My sister reaches for the last box in the closet. One last box to go through as we go through all of Dad's papers as part of settling his estate. The last box at the end of a long day of looking at hundreds and hundreds of papers.
Taking the lid off the box, we discover a packet of handwritten letters. The postmarked letters date from late 1947 to mid 1949 - love letters Dad sent to my mother while he was in college. We let out a gasp of wonder at their existence.
The postage, by the way, was 3 cents back then. And it wasn't until the second reading of the letters that I noticed that Dad put the stamp on each letter upside down, which is what my boyfriend (and later husband) did with the love letters he sent me in 1973 with an 8 cent stamp! Rumor has it that a stamp placed upside down indicates love and romance.
In Dad's letters we learn of the silly, the mundane, and the interesting aspects of life in the late 1940's: the live crabs Dad put in his roommate's bed as a prank; the pinochle games that went on until 3:00 a.m.; the music he listened to; the friends he and Mom doubled with; his negotiation with his Spanish professor for a better grade; his first bylines in the school newspaper; the boring jobs he holds to make ends meet as a student.
We also learn of the romantic and earnest side of Dad. By letter # 8, Dad tells Mom he loves her . . . that she is the one he has been looking for all his life. As you might imagine, I shed a few tears here. Later letters reveal that Dad thinks he can do anything, be anything with Mom at his side. He counts down the days, hours, and minutes til his wedding day, imagining Mom walking up the aisle to him.
What an extraordinary experience to read Dad's words - to be let in so intimately into his life at age 21-22, before he became a husband and father. I am struck by how alive he becomes for me - his enthusiasm, his optimism, his joi de vivre, his sense of humor, and most of all, his unabashed love for my mother.
These letters are part of a past era . . . an era characterized by "The Greatest Generation," as Tom Brokaw writes about them. Dad served 2 years overseas during WWII. Postwar, he attended college on the GI bill. He had no money, and begged and borrowed rides to travel an hour each way each weekend to see Mom. Their primary source of entertainment included playing cards, and dancing. The qualities of innocence, romanticism, and optimism marked their lives at the time. Surely it couldn't hurt our cynical world to return to a more gentle style of courting.
Reading these letters has been bittersweet. They create a fresh wound of grief and sadness at not having Mom and Dad in my life. And they make me feel so utterly grateful for being given a rare glimpse into Dad's heart and soul. I will hold and cherish the memories Dad's words have created for me. And I will share the letters with my daughters so that they will not settle for anything less than the grand love exemplified by their grandparents.
All of this has gotten me to thinking . . . what do you want to leave behind for your loved ones to discover?