Tom Kiske '61 has written several wonderful articles for this site. He wrote the first contributed article, "McKinley Walk." Tom is the author of numerous published articles, stories, essays and a great book with reflections on the life in the 50's and 60's in the Soulard neighborhood.

Sometimes a relationship ends too soon, too abruptly, and often it is not what we said or did, but the words left unspoken that haunt us down thru the years. In this poignant tale, Tom tells of his discovery of a cache of yellowing letters from McKinley days – a discovery which led to the unlikely renewal of a correspondence interrupted more than 40 years ago, and how closure was achieved almost at the last possible moment.

For J., Wherever She May Be
“I’ve been one poor correspondent
I’ve been too, too hard to find
But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind . . .”

“Sister Goldenhair,” by
I’ve come to believe that as we pass through our lives, we sometimes snag on things, most often other people. You meet someone, get to know them and a little thread of the fabric of your being gets hooked on them, and maybe part of them on you, so that although you may walk on alone, still the two of you remain attached somehow. The thread that connects you can be so slender that you’re seldom aware it’s there until one day, perhaps decades later, it tugs at you, pulls you up short. You have to pause in your usual movement towards tomorrow, turn and grasp that silken thread gently in your hand and trace it back to where it is anchored, deep in the truth of where you were and who you were in some distant yesterday.

Perhaps you’ve had such an experience.

For me, it was in this way that I came to rediscover a handful of letters from 1958, it was how a correspondence interrupted by more than 45 years was renewed and how an old, unfinished story finally reached its long delayed conclusion.

J. was my friend Mitchell’s girlfriend through much of high school. Those who knew us then will know of whom I write.

Few know that before she was Mitch’s girlfriend, she was mine. I used to walk her home from school. Her mother worked, but boys were not allowed inside while she was away and J. was a “Good Girl” so we would sit on the back stairs and talk. We spoke of many things, silly and profound, grew closer and, yes, shared a few shy, awkward and ultimately innocent kisses.
During this time, although we saw each other every day, we also exchanged letters. Not notes passed in class, but actual letters, posted through the US mail and delivered to our homes. Why we did this is now lost among the dim mysteries of a 50's teenagehood. Maybe it’s just that it was fun to get a letter from somebody you liked. It’s not that they were lovey-dovey, let’s smooch letters. J’s letters were, as she was herself, articulate, insightful and witty. They were written from the sweetness of a young girl’s heart, but any hint of affection was guarded and disguised.
Sometimes they ended with the Latin phrase, “Te Amo.”

J. and I were together for only a few short weeks. Perhaps too abruptly I stopped walking her home, and offered no satisfactory explanation. Mitchell saw his opening, stepped in, and the two of them went together for the next several years.

I don’t think I made a conscious decision to save J.’s letters, it was more I just didn’t feel right throwing them in the trash. So, they were put aside with other McKinley memento’s in a Stix, Baer & Fuller shirt box that, over time, was buried and essentially lost, deep in a closet at my parents’ house. The box came to light only in the early 90's when my folks house was sold and they came to live near my wife and I in Houston. Even then, the box was seldom opened. It wasn’t until the new century that I paid it much attention, and then only because Mitch was very ill and I was searching for trinkets from our McKinley years to send along from time to time as “care packages” to cheer him; Goldbug buttons, class buttons, Tag Day tags, McKinley pennants, Hello Day things and the like.

There, amidst the memorabilia, lie J.’s faded letters, the delicate yellow stationery a testament against forgetfulness. I may have opened one and briefly read it, but another year passed before I thought of contacting her. Mitch’s cancer had reached the terminal stage and I was trying to get as many of his old friends as possible to send him a card or note or some expression of support. With invaluable help from a mutual friend, I found J.’s married name and address and after considering and reconsidering the wisdom of the idea several times, wrote her to tell her of Mitch’s condition and make my modest, if unexpected request.

A week or so passed and I received J.’s reply. She was saddened, of course, to learn about Mitch and had already sent him a card with her best wishes and kind thoughts. She went on to “catch me up” on her life, and the happiness she shared with her husband, children and grandkids. The sensitivity of her concerns and her writing had not changed across the decades, mirroring, I suppose, the fact that what is deep within us is altered little by the surface circumstances of time and age. Reluctantly, she confessed her own deteriorating health, which left her homebound much of the time. She asked questions about friends of ours from McKinley days – questions which seemed to invite reply, and so that long-ago correspondence was renewed.

With my next letter to her, I copied and enclosed one of her letters from 1958. I like to believe that it meant something to her that, for whatever reason, I had saved it and the others for all those years. We spoke on one occasion by phone, and I explained why, almost fifty years earlier, I’d stopped seeing her.

That part of the story must remain between the two of us, except to say that it did involve Mitch, friendship and the desire to do the right thing for all concerned. I think J. understood at last and perhaps a tiny lingering doubt from long ago was gently knitted closed. For me in that, a measure of absolution.

We wrote back and forth a few more times. The intervals between our letters lengthened and there was less and less to say. All stories reach their conclusion, after all. Some just take longer than others.

I learned belatedly of J.’s death in the Spring of 2005. She and Mitch are both gone now and I have no certainty of knowledge or belief as to where they now reside. This much, though, I know for sure: our souls remain entwined and always shall. The invisible threads that join us still, that make us part of one another and connect us with others as well, are comprised of a substance so strong, so powerful, that even death cannot sever them nor separate us.

I shall leave it to you, my reader, my Goldbug friend, to put a name to that most precious substance, with hope that you have known it well over the years of your life, and that it will sustain you in all the years to come.

And J., to you my last PS – te amo, old friend...te amo still.

--Tom Kiske