Dear Mr. Greta

The realtor placed three sheets of paper on the table in front of Arnie and me. A picture of a house, its square feet of living space, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, type of furnace and when the roof had last been shingled was on each sheet.

An old, brick, farm house photographed on a sunny afternoon drew my attention like a magnet. Old wagon wheels with spokes flanked its driveway. I felt as though the place needed me. I wondered, “Am I attracted to the house because it reminds me of where Katie, a dear family friend once lived?

I picked up the paper and started to read the specifics. Seeing my interest, the realtor said, “That house is located along a little river north of Marshfield on 2.3 acres.

Even before seeing the house, I felt hooked. Arnie and I wanted to live in the country. This place was between Marshfield, where we both worked, and my parent’s farm where I’d grown up and visited often.

The house had been a fixer-upper. But according to Arnie who didn’t like cutting corners, the previous owners had patched it with band-aides. I loved the house enough to live with its imperfections, especially since the price was right. We had no money to make a down payment and in 1979 the interest on house loans was 12% .

Two years after Arnie and I moved to the old brick house with Niki, our toddler, we had another baby. Tammie was a very sick infant and required many clinic visits.

One spring afternoon an hour before one of Tammie’s appointments, there was a knock at the back door. I found a pleasant-looking older gentleman standing there. He said to me, “Hello. I grew up in this house. My family moved away in 1913. I was wondering if it would be all right with you if I walked around on your property along the river. I have such fond memories of here!”

I didn’t bother telling him that Arnie and I owned only 2.3 acres of his childhood farm. I merely said, “Go right ahead. It’s a nice day for a walk.”

The man’s car was still parked in the yard when I left for Tammie’s appointment. It was gone when I got home that evening, but I found a page from a notebook taped to the back door.

After eating supper with the family, I told Arnie about the man and read the note to him. The old man’s penmanship was neat, his wording was formal, but flowery. He wrote, “My mother, God rest her saintly soul, sold the farm and we all boarded a train to move away when I was ten years old.”

Looking up from the page, I pointed out to Arnie, “He didn’t just sign the note, he put down his entire mailing address. I think this man wants me to write to him!”

That was the start of more than a decade of monthly correspondence with Mr. Greta. Arnie chuckled whenever he saw the latest letter or gift from him. He’d tease, “I see you have something from your boyfriend again.”

My Dad, who was only two years younger than Mr. Greta, questioned one day, “What do you and that old man write about?”

What I wrote to Mr. Greta was a slice of my life along the little river. He loved his childhood memories, so I wrote about the birds and animals I saw on my walks. I described the budding of fresh, green leaves in the spring, the sound of a squirrel scolding me from the top of an old oak tree, the huge pine tree of his childhood being struck by lightning, and the scallops of drifting snow behind the old red barn.

From childhood on, I had wanted to be a writer, but constructive critiques discouraged and embarrassed me. They would make me stop writing, but a within a year, the urge would always return.

Mr. Greta loved my letters and complemented me on how descriptive I was. My desire to write grew stronger. Swallowing my pride, I learned from critiques. Because of my rare friend, I found the bravery to apply for a job at the local Buyers Guide and wrote a weekly column for over 25 years.

Dear Mr. Greta, thank-you so very much!


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