Marble can be as soft as silk: An ode to the hand-written letter

Mid-summer 1965, a weekend pass from a drug firm’s indoctrination, a walk from West Point over to the Garrison station and then an hour-plus train to Grand Central.  A diesel bus ride through Queens, Flushing Meadows, to the NY World’s Fair.  Destination; the Vatican Pavilion, Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” then relax, people watch, and take “cuts” into the Belgian Village’s back door entry.

The line to view the sculpture was lengthy, yet moved briskly for a July morning. 

Disney World serpentine mazes had yet to form in Anaheim or Orlando.  I recall the floor, a snail-like conveyance, moving like the horizontal walkway between airport concourses. Much slower. No one rushing to reach a gate, toting a baggage handle on four wheels.   

The lighting of the statue in the darkened gallery was surreal.  Intoxicating.  Breathless. 

Charles met Carla at, of all places, Michelangelo’s “The Pieta.”

I began to walk slowly backward to extend the climax, bumping several “guests,” awkward, inadvertent, and perhaps, rude.  Exiting the building, a young girl tapped my shoulder and remarked, “Thanks for running interference, I cleared a path for you to do the same.  Teamwork.”

We laughed.

“Headed for a waffle treat?” I asked. “Care to join me?”

With an age difference — she a high school junior, an exchange student from near London, me at 26 in career pursuit — the brief conversation was polite, no sparks.  Belgians know scrumptious.  Strawberries covered with whipped crème never tasted better.  A dark chocolate sweet, Leonidas, the encore.

Prior to parting, a cursory exchange of addresses, the shallow promise made to write.  Months, years, then half decade slipped away when a letter postmarked Knightsbridge UK, handwritten, arrived.  

Dear Charles….

Marble can be soft as silk, it began, her remembrance of our chance encounter, a once nearly forgotten image of the magnificent sculpture, the taste of strawberry and chocolate savored over a lingering smile.  Was it Godiva or Leonidas, she wrote?

We met again, first in Essex UK, then Paris, and last, Zurich, in the shadow of the Alps, three years of friendship too glorious to share.  A week later, in a routine taxi trip to the icy Munich airport, she died instantly, in the fiery wreckage of a petrol-filled lorry. At age 24,  forever youthful, a British Air stewardess; eternity welcomed a poster child.

The mythical 50-year anniversary, shared by only one, and a short prayer, ”My darling Carla, you made every day in life count.”

A tragic accident took Carla’s life at 24 years of age.

The twentyish waitress returns to the table, smiling, and asks politely, “Pardon me sir,  you are writing a letter, perhaps you might enjoy a dessert? … we have fresh strawberries.” 

“Yes.  Fresh strawberries and a chocolate.  Yes, I will.” 

Charles Spiher  


October 10, 2021, CBS Sunday AM (from CBS news poll) noted, on Sunday AM Pulse;

— 37% of Americans say it’s been more than five years since they’ve written and mailed a personal letter

— 22% under age 45 have never written or mailed a personal letter

October, 2021, email from New York Times  

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