“Keeping Close,” Feb. 23, 2021

Have you ever read a letter that made you tremble like leaves on a poplar?

My grandmother raised ten children, nine high-spirited girls and one tight-lipped boy. In his defense, she often said, “Jim would talk if the girls gave him a chance to open his mouth.”

To support the family, my granddad became what he called a Jack of Many Trades: A baker, a chef, a traveling shoe salesman and a part-time preacher. His wife would say, “Fred works for the Lord, when he can’t find a paying job.”

After their children grew up, my grandmother missed having someone to dote on. She’d beg my mother to let me stay for a night. Or a week. And Granddad would drive me to and from school, 10 miles each way.

I loved it. I’d sit in the porch swing resting my head on my grandmother’s bosom, singing and swinging for hours.

I’d stay up late watching TV with Granddad: “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide,” and my favorite, “Father Knows Best.”

And I could eat whatever I pleased: Cornbread, fried chicken and Grandmother’s famous banana pudding.

My only chore was to walk two blocks to the post office to fetch the mail. Grandmother would stand in front of her house like a prison guard to watch me. “Look out, child!” she’d yell, “that fool is driving too fast!”

The post office door was heavy. I’d wait for a grownup to open it, then dart inside before it shut. I’d run my hand along the mailboxes to find the right one, turn the dial to the exact combination (I knew it by heart), open it up, pull out the mail and clutch it to my chest.

My grandparents’ youngest daughter had married and moved to a foreign country that my grandmother called “California of All Places.” Phone calls were costly, so she and Aunt Shirley exchanged letters most every week. If the mailbox held a letter from California of All Places, I knew it was going to be an especially good day.

Hurrying back, I’d wave the letter in the air. When Grandmother saw it, she’d do a funny little grandmother dance. I felt so important placing it in her hands. But the best part was watching her read it.

She’d rip open the envelope, unfold the pages and smile at the words: “Dear Mama.” And then, for some reason, she’d start to tremble like leaves on a poplar.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

I didn’t understand it then, but I do now that I’m a mother and a grandmother. It’s called joy.

She’d read the letter silently to herself, laughing or pausing to dry a tear. Then she’d read it aloud just for me. It was better than a bowl of banana pudding.

Years later, after college, I flew to California of All Places to spend the summer with Aunt Shirley, her husband and their 2-year-old. Summer stretched into the rest of my life. They introduced me to a friend they called “a good guy.” I married him and started a family.

For years I wrote letters to my grandparents, who were too hard of hearing to talk on the phone. And I called my parents most every week.

One by one, they all left this world for a place with no need for letters or phone calls. I lost the good guy to cancer. Years later I met another good guy and married him, too.

My children are grown now, with children of their own. We keep in touch with texts and emails and phone calls. But letters are a thing of the past.

Communication has changed in so many ways, but some fine things remain the same. We still need to keep in touch with our loved ones. Feeling close to them will always bring us joy.

An hour ago, as I was writing this column, my phone rang. It was Henry, my 9-year-old grandson, calling to tell me about his day.

When I picked up the phone, I heard him say “Hey, Nana!” And I felt my heart tremble like leaves on a poplar.


  1. Marie Hartranft says

    Another beautiful column that touched my heart!! My one granddaughter who is 7 yrs old will text me and ask if she can FaceTime me. My heart sings as I answer her with a, Sure!!!
    I had the best role model in my grandmother and I try to do her proud! As I mentioned before your description of your relationship with your grandmothers remind me so much of mine and stirs up some of the best memories of spending so much of my time with mine! Thanks for that gift Sharon! It is priceless!!

  2. Sharon Balint says

    Sending love your way from one Nana to another Nana. Loved this, and I can picture it all. Thank you for touching my heart with your sweet writing today. Stay well and happy dear friend!

  3. Davey Myers says

    Oh Sharon, You are the only one who can make me cry and laugh in the same breathe. We definitely share our love of Grandmas and Grand Kids. Be well my Friend!

  4. Sue Galucki says

    Hearing “Hey, Nana!” gets me every time, too.

  5. This brought back some terrific good memories of my childhood. I never lived with either parent. They had divorced before I was a year old. I lived with grandparents and watched the mail every day hoping for a letter from one of them. When I got a letter rather rarely I was on top of the world. I saved them all and they are so special to this day.

  6. Kate Sciacca says

    As I read your column I was reminded of what the future has already lost. Letters. I still cherish a book my brother and SIL lovingly put together… they typed the huge stack of dad’s “Letters Home” which he’d written while serving in the Army Air Corps at Molesworth in England. He was a navigator on a B-17 and didn’t write about that (the censoring office would have struck through every line) but we heard of his successes and failures at poker, the lovely English girls and the rather bland British food. With texts and emails and all our photos on the phone so much of what we say or do will not be known by future generations. I guess they’ll know the “big picture” – but the personal joys and sorrows of their grandparents and great grandparents will be a mystery. Sad.

  7. Lovely memories. Certainly appreciate the joy of hearing from kids, grandkids. I am expecting my 1st Great grandbaby mid March and I can hardly wait. The Good Lord has blessed us!

  8. YES!!!!!!! I understand!!!!!!!! Love this, Sharon!!!!!

  9. Peggy Paulin says

    In 1988, when my daughter was 13, I took her to visit my sister in that same foreign country (yes, California of All Places!). We live in Southern Indiana. BIG MISTAKE! She fell in love with it. Eight and a half years later , she graduated from college mid-term, and the day after Christmas, she packed up her car and headed to California. She’s still there along with my three grandchildren! The moral of this story? Don’t take your kids more than a day’s drive away, and for sure not to California of All Places!

    Love your columns!

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