Chapter 54: A College Letter Home from Washington and Lee on Derby Day

Last year my Mother moved – well, we forced her to move- to, an Assisted Living Facility.  She had reached the point of beyond crazy that wasn’t just Southern.  It was physical and pathological.  She had some mini-strokes and was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia.

That meant we had to clean out the house she had lived in for over 50 years.  And that meant we found some truly frightening things….

I’m not talking about the panties, she had taken to stuffing behind books in the bookcase or in the kitchen cabinets.  I’m not even talking about the family photo’s or ball gowns from the 1950’s and cocktail dresses from the 1960’s.

I’m talking about pieces of my own past that had been enshrined there.  I had to get in there fast and get hold of those things before my sister could put them on FaceBook.

One of the things I found was a file of letters I had written home from College at Washington and Lee University in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

Yes, paper letters. On monogrammed 100% Cotton Crane Stationary.  Written appropriately by hand in black or dark blue ink.

I’ve decided to post one letter, in it’s entirety, without editing.  This proves I have both no pride and no shame.

Please remember this was a time before cell phones and the internet.  It was before unlimited long distance plans.  It was a time before children actually liked to talk to their parents….

Now, I know some of you are now thinking I must be even older than you suspected, but it wasn’t all that long ago.  I promise it was the 20th, not the 19th Century- no matter what the tone of the following letter may suggest.

Remember, I was a Freshman at a small, private, boy’s school in the mountains of Virginia at the time.  And I was still heavily under the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  That’s my only defense for this….

And, you will quickly notice, it was all only a setup to try to get some cash out of Daddy to go to the Kentucky Derby.

My poor Father’s favorite phrase was always:  “Goddammit, how much is this going to cost me?”

We really should have made that his epitaph on his tombstone….

Anyway, here is The Letter, from 19 year old me in 1978….

Parenthetical comments are in color…

March 20. 1978

Dear Mom, Dad and Lisa,

How are things in Danville?  I only hope that it has erupted into the beauty of Spring as gloriously as it has in Lexington.  They raked the front campus clear of dead grass this morning and the profusion of greenery is really quite stunning for this early in the season- with the red brick and white columns rising in contrast above the sloping green of the campus.  Music- I think Schubert- from a quartet playing somewhere- Lee Chapel?- drifts across the campus and completes the idyllic beauty of a Southern Spring.

I spent the afternoon in Wilson Stadium viewing my first Lacrosse game.  It is as exciting as football to watch, yet more interesting because it seems more individual even though it’s a team sport.  It was quite picturesque– a sunny afternoon in a stadium full of young people- guys in khaki pants and multi-colored alligator shirts and Sweet Briar girls shivering in the first sundresses of the season.

(I obviously neglected to mention the fact that I had been drinking all afternoon and must have been writing this with a buzz on…)

Allison was here for the weekend.  She went with Bob, my friend from Montgomery, to his fraternity’s Spring Formal.  I had a quiet weekend trying to catch up on my reading.  I also saw “The Goodbye Girl” Saturday night.  When it comes to Danville, you should see it.  I think you will enjoy it.

The major topic of conversation is the fact that we are engulfed  in an epidemic of German Measles.  The Infirmary is full and two guys in my dorm section have them now.  We are all wondering “Who’s next?”

Oh, by the way, a friend of mine, Dave, has five Grandstand seats for the Kentucky Derby, the first weekend in May.  He has asked me to go.  Of course, I would love to go and the total cost should only be about $80 per person.  I really feel guilty asking you for the extra money as it is really a capricious extravagance and I know May is expensive with the expenses for Lisa’s dance recital.  If it is just not feasible, just write and let me know.  I almost didn’t write to ask you to go, but the other guys are pressing me to go or to at least try.  Don’t feel too badly if you have to say no.  Just write and let me know.  I do need an answer by this weekend, though.  (This manipulative little paragraph is proof, no matter how much I try to think otherwise, I am my Mother’s son…)

I may come in on Saturday for Easter.  I really want to, but I have an enormous volume of work that I have to complete before exams start on Saturday, April 1st.  If I decide to come in, it will have to be Saturday morning and I will have to get back right after Church on Sunday.  (This was the set up to later claim to have “too much work” to do so I could really go to parties that weekend instead of coming home for Easter…)

Thank you for forwarding my income tax refund check.  At least I could pay off the rest of my bills from Fancy Dress Ball and still see a very small balance in my checking account.

(Translated:  I’ve used all my money for other social events, so don’t think I can pay for this myself)

I guess that is all the news.  I better get to work now since I have my last two tests of the term both on Wednesday.   I may see you this weekend, otherwise I’ll probably be in around the 5th, 6th or 7th of April, depending on how I schedule my exams.

Please let me know about the Derby by this weekend.  Write or call soon.    (Meaning:  All I really want is the cash)


PS:  I got the cash and had a great weekend at the Derby.  Through Dave’s connections, we dined in the VIP Dining room with some old Hollywood Stars and some hookers at the next table….I may tell that story some day.

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5 Responses to Chapter 54: A College Letter Home from Washington and Lee on Derby Day

  1. Pingback: Chapter 54: A College Letter Home from Washington and Lee on Derby Day | My Southern Gothic Life | Lost in the 21st Century

  2. gail says:

    Truly in the F. Scott Michaels style, even back in the dark ages. Your description of the Lexington Spring brings back many fond memories.

    “I had a quiet week-end catching up on my reading.” Obviously, you either didn’t know of or believe in the existence of hell back then or you would have omitted that sentence.

  3. Scott, this is remarkable. I don’t think I ever wrote a letter to my parents when in college. I used the phone. Are you sure this wasn’t circa 1925?

    I read this letter with a sense of drama and urgency and you made the lacrosse game and the sundresses and even spring itself seem like world-altering mythology.

    Nothing to be ashamed of here — you were asking for eighty bucks, which was a lot more then than it is now.

    And you asked with the gift of a letter your parents no doubt enjoyed. In return, they gave you the means to enjoy a great memory of a Kentucky Derby, and I’m sure they wanted you to have that.

    From an older perspective, sometimes those things are as important as getting that degree — to be 18-20, to have that kind of weekend, to feel that — that’s a big gift.

    Great post.

    — Doug

    • Scott M says:

      Thanks, Doug…
      I hated to have to talk to my parents about anything, but especially money, hence the letters! That seems to be the common theme in them. They did peter out after Freshman year as I went more to the phone…

  4. Scott, the fact that they saved the letter seems meaningful to me.

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