Whether we write emails or hand written letters, letter writing continues to fascinate us. Thank you to my former student Gale Griffiths for today’s guest post about her mother’s letters written in A. A. Milne’s style.
Gale Griffiths is a mother, a painter, and an illustrator. She attended the Philadelphia College of Art for four years and has recently attended classes at the Northampton Community College in an effort to continue her studies and improve her job prospects in education. She has worked in a variety of administrative positions in art museums, architectural firms, and retail as well as an assistant teacher in day care.
Letters to a Young Child
When I was very young, there was a period of time in which I was separated from my family and lived with my aunts, uncles and cousins in California. My mother kept in contact through letters. To me, the oldest, she wrote very much in the spirit of our favorite children's author, A. A. Milne. She was Christopher Robin, and I was her most "Faithful Knight," Winnie the Pooh. In this way she was able to keep alive the precious moments she used to read Milne's books to me and my siblings, and the amazing and fanciful world of the enchanted forest that he created through his characters, Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, Tiger, Kanga and Roo. She started each of her letters with the salutation, "Dear Pooh," and always ended with:
The occasion for the letters was due to my mother's hospitalization in a mental institution. This was during a time when it was still possible to have someone committed by family members for a protracted number of years if a family doctor felt it was advisable. Since my mother did not work outside the home, it was not a financial hardship for our family, although it was certainly a psychological hardship for her four young children and my father. Because my father did go to work each day, he was unable to care for us in a way that my mother liked. Initially, she enlisted her own family to care for us, spreading us out into four separate homes, as it would have been too much of a burden for us to be together in one. This arrangement did not last very long as each one of us soon grew sick of being separated from each other and our father.
These letters were what my mother could offer me from so far away and from a place she could not leave until she was deemed "well." They were gifts that kept me afloat during this extremely confusing and sad period of my life. I have embraced art as a result of this experience when I discovered at a very young age how terribly powerful it can be. It continues to save my life every day.
I lived for her letters just as I had lived through these books thanks to A. A. Milne and E. A. Shepard's ability to create this fabulous world that helped to preserve the essential bonds we form in childhood. I learned how different life is as a child from the adult life we will eventually grow into when at the end of The House at Pooh Corner Christopher Robin exhorts Pooh to never forget him and to understand him, as he goes off to boarding school. We cried as we became aware of the bittersweet passage from childhood towards adulthood. Through his books, A. A. Milne and E. A. Shepard, his fabulous illustrator, manage to keep childhood alive in our hearts and memories and inspire us to make something of them so they may continue to live on and our creative spirits can breathe and rise above the harshness of reality, and as one of my favorite painting teachers once said, hold reality at bay.
You might also be interested in Abe Louise Young’s recent post, Writing to Louise, or my recent post on letters my aunt preserved.