It was an old box, hidden underneath a cabinet, with a light covering of dust on the lid that made me sneeze when I pulled it out from its hiding place. We were going through stacks of papers and other odd bits of household compost, determined to clear out and clean the house. We never know what we're going to find when we do this. In one box, we found cancelled checks from 1981. In a stack of papers, I found the class photograph from my first year of teaching
This box was one that had been forgotten for a long time. There was even an old smell to it and I suspected the cardboard had gotten wet at least once over the years it sat hidden in the corner. More than likely, the contents would be ruined and we'd have to throw it all away. I was curious enough to want to look through it before tossing it. Maybe I'd find a treasure or two. I found much more than that. Thankfully, the contents had been placed in a plastic bag inside the box so it would be protected from any water damage. I reached in an pulled out a letter. It was dated 1979, the year we were married. I pulled out several more and realized this box contained all the cards and letters that had been given to us at our wedding.
I sat, mesmerized, reading notes from friends and relatives, many of whom had died years ago. I could hear their voices again as I read what they had written to us. It was magical. Underneath the cards was a stack of letters Chris had written to me while we were dating. Love letters. Chris and I met while we were applying for the same job. He was the lucky one. I got the job.
Because it required that I attend a summer long training in California, we parted two months after we met and we really got to know each other through our letters. Without email or cell phones, and only one telephone - a pay phone - in the building where I stayed that summer, we had to put our trust in the US Postal Service.
Recently, I learned my grandparents also got to know each other through their letters. They met in 1917, right before my grandfather, Walter Myers, left to join the Navy, during WWI. I'm learning a lot more about that time because my cousin, Sandy, has been putting together our family history for years. A month ago, she gave us a copy of my grandfather's WWI diary, which she had transcribed and put into book form. It's such a treasure! So is Sandy.
Walter wrote in his diary every single day. He also wrote lots and lots of letters home to his parents, his relatives, and to any number of young ladies. These he dutifully reports in the diary: "Wrote to Margaret, Leota, Father, Warren, Aunty, Evelyn, Elizabeth, and Florence." One of those young ladies was 20 year old Leota Bradford. As time passes in his diary, those particular letters get more and more attention: "Wrote a good 12 page letter to Leota today and a short one home."
By the end of the diary, they are spending time together whenever Walter has leave. Of course, this would be at the family's house. There are a few wonderful, racy comments such as: "Staid up till one am and had a real good time. Tried to sneak up to the bedroom but were caught." One entry was in a different handwriting. It is so delightful that I must include all of it. As Sandy did when she transcribed this, I am keeping the original spelling and punctuation.
"I just finished reading this diary of Walter's. You knave little diary. He did not want me to so while he was playing piano I excused myself and came out here and read it at lightning speed, but I sure found out a lot.
Well, we came to Clyde to my home this evening. We sure made some quarrels. We turned our backs to each other. And just wouldn't speak. Then he wanted me to kiss and make up on the train. But I wouldn't do it ha! ha!
Walter is just an awful cold lover. Tonight we are going to stay up just a teeny little while. I hope he isn't in the old navy very long. - Leota
Another entry by Walter follows, "We staid up till one A.M. Went out to farm where Leota beat me in shooting father's .25 stevens.
I never knew my grandfather. Walter died at age 56 of a heart attack, five years before I was born. Through his diary, I feel like I am getting to know him, just a little bit. I did know my grandmother. Leota Bradford Myers died the day after her 97th birthday in December of 1995. She was always full of life. She loved people, her book clubs, playing piano, and eating desserts.
We lived across the country from her and didn't see her much. She did write, however. We received cards for every holiday, including Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, and the 4th of July. One of her Christmas cards was still in my box. I found it as I went through the wedding cards and my old love letters from Chris.
It's awfully hard to focus on cleaning when you have a box of treasures such as this. I gave up and made myself a cup of tea. I found a comfortable place on the floor and started reading all those letters from 34 years ago. Among the letters I also found a neatly folded piece of brown paper. I opened it and saw the JUST MARRIED sign that our friends had taped onto our car after our wedding. I smiled, folded it back up, and put it back into the box.
Eventually it all went into a much nicer box that has its place of honor in our china cabinet, but at that moment, I just sat and continued reading, holding all those memories in my hands and in my heart.
It doesn't suprise me that my grandparents could fall in love through their letters. We did, too.