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Love letters

Published August 14. 2010 09:00AM

I'm sitting on the creaky, wooden, 1940s-era office chair in the home office of our old farmhouse. The small room holds two vintage wooden desks, one at each window; a battered old metal filing cabinet, painted a utilitarian brown, squats in the corner between them.

It's morning, and the sun begins to peek through the southern window as I reach into a red plastic container, meant for recycling but used to store photographs, many of them old, black-and-white, their corners beginning to curl from age. I'm sorting through the pictures to put them into scrapbooks for my daughters, now grown with families of their own. The photographs trace the lives of their grand parents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

Sifting through the deep pile, my fingers touch a plastic bag, the plastic-zippered kind intended to protect green beans or leftover pot roast from freezer burn. Instead, this bag has been keeping safe from humidity and dust a treasure: the fragile proof, written in a steady, clear hand on now faded and musty stationary, of a once-passionate young love.

"Honey, I don't know what to say except how much I love you," one letter begins. "I could fill all the pages with it, for I do, honey."

The letters, written in the early 1930s, are from my father, David, to my mother, Mary. The times were not good for a young couple in love: My parents courted, and wed, during the Great Depression. My father traveled the state, working where he could find it - in a bakery, pushing paper at the Commercial Bank Building in Harrisburg, doing what he could, where he could, to help his mother and father.

"It is pretty tough here, nothing to do, no work," my father wrote on the back of a small, simple birthday card in January, 1931. "Please try to see if there is a job open there. Gee, I hope you and I get some good breaks soon. If I had a good job now, you and I would be married already, and I don't mean maybe."

Along with declarations of eternal love, my father wrote of the mundane trials of everyday life.

"We tried to get the coupe going, and I cranked. I cut my hand to the bone again," he wrote. He wrote of working "four hours at a milk plant and made a lone dollar."

But love, and longing, sweetened those difficult days.

"I love you, and pine to take you in my arms ... that is my idea of Heaven," he wrote. The letters helped bridge the distance between them, but the ache of being apart surfaces in each message.

"Honey, I wish I were there with you," my father wrote to his intended from the "Isle of View." "I get lonesome and lovesick."

The letters - there are about 75 in all, bound in packets by thin strands of faded blue ribbon - were given me by my eldest brother, David, upon the passing of my mother in 1981. My father had died in 1978.

I, in turn, will pass them along to my daughters. But, in these days of texting and email, my daughters may have little in the way of tangible reminders of their own romances to pass down to their children and grandchildren.

Love letters were once meant to be treasured for a lifetime - or many lifetimes. But those heartfelt declarations of love set in ink are vanishing as fast as an accidental bump of the 'delete' button in this age of electronic communication. Modern messages of endearment as are fleeting as they are terse.

"I will be the happiest fellow on earth, and I just cannot wait until we are married," my father wrote. "I love you with all my heart."

Had he been a besotted young man today, he may well have simply thumbed "luv u" to his beloved's iPhone.

Not only the words themselves, once lovingly scribed onto elegant stock, to be read over and over, are being lost. Also fading is the ability to write with detail and nuance, the willingness and patience to make the effort and practice the skills needed to communicate the depth and breadth of one's thoughts in written form.

I pick up another packet. Loosening the ribbon, I gently slide a letter out of its envelope. It's dated Nov. 9, 1931.

"I don't know when I will see you next, but I figure it will be sometime before Thanksgiving, and that is so doggone far off," my father wrote. "I love you, I love you. But I would much rather be there to say that to you than to write it. Honey, darling, I must marry you soon so I can never be apart from you for such a time again."

Maybe, someday, one of his great-great-great grandchildren will sit in this room one summer morning, carefully unfolding these letters. Maybe, someday, that child will have fallen in love ... and take pen to paper.

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