My sister Patty passed along the letter to me, from an old friend of our mother’s and father’s, who wanted to know if our parents were still alive. It had been seventy years since he’d last seen them, but he was hopeful. Neither I nor my sisters could ever remember hearing our parents say the man’s name: Victor Sabattini.
The letter was brief: he lived in Florida, and way back then they had all been on a magazine-selling crew together, more than a year. But after they all left the crew, he’d never seen them again, and they’d only at first exchanged a few letters and photos; yet he had warm, rich memories. Recently he had felt strongly compelled to reach out and see if he could find them. Victor Sabattini, as I calculated from his surprising letter, must be ninety years old, or more. My mother had been dead five years, having lived a robust eighty-four years herself. My father had been dead more than forty years: his not a happy story, and someone I had barely known. My parents had divorced and my father had departed our lives when I was thirteen, dying a lonely alcoholic’s death twelve years later. During all of those twelve years, I spent only a few days in his company. I knew him, remembered him, hardly at all.
My mother had spoken to me a few times about the magazine crew, though I remembered hearing no names. But it was a story that had always fascinated me, ever since I'd first heard details of the magazine crew story she had recalled during an hour and a half recorded interview I'd done with her two years before she died. Her memory of the details of that experience were unfortunately sketchy, with lots of gaps, hardly enough to let me see how much I liked the story. Whose unknowable details, with her death, I'd assumed were lost forever.
So of course my sister Patty’s letter, answering Mr. Sabattini, was that no, my parents were not alive; so sorry to inform him. Yet as I reflected on this amazing letter and the apparent end of his search, little lights went on inside me. He knew my father well. He knew all about the magazine crew. So I knew it was not the end, but only the beginning.