From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Across the Pond

Letters are those winged messengers that can fly from east to west on embassies of love.

Jeremiah Brown Howell

A blue-collar worker with a young family to support in the 1950s and ’60s in England, Eddie Knight was very much the breadwinner, while his wife, Alice, took care of the home and the children. While Eddie worked, the day-to-day dealings with his two daughters and his son were mainly Alice’s domain.

As the children grew up and left the nest, it was Alice who wrote the letters to keep in touch. Imagine then how delighted his eldest daughter, now living 200 miles away in London, was, when on her twenty-first birthday she received a letter from her dad. He finished the wonderful letter by writing, “And don’t expect a letter every twenty-one years!”

As time passed, Alice did sterling work, writing letters and staying in touch with the children. In 1983 the news came that the eldest daughter, now married with two small children, was leaving England with her family to move to the United States, to Rochester, New York. Alice’s letters became even more important and were like a lifeline as the little family struggled to settle in a new land and a new culture. Hearing about familiar things quelled the homesickness they all felt at first.

Three months after they had moved, the unthinkable happened. Alice had a fatal asthma attack. Family on both sides of the Atlantic were devastated at the shocking loss. Struggling with his grief after losing his beloved wife of forty years, Eddie made a decision. The way he could honor Alice’s memory would be to continue her writing tradition. So he picked up his pen, and a remarkable correspondence began that would span fifteen years and thousands of miles across the Atlantic.

Every week, letters between father and daughter would wing their way between England and the U.S. Each contained as many pages as the weight limit for a regular airmail stamp would allow, and every bit of white space on the paper—both front and back—was completely covered with writing. The writing was never a chore but became an important part of the lives of both father and daughter. Imparting as well as receiving news became an eagerly anticipated activity each week.

At first their letters were full of feelings of their sad loss, but soon the daughter was giving much-needed advice, as Eddie learned how to keep house like Alice had. He wrote of some laundry disasters and asked how to get once-white underwear, now pink, white again. He courted advice about how to iron shirts, what cleaned the bathtub best, how to clean windows without streaks, and he asked for recipe tips. He always kept his sense of humor, and the letters were a joy to read.

That first Christmas, Eddie decided to make “Alice’s Shortbread,” a family tradition. His letters caused great merriment in Rochester as he relayed tales of the dough falling apart, or of it sticking to the pan, or any other malady that can befall shortbread. Finally, he triumphantly wrote of his success, a perfect shortbread, and enclosed the winning recipe. His daughter immediately sent a Hallmark card to congratulate him.

For Eddie it became a ritual each evening to sit down and write about his day. It didn’t matter how uneventful it had seemed, he always found something of interest to impart: a lovely bird he had seen at his bird feeder, a neighbor he had bumped into on his grocery shopping expedition, news of his English grandchildren or a wonderful sunset. His letters were always interesting; he always found life a joy.

Across the pond, his eldest set aside each Sunday afternoon so she could fill her six sides of paper telling Eddie all about her family’s new life. She wrote of the adventures they were having in their adopted country and of her husband’s new job, of an unfamiliar school system, of different customs, strange food and great adventures. She described their exploration of the local beauty spots, as well as taking him on their journeys to Florida and the sunny Caribbean. She sent photographs of the children so he could see them grow. She showed him the beauty of a New York fall when Mother Nature dons her most beautiful colors, and of the huge snows of winter, courtesy of Lake Ontario. Through her letters he experienced their new lives and learned so much about a different land.

Eddie cut articles and photographs out of the local and national newspapers to keep the family in touch with their homeland. He wrote of his trips to Ireland, and of a fortnight spent cruising along the Danube River. He told her about his choir concerts and the thrill of performing. When Torvill and Dean turned the ice dancing world on its head at the Olympics with “Bolero,” father and daughter watched on both sides of the Atlantic, and afterward each rushed to write to share the thrill of it all. They talked of politics and the ups and downs of family life. He kept her in touch with home; she showed him a whole new world. And they knew that despite being apart geographically, very few dads and daughters had the opportunity to “talk” as they did. He once wrote that he felt that he knew his American grandchildren far better than his English ones who lived only a few streets away.

In 1996, the blue envelopes from England stopped. Eddie fell down the stairs at home and moved into a nursing home. The weekly correspondence from America continued to arrive each week, and the nurses delighted in reading the letters to him. Eddie was no longer able to write, but he still eagerly awaited the arrival of the familiar blue airmail envelope. In Rochester, the absence of the envelopes signaled the passing of time and the inevitable aging of a beloved father.

Two years later, Eddie died peacefully in his sleep. When his son went through his things after his death, he discovered boxes and boxes of letters. Eddie had lovingly kept them all. Across the Atlantic, in Rochester, there were more boxes of letters, for she had kept all of Eddie’s letters, too. They had amassed a fifteen-year history of a family and a father, both struggling with new lives, but with this loving lifeline between them.

I am the daughter, and Eddie was my father. Even now when something exciting or interesting happens to us, I have a strong urge to pick up my pen and tell Dad all about it.

For someone who once wrote not to expect a letter every twenty-one years, my dad certainly stepped up to the plate after Mum’s death and achieved his aim of keeping the whole family together. His letters—his legacy of love—will connect generations.

Linda Bryant

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