When I was four, my mom and I went to Italy for summer vacation. We stayed in her small town for about one month. It was a typical quiet old country town suspended, uncertainly, between past and present. My mom’s childhood home faced onto a gravel courtyard full of bikes and cats, kerchiefed grandmas shelling beans or mending socks and screaming laughing children running about.
It was my first trip to Italy and my first time away from home for an extended period of time. On the third week of our stay my mom suggested we write a letter home to my dad. We sat under the wisteria and got to work. I talked about the ice cream flavors I had tried, the new friends I had made. I was especially proud about speaking Italian to everyone. We wrote about how much fun it was to spend afternoons with the other kids down by the stream, that flowed through the back of our property. I described how we practiced skipping rocks across the water’s surface; how we would sometimes all lie down in a row, on our stomachs, by the water’s edge to gaze at the minnows with the sun warming the back of our bare legs.
At some point during this gush of words and emotion, my mom told me, years later, I stopped suddenly and began to cry. Through my sobs I explained that I felt bad because my dad was all alone at home and it wasn’t fair that we were having so much fun.
To make me feel better, she suggested we give my dad a special surprise. So we folded the letter up to form a boat and instead of mailing it we walked down to the water’s edge and I put the little boat in the water for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean (Romans di Varmo to North York).
The next few days were a mixture of excitement and anxiety for me until my dad finally called to announce the safe arrival of my little boat back in North America.
Upon our return to Toronto, the first thing I saw, when I entered our kitchen, was my wrinkled, water stained ink smudged letter (chapeau to my parents who had thought of everything) sitting on top of the fridge next to the radio.
Nowadays, when I realize I am trying too hard or find myself excessively jazzing things up, during the writing process, I think about that letter that was nothing other than a regurgitation of honest unrestrained emotion that wanted to be shared. And I try my hardest to write that way again.