My sister marched into my office, glanced at an open cabinet and announced that it made no sense to have a file marked "Current Correspondence, 1984."
But I treasure those letters, I argued, and some remain unanswered. She sighed a sisterly sigh and suggested that I get on with the correspondence of 1988 before another year adds to the guilt.
Like many fine teachers, my sister is too often right. Before school starts for fall, I'll tackle the assignment.
Dear Florence Stephenson: Thank you for your note of May 1 (and for your earlier letters, including some from 1984). So you started using earplugs when you lived in Spain to block out the 4 a.m. whine and grind of garbage trucks? I swear by them now on airplanes or trains or on cruise ships, when high seas howl. It makes travel more serene, and enhances the odds of being able to read or doze. A noisy hotel room brings them out, too. Congratulations on your 83rd birthday.
Dear Robin Gibson: Yes, I did visit the northernmost state in late June. I also visited the easternmost and westernmost. And I never left Alaska (check your atlas, if you won't take the word of your godmother). I look forward to lazing in the southernmost state this winter (no drawl needed; it's Hawaii).
Dear Doug McE.: I am delighted with your enthusiasm for the food and prices of the French neighborhood bistros that you discovered through the guidebook, "Cheap Eats in Paris." I agree; you can save the price of the book before you get to your first dessert. I wish that I were sitting in a rattan chair outside the brasserie Ma Bourgogne at this moment, savoring an espresso at a small table beneath the cool arcade that faces the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. The cafe is open on Sundays, according to "Cheap Eats," even in August.
Dear Lee Adams: Your photos of our Antarctic adventure are wonderful. Thank you for sending copies. I had the correct image of the stance of the king penguins that met us on the icy banks of South Georgia, but my own stance, in red parka and pants, came as a surprise. The smile on the elephant seal is a winner. The rest of us look almost as happy.
Dear Pat M.: Don't tell my sister, but I can't part with your delightful letter from 1986 in response to a column I wrote called "The Worst Day." (That is the day after you get home from a trip and have to face the mundane demands of a real world you can barely remember.)
You wrote: "Every May, as I enjoy our Maui beach for the last day, I mutter, 'What the hell will I have for dinner the first night?' " A lot of us keep peanut butter on hand for emergencies, or insist on going out to celebrate getting home. I know frequent travelers who set up dinner plans with close friends for their first full night back, so that they will be forced to resume a modified schedule instead of just crashing in bed. I think I would rather sleep.
Dear Rose P.: I am looking for the recipe for aligot, and will send it soon. It is somewhere around here in all these scraps of paper. There may be a version of this savory Auvergne treat of whipped potatoes, garlic and melted Cantal cheese in Patricia Wells' book, "The Food Lover's Guide to France." That book also is somewhere around here in all these scraps of paper.
The Right Medicine
Dear Dr. Summers: I enjoyed your lively account of madness and confusion in the Montreal airport during the American Psychiatric Assn. convention in Canada. I am glad that you could talk about it. If humor is good medicine, you must be very fit. Your description of the sound of an airline counter computer ("Klickity, klickity, plomp, plomp") has me listening more closely to mine.
Dear Elizabeth Marble, Elsie Ogley, Dave Frailey, Ann Buchwald: Thank you for sharing your feelings about visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. If enough time has passed for the word awesome to be restored to its rightful meaning, I would use it to describe the experience of being there.
For Lucille Bell and other intrepid travelers who sent cards and letters to my post office box in Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand, I loved every line. However, I have been notified by G. L. Smith of Invercargill that those merry days are past:
"Dear Sir/Madam: On 5 February, 1988, the post office at Milford Sound will be closing permanently. As you are a private box holder at this office, would you please now make alternative arrangements for delivery of your mail. Yours faithfully, G. L. Smith, New Zealand Post Limited, Invercargill."
Not easy from this distance, Mr. or Ms. Smith, although I could have it forwarded to your house, I suppose.
In the meantime, in case new projects force further procrastination, may I wish all readers and writers a Happy New Year in 1989?
And the same in 1990.