letters to andy

Once upon a time, people wrote letters to each other.  The notion seems quaint today, with texts and emails flying about — and long distance calls being free like local ones.

I bring this up because I ran across two letters I had sent to my friend Andy in the seventies.  He emailed me electronic copies of them a decade or so ago.

We had met as freshmen football players at Augustana College.  Andy was a wide receiver who played four years and graduated on time, while I played one year on offense and one on defense before flaming out of both football and college.  (My friends joked that my best position was clipboard.  I had learned the schemes on both sides of the ball, so the coaches had me track plays since my appearances on the field were infrequent.)

Reading the letters was a bit of self-revelation.  There were numerous attempts at humor, some surrealistic wordplay, brief updates about friends, and a little foreshadowing of what was to come.  For example, my admission that “i always end up doing things i’m not qualified for” proved to be prescient, since that has happened a number of times over the years.  And, as I invited Andy to write back, I said, “or manufacture a revolutionary video disk and playback equipment for it and deliver an electronic address.”  Those capabilities came into being, although I don’t think Andy had anything to do with them.

One of the letters ended with an update of happenings from a small town — with the town, people, and events all made up by me — as a means to bring a taste of home to Andy, out there in the world.  It was signed, “love, your mother, tom.”  Truly strange.  (It was the seventies.)

For years, I had intended to write Andy another letter.  The idea was to explore my life in tandem with lyrics from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, with the lyrics appearing in one column on each page and a sort of running commentary on my state of being adjacent to them in the other column.

An article earlier this year on the fiftieth anniversary of that album said it captured “naïve hopes falling away,” and “tackled big topics:  ‘Time,’ ‘Money,’ war, the inevitability of death, the triviality of daily life, the importance of seizing the moment.”  Plenty there to tap into when trying to convey my thoughts of the day, but instead I would apparently “fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.”  Thus, no letter along those lines was ever sent.  I wish I would have written one so that I could see what I was thinking at the time.

Seeing the old letters and other things I wrote in longhand across the decades reminds me how handwriting is a powerful symbol of a person.  I can see my evolution reflected in the changing nature of the lines on the page that I made over the years.

Getting a letter in the mail used to be a relatively common occurrence — and a joyous one unless it contained sad news.  The personality of the writer would jump off the page, including what they wrote about and how they wrote it.  Much of that comes through in electronic communications; what’s absent is the distinctiveness and emotion of the handwriting.  I miss it.

I have seen Andy a few times over the years, but not often enough.  In early October, he did a day trip from Omaha and I did one from the Twin Cities to attend a football game on our old stomping grounds in Sioux Falls.  We arrived early enough to walk around the campus.  Some things had changed (the school is now a university rather than a college) but others hadn’t.  The same was true for each of us.

In those days, we played our games at Howard Wood Field across town, but a stadium was built a decade or so ago on campus, at the site of what was the practice field years ago.  That field was the location of a memorable afternoon a week into our time together as players.  Since Luverne was only thirty miles away and my parents were out of town for some reason, I took several of my teammates there that Saturday, our off day.  We did the things that young folks did back then, waking up the next day a bit worse for the wear.  Then we went downtown and had a big spaghetti lunch before heading back for a late Sunday afternoon practice.

The temperature hit 107 while we were on the field.  Someone tipped off one of the TV stations, so they came out and filmed us, presumably in the “crazy things people do” category.  (I would love to see that tape.)  I remember the head coach yelling at me for lagging during drills.  He said that I should be thankful, since I got to go home for a day when others didn’t.  (It was too early in our time together for him to realize that I would always be a laggard, although I’m sure the partying, spaghetti, and heat made my relative performance even worse than normal.)

In contrast to that afternoon, it was a beautiful day for football when Andy and I got together in October, a half century and a few weeks after the first time we met.  While there was much to talk about and relatively little time to do so, just being together again was special.  This time “love” wasn’t a part of a bizarre ending to a letter but a word we could say out loud.

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