It’s been some time since I’ve written. I have been wavering between taking these letters “offline” and continuing to “put it all out there.” I was leaning toward the former until I came across a tiny little box. It measures just 3 x 5 inches in width, but its depth is inestimable. The box contains just paper, but printed on those stained sheets are the most precious images of of a woman of our past. Yet, looking at those images, I realized that she is still so present. This woman is your great-grandmother. And you are living proof that her legacy still lives on. You see, Eva, you share her name within your own. And every time you ponder taking your dreams “offline,” I want you to think of your middle name. I want you to think of Virginia.
Now, your great-grandmother was born nearly a century before you. She gave birth to nine children, was a devout Catholic and I never heard her curse. But she didn’t always color within the lines. Your great-grandmother was quiet at heart and chose her words carefully. She did so in an unforgettable way: it was never to appease, but to make sure that each word had meaning. To ensure that every sentence would be heard.
Virginia was also stunning. These photographs show a young beauty, with a keen eye for fashion and an enviable figure to flaunt her style. But the Virginia I knew had a different kind of beauty. The deep lines of her face told an intricately woven story of heartbreak, love, loss and pain, while a steely stoicism played fool to her diminutive stature. She was a force to be reckoned with.
Much like your great-grandmother, your mother says a lot of things that people don’t want to hear. Women of your great-grandmother and grandmother’s generations were raised in an era where a woman keeps her mouth shut, talks clean and is, above all, private. But just like Gloria Steinem, Virginia decided to play ball. Your mother likes to play ball too.
When I opened this box of pictures, I felt a wave of heavy emotions. But each picture was like finding a piece to a puzzle and, gradually, everything had meaning again. You see, my knee-jerk reaction to the photos was much like my personal reaction to the grossly divergent reader responses to these very “public” letters I write to you. I felt angry, sad, elated and lost. But your great-grandmother has always had a funny way of guiding me. She would want me to keep writing. She would want me to know that we are all responsible for breaking the rules of our era; for making our world more modern, more in tune.
Evangeline, someday you are going to break the rules too. It’s in your blood. The guidelines for your generation are sure to be detached from mine, just as mine are from my mother’s and just as hers are from her mother’s. I am sure Virginia would be shocked by some of the things I write to you, but she wouldn’t want me to not write them. Eva, as a woman, you have an even greater responsibility to shift through the bullshit and find your voice. But you’ll also have to work for it. You’ll have to, Eva, because it will be the only way you’ll feel whole.
Quite recently, I was asked if I can recall the first memory I have of my brother, your Uncle Mark. I had to reach far to find it, but I finally conjured up an image of myself coloring in one of his drawings. “He would let me color them in because I would always stay within the lines,” I explained, almost as an artist’s statement to accompany the memory. “Well how do you feel when you reflect on that?” I was asked in response. “Sad,” I lamented. “It makes me feel very empty and very sad.”