Letters are a magical way for people who are no longer here to comfort us and bring us happiness with the things they left behind.
After the death of my sweet sister-in-law, Brenda, our family spent a beautiful week of shiva together, recalling all the memories of good times that she left with us. On Sunday night we were celebrating my daughter Lindsey’s birthday, seated close together around the table telling stories. Suddenly I thought of another gift for everyone there. I had in my possession a box containing a whole year of my mother Bert’s letters to her older sister, written while she was stationed in Texas during World War II.
In my mother’s distinctive handwriting, these letters detailed her meeting my father at an army base in Sherman, Texas, where they were both assigned to the medical unit. She made her own stationary and engraved each letter, “Dirt From Bert.”
I brought the letters into the room where we sat together, and I began reading them aloud. Everyone was delighted and at the end of each letter they shouted for more. Voices from the past brought so much cheer and joy to all of us. Reading her words aloud brought my mother back to us and told us much about her early relationship with my father!
Brenda would have screamed with delight! My mom, who was raised as a strait-laced Bostonian never let on about her early years. She was dignified, quiet and genteel… but the letters told of a young confident woman with a wild side who ran away from home at 25 to join the war effort. It was apparent that she enjoyed being chased by “a wolf” – my father – but she pretended to him that she wasn’t interested.
All I can say to you, dear reader, is, save your love letters for your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to savor when you are no longer here. We were hooting and howling at her tone of voice and how she described herself to her sister and how things were so different in 1944-45. It was clear that Bert knew all along that he was the one… but she didn’t even mention my dad’s name to her sister Rebecca until 9 months later when she announced their wedding plans.
Save your letters, photos and other keepsakes and memorabilia to tell your family who you really were. Until I read the “Dirt From Bert” letters, I had no idea that my Mom was so bold and zesty and hilarious and romantic and sarcastic and all the things I had hoped she was in her youth, but never really knew.
Don’t throw away old love letters to lovers you have never married. There are great sources of comfort and joy for future generations. Just remember to tell your children where these letters are located! Add an envelope to your estate plans with the places you are concealing your secrets… It’s truly a gift of a lifetime.
In the case of my mother’s letters to her sister, these were found by my cousins after the deaths of both. Aunt Rebecca dutifully saved these treasures wrapped in a ribbon and hid them in her attic in Beverly, Massachusetts. They were discovered by her children when they were selling the family house. Fifteen years after my mother passed away in 1996, the letters arrived in my mailbox. They took my breath away. I put them away for safe keeping.
Mom probably would have blushed had she known her letters would be read aloud to her descendants. But the joy, laughter and tears they brought were a wonderful gift and a legacy.
May her memory be a blessing.