She sat in her favorite spot on the porch of the weathered beach house, the salty air sticking to her skin, the oncoming storm blowing sand across her bare feet. The crisp envelope bent beneath her fingers as she laid it on her lap, and reached for the pen in her dress pocket…

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Through the crisp white wooden screen door she could hear the sound of the mail truck coming down the street. Its engine revved up and slowed down in a familiar pattern. She listened closely for the door of the mailbox to squeak open and slam shut. “I’ll get it, Mama!” she yelled as her bare feet skipped out the door and across the porch of the beach house. Her footprints followed faithfully behind her in the sand. One outstretched hand slapped against each white board of the picket fence and her blonde curls shone in the sunlight like spun gold as they bounced with each little step.

She pulled open the door of the mailbox with a squeak, slammed it shut, and stared at the bent envelope. The letter was addressed to her in red ink. Across the bottom of the envelope in shaky, uneven lettering was the word: “Confidential.”

“Mama! Mama! I got a letter!” she announced.

“Who’s it from?” asked Mama from the kitchen over the clatter of pans rattling.

“I don’t know!” said Madeline.

“Well what name is on the return address?” asked Mama.

“There is no name,” replied Madeline. “Only the initials M. T.”

“What’s the address?” asked Mama, with a hint of impatience in her voice.

“It’s our address. The return address is our address, Mama.”

Mama washed her hands, then dried them on her apron as she came into the living room. “Let me see,” said Mama. Madeline handed her the envelope. After inspecting the envelope, Mama handed it back. “Open it, I guess.”

Madeline took the bent envelope and slid her finger under the seal and a bit of sand fell out. Side by side, they sat together on the couch and read the words that filled the pages:

A twelve year old girl cannot possibly understand which things to pay attention to, which things will have the biggest impact. There are times you will become discouraged. There are sad times ahead, but there are times when you will also experience exhilarating joy.

Listen to your Mama. Your time with her will never be long enough, but her words will guide you long after she is gone, so listen to every one of them.

Rascal is the best dog you’ll ever have. Treasure every moment. Don’t tire of playing fetch with him. Baxter won’t play like that and you’ll miss it.

Tommy Bishop will steal your first kiss, but don’t give him your heart (or anything else). There will be lots of boys that will break your heart before you meet Billy Thompson. You’ll be so unsure when he gives you that ring, but when you say yes, that will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. If Daddy had to give you to anyone else he would have been reluctant. Billy will make a good father and a wonderful husband. You can count on that.

When the cancer comes and you lose your hair, it will all grow back. You will learn during that period who you can count on.

Don’t be too mad at little Billy when he wrecks his first car. In time you will discover that cars can be fixed or replaced and people can’t. And, when your daughter tells you she is pregnant when sheĆ­s only seventeen, hold her close. Your first grandbaby will bring more joy into all of your lives than you can ever imagine.

Pay attention to the sounds of the ocean, the feeling of the sunshine as it warms your hair and shoulders, the sound of a loved one’s voice calling your name. Do the best you can with what you have. And, never leave this place. Home is home, and no matter where you travel and visit and explore, this beach house will always be your favorite place in all the world.

“I’m not sure who this letter was meant for, Madeline, but it does have your name on it. I suppose you can keep it if you like. It is the strangest letter I’ve ever seen, but it really is most intriguing.” Madeline agreed, then took the letter and put it in the cedar chest at the foot of her bed.

That night when Daddy came home, he kissed Mama with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve brought home a special surprise for Madeline,” he announced. “Should I give it to her now or after supper?”

“Now, Daddy! Now!” shouted Madeline. The excitement in her voice caused the puppy to wriggle out from the box Daddy was holding.

“I guess now,” laughed Daddy. “It’s a cattle dog,” he said. What should we name him?”

“Rascal,” said Madeline. “His name is Rascal.”

Sometimes when the moon is full and the tides roll in, and all the conditions are exactly right, unexplainable things can happen. Sacred, mystical things that defy all time and space. A much older version of herself, she sat in her favorite spot on the porch of the weathered beach house, the salty air sticking to her wrinkled skin, the oncoming storm blowing sand across her bare feet. She always loved to be barefoot.

The crisp envelope bent beneath her crooked fingers as she laid it on her lap. With a shaky hand, Madeline Thompson reached for the red pen in her dress pocket. She wrote out the familiar address in both the mailing and the return areas. Above the return address she wrote only her initials: M.T. Across the bottom of the envelope in shaky, uneven lettering she wrote one word: “Confidential.”