Reading a letter I wrote 50 years ago

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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