Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Family Form Letters

When I was young enough that I hadn't started school, and couldn't read, I used to envy my Mother the exciting packets of thick letters she got almost daily from the post office.  I tried to write like she did, drawing line after line of connected loops and calling the filled pages my letters.

then I got a couple pen pals in grade school, and sent my name and address out to magazines like Archie's comic books and Tiger Beat, because they had bulletin board pages listing addresses and ages and interests for people who wanted pen-pals

I also wrote long letters to my great aunts and my aunts and cousins. Sometimes they wrote back and sometimes they made fun of my spelling but every envelope with my name and address in our post office box made me smile.

By the time I was married, I was getting a few letters a day and that helped me get through the long summer at the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park in South Dakota, where I had to be in the ticket booth or snack bar for 18 hours a day even when there was nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring

After we moved from Wyoming to South Dakota, to Oregon, to Beijing, China, I was finding that I had a list of over 120 people I wrote to and this was in the days of writing by hand or typing on a manual typewriter with a bottle of correction fluid on hand. In China I couldn't even find a xerox machine.

So I started doing that dreaded, form letter, writing to everybody I knew with one letter and then maybe adding a personal note by hand on the back of the page. Mom took some of my letters to the Cody Wyoming Enterprise and they had a woman named 
Retha Miller consolidated them into an article, which might have made me come across as shallow and judgmental at times, but was still fun to share with my family and friends as it was thoughtful and well written

 Well, I don't have those letters that I wrote from Custer State Park, or a Wyoming Jr. High School or Beijing Teacher's college, and I really regret not keeping copies of them as a sort of journal, So I'm going to include the text of the article, which I hope you will remember is from before the Tian an men massacre and that I never thought of all Chinese as so stereotyped as to mean that they were all positive or all any other label.

For myself and my children I have decided to start copying the form letters into this blog this December, hoping that this way the yellowing crumbling pages will not be lost.
 The two Christmas Cards we sent out after returning from China in Dec. of 1987

 The Text of the article follows,

Goodes enjoy 'Positive Chinese'
by Retha Miller

     Former Cody resident Dixie Goode and her husband Greg, students at Southern Oregon State College, spent a semester as exchange students at Beijing Teachers College in China.
     The Goodes were with a group from Oregon universities who participated in an Oregon Teacher Education Program with that country. The program included tours of several Chinese cities, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Chinese businesses and classes in one of the chinese languages, Chinese History and the Chinese Educational systems. Dixie wrote of her trip in a letter to friends, the source of this story.
     The daughter of paul and Priscilla Miller of Cody, Dixie graduated from Cody High School in 198. She and Greg, formerly of Newcastle, are both graduates of Northwest Community College.  Greg, a music major, had spent three days in China while on a tour with the Northwest Singers in March 1983, and had vowed to go back sometime.

a picture taken just before we went to China
They Flew From Portland to Seattle to Tokyo, and then on to Hong Kong late in 1987, where they spent three days. (Hong Kong will become part of China in 1997, but for now is still a British Colony, according to the former Cody resident.)
Hong Kong was described as a city of five million people "where everyone looked Chinese and the McDonald's menus were printed in English and Chinese"  It was very hot and humid, like "breathing in a sauna."  A trolley trip to the top of Victoria Peak allowed them to see all of Hong Kong, as she decried it "spread out before us like diamonds and reflected in glittering glory in the water below."

During "The Cultural Revolution" many old artworks were smashed or had faces obliterated

     Both noticeable redheads, the Goodes look like brother and sister. Upon arriving in China, they learned that the Chinese exchange officials believed they were actually siblings. They were told that married couples were not allowed to be students or take a dorm room by themselves, and would be charged an extra $200 if they did. They were lucky enough to arrange to get that down to $90 US and not be sent home.
     Their home became a concrete dormitory took on the men's floor. Their bed's were hard wooden platforms with thick cotton pads for mattresses, They were given clean bedding every ten days, but did most of their laundry by hand, hanging it to dry from a wire stretched diagonally across their room. However, their accommodations were better than those of the Chinese students and the appreciated that the Chinese had given them the best they had,
the very best of the tourist places

     They found the Chinese a very "positive society." In spite of poverty and severely crowded conditions, the Goodes found them content, open, honest, friendly and more willing to share than most people they know here.
     "On jammed, hot buses which would surely result in hot tempers in an American City, they laughed and smiled even while someone was standing on their feet."  Inconveniences seemed to be met with acceptance.
     The Goodes had one advantage over the other OTEP members. Before leaving for China they had met two Chinese girls in this country, one an exchange student in this country and the other a teacher hired to teach in the Ashland, Or, schools.  Their families lived within five minutes of the Goodes' dorm. Both girls gave the Goodes letters and gifts to take to their families and in turn, "both families tried to take us in, they fed us, doctored our colds and showed us around their city," the Goodes said.

Eating Mongolian Hot Pot with our History Teacher and his family
(Sliced Raw lamb you cooked at the table)

    They also became close friends with their Chinese and history teachers and Dixie even, "sometimes found the lack of privacy got to me." There were always invitations to dinner, shopping, the museum or for a trip to the zoo to see the pandas 
The fact that we loved to interact with their children meant many people were soon smiling and showing them to us,
when you are only allowed one child
that one child means everything to you

They traveled through China by Car, bike, plane, bus, train, cruise ship and fishing boat, seeing terraced farm lands, cities of 12 million and villages of fewer than 50 people. They visited 4,000 year old temples and modern factories and schools.  They stayed a week in a mountain resort that was used earlier by Emperors. They saw Beijing in summer heat and winter snowfall, and in the beauty of Autumn, exploring its streets on bike and on foot, experiencing stares at first and then acceptance.
   Dixie described it as a village of 10 million people.
    They have set a goal of a return trip, the next time with jobs as English teachers, staying three to five years.

   Added: Did Not Happen :(
I always felt honored and trusted so much when someone shared their baby with me

"If anything was learned during our time in China it was that the globe is not large enough to divide people who care about each other," Dixie Wrote.

Me in the Mao Coat that saved me in Beijing Winter, and a friend from the student Dormitory
My husband helping the local children get icicles to explore
Our teachers at Beijing teachers College
this boy was on a ferry boat. His parents were very nervous when they saw me waving and smiling at him
but even though we couldn't speak the dialect from their area
they were all smiles once I showed tim a picture on my brother
who also has Down's syndrome

in the rock Garden at the Imperial Palace

 Now, decades later, the fact that communication has gotten so easy amazes me.  My friend's children who go overseas can still Skype and see each other's faces and hear voices immediately. It is a good thing, but I still miss the long, newsy letters over the short daily blurbs and status updates on twitter and facebook.  I love holding paper with my great-grandmothers handwriting embossed in pages she left fingerprints on.

My family at Christmas


National Day in Tian an Men


  1. I remember writing to you while you were in China. I had copied your address label a dozen times over, to cut and past onto each new envelope so I didn't have to try to recreate the Chinese part of it. I was so jealous you two did this adventure!

  2. Somewhere in my attic I have a box of all the letters we received while there, but I don't have the letters we wrote. I do think I have a journal that I kept up until we finished the class part but let go written once we were traveling.