By Virginia Amis
I sometimes think about what happened on that winter day in 1966.
The day’s air stung my ten-year-old cheeks even though I’d bundled up with a hat and scarf. I stood on the sidewalk, facing the front door of our bungalow, watching my mother mouth words without sound, giving me the message she wanted me to understand. Baby was nearby, so she did not want to open the door and let in a cold draft. She must have thought her instructions were simple enough.
Twenty minutes earlier she’d sent me on a mission in our Pittsburgh neighborhood, handing me several small envelopes she told me were thank-you notes. On them were written names in her lovely script. No postage needed; I was her stamp. She could have given the job to my brother, older by nearly two years. But he was unreliable. The last time she sent him to Johnny’s neighborhood store to buy bread five minutes before closing, he argued for three of those minutes that he’d never make it on time. He didn’t and we did not have toast the next morning.
“Take these to all the people whose names are on the front,” she’d said to me in our warm kitchen. I knew them all. It was a small neighborhood. “Knock on their doors and hand them to whoever answers.”
My mother was proper, always writing thank-you notes for any gift or kindness received. She made us write them, too. None of my friends had to write them.
I set out on that gray morning feeling important for the mission trusted to me. At each house, I knocked on the door and waited for someone to take my delivery. It was a simple task to complete until, at three of the houses, no one answered the door. I went home, knocked on our front door and telegraphed my message to my mother by waving the three envelopes in the air and shrugging.
I thought I understood her response, mouthed through the window in the front door. “Put them in the mailbox.” She said it twice. I can still see her mouth exaggerating the words. She even pantomimed how that would look, pretending to slide the notes inside. I nodded and set off to complete my task.
At the end of the street, the blue mailbox waited. I dropped the cards inside and returned to my mother’s kitchen.
“How’d it go?” she asked me.
“I did what you said,” I told her. “I dropped the last three in the mailbox.” The hot chocolate in the pan on the stove smelled good. I hoped I could have some.
I froze. The tone of her voice signaled warning. “It’s what you told me to do.”
She placed her hands on each side of her face, now twisted in horror. “I told you to put them in the mail slot, not the mail box! The mail SLOT in each front door. I can’t believe you mailed them! They don’t have stamps or even addresses! They are going to lay in there, never be delivered! I said mail SLOT!”
She turned away and I tried not to cry. A moment before I’d felt so pleased with myself. I couldn’t wait to goad my brother about my success in completing the mission as I sipped on my hot chocolate reward. “See,” I had planned to say, “I can finish a job.” But all pride had vanished. I sat lower in the kitchen chair, dripping snow boots on the linoleum below me, my cold chin on my chest. I wanted to disappear. I really didn’t care if the notes stayed in the mail box. Who cared about stupid thank-you notes anyhow? My only concern was how long it would take for my mother to tell my brother and other siblings how I could not do anything right. I could hear her voice in the living room doing just that and my older brother’s laughter in response.
Several decades have passed since that winter morning in 1966. Since then, I have enjoyed a successful career as a litigator representing many clients in difficult cases. My reputation for attention to detail and organization has brought them to my door. People appreciate that I listen closely.
I listen because I want to understand. Understanding is important. I don’t ever again want to misunderstand.
© 2023 Virginia Amis
Ms. Amis has published stories in Perspectives Magazine, Reminisce Extra, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 Scribes Valley Publishing Anthologies, Beyond the Norm, Where Tales Grip, and Story Harvest, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, For Women Who Roar, several Writing It Real Anthologies and in 101words.com. Her characters are inspired by family, the extraordinary people she has had the pleasure to meet and by the beauty of natural surroundings near her Pacific Northwest home.
Vivid! Hard way to learn an important lesson.
thank you for sharing. I LOVE these types of stories