A few years ago--before my Grands had the opportunity to travel or live abroad--I would spend half an hour at the end of a travel-abroad day tapping out an email to them. I wrote about what Paterfamilias and I saw or did in the far-away country--Argentina, Vietnam--we were visiting. The email went to our grown children's accounts but they dutifully read the reports aloud to the kids. It felt good to play a small part in opening up the world to them and for us to think about what we saw and did that would amuse or interest a child. We were pretty pleased with ourselves.
A friend's new book, Dear Class: Traveling Around the World with Mrs. J, has taken sharing to a whole 'nother level.
The book, by Jane Stein, is about the around-the-world trip Jane's mother took in 1963 when she was a recently divorced teacher with a newly empty nest. She made stops in Burma (when it was called that), Turkey, Taiwan, and Japan among other countries. Jane used her mother's travel diaries to craft the material into letters, used side-bars to update the information (China was closed to Jane's mother and all U.S. citizens at the time Mrs. J traveled) and added child-friendly information to create her book. There are tidbits on foods to cook, art projects to make (such as a Rangoli, the colorful geometric designs painted in front of houses in India as a sign of welcome) and details about snake charmers (India) and evil eye beads (Turkey), so called because they looked like eyeballs.
Dear Class is an adventure story (I'm reader-testing it on my Grands), and I wondered what it was like for Jane to pass her mother's travel legacy on to her grown children. Here's what she said in answer to that question:
After my mother died--at 90--I found the travel diaries in a box in her closet. At first I thought I would save the box for my grandchildren and let them deal with it--even though I didn't have grandchildren at the time. But when I started to read them, I could hear her speaking. I decided to re-craft the logs into letters that captured her voice. Working on it re-acquainted me with her in a funny way. How adventurous she was. In Turkey she stepped into what she thought was a shared taxi only to find it was a car filled with soccer players heading home from a practice; they cheerfully dropped her off at her hotel. In Taiwan she walked around the streets of Tapei at night. The streets were so gaily lit and crowded that she said she felt like she was at a giant party.
My children were out of college and married when my mother died, so they remember her well. They loved the letters. When I told them that a book agent had suggested I re-set the story in the present time, not in the 1960s when my mother went around the world on her own, they wanted to keep it set in the original time just as I did. They felt a certain proprietariness. The book became a special bond between us.
I would love to have had my mother see the book. I can hear her say, "You're writing a book about me?" It was a lot of fun to reconnect with her and go on this adventure with her.