The white envelope was laying on top of the snow and ice mound next to my letterbox at the end of my driveway. Most likely it had been dropped by the mail carrier as she tried to maneuver her truck close enough to the box. My headlights flashed over it as I returned home in the early morning hours before dawn and I almost dismissed it since most of the mail that comes to the street side is junk. For some reason I felt I should retrieve the envelope before it was buried by the slush of the plow trucks that would be coming through soon.
It was postmarked “Republique Francaise, La Poste, France” where I have distant relatives and it had been in transit for two months. The handwriting had that European charm I had seen in my grandparents writing and it carried me back to a time when I sat at my grandmother’s side as she wrote, in her lovely script, letters to family and friends in her homeland. Her mother, my great grandmother, had emigrated to America with her daughter and two sons after the death of her husband. I never knew my great grandmere but I felt as if I had know her from the stories told to me by my mother who adored her.
The letter in the snow read “Madame; this letter will be a surprise for you. I find in my mother’s home those photos. My mother was a friend to your grandmother, Josephine Vannson Chagnot before about 1912!! They write always until she dead. So I am 86 years old and I don’t want keep those photos. Maybe you will be glad to get them. This is your family. I hope your address is good, I find it on internet Google. If you receive this letter, please tell me. this is my address E-mail xxxxxxxx . sorry for my English but there is a long time I don’t speak English and I did not know if you speak French. Sincerely Regina, Eaubonne, France.”
This stranger, this new friend, this person who connected me to those I had loved so dearly, had sent me the treasured gift of photographs of my family, my grandmother and great grandmother as they were crossing from France to America in 1912. There were pictures of my grandparents’ wedding, great uncles, homes they had built, my parents and their newborn infant, my brother.
What Madame Parmentier could not have know is that some years ago, during a break-in at my home, the thieves had stolen not only things of monetary value but for some unknown reason, my box of treasured family photographs. The photos that arrived today are some of the only ones I now have, something to pass on to my own grandchildren to stretch the thread of family across the generations.
I am the last remaining member of my mother’s family. They have all died and I stay on as their memory keeper.