We were cleaning out her house. Packing up the dishes, the linens, the cutlery. The books, nick nacks, and bridge sets. Her mother’s wedding dress and her daughter’s baby dress. A forgotten shoebox filled with Borax and zinnias. Nearly a hundred years of living to be parceled out, stored away or sold.
Her closet was emptied of its Alfred Dunner suits for church, house dresses for every day, and model’s coats for lounging and pulling the occasional offending weed. Dress shoes and slippers all packed up for Goodwill. A final sweep of the floor, dust off the shelf, and this cheerless chore will be nearly done.
Reaching back into the far, dark corner of the shelf, she touched something. Something that had gone unnoticed during the cleanup. It was a little wooden box. It was locked.
Later that evening at home, she pried the lock open and lifted the lid. Letters. The box was full of letters. The letters were tied with a ribbon.
These letters told the story of a young lovers who were always “old folks” to me. Teasing and flirtation. Spats and apologies. Endearment and devotion. Plans and dreams. Reality and survival.
Was it a tear that smeared the ink? Did she laugh at his pet names and silly jokes? A whole new story of my grandparents crowded my imagination and warmed my heart – the prequel to the white hair and bifocals I had always known. The ones I loved so much were now young strangers to me.
Together they endured the death of a baby child and grave illness. They raised a beautiful, intelligent daughter and sent her to college. They gained a handsome, bright son-in-law and saw two grandchildren born. They had their differences like all couples do, but they always had each other. Then, one day in November, she buried him.
But she still had the letters.
The love letter is a lost art. Lost to lives that are too busy (or too lazy) to take time to pick up a pen or go buy a stamp. Lost to technology. Lost to ways that are easier, but not better. Lost right along with beautiful language and heartfelt sentiment.
What will tell the story of your life? What will your children find? An email, text or tweet? A cd or flash drive? A Facebook message with a little ♥ and an xxoo? Maybe…if your past is not password protected.
Or will they find a yellowed envelope enclosing a faded letter, worn on the edges from rereading and smelling faintly of Midnight in Paris, inked with the inscriptions of adoration, devotion, and love. Just what will they find?