When I was in college, my grandma would write me all the time. Every other Friday, I could expect a letter in the campus mailbox. There would be a little “mad money”, which was well appreciated when it meant the difference between pizza and yet another meal at the residence hall cafeteria. However, what I really liked were the letters themselves.
Grandma had her finger on the pulse of the town. She seemed to know everyone (and assumed I knew everyone too; people were just referred to by their first names). While the names changed from letter to letter, the circumstances were always the same… and they weren’t good. They were feeling poorly… when they hadn’t just outright died. Even if they were okay, they were losing their jobs or their house, their sons or daughters were running away (and never with anyone good). Car accidents, bad storms; I’d usually get three or four pages of this and – I hate to say it – it would make me feel better about how things were going with me. Sure, I might have a bad test or a class that wasn’t going well, but compared to the people in Grandma’s letters, I didn’t have a care in the world.
My friends noticed I never seemed to be fazed by anything and I found myself spreading the Word of Grandma. Soon, you could hear it across the campus of the University of Illinois.
“You think that’s bad? You should hear what Bob’s grandma said…”
“Ah, Bob’s grandma wouldn’t even mention something that trivial…”
“Come on! Bob’s grandma knows two people worse off than that and they have no legs.”
One Friday I didn’t get a letter. I have to admit I didn’t write as regularly as Grandma did; I think she beat me about three to one. I was a bit concerned (after reading Grandma’s letters, it was hard not to be concerned). I called upstate long distance. To my relief, Grandma answered the phone (that ruled out a meteor hitting her house and an earthquake swallowing the town).
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want to write because I didn’t have any mad money to send you this time.”
“The money’s nice, Grandma,” I said, “but I really like hearing from you and getting the news from home.” There was a pause.
“Well, I can’t think of too much that’s happened. I guess I’ve just been so worried about so-and-so. She’s not been feeling good…” And I sat back and listened and tried to keep the smile out of my voice.