The letter from Gladys Hansen was written in blue ink in an angular hand, on one sheet of plain white paper.
Dear Madeline Stone, it began,
I have thought to write to you for quite some while. I didn’t because I thought you might not appreciate it, that you’d think it wasn’t my place. I should have gone ahead and written anyhow.
I was sorry to hear of Emmy’s passing. I know she was your mother, much more than Jackie Stone ever could’ve been. It is a hard loss, of someone so close. I expect you are at sea still without her—a year is not really long in the scheme of things. I won’t say it was for the best or any of that. It can never feel right to lose someone so dear.
Emmy wrote me now and then, I don’t know if you knew. She told me about the cancer, and how you helped her. She always said she wanted there to be some link for you up north, a door open if you wanted it. I should have done better with that.
I am writing now because I need help. My sister Arbutus has taken a bad turn. She’s crippled up with the arthritis and since she fell this last time she can hardly get around at all. We are here in Chicago where you are, staying with my nephew Nathan. Moving in with him seemed like the only thing to do, but it is no good. Butte has hardly stirred from her chair since we got here, she says it is too much trouble. This isn’t home and if we don’t get home I swear she will be dead before many more months are gone.
What I need is someone to come back up north with us, someone to live in, to lift and bathe her and so forth, someone young and strong to help with whatever is needed. At least for a while. I hope you won’t take this amiss but I know that you know how to do this. I thought you might come and help us. And I thought that maybe you should see where your people came from. Maybe it’s time.
I would pay a small wage, not much I’m afraid, but there would be your room and board included. There is nothing much to buy up home, so if you had a mind to you could live cheap. Let me know your answer soon. If you say no I will have to think of something else. Nathan seems restless now at having us here and I am afraid he will put Arbutus in a home. I cannot stand to think of that. Please do come.
Madeline had opened the letter as she came in the door from work, and now she stood in the entryway, still wearing her pink waitress dress that smelled faintly of fryer grease, gazing at it in astonishment. This from the woman who had been her grandfather’s—what? Lady-friend? Paramour? Lover?—the estranged grandfather who’d abandoned Madeline to her fate more than thirty years ago.
She’d only been three years old. Cards had come likxwe clockwork on her birthday and at Christmas, always with a five-dollar bill taped inside, written in this same hand: Best Wishes from Joe Stone and Gladys Hansen, the return address a post office box in McAllaster, Michigan. Those cards—answered only by a perfunctory thank you and then only because Emmy insisted—had been the sum total of her relationship with her grandfather.