As a result of all this downtime, I’ve been going through stacks of old office receipts, copies of invoices, and other stuff that for the most part, needs to go into the box marked “to be shredded.” But what I also have been able to do is organize some items you don’t see much of anymore. Printed photos, which are rare because of technology. Birthday cards, a few of which still arrive in the mail. But to me, the rarest thing of all are personal letters, written by hand. I found a letter I had forgotten about, written to me by my Uncle Fritzie, who I remember could always say the right things at the right times, including in a letter. The one I found is dated 1991, and says in part:
“Tommy, I have enclosed some photos of your grandparents as well as a few others you might like. The very old one with the man sporting a Springfield repeater rifle is the man you are named after – your grandfather. It was taken some 75 years ago while he was serving in the United States Army. I offer this to you as a Christmas gift. He must have been 17 or 18 years old at the time. There is another photo of three GI’s holding M1 rifles – the one on the right is your father, Taken in France. One of my favorite pictures is the one of your grandmother sitting in front of the little grocery store she and your grandfather had on East 112th Street. As you can imagine, these photos bring back so many memories for me, and I hope for you. Have a wonderful holiday.”
The photo of my grandmother especially brings back so many memories for me. That tiny store in the middle of East Harlem was home to me as a little boy. The aromas are still fresh in my mind. The dinners of macaroni and Sunday gravy are still fresh. My grandfather pouring 7up into a small jelly jar glass and topping it off with my first taste of scotch. And let me also mention the old fashioned milk crates made of wood. We turned them upright for chairs and crammed together around the smallest table for that dish of macaroni every week. There was always enough room and enough food for everyone.
Uncle Fritzie finished the letter by saying that some of the other photos he enclosed are of my father and other uncles. I’ll find a place for all of them because when I look at these photos, I like to imagine what my grandfather was thinking at the time. I look at the pictures of my father and wonder the same. I can’t fully express the joy that finding my uncle’s letter again has brought me. An old photo or letter can remind us of a time gone by, but looking back can still bring a smile and happy memories.