Where have letters gone? My mother's father, my grandfather, penned those three words into every yellowing page of his love. I paged through them this afternoon, as I sat in his easy chair on Magoun Avenue, marveling at the volume of ink I held in my hands. Where have letters gone? When do we pause in the midst of our days to uncap a pen and shower some blue-black love on another person? Where have we put stationary, stamps, envelopes - these hallmarks of time and thoughtfulness?
Now we email, we "chat" until our fingers fall off from typing, we skype and call and text. We have bound ourselves to each other by an umbilical cord of technology, and parents and children are too afraid to cut this second cord, this connectedness. We don't remember how to write letters to each other, how to hold someone up to the light and examine them, see how light catches a little corner of their heart just so when we remember how they smiled at us on the walk between 8th St and Eastern Market, arms linked... We have forgotten how to write this down in letters, and send our love in bins through postal trucks and mail bags.
And today I discovered what we are all missing. I have fallen into love, into the warmth of my grandmother’s 1943 diary, and the letters she's carefully preserved in binders. Her careful script records weather, the rush of 20 year old mind and heart, quickening at a letter in the mailbox from Theron, despondent when he sends back all the letters she wrote him during their first few months apart. “I guess he’s quitting me,” she writes, and I am crushed with her, though I know this same boy will be her husband in five years, be her true sweetheart for the next sixty-three years until he dies. She sounds exactly like me and nothing like me, her cursive a far cry from my Arial font on this blog, the pace of her life a meander rather than my usual sprint. But our hearts wander similar paths, long for love and romance, long for adventure, for the fullness of life to arrive. And I read my own words and phrases woven within hers, words I've inherited unknowingly - "awfully" and "heart" and "long for."
I sit and breathe the dust of their love story, and I look over at my grandmother, her face crinkled in memory, with the effort of remembering the joy and marrying it to the new sorrow, to his death, his departure, and her remaining. I see tears mirroring my own as we smell together the room where life was built between them, as she pages through love letters he wrote her for years. “My dearest honey.” “All my love.” I didn’t know I got this phrase from Grandpa when I started signing my letters with “All my love, Hilary.” I thought it was original, unique, something to be cherished because I had come up with it all on my own. I give others all my love, and now I realize that I am his echo, he who gave Grammy all his love, for years and for life. He gave her all his love.
They lived between gulfs of war and the distance from Kentucky to Chicago, lived among two kids in this one story house in Indiana, among the neighbors and snowstorms and Sundays in church and Christmases at the cousins’ two streets over. They lived their love in the most extraordinarily ordinary things. His trucker caps are still kept on their pegs on the porch, her embroidery still hangs in the kitchen and the living room. I can hear their conversations about the Cubs, about the Van Til grocery store and the neighbor’s rambunctious daughters. I hear the promise of their love.
In selfish moments I envy their love story, its beginning at seventeen and how they lived it until Grandpa died. I miss him everyday, and my missing grows into funny shapes and fill places in my heart I didn’t know existed before. If there is one person who I would want to meet a boyfriend (should I ever have one), it would be Grandpa. He would know, immediately, if I was barking up the wrong tree or if this was the real thing. After all, he used to say one of his only regrets in life was not marrying his dearest honey sooner. And I believe him. And sometimes the realization that Grandpa won’t see me get married wells up inside me like a hurricane and I wonder how I can bear his absence.
But as I hide myself in my grandmother’s scribbled words, and hear of her deep love for her boyfriend, my grandfather, as I crawl into her thoughts and root around her twenty year old heart, I realize that this story is part of my lifeblood, part of my dreams of love, part of my own story. My grandparents lived the kind of great love that I hope to have someday; my grandparents who lived life’s mess and loved each other through and despite it. My grandparents are roots of love for me, and I know that as their story seeps into my skin, just as the smell of Grammy’s perfume seeps into my blue jeans, I plant myself firmly in the ground of their love story, and settle for nothing less than the ordinary miracle it is.
All my love,