Saturday, February 2, 2013

Challenge - Day 3: "Letterbox"

Naomi Fisher left the doctor's office that day feeling as if her life had just ended. Her head was swimming with medical terms Dr. Hughes had spoken in his soft, compassionate voice. "Tipped uterus, "infertility" and "hysterectomy" collided in an echoing explosion. She would never marry, never have children -- in 1944 a bleak revelation. 

Naomi loved children. In a family where she was the second of four daughters, nieces and nephews were all around, with more to come in the years ahead. But not for her. The reality of the hysterectomy came, with many days spent recuperating in the hospital. Cards and letters from family, friends and church members brought wishes for comfort and healing; they did their job. 

Naomi healed and lived a life full of children. World War II came and materials like rubber and plastic were needed for the war effort, which meant they weren't used for things like dolls and toys. Naomi couldn't bear to think that the little girls she knew would not have dolls for Christmas, so she made them. Beautiful dolls of all sizes, from infants to toddlers, made of cloth and stuffed, with smiling embroidered faces. She worked with children in her church, teaching Sunday School and directing craft projects for all ages each summer at Vacation Bible School. 

Eventually Naomi did marry. She and her husband loved and worked together for many years. She learned to use woodworking tools as well as any man and became a craftsman in the use of scroll work and decorative touches for the many houses they built and sold together. She could frame a house, dry it in and roof it; something she proved again and again. And until her death at age 82, she worked with the children in her church, teaching them the craft skills she loved. 

Death came quickly to Naomi, alone in bed during the night, five years after her husband had passed. Her neighbor found her that morning when she didn't turn up for a meeting. The sisters she had envied were old by now and unable to tend to the details of death. So their daughters, the nieces Naomi had spoiled and mentored did the job. They arranged the funeral and tackled the task of clearing out her home and making it ready to sell.

One Sunday afternoon two of the nieces sat in Naomi's sewing room going through boxes of fabrics. The weather outside had turned dark and rain was pouring down. Deep in the corner of the room they came upon a carved wooden box, roughly in the shape of a treasure chest, and realized it was where Naomi kept her treasures. Inside were photographs and postcards, an ancient family Bible and tissue-wrapped glass dolls from her childhood. One of the nieces found a letterbox, which she opened and began to explore. Inside, there they were. Every one of the letters and cards that came to Naomi in the hospital when she had the hysterectomy sixty years before. The letters that brought her comfort and hope during one of the darkest times of her life. The time when all her hopes of motherhood were lost. The time when she decided she could still go on and be a mother to other people's children. 

This story is a (mostly) true one. Naomi was my aunt and my sister and I were the nieces who found her letterbox that rainy Sunday afternoon. Some day I will write a follow up blog about this remarkable woman and show some photos of the items she made during her life, including the beautiful dolls. But for now day three of my challenge is done. Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Annette, I LOVED this post. I read it twice, still have goosebumps, and am blinking back tears. I think this is my favorite post of yours so far. The story is wonderful, as is the writing.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I called my sister this morning before I wrote this to ask her about some details on which I was fuzzy. After we talked, she kept thinking about it and went to the chest to find the letters. She called me back with some additional information, which included the fact my aunt also had the admission and discharge papers from the hospital visit. I know now that I will be writing more on this subject and including photos, probably after I finish "the challenge."