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Reading a letter I wrote 50 years ago

May 3, 2012

By Caroline Miller

Write Away Blog
Portland author of Heart Land & Gothic Spring


The last time I visited my mother, I spent a lot of time searching for her glasses.  She’s legally blind, so the glasses don’t provide much benefit; but she was upset when she couldn’t find them. I rummaged in the obvious places then moved on to her microwave. Nothing there. Finally, I looked under her bed where she stashes two boxes of memorabilia. Pawing through one of them, I found a letter I’d sent her in 1962.

At the time I wrote, I was in Cape Town, South Africa, on holiday from my teaching job in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). As I read the well-worn pages, long forgotten memories flooded back to me. Back then, I remember being marooned at the border for two hours when I tried to enter the country.

South African authorities were claiming some “irregularity” with my visa. I knew nothing was wrong. I was being harassed because the United States had taken a strong stance against apartheid and was issuing sanctions against the “whites only” government. I was as welcome in their country as a malaria epidemic. Even after my papers were stamped, I encountered more mishaps. My coat fell into the river while the car I was traveling in attempted to ford it. The rushing water carried the anorak  away while I watched helplessly. I didn’t have enough money to buy a new one and it was winter in South Africa. I spent a good deal of my holiday shivering.



After 50 years, the person who’d written the letter I was reading seemed like a stranger. So much of my adventure had been erased from memory. I do recall the glorious cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, but the launch ride to Seal Island and the sounds and smells I described so graphically evoked no memory. If I hadn’t recognized the handwriting as mine, the words scrawled across the page might have been those of a stranger’s. Still, the recollections I did salvage are precious to me, and I marvel that I took such care to record my experiences in detail. Perhaps I had an inkling that, one day, I would meet my youth again as though for the first time.

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Discuss this article

Marsha Worlock May 10, 2012

I can so relate to this. Periodically I will be speaking with my husband or friends about an event that happened 15, 30, 40 years ago, and often comment that it seems like it happened to someone else in some other lifetime, although the memory (or partial memory)is mine. Now I look at very detailed journals that had been kept by long-deceased family members and wish I had had the interest and taken the time to record some of my own experiences. Unfortunately when we view our lives, either as they are unfolding, or in retrospect, they can have an apparency of uniformity which disguises moments like those described here. Being 63, I still have time to begin the journal going forward; thanks for sharing this and motivating me to take up the pen!

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