never even separated.
Rats. I never liked that Ron guy. He was a bastard in my book. Slick hair and a fat nose. And he was too rich. You marry a rich man, you start taking everything for granted.
Until he wants a divorce and you’re on your own since you never got a job. Just married for money.
Women these days…
In my day we had to get a job, no matter how menial, because the men would only want wives who gave them everything. Kids, chicken n’ dumplings, fake smiles after a hard day. And we didn’t want to marry men like that.
Your dad was a jerk too but at least he had self-respect, and he never made me cook dinner. I did it anyway for a while but I burned everything, so he started making it. Any other man would’ve stuck through the burned food just out of pure laziness.
He was a decent cook, but then you came along (typical).
You made better meals, though I hate to admit it, so we just had you do it. Then when your dad died I just ate at diners.
Of course I’m dead.
Three-quarters of a cup of sugar is the next one. You all liked that sugar, didn’t you? Pigs.
The penmanship’s better this time but still ugly. Improve.
Mom said she couldn’t take it anymore, so I picked up writing instead. It’s Chelsea. You never met me. Mom wouldn’t give me what you’ve already told her re the recipe -- she said I had to ask you. “See how difficult she is,” she said. But I won’t ask. I’m going to try and remember it. Here’s my question: Why do you hate Mom so much?
Pleasure I’m sure. Hopefully none of my grandchildren are failures. I’ve met Warren up here but he’s not that impressive. I like you already. You’re blunt and remind me of myself. Here’s my question: Who is your mother?
I do not hate her. She’s never lived up to the expectations our family has given her. She’s a strong woman; she has to be, growing up my daughter. Yet she married poorly, never got a good job, never really used her head. She could’ve done better.
Your mother is bland. That’s her problem. Another run-of-the-mill 1970s housewife who insists she’s “liberated.” She doesn’t know what it’s like to yank your family through the Depression all alone with half a job between you and your husband. I had to use my head. Every day.
You have no idea what it was like.
I was a free woman. We didn’t have kids until the forties, luckily. God pity the women who had them throughout. They say the 70s were the women’s decade, but it wasn’t. The 30s were. We learned that we had grit. We were strong and brave and determined. We brought ourselves and our people through.
I don’t hate.
Your mother is just disappointing. Bland.
I pity you. You’ve had a hard life. Mom’s not bland. I assure you that. Nor am I.
I don’t really believe in heaven, but I hope you’re resting. Christmas is coming. I want those sand cookies.
I remember Mom making them. She’d always cry when she made them. She said it reminded her of you, and that made her cry, because you disliked her.
She would put in a cup of sugar, two sticks of butter, and a teaspoon of baking soda. That’s what I remember right now. I’ll try to think of more later. Am I right?
Not a full cup of sugar, but everything else is right. Well done. You’re not useless after all. Good memory I suppose -- good genes.
I’m resting, don’t worry. Writing to my descendents is entertaining.
Your mother disliked me. Ever asked her that? I thought not. She was weak, hurt and crying if she got a hint of anything but god-worship from me. I was never a mother to worship her children.
Some vinegar. I’m guessing a teaspoon or half a teaspoon. Bitter, like you. That’s it -- I’ve discovered your problem. You’re bitter.
Some vanilla, because every cookie recipe calls for it. And some flour. Two cups, I’d guess.
The house is getting gussied up. Mom has me turn the furnace on almost every day when she makes the Christmas dinner food. She slaves over the stove sometimes. I think it’s because you never made a decent meal in your life.
The tree’s set up and the nice silverware’s out. The sky is streaked with grey these days, sort of depressing except everything inside is so bright and vivid and warm. I think Mom misses you a little bit when Christmas rolls around, just a little. She doesn’t like to miss you but she can’t help it.
A cup and a half of flour, and no, I’m not bitter. Just tired and old. At least on earth I was. You’re not even going to ask where I am? That’s a clique dodge.
And Chelsea, I have to go.
A pinch of cinnamon is all that’s left, and let them cook a little longer than you normally would. Cinnamon, for remembering things.
I like you, Chelsea, and that’s an “I love you” in my book. Tell your mother to buck up and she might turn out okay after all.
I’ll burn this like I did the others as soon as I finish writing, but: I miss you. She’s making the cookies right now and it’s making me cry.
I miss you too.