I won’t sugar-coat it. Christmas this year kind of sucked. I mean, it was good to be with family, but the gathering was because we knew my mom was not going to live much longer. My family and I arrived in the early hours of her 87th birthday, December 24, and that was the last day she was somewhat coherent and knew us (a blessing in itself). She breathed her last late in the evening of December 27th (although hospice confirmed it in the wee hours of the 28th, so that is her official death date). Her obituary is here. (Incidentally, this followed on the heels of losing my mother-in-law in October and brother-in-law in November.)
The blessing side was having family together to surround her. During those final days, she was never alone (whether she knew it or not). Between dad, my sister’s family, and my family, someone was always there to talk to her, read to her, sing hymns and carols to her. She died peacefully and entered heaven’s glory. What a blessing to know that fact and rejoice even in sorrow.
In the days following the funeral as we began to help my dad adjust to his new normal, he shared lots of fun stories. This one stands out and I simply have to share it, for it is the power of the written word and letters to begin a legacy of love that, for my parents, lasted for 67 years.
The power of the written word and letters begins a legacy of love that, for my parents, lasted for 67 years.
My dad shared the story that, home from college during his senior year, he went to the local roller rink for an evening. A lovely young woman caught his eye. He finally got a chance to skate with her and was able to get her name and city: “Reva Grover, Corry” (Corry, PA). Then she went home with another guy, saying he couldn’t take her home because she didn’t know him.
But dad couldn’t forget her. So from his dorm room at college 300 miles away, he wrote her a letter, telling us that the envelope had nothing more than her name, city, and state (this was pre-zip code days). He mailed it on the truly off chance that she would ever receive it.
And thank goodness for small towns, because the letter found its way to her.
My daughter went to mom’s “hope chest,” which has been in their bedroom for my entire life. Sure enough, buried beneath various memories was a box of every letter she and my dad exchanged, starting with this one. We couldn’t believe we had the actual letter!
Of course, we wondered what in the world dad had said in this letter so, with his permission, we pulled it out and read it aloud. The letter began: “9/23/54 Hi, This is going to be a shot in the dark if I ever made one.”
Then, of course we wondered what she had said in return. Finding that letter, we pulled it out and read it aloud.
My dad, leaned back in his easy chair and said upon our finishing that letter, “Well, don’t stop now!”
So began an evening reading each back-and-forth letter as my parents, having only met once, began to learn about each other. They asked questions about family and about faith. There were local Corry football scores from mom; tales of fraternity life, final exams, and chorus travels from dad. The letters became more and more frequent with Thanksgiving being their next opportunity to meet. Clearly their first official date and time together went well, for the post-Thanksgiving pre-Christmas letters become more frequent, all the while both of them counting the days until Christmas when they would meet again (on her birthday, December 24).
Clearly, they had fallen in love over the Thanksgiving holiday and knew that Christmas was going to be very special.
Indeed, another set of letters from January to May surely lays out their future (we didn’t have time to get to those letters; dad said they were probably pretty mushy anyway). That next summer, after dad graduated from Colgate University, he proposed to mom and they were married in Corry, PA, on November 5, 1955.
Before she passed away, they’d had 66 years of marriage.
During those 66 years, they had also weathered a separation for eight months while my dad served his country in Viet Nam. Also buried in that hope chest are eight months’ of daily letters back and forth between them. A future task for me is to transcribe all of those letters, along with daily entries from my dad’s journal while he was there, as a legacy for our family.
I can’t help but feel that, in the future, we’ll be missing something of our heritage for our children and grandchildren and beyond without having physical letters. While I’m sure my dating parents would have been delighted by the technology of texts and phone calls without the prohibitive long-distance charges, I’m thankful they wrote (and my mom saved) these letters. It’s a window into their story.
A story that has become my own.