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Letter Go


Claim:  A college student sends her parents a letter recounting a series of disasters that have recently befallen her and other shocking news.

LEGEND

Example:   [Dundes, 1968]

Dear Mother and Dad:

It has been three months since I left for college. I have been remiss in writing and I am very sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down, okay.

Well then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival are pretty well healed by now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital and now I can see almost normally and only get those headaches once a day.

Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory and my jump was witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Dept. and the ambulance. He also visited me at the hospital and since I had nowhere to live because of the burnt out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It's really a basement room, but it's kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We haven't set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.

Yes, mother and dad, I am pregnant. I know how very much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has some minor infection which prevents us from passing our premarital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him. This will soon clear up with the penicillin injections I am now taking daily.

I know you will welcome him into the family with open arms. He is kind and although not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a different race and religion than ours, I know that your oft-expressed tolerance will not permit you to be bothered by the fact that his skin color is somewhat darker than ours. I am sure you will love him as I do. His family background is good too, for I am told his father is an important gunbearer in the village in Africa from which he comes.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you there was no dormitory fire; I did not have a concussion or a skull fracture; I was not in the hospital; I am not pregnant; I am not engaged. I do not have syphillis, and there is no Negro in my life. However, I am getting a D in sociology and an F in science; and I wanted you to see these marks in proper perspective.

Your loving daughter,
 

Variations:
  • The basic pattern of the letter (injuries suffered escaping from a fire, pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease, boyfriend considered unacceptable to parents) generally remains the same, with some slight variations in the details.
  • The classes in which the daughter is receiving poor grades also vary (e.g., sociology, science, history, French, chemistry).
  • In early 1998 yet another version of this old favorite surfaced, this one signed "Chelsea Clinton."
Origins:   This letter circulated as a piece of "xeroxlore" at least as afr back as the mid-1960s, and some of its variations (such as the dormitory catching fire during a campus demonstration) date it to that "generation gap" era. Although superficially a joke in structure, it contains some subtle jabs at the older generation's attitudes towards premarital sex, race, and religion.

In drummer Hal Blaine's autobiography, he relates a similar (but unintentional) real-life incident about concerned parents' mistakenly believing their daughter is about to marry a black man. In this passage Blaine talks about meeting the woman who would become his fifth wife while he was a member of John Denver's touring band:
Just before our marriage, my fiancée called her mother in Abilene, Texas, and told her to watch the John Denver special. She told her mom, "When you see the drummer, take a good look — he'll soon be your son-in-law." Of course, all the family gathered around the TV to see the new relation. Unfortunately, my fiancée had forgotten to mention that I was playing percussion, not drums. Herb Lavelle, a fine looking black man, was on drums for the concert. During the show, the camera zoomed right into the audience for a full-face close-up of my fiancée. The next shot was of Herb Lavelle drumming. When the show was over, my fiancée called home to see what the family thought. They were paralyzed. Her mother, a real Texan, said, "I guess you know what you're doing, but it'll be a tough life being married to a black man."
The "daughter's letter home" is also sometimes put to use as a political jab:
Dear Abby,

I am a crack dealer in Mt. Washington, KY who has recently been diagnosed as a carrier of HIV virus.

My parents live in Morehead and one of my sisters, who lives in West Liberty, is married to a transvestite.

My father and mother have recently been arrested for growing and selling marijuana. They are financially dependent on my other two sisters, who are prostitutes in Covington.

I have two brothers, one is currently serving a non-parole life sentence at Eddyville for the murder of a teenage boy in 1994. My other brother is currently in jail awaiting charges of sexual misconduct with his three children.

I have recently become engaged to marry a former prostitute who lives in Campton. She is a part time "working girl".

All things considered, my problem is this. I love my fiancée and look forward to bringing her into the family. I certainly want to be totally open and honest with her.

Should I tell her about my cousin who is a [John] Kerry supporter?

Signed,
Worried About My Reputation

Last updated:   22 November 2014

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