Nothing piques my interest like a love letter. It’s a letter that someone purposefully took time from their life to tediously curl their love into beautiful letters that formed words of true emotion that they had faith a stranger would deliver for them. It’s a letter that tells how they wish they could be together or expresses feelings they are afraid to say out loud, or maybe it explains why they are not together. A love letter is one of the ultimate expressions of one’s true love, and they have been left behind in a time gone by.
I once found a box of old photographs in my great aunt’s house. Hidden under all of the pictures at the bottom of the box was a bundle of very old letters bound with a light blue ribbon. They were all written in German, and I couldn’t read a word except to see that they were addressed to Mathilda, known to us as Aunt Tilly. I was asked to return the letters to the box and put it back into the bottom of the wardrobe that, many years later, was sold at auction.
My great aunt was rumored to have had a great love once, but no one knew what happened, ever saw her in a relationship, and she never married. Her love life was a complete mystery. She spent her life living alone in the farm house that her parents had raised her in, sitting on the front porch in summer evenings as if waiting for someone.
The bundle of letters was carefully bound by a light blue ribbon that was clearly the fanciest thing in the house, and this told me that they were special. The fact that the letters were hidden in the bottom of a box of loose photographs told me that they were a secret. I never got to see the letters again or have them translated, but the secrets that they hold will haunt my imagination the rest of my life. The letters inspired one of my first stories that I wrote, and I think of them often and wonder where they are and who has them.
My grandma once asked me to write about her and my grandpa. I asked her to tell me her story. She said she was working far away from her family and was lonely, so she sent a childhood friend a Valentine. He then came to visit her — wait for it — with a girlfriend. But my grandma didn’t seem bothered by that and concluded her story with, “And that was it.”
Hoping for more inspiration, I asked my grandpa what he thought when he saw her, and he said, “She’ll do.”
I was actually offended by the complete lack of romance in their story and responded with, “‘She’ll do’? Not even Danielle Steel could work with that!” My grandparents just looked secretly at each other and smiled a knowing smile.
When my grandparents passed away, I inherited my grandmother’s hope chest and found in it some love letters from my grandpa. She had lived at the top of Michigan, and he had lived at the bottom of Michigan, and letters were the only way for them to communicate. The letters expressed a young, innocent, and pure side of my grandpa that I had never known.
The line, “No one will ever know just how much I really love you” made me wonder if, in his wildest dreams, he would ever guess that his granddaughter would be reading his letters almost eighty years later. His words not only expressed how deeply taken he was with my grandmother but how he couldn’t wait to marry her. Through his letters I learned that their relationship was so much more than “she’ll do.”
Love letters today, if they still exist, come in the form of e-mails or text messages or Post-It notes. I guess everyone expresses themselves differently, but part of me yearns for that time when things were slower, when letters were thoughtfully and painstakingly written, and its receiver was special enough that the sender gave minutes or hours of their life to compose something that people would read and wonder about one hundred years later.
May the love in love letters live on. Happy Valentine’s Day.
For a great love story, check out my book Nine Days In Greece. Coming soon: Risking The Nine Days.