“Every house on every street is really just a family façade. We look at it and think we know what’s going on inside, but we never really have any idea.” – From “Missing You” by Harlen Coben
My grandfather, who I hardly knew, was a professor of English at NYU.
In 1965, my grandmother died suddenly of a stroke at their home in Florida.
I was in the Army at the time and stationed at Ft Devens, Massachusetts and her death was my first experience of losing a family member. She was not a large part of my life as I hardly knew her. But still, she was family. In that sense it was a shock.
I composed what I thought was an appropriate letter to my grandfather expressing my sorrow for his loss. I poured my heart and soul into the task as I believed it was appropriate and important.
His response was a rather terse letter to me. He more or less graded my letter as he would an English student’s paper. His summation was that I had gone all around the block but had finally got to the point.
Seems to me, the important thing was the sentiment, not the composition.
I never wrote him another letter.
Time has softened the blow. Now I think he meant no harm. He was only doing what he was trained to do. Critique the written word.
What he failed to understand were the limits of my youth and experience.
It took me a long time to figure that out.
Please God……don’t let my children take as long to figure it out. The sentiment matters. Composition……not so much.
“Those I have loved and those I have hurt. Those who bless me and those who haunt me. My Gods of Guilt.” From “The Gods of Guilt” by Michael Connelly.