Monday, August 14, 2006

A Letter from Bertha

“Wednesday, 3 am

Beatrice dear,

As I do not want to disturb anyone at this hour – although I did ask Helen for her fountain pen – and she peevishly asked what I would do if I couldn’t borrow. I said, “Keep it, since you are so stingy.” So, I am using a pencil and sorry to feel that way toward her.

I am glad to have had your letter. I had felt that I had no one with whom there could be understanding outside Bobbie. I, too, am troubled in spirit. I feel so alone and solitary. Helen seems to be quite alienated from me, living a sort of dream life apart. I think she feels a strong sexual attraction for Fred, rather than love. I cannot sit down and have heart-to-heart talks with her. Her very personality, as well as her voice squeaks, “Oh, Mother!” and shuts me out. There isn’t much in her of the something that I have and you have, to coalesce. When I was sick, there was no tea in the house, and I asked for some. She didn’t want to share any, not a pinch. She has never been affectionate, so I can’t lose what she hasn’t given me. I can’t understand her and yet I worry. I wish I felt surer of her love for Fred.

Now, about you and Ted. If you are in doubt, don’t go ahead. Life after marriage is one’s whole life, looking back from where I am now. Before is just preparation for a more serious life. I rejoice that you have had the opportunity of meeting so many young men. Had I had it, I think my life now would be different. Dad is a peach, but mentally we do not quite jell, nor spiritually. There is something lacking between us. Maybe no two individuals can understand each other.

I would like to feel that you could have financial security in your married life, but more a feeling of sympathetic understanding and a one-ness in spirit, a bond of understanding. I don’t know if you have yet met your man. We will have to talk about it. I am glad you are coming home… ”

I never met my grandmother Bertha, and Bea didn’t discuss her much. Sitting by Bea’s bedside, reading this letter, I am struck by how close the two women seem to have been and how open their communication. When Bea tried the same approach with me, I would snap shut like one of the clams in the ocean that separated us. At a distance, interest morphed into morbid curiosity. I felt as if she were always prying into my affairs, analyzing my life, and wanted none of it.

Bertha died at age 58 of a stroke. I ask my mother what she remembers. Bea says simply, “She died the day I got home.”

I know the story. It was one she did share. Bea rushed back to New Jersey by airplane. Mabel, the maid, greeted her at the door. “Miss Beatrice,” she said. “Your mother is waiting for you.”

Bertha passed that day. My cousin Sally reports that our grandfather, in his grief, blamed Hunter because Bertha had been worrying about him …

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