LOIS HOLT: In Reply to An 'Annual Letter'
I have lost track of the number of years I have been getting a "Christmas letter" from Betty Hodges.
But, in thinking back, I have realized that they never came on time. Even in the good years, it usually arrived at the end of January. And, on one occasion, it came around Valentine's Day.
Betty has never adhered to strict routines or patterned her days to perfection. It's a wonder that she met her deadlines when she was covering literary and social functions for the Herald-Sun in Durham. But, even with that in mind, this year was a real exception.
Her long-awaited letter arrived Wednesday, May 27. It was dated "Spring 2009" and started with these words, "Every year I vow that I will restore what has become my "annual letter" to its origin as the "Christmas letter," but every year distractions intervene and this past year, as you will see below, there was no end to them."
Winter had run into spring and japonica and daffodils were in bloom by the time she had finished preparing her income tax report. The effort, she said, depleted her high-energy bursts and it was some time later that she approached what she refers to as "the pleasure of telling you all how it was with us here on Hollywood Street in Durham."
Betty has been keeping a personal journal for years and in adding to the over 130 or so, she noted in late January 2008, that, "Today has been the hardest day of my life." It was the day her husband, Ed, was moved into Clare Bridge in Cary, a facility specializing in the care of residents with Alzheimer's and dementia. After a year, he is pleasant enough, although discontent on those days when he wonders why, if they are still married, they aren't living together.
Her cancer was in remission in early spring and she decided to heed her surgeon's advice to have a knee replacement. She's a word person and took great delight in correcting a doctor who told her to "lay" down for an exam and readily admits that being an octogenarian has its benefits.
But, by the time she had recuperated from the knee surgery, routine blood tests revealed the cancer cells had begun to multiply again and she went back on chemotherapy.
I firmly believe that attitude is everything, but I have never been especially good at turning a lemon into lemonade. I'll leave that to Betty, who compares the chemo drugs to "warriors against the enemy" and adds that she is grateful for the time granted to her.
She used it well, going first to Wildacres near Little Switzerland in July and, in August, heading west again for the North Carolina Writers Conference in Hickory. It was back to reality in September when she developed hip pain that turned out to be the result of a stress fracture from an earlier fall. That condition was remedied with physical therapy. And in October, she joined with cohorts to rehash stories about their happiest years with the Herald-Sun.
That was the month, she notes, when much to her surprise she turned 82. Near the end of her letter, she confesses, "I am still working on the astonishing transformation into a human counterpart of the doves whose old-lady waddle along the brick surround of the flower box in search of fallen seeds reminds me of female relatives I remember from childhood. It's an identification that helps me see myself in a humorous light that compensates somewhat for my graceless descent into old age."
Hers is not a letter filled with wonderful news. Rather, it is a letter from a woman who finds herself pondering over how this all came about and who concedes, "This indefensibly late report is also a bit long."
As for her postscript, "It's April! Could we have set a record?"
Yes, indeed, and in more ways than one.
Contact Southern Pines writer Lois Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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