The Timeless Romance of Handwritten Love Notes
In the bottom drawer of a dresser in my bedroom, I store some of the most precious items in my possession. This drawer holds a couple boxes of old faded photographs, a few mementos from the lives of my family members, some tattered birth announcements, wedding invitations, and funeral programs—nothing of any particular value beyond the sentimental. And yet, these are the items that come to mind when I think of what I would try to save first if I was at risk of losing everything I own.
Within this collection of paper ephemera is also a bundle of love letters. They were penned by my paternal grandparents shortly before and just after their marriage in 1951, while my grandfather was in the Navy. I keep the letters safe in a plastic storage bag, and every time I open it their scent emerges: old books, like the aged pages of time. Some of the letters are encased in envelopes, many printed with my grandmother’s maiden name and hastily ripped at one end. I like to imagine that she ran home to scour her family’s mailbox in Harvey, Illinois each day and, upon finding one of Grampa’s letters, tore into it with girlish glee and a dramatic flop on the couch.
Aside from their 60-plus year old postmarks, six-cent stamps and a few stains, the letters look as if they could have been written yesterday. My grandparents have been gone now for many years, but reading these letters, as I do once or twice a year, brings them very much back to life; they are reminders that Gramma and Grampa were real people. They were filled with very real passions and filled with all the blissful torment of lovers separated by miles and the military. In July 1951, my grandfather wrote this in his rather fine penmanship on crisp Navy-issued stationery. It came from his post in Jacksonville, Florida:
“…you know honey, I consider myself a very lucky fella to have such a nice girl as you are, and I didn’t fully realize just how good you were until I got into the service. Now you’re one gal in a million in my book. I love you more than words can say. I wish I knew how to write this stuff better because I can’t possibly put into writing how much I love you, but I think you understand just how much I do.”
And I’m sure she did understand. About three weeks after this letter was written, Grampa got unexpected leave and took a trip to visit her at home in Illinois. It was the same weekend her sister was getting married. The trip ended with not one wedding but two, as my grandparents decided to get hitched as well. Newly minted husband and wife, their marriage would last almost 52 years until my grandmother’s passing in 2003.
My reasons for treasuring these letters is obvious. Romantic, heartfelt, tangible remnants of a fleeting youth, they are also relics of the very foundation of my grandparents’ story—and thus, a part of my own story as well. Many years from now, I trust they will be read by my grandchildren and inspire the same feelings of joy.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I hope we all find time to send something personal—a card, a handwritten note or even a full-blown love letter—to someone we care about. We’ve got the rest of the year to type emails and text messages. Someday, a distant relative might even find your note in a dusty box of old papers, read it aloud, and learn a bit more about how you lived—and loved.