Letters Home


By Louise Ure

“Throw forty or fifty loose tampons into the box. That way, they won’t go through it.”

I first met Maya eighteen years ago, when she was seven. She was crying. She and her nine-year old brother, Brian, had been unceremoniously dumped at my house for the weekend. Their grandmother had taken ill in Louisiana, and their single mother had to return home to take care of her. They didn’t know anyone in San Francisco. And my husband had just hired their mother as a receptionist.


Maya hated everything that weekend. The chilly temperature of my house. The lack of a cartoon channel on TV. The way I made hot chocolate. I thought we’d never make it to Sunday night.

“There’s no running water or electricity where I’m staying, but I do have a pump out in the yard, so I’m one of the lucky ones. Others have to walk two miles to the river to get water.”

Her world was alien to me. Wiry black hair while mine was straight, dishwater brown. Chocolate skin versus my winter-in-San Francisco vanilla. She had never seen a horse except on television. She lived in a basement apartment and could tell the weather by the shoes that filed past.

“They don’t believe I’m an American.They’ve never seen a black American before.”

After that first meeting, stayovers became routine. Their mother needed time to herself, and Bruce and I thought it was the perfect way to have kids: borrow them for the weekend. We spent our Saturdays and Sundays together for the next ten years.


I taught Maya French and her brother Spanish. When we played Scrabble, I was only allowed to use words in English.

She usually slept until after noon, rising only when something on the stove smelled good or her brother sounded like he was having fun. She had the attention span of a flea, and was guaranteed to lose something on every visit.

“I had some kind of allergic reaction to the napia grass while we were planting trees today. A couple of Benedryls did the trick.”

I taught her to ride a horse – Western style, of course. We’d gallop right into the flocks of seagulls on the beach, her stick-legs flapping like stunted wings.


No one was more surprised than I when she said she wanted to be a lawyer. Studied debate had never been the way Maya won arguments. She was a pouter, a thrower of chess pieces, a disengager.

“I’ve got the pedal powered generator set up now. With any luck I’ll be able to power up my cell phone and laptop for at least a few minutes at a time.”

She gave one of the keynote addresses at her college graduation. And there, at the podium, she introduced me as “my other mother.”

“Today, for the first time, I know why I’m here. And I’m making a difference.”


Last year she decided that The Law could wait, and she signed up for the Peace Corps. She’s been in a small village in Kenya for a month now, tasked with educating woman barely younger than herself about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

And we just got her first letters home.

“If you send me anything, be sure to draw crosses everywhere and write ‘Jesus Is Watching You’ all over the box. It’s no guarantee, but it’s less likely to be stolen that way.”

Travel well, Sweet Girl.

I’m no longer a religious person, but I’ll write “Jesus is Watching You” all over those boxes.

And I’ll mean every word of it.



24 thoughts on “Letters Home

  1. Twist

    Louise, I always thought you were wonderful. This only confirms it. What an extraordinarily big heart you have! What a gift you’ve given Maya!

  2. Jason Summers

    Louise, this is the best post of yours I’ve ever read, I think. Different than, but ranks along with, Bruen’s “sad” post about his sister. Absolutely wonderful.

  3. ken Bruen

    LOUISE A GRAJesus hon, you trying to kill us entirely, what a post…………It made me want to weep and that’s not something I ever want to admitIt is as our own Yeats would have a said…………..A TERRIBLE BEAUTYwhat a heart you have and if as they say, compassion is born of understanding the pain of others, then you have compassion like few I knowIn full admirationgraKen

  4. Louise Ure

    Good morning all,

    You’re up earlier than I am today. Thank you for all the kind words. Twist, the gift was Maya. I’m just the recipient.

    And Jason and Ken … there’s no sadness in this post today. Just wonder. And pride. And maybe that metal taste of fear of what’s next. But thank you for those sweet words.

  5. Louise Ure

    I’ve been remiss. Many congratulations to my fellow Suicide Tuesday blogmate, Ken Bruen, for his DOUBLE Barry nominations for PRIEST and BUST. It couldn’t happen to a finer man.

  6. JT Ellison

    Louise, when are you writing your memoir??? I’m telling you, you have the most interesting and blessed life I’ve ever seen.

    Prayers to Maya, and congrats to Ken!!!

  7. Karen Olson

    Louise, since I’ve known you, I have seen this side of you…welcoming strangers into your home and letting them become family. Julia always wants to know when we’re going back “to see Louise and Angus.” Maya sounds like an extraordinary young woman, and you and Bruce have played such a big role in her upbringing that you truly ARE her “other mother.” You’re right about you being the recipient of the gift. When you bring a child into your home, she is the gift; I know that all too well 🙂

  8. Jacky B.

    Louise, A tale of growth, and perhaps redemption. Recalling your regret at the callousness of a young girl in her treatment of her Latino tenant, who was demonized by his “splinters from New Mexico,” I was moved by the grown woman who extended heart and hand to Maya. THAT is evolution!

    You and Maya have exchanged pricless treasures. Long may you continue to do so. In this day and age, it takes courage to love openly and unabashedly. Would that more of us had it.

    Best, Jacky B.

  9. ken Bruen

    Louise a graI dont think I’ve ever commented twice on a blog but if they are giving out an Anthony this year for best blogger………..blog, etc, then if they dont give it to you, to Murderati, after alex’s killer entry on her friend and not to mention the stunning ST FRANCIS FIRE………I throw me well battered stetson at it, that’s a nod to you dusty and bono and with Pari as High Priestess……and Edgar winner Naomi to boot, Robert, damn him, still in the windows of Galways bookshops……….you know, we must be doing something if not right, at least relevantYer Tues Kamikaze mateKen

  10. Louise Ure

    Elaine, you are a darlin’.

    And Patty, you make me laugh.

    Jacky, the evolution was as much Maya’s as mine. And isn’t it grand when the chrysalis grows up to be an entirely different kind of butterfly than you expected?

  11. Louise Ure

    Dear Kamikaze Ken,

    Yes, there is a fine group of bloggers to be found here at Murderati Central. And we’re at our best when we make people laugh … or cry.

  12. toni mcgee causey

    I’m going to have to remember not to read Tuesday’s blogs when there aren’t other people around to see me cry. Beautiful post, Louise, as always, and good luck to Maya. I know she was immensely fortunate to have you as her other mom.

  13. Louise Ure

    Sorry not to reply earlier, Toni. We had a power failure in San Francisco that seems to have burned out Typepad, CNet, Craigslist and a half dozen other big internet players. (As well as 50,000 residents.)

    From what I know of your family saga this year, you should be the one writing dramatic memories and blog posts.

  14. Cornelia Read

    Louise, I’ll see Elaine’s twenty and raise you thirty… If that makes any sense. I’m a really lousy poker player, but a fiend at Canasta.

    This is gorgeousness, throughout. And I love the idea of a package chock-full of tampons and marked “Jesus is Watching You!” wending it’s way through the postal ether.


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