My Letters, My Comfort: A Personal Narrative
by Tara Kimbrough
Before I found my roots, leaves fell from my tree and blew far and wide. I signed birthday cards with paragraphs and thank you cards with chapters. I sent letters like leaves falling in November. After family visits I took to my desk, to spill my emotions onto pages of dead tree. It was my comfort. My letters likely began as innocent attempts to express gratitude, but they had become messy accounts of my heart, sealed, and sent off to a dear one. Until my Nanny Lou’s 100th birthday party, I had never questioned the intentions behind my letters, but in my cozy pocket of family, I realized many of my letters have been attempts to prove I belong, and since that day, when I found security in my roots, I’ve begun a journey to be intentional as my branches grow and my leaves fall.
My great grandmother was a girl of the cotton fields, a woman of humility, and the mother of sixty nine. I owe her my life. Because she fell in love and started a family, I grow up with every door open. To honor her 100 years we, all five generations, travel across the country to honor her life and do what we have neglected for years- say thank you. She knows us all by name. Five years have passed since our eyes last met but she cries out, “My little Tara,” as I nervously approach her in the driveway. Though I had forgotten her, my Nanny Lou’s voice reminded me that, without fail, I will be loved and welcome in our family. No matter what I do in the world, there she will be with open arms, ready to love me still.
I see an envelope as a family, where, on the inside, you are safe but powerless. Just as I am comfortable in the safety of my family, my letters are safe in their envelopes, hidden from risk. Yet one only has power when sent away from me, the creator, with its seal torn open, and in the hands of a dear one.
On the afternoon of Nanny’s 100th birthday, I was jealous of my cousin’s talents. They performed on stage, their voices beautiful and accompanied by piano and violin. I envied how cousin Noelani could dance and soften every face in the room. Because I couldn’t carry a tune, I felt voiceless. However, I find my voice when I take pen to paper, or even fingers to keyboard. I write what I’m afraid to say aloud.
For two days, I bask in the comfort of family. Forming a triangle on 12th Street, I meander across the street from Great Aunt Shari’s home, to cousin Sharren’s home, and to my Nanny Lou’s. We kids play ping-pong and the parents toast to the night with Costco quality, sparkling, red wine. As evening turns to night, I sit and listen to Kara sing, watch the toddlers play, and regret having let 14 years pass without properly thanking the woman who made my life possible. Fifty people are in a room fit for ten, yet somehow I have never been more comfortable. I think to myself “I could remain here forever, enveloped in safety, comfort, and warmth.” The ceiling fan hums a song of welcome and the wood floors creek with love. My family is one hundred percent unique. No one else knows my perspective. No one else has my voice. No one else can share what I have to offer.
I may know the mistakes of the people at 4821 12th St. have made, and yet I’ll never grow tired of hearing their stories of getting an apple for Christmas, of getting your foot stuck in the spokes of a bicycle while riding on Jenna Lou’s back, and of getting a cow as a wedding present. All this passes through my mind as Kara plays her guitar and everyone starts to sing “I’ll fly away.” That is is exactly what we all have to do tomorrow– fly away. Comfort from the weekend couples with the fear of returning to world of earning love, and hiding our ugliest flaws. However, even though I’m scared to leave, I know it is time to offer my voice up to the world, time to share my unique perspective, and abandon writing letters for selfish gain.
And so, despite my inner pleadings, the night comes to end. Kara packs up her guitar, we say our goodbyes and head back to the hotel. At breakfast I long to catch a few more moments with my newfound, yet immediately familiar, second and third cousins. And yet, despite my desires to remain safe, I return to life outside of familial comfort. What I didn’t know was that leaving that safety would lead me to finding my outside of family, in the world my voice can impact.
After my cousin’s performances, I had wondered how even I could honor my nanny. She supports us all- all five generations because of one fall- her fall into love. I see that talent honors our Nanny. I proves we haven’t squandered her sacrifices. I may have no talent on stage, but off stage I have gratitude. And gratitude always leads to me to emotions poured out on dead tree, my comfort, my letters. “Dear one” is is the only way I know how to say thank you. Following the six hour drive away from my newfound pocket of the Earth, I take to my desk. I clutch my pen and begin. I express the satisfaction of having family that loves you no matter what and, most importantly, the gratitude I had for everything Nanny had provided for me.
Having composed my letter, I crept downstairs with aversion to the noisy steps, for the clock blinks 12:59. I fumble through the kitchen drawer for postage, and tiptoe down my sidewalk. What I feel, once again, is satisfaction. I love the delay of letters. I love forgetting what I write inside my envelopes, sometimes never to be mentioned. I expected little reaction for my letter of gratitude but a few days later Dad came home with news that I had succeeded.
“Tara, Nanny called. She loved your letter and read it to everyone else. She said it was the first real letter she had ever received from a great-grandchild.” I had found my roots, and honored my Nanny. Now I will learn how to spread my branches. I wrote to a letter myself this week, a letter to open on the day the glass ceiling shatters. Until that day, and even past it, I will doubt that my voice is unique. There will be days I doubt it has anything to offer the world, but I promise to never stop writing my letters, for that is where I find my true voice. Never before my letter to Nanny had I written a letter without selfish ambition, without hidden motives to prove my worth, written to simply and honestly to say thank you. I still write letters often and to many, but now I see each letter has its own unique purpose. Some are meant to express gratitude, others to comfort or congratulate. Some letters are even meant to convict, but no letter will ever prove my worth.
Postscript: On December 15th, 2016, my Nanny Lou was in the hospital with a high blood cell count and the doctors weren’t sure she would make it. I rushed to send my story to her. Thankfully, she is recovering and we hope she will be okay. I could not be more grateful for the English teacher that assigned this essay. It so perfectly captures how I feel about my family, and am honored to share it with my Nanny.
Tara Kimbrough is a high schooler from Dallas, TX,who is passionate about ethical fashion, girl’s education, and social justice.