The Tallest Waves Up To Our Teensy Toes

Dear Aunt Steph,

Merry Birthday and Merry Christmas! We’re writing you from Kentucky, and I have a Disney ball, Disney Barbies and a Hello Kitty CD player from Santa! He brought them all the way down here! And I have a giant pencil, but it’s not from Santa. It’s from a truck stop.

How are you, Aunt Steph? Love you…miss you…too much to say it. You are my most favorite auntie in the whole wide world. The world is like a planet. And I’m going to learn about space at my school. The very next month. My room has been changed around at home. I got a “Moon in My Room” for Christmas — and some glow-in-the-dark stars to go with it. And my most favorite thing of all is a boogie board. I hope you can come home to the beach and we can use it together!

Do you miss the ocean? Cause I miss you. Do you remember things about Gloucester, Massachusetts? Cause I hope some day I can come visit you. I can bring you things from Gloucester if I get to come visit you, like pine cones from the woods, and twigs and we can make a fairy house. I can bring you seashells from the beach and little treasure toys. A long time ago I found some armies. I spotted them with my eyes. Do you have any kind of shells in Korea at the beach? Maybe they’re a different kind, like sand dollars…or beach glass…. Or I can bring you giant pine cones from Kentucky, and magnolia branches for you.

Love you, miss you. And I hope you have a wonderful birthday if I don’t get to go there.

xoxoxo MADeLYNe


“A tall mountain and me & you on top with a blue sun in a blue sky. And something about Gloucester: ocean waves, the tallest waves up to our teensy toes.”

Dear Madelyne,

Thank you so much for the lovely card and beautiful drawing. I can’t believe you can sign your name! What happened? You were four when I left. Are you 25 now?

It’s sounds like Santa dumped the motherload on you this year and it sounds like Grammy Carla helped Santa shop. You and I both know that Mommy and Daddy like to shop from that hippie magazine with the wooden toys. Listen, I grew up with wooden toys that my dad made from hand and I never appreciated it either. That’s what Grammies are for. The sparkly stuff. But believe me, one day you will know how lucky you were that you had to build your own Barbie Dreamhouse out of wooden blocks or drive her around in a Corvette made from a shoebox. It will make you stronger. I promise.

And don’t knock the truck stop souvenir, especially if it is a giant pencil. I myself am partial to miniature license plates that say “Stephanie”. Truck stops can be scary places but they give the kinds of gifts that keep on giving. Like acid reflux or VD. But I will let you in on this little secret. That giant pencil? You will never use it.

I am great, Madelyne. Truly. I know I’ve been a rotten excuse for both a pen pal and an Auntie as of late, but sometimes Life comes out of nowhere and takes you by both hands. After months of dipping only my toes into Korea, aching constantly for something else, something happened. Korea delivered. I suddenly found myself surrounded by great friends and an impossible-to-keep-up-with social calendar. Rains, pours. You know the drill.

My quiet, contemplative, simple Korean life became an endless stream of dinners and parties and noraebangs and cameras and subway rides and taxicabs and laughter and cafés and shopping. Oh, the shopping. You mother would lose her mind here. Most importantly, the one thing I had been craving for years, community + a place I love, was in front of my face. And that is the lovely thing about being an expat in Korea. The transient, impermanance that was at first unnerving has given way to complete and utter presence of mind. Dare I say it feels like home.

That said, I do miss the ocean. I have been to the ocean three times since I’ve been in Korea and let me tell you something. It is not Gloucester, Massachusetts. That is for sure. And do I remember Gloucester, Massachusetts? Girl, you crazy? Of course I remember Gloucester, Massachusetts.

All. Twenty. Or. Thirty. Something. Years. Of. It.

But let me explain something. The word “because” is used in transitions to indicate cause and effect relationships. Don’t get me wrong. I miss you, too. But you don’t miss me because I miss the ocean. Additionally, you should absolutely come visit me in Seoul, but not because I remember things about Gloucester, Massachusetts. It’s just a little detail I feel obligated to correct, given my current occupation.

If you come to Seoul, I would love some little treasure toys! I was thinking more along the lines of fresh whole wheat bread from Alexandra’s bakery and an extensive collection of all-natural toiletries, but pine cones and twigs will do. A fairy house? That sounds cool.

Last week I dreamt that you and I were swimming together. We were probably on a mountain, swimming in the tallest waves all the way up to our teensy toes. Actually, I am sure of it.

Love you, miss you.
(I’ll openly admit that the brevity of those words just kills me..)
Aunt Steph

4 Responses to “The Tallest Waves Up To Our Teensy Toes”

  1. Annie says:

    These are amazing letters.

    Just amazing.


  2. tina miely says:

    I love reading these. Miss Madelyne is quite a little charmer I must say.
    When do you return home dear friend or do you have some plans on the horizon?

  3. Orrin says:

    The most magical people I know are still in touch with their little treasure toys and teensy toes. Why do we grow up? What’s the use in it? So we can sit through meetings without making funny noises? Meetings would be so much better if everyone made some funny noises. Sure, some people would say we had “developmental issues” ..but I would give ’em a big ripe raspberry as a reply.

  4. heidi says:

    Please believe me on that pencil, I use it every day. I miss you too much. Btw – Earl (the fish, not the locksmith) swam to heaven this week. It’s nice to hear about you, glad you’re feeling good. xoxo Madelyne

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