Monthly Wrap: A 30-Year-Old Letter Arrives

by Susan Henderson on September 5, 2008

Sometimes my mom sends me packages filled with old photos or Most Improved ribbons or other things she finds around the house that she thinks I’ll want back. Earlier this year, she sent me a letter my grandmother sent to her in 1978.

Here’s a photo that was included in the letter. Can you guess who this little bad-ass might be?


I’m eleven here, and it was the year I flew by myself to California to stay with my grandparents.

There were a number of memorable things about that trip – one being that my mother packed a small bag for me that I wasn’t allowed to open until I was on the plane, and inside were things like flavored chapstick and lifesavers and a tiny notebook and a pen with a panda or some other wonderful thing stuck to the end of it.

And on the other side of that flight, I found that my grandparents had a special fondness for quiet. The telephone had cardboard jammed into the ringer so it never actually rang but sort of ticked. And conversations were very whispery. I remember noticing all of these things, and still making the choice to wake up early each morning so I could play several games of pop-up Perfection.

But the point of this post is actually to share the letter my grandmother sent to my mom after that visit.


I don’t know if you can imagine what it was like to read this note all these years later, and in the throes of editing my first book – to hear my grandmother, who’s been dead for decades, cheering for me. Not sure when, in between rounds of Perfection, I was so interesting or funny. But it means a lot to me that she saw something and that she said so and that my mom thought to send this letter to me when I needed it most.


Along with the letter and that first photo, is this one that frightened Mr. H when I showed it to him. I’m not sure where the wig came from, but it would have been just like me to wear it the whole day for no reason. And only a grandmother would write this on the back of the photo:



What I read this month: Stephen Hawking, The Universe in a Nutshell (Considering my son recommended it to me, I thought I’d understand it better); Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Sweeping, inspirational, and sometimes slowish); Stephen King, Misery (Loved it, and I’ve been purposefully reading books where characters are not physically able to move and yet there is an incredible sense of suspense). All of my LitPark regulars know we still read to our boys every night, but this month Mr. H did all the reading, and he picked Terry Pratchett’s Sourcery (“He’s fantastic at parodying human nature in the guise of light-hearted fantasy,” so says Mr. H).


Thanks to everyone who played at LitPark this month. One last thing… look at the photo I found (and then stole) from Saralee’s blog. This is at a Barnes & Noble, where Saralee and Ellen Meister did a joint presentation. There are two folks wearing pink tops – one is me, and the cute one is Ellen’s daughter.


See you the first Monday of next month for a new question and a sneak peek at my October guests – a pretty incredible panel of bestselling authors!

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

EllenMeister September 5, 2008 at 5:25 am

I can’t believe how much you look like Green Hand in that first pic. And what a treat to see that audience shot in LirPark! My daughter will be thrilled. (The two dark-haired women on the right in the second row are my sisters-in-law, btw.)

That note from your grandmother kills me.



SaraleeRosenberg September 5, 2008 at 7:31 am

How fantastic to have written proof from your grandmother that your destiny was already clear at eleven years old. The only thing my family knew for certain at that age was that I better marry rich because my only talent was rolling my eyes and making people laugh. Guess it worked out ok, lol. Thanks for coming to see the Ellen and Saralee show at B&N. We liked seeing your smiling face


Kimberly September 5, 2008 at 8:35 am

Your grandmother uses “quotes” and underlines for emphasis just like mine does! Even though I know Strunk & White would be “mortified”, I think it’s the most “adorable” thing ever!


SusanHenderson September 5, 2008 at 9:11 am

Woke up with a full inbox and have to rush off to a doctor’s appointment, but I’ll catch up this afternoon.


SusanHenderson September 5, 2008 at 9:13 am

You’re right. He once saw a picture of me, as a kid, carrying a feather duster and thought it was him. Here’s a link to Green-Hand’s page for a comparison. And you’ll also see a photo of him at a Bronx Opera rehearsal, directed by none other than our Kimberly.


SusanHenderson September 5, 2008 at 9:14 am

Saralee, so great to see you here. I absolutely loved your talk the other day! And here’s a link to Saralee’s new book, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD:


SusanHenderson September 5, 2008 at 9:15 am

I love her handwriting, too.


Kimberly September 5, 2008 at 9:59 am

Still one of my favorite. gigs. ever. Hands (green or otherwise) down. 🙂


Aurelio September 5, 2008 at 11:22 am

Hmm… maybe you were playing drag poker. 😉

I love hearing stories like this. When we are young, and simply busy being ourselves, perhaps our true personalities come through more clearly, our gifts are more obvious to those around who are willing to look for them. Then, peer pressure and cultural expectations, school, work, the socializing process, all mold or mask us into general conformity.

Stay your grandma’s girl in the wig, and you’ll you’ll get that best-seller.


SusanHenderson September 5, 2008 at 1:08 pm

You know, I could re-run those photos of drag poker if you want me to! 🙂


SusanHenderson September 5, 2008 at 2:15 pm

I’m going to link a video from the lovely and fiesty Charlie Shaughnessy, who’s been a good friend to LitPark. Made me smile.

You can “friend” Charlie here:


Kimberly September 5, 2008 at 4:20 pm



Heather_Fowler September 6, 2008 at 11:37 am

Isn’t it funny how the little gifts and small bags of things that were magical to us as children still evoke such a strong, loved feeling? I used to marvel for hours at the illustrations on stickers and still remember things my father sent me in the mail (he lived in Washington state)–like a dozen long stemmed chocolate roses.

I love this story about your grandmother! Cheers and hello! That’s all I really popped in to say.

W&B, H


SusanHenderson September 6, 2008 at 6:43 pm

You are so exactly right about the magic of those little gifts. I’m glad you’re here, Heather.


maryannestahl September 6, 2008 at 10:04 pm

grannies ROCK! being a gran is the best. I can attest to being awash witth unconditional love, like a mother’s except without most of the concerns, self-doubt, etc. just pure love.

but your granny of course was not only objective but prescient!

hope the editing has gone well. xxx


AS_King September 7, 2008 at 12:14 am

What a wonderful letter to get from your past. And I agree – timing couldn’t be better!


SusanHenderson September 7, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Only one word today, and it’s: W*I*L*L*I*E!!!!!!!!

Tom Jackson, if you’re around, I’d love to hear a little football talk to kick off the new season! I’ll be back tomorrow to answer individual comments.


SusanHenderson September 7, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Okay, one more thing, and it’s called Steve Almond Has a Point:


SusanHenderson September 8, 2008 at 10:33 am

Spent the morning at the doctor and now have to run out and get my totally awesome Turkish godson a birthday present. Let me respond to individual notes first. And Bruce, call me before you rush off to Budapest.


SusanHenderson September 8, 2008 at 10:35 am

I’ve noticed the same things with my own parents, it’s like love minus all the worries about whether they’re coming out right or making good choices or trying to set all the boundaries and rules. They just enjoy them as they are. Thanks for being here, MAS!


SusanHenderson September 8, 2008 at 10:44 am

Amy, I saw the cutest picture of you the other day. It was from the Backspace conference. Maybe it was over at Carolyn’s blog?


JamesRSpring September 8, 2008 at 3:20 pm

You look exactly the same. Except your bangs are straighter now. I hate it when people my age look better than me. Your recorded story sounds swell, by the way… more soon… – Me


SusanHenderson September 9, 2008 at 7:53 am

Okay, here’s some information I’ve been sitting on for a while, and now I can finally share it. It’s about Ellen’s new book deal, and more importantly, about her absolutely fabulous, mindblowing book:

Meister to Putnam

Putnam’s Rachel Kahan won North American rights to a new novel by Ellen Meister in an auction conducted by Andrea Cirillo at Jane Rotrosen. The book, The Silver Line, tells the story of a suburban mom expecting her second child who discovers that she might be able to slip through a wrinkle in time and return to her single life. When a routine sonogram reveals unexpected problems, her grief lures her to escape to the life that might have been—in which she discovers that she’s stayed with her neurotic ex-boyfriend, and that her mother, who committed suicide several years before, is very much alive. Meister’s previous books, The Smart One and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, were published by Morrow; Putnam will publish the new book in 2010, with a Berkley paperback to follow.


SusanHenderson September 9, 2008 at 7:54 am

Miss you, James.


ThomasAJackson September 9, 2008 at 8:19 am

Hey, there, kiddo! As you know, the Cubs, White Sox AND Red Sox are in position to make the playoffs, so I’m still baseball-minded (“Geez, Jackson, are you ever NOT baseball-minded?” I hear you thinking.)

In any case, a very eventful opening weekend in the NFL. And here are just a few of my thoughts:

1. Tom Brady: Godblessim… season-ending ACL surgery seriously sucks. And I hope he recovers and returns as effective as before. But I can’t help but thinking that karma is simply catching up with him. I mean, really… sleeping with Giselle, I think, tipped the scales. I mean, after all, he still has that. His life doesn’t suck so much. And his injury opens things up in the AFC, meaning one team in particular looks like the new class of the conference….

2. The Stillers. Wow, great game. Left the Texans looking like an expansion team, not the up-and-comer they’re touted as. Pittsburgh fired on all cylinders in every aspect, both sides of the ball. And, yes, Parker looks like he’s a top-3 running back. And speaking of great young RBs…

3. How about Matt Forte of the Bears? Looks like he’s what we’ve been waiting for, huh? What proved to me he was real was that 50-yard jaunt, leaving the great BOB SANDERS eating his dust. Remember: Sanders is the guy who makes the Colts defense outstanding against the run. Meanwhile, I’m just glad the Bears caught Peyton Manning now and not a month from now, when he’s back in his rhythm. But that’s not to diminish the Bears’ defensive accomplishments Sunday night. Good defenses are opportunistic like that. And as long as the Bears running game (and QB Kyle Orton) keep the Bears defense off the field as much as possible, they’ll be world class — and even better than they were two seasons ago.


SusanHenderson September 9, 2008 at 8:56 pm

I can’t even believe you took this as an opening to talk baseball! Oh, wait, yes I can!

You’re right, that Brady injury is going to completely change the playing field for the AFC East.

Normally, we catch the Stillers radio show over the computer, but we got antsy to see it on TV so had our first sports bar experience last weekend. Had to watch the whole game with no sound, so I wondered the whole time what the GU on all the uniforms was about. Was that for the Redskins player who died? And why wasn’t Charlie Batch dressed? Very frustrating to have no sound. I couldn’t tell if the Steelers were doing great or if the Texans just plain sucked. Next week should show more. You can bet that the whole bar was very animated with Favre going against Pennington. THAT was the only game with the sound on. There were no Bears. Guess you had the 4 o’clock game. I’ll try to catch up on Forte.

I’m glad you stopped by!


Juliet September 10, 2008 at 12:00 pm

How incredible—hooray for Grandmother for voicing her admiration of 11-year-old Susie. What a precious gift for you, the Susan of today, to hold in your hands and have seep into your heart, calling forth not only tender memories, but newness of life.
I am so glad for you!


jodyreale September 10, 2008 at 5:06 pm

The world needs grandmas. That is all.


ThomasAJackson September 10, 2008 at 10:38 pm

Bears were on at 7 p.m. A pal of mine went to see the game — her dad’s got season tickets to the Colts — and that new stadium is HUGE and AWESOME. Just two hours away from me, too — gotta find a way to see it. Maybe I’ll get tickets, convince Nate to come up to visit before he returns to Iraq.

As for the Patriots: Wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick uses the Brady injury as a means to motivate his team — put that chip back on their collective shoulder. Remember: they’ve had some serious turnover of personnel over the last decade and they STILL win year in and year out. (Of course, the one “personnel” who hasn’t changed: Tom Brady.) Stay tuned… the Patriots should still be interesting.

Thanks for letting me mention baseball. ; )


5speener0 September 14, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Susie, you DO look like a little bad-ass! Don’t beat me up, I’ll behave…not! 🙂

What wonderful words! You grandmother paid attention. Isn’t it good to know that you are doing what you are naturally good at? I agree with Aurelio–be the you that you were then and you’ll have that huge selling hit book, no doubt.

Your grandmother had writing that’s beautiful, easy to read, but so expressive and not bound by tradition. No, I’m not a writing specialist, but I’ve always looked at handwriting as I do paintings, looking for a quick visual message. People of your grandmother’s generation did not typically have writing like this–it looks like the writing of a person who was free to be who she is. Was she?

Thank you, Susie, for this post. It’s perfect for you, for the park and for where you placed it. 🙂



EllenMeister September 15, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Thanks so much, Sue!!! Feels good to finally go public with this. 🙂

Now back to work for me …



patry September 18, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Your grandmother’s letter gave me chills. I wish I could have heard some of the stories that eleven year old bad ass used to tell!


mlakers September 19, 2008 at 1:37 pm

This is so fabulous, Susan!! Grandmas always find a way, don’t they?


SusanHenderson September 23, 2008 at 8:41 am

What the f was up with the Steeler’s offensive line yesterday?! Sorry about your Bears. Looked like they were going to take it at the half.


SusanHenderson September 23, 2008 at 8:41 am



SusanHenderson September 23, 2008 at 8:42 am

Nothing like grandmas. Wish I still had some.


SusanHenderson September 23, 2008 at 8:43 am

Isn’t her handwriting so interesting? My mother’s looks like that, too. Mine is more like sandskrit.


SusanHenderson September 23, 2008 at 8:44 am

Patry, I miss you! We’re due for a roadtrip.


SusanHenderson September 23, 2008 at 8:44 am



ThomasAJackson September 23, 2008 at 10:15 pm

The Stillers’ O-line is an Achilles’ heel — it’s what troubled Ben last year, too. Plus the Eagles have a good set of d-backs, which puts even more pressure on Ben’s protection. The Eagles are just good — both sides of the ball.

Bears: Yeah, that really, really sucked. At least the Cubs clinched the division the day before — and clinched homefield for the NL playoffs yesterday against the Mets.


ThomasAJackson September 23, 2008 at 10:20 pm

One more thing: You know the Steelers aren’t as bad as they looked Sunday. Just had a bad game against a good team. I mean, the Patriots aren’t worse than the Dolphins, for cryin’ out loud — and look how much they stunk up their home stadium.

Betcha last weekend was just a wakeup call for Pittsburgh and New England. But a harbinger of doom for the Bears. I’ll admit it.


SusanHenderson September 28, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Was definitely a wake-up call. Not sure how much that will help with the Mendenhall/Lewis matchup, but we’ll see Monday, huh?


ThomasAJackson October 4, 2008 at 7:43 am

Wanted to wait until the latest news on Parker’s knee before responding (plus it’s been a crazy week around here — topped by going with Zach to see Beck in Chicago on Thursday).

Man, last week was quite the Pyrrhic victory for the Steelers, huh? The good news: Willie’s knee is “nearly 100%”; the bad news: he’s still sitting out the Jacksonville game. So with Mendenhall’s broken leg, that means Moore, Davenport and Russell will be the RB trio for you guys this weekend. It might not turn out as bad as you think — fresh legs throughout the game, no real lead running back. Hey, look how that sort of plan worked out for the Bears last yea– er… never mind.


SusanHenderson October 5, 2008 at 11:07 pm

This ole ref sure has a strange idea of unsportsmanlike conduct. You have to let players be emotional!

Moore and Russell are… okay, Roethlisberger just got hurt. Gotta get off the computer.


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