I’ve written before — in Letter from home and Another letter from home — about how my sweet Aunt Arlene from Minnesota has been the most faithful penpal of my life. These days, though she is 83 years old and though I am not faithful in returning correspondence to her, envelopes addressed in her loopy cursive shorthand continue to grace my mailbox.
One of my favorite things about Aunt Arlene is that she often tucks a little something extra in with her letters: a newspaper clipping she thinks might interest me, or a coupon to subscribe to Country Woman magazine, or (the treasure most likely to thrill me) an old family photo.
Her most recent note addressed to me accompanied three old photos:
On the back of this one Aunt Arlene writes: “My Aunt Elsie (Arvik) Ryther and me, Arlene (Arvik) Guethling.”
On this one she writes: “9-1-1940, Arlene’s birthday. Grampa Borg, my mom (Betty Borg Arvik), Gramma Borg, me (Arlene), Alvin and Vince, Hannah & Hans Arvik. Uncle Luverne’s car is in the background — this was before he was married — he liked classy cars. He was in WWII, then married Toots (Karen).”
I love this picture because it shows both sets of my paternal great-grandparents, as well as my paternal grandparents. It was taken before my dad, Harold Arvik, was born; Arlene is his older sister and Vince (the baby in the photo) is his older brother. Betty and Alvin are my dad’s parents; Grampa and Gramma Borg, at left, are my dad’s maternal grandparents; Hannah & Hans Arvik, at right, his paternal grandparents. The Borgs were full-blood Swedes and the Arviks full-blood Norwegians, and the story in the family goes that neither side was too tickled about it when Alvin (the Norwegian) and Betty (the Swede) married outside of their ancestral roots!
I’ve saved my favorite for last…
Aunt Arlene writes on the back: “Hans & Johannah Arvik and children Melvin, Elmer, Ruth & Olvin in their house in Dorset (Minnesota).” The words “John 1:12-13” were also scrawled, perhaps by a hand other than my aunt’s, on the reverse of the photo. I looked the verse up and read this: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Perhaps the verse is significant because the Arviks would’ve been recent immigrants from Norway when this photo was taken; my grandfather Olvin, at far right, whose name was later Americanized to Alvin, was actually born in Norway and traveled with his parents on the boat.
I love the American flag set as the backdrop for this photo; my great-grandfather Hans later went on to serve as a Minnesota state legislator.
I called Aunt Arlene this morning to fact-check some family history before writing this post. I pictured her picking up the phone in the room at the retirement home in Park Rapids where she’s lived, willingly and contentedly, for my entire adult life. Before we hung up I told her, for the first time ever, that her faithful letter-writing has made a difference in my life. Symptomatic of a weakness I have developed in recent years and which is common to mothers around the globe, I instantly felt a burning in my nose and moisture in my eyes when I said that, and for a choked moment I imagined that she was experiencing the same on her end of the line. Then she told me she loved me… and that she’ll write again soon.
© Tami Blake