My uncle Rolland, the last of the five Tougas brothers of Edmonton which included my dad, turned 100 last year. I get occasional letters from him, more so since dad’s passing two years ago. Rolland and dad wrote each other regularly, but they never spoke on the phone. That’s because Rolland has no phone. This fact tells you a little something about Uncle Rolland.
Rolland lives by himself in Utah. He has an apartment that would need an interior decorator to even qualify to be called spartan. He has been retired from whatever it was he did for probably 50 years. He has no wife, and no friends as far as we can tell. My brother Todd, the executor of his estate, visited him last year, and had dinner with him in his apartment. It was the first time he had ever had anyone over for dinner.
He’s not a kook, as my dad would have called him. A hermit, perhaps, but not a kook. His letters are perhaps the least revealing personal correspondence in the history of letter writing. In the hundreds of letters he wrote dad, he never revealed anything personal, not so much as a “not feeling well today”, or anything as shallow as that. To give you an idea, here’s what was in the letter he wrote to me that I received this week.
As he did with dad, he includes at the top of the letter a clipping from the newspaper with the week’s weather forecast for Salt Lake City. Never sure why he does that. The letters always include a number of newspaper clippings that I presume he believes would be of interest to the reader. In this letter, the clippings were:
• a single headline, “2014: Earth’s hottest, Utah’s 4th warmest”. Just the headline, not the story;
• two stories about the NHL all-star game;
• a story about heavy snow in New York;
• a newspaper editorial about the strength of the U.S. dollar, and a chart of the value of world currencies;
• the NHL standings.
The letters are often as baffling as the clippings. Not because they don’t make sense (Uncle Rolland seems to be in possession of most of his marbles), but because 100-year-old men do not have the best penmanship. It takes several passes at trying to figure out what he’s saying. The first paragraph, as far as I could tell, says “Your fatter, further reporter time of family news under the dequites 2 years!” Upon further review, he notes that dad has been gone for two years.
Then there are a few paragraphs related to the newspaper clippings (“5 feet of snow in ski resorts. Unique!”), the “paucity” of coverage of the NHL, and something about the decline of newspapers, which I’m pretty sure says “salt title throat, USA Today narwal you to memo all are thinner really as quote”.
But then, an astonishing personal revelation! Uncle Rolland went to the doctor! “My recital of decline led him to note my condition similar to that of a 90 year old man, not 100.” He must be quite proud of this, because I could read all the words.The next paragraph said, and I sort of quote, “Please excuse my deteriorating writing, I life you’ll be oblet valent its ensane however.”
Unusually bold statement from Uncle Rolland.
I will send a return letter. I print it out after writing it on my computer, since my handwriting is at least as bad as his, and include a few clippings. I am tempted to actually write one using a pen, so I can tell him that avocado guam splurge, flerm pistachio bleak. But that would be cruel.