Back in the olden days, when lovers were apart—a few miles or thousands—they explored love on paper. There were few telephone calls filled with words that would fall into the void after they were spoken and heard once; no email that generations to follow will never see. Of course, only the savers will pass on old letters. For better or worse, I come from a family of savers.
My paternal grandfather, Albert, died the year before I was born. I have photo copies of two letters he wrote to my grandmother before they were married in September 1905. Yes, that first one is six sentences of creative spelling in beautiful penmanship.
…your true and loving boy, Albert
I have hundreds of letters written by my father to my mother during WWII, in which he poured out his longing for her. The first one here was written while he was in officer training a year before they were married in November 1943; the second is from Europe a few months before the end of the war. Most of their developing relationship, from the time they met until he came home in April 1946 and they finally began their life together, was poured out in letters.
I miss you, and for the first time I know what it is to miss someone I love.
I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know that I am still liveing, it is rather late to write a letter as it is eleven P.M. so dont look for a long one this time. I thought I must write to night in order to get an ans. this week I have been looking for a letter from you every day this week but havent recieved one yet if you remember you said you would write no doubt it is my place to write first but you didnt give me your adress so I am going to guess at it so perhaps you will not get this but I will chance it this time as I am anxious to hear from you, you dont know how lonesome I have been since you have been gone, last Sun. in pertucelar I didnt know what to do with my self I was not home all day of course that helped some it was seven P.M. when I got back, I didn’t know of any things else to do so I went to bed at nine oclock now isnt that pretty good for Sun. evening?
Well Ella how are you enjoying your self any way supose you are haveing such a good time that you don’t even think of me leting alone finding time to write, I am going to Detroit next Sat. and if you are going to be there and care to have me call on you Sun. you will have to let me know where you live now I trust you will do this as it seems a month since I saw you last.
I dont know of any news in pertucelar to write as every thing is about the same as useal it has been very cold this week and rained all the forenoon. If it hadent looked so much like rain this evening I should have went out to call on Lou seeing you dont write to me you surely have writen to her perhaps I could have found out how you are geting along ha: ha; no doubt you have got another fellow by this time.
Well Ella it is bed time so I will draw this to a close hopeing you will excuse this poor writing as I am in a hurry so I will say good night with a sweet kiss I remain as ever your loving friend
(write at once)
November 26, 1942—Thanksgiving
New York, N.Y. to Knoxville, Tenn.
Dearest Stellajoe –
I’ve been in a quandary the past few days whether to write you & pour out my black mood, whether to try & cover it up or maybe not write at all. I wrote a letter Sunday night that I didn’t mail. I had the satisfaction of telling you how badly I felt but didn’t get any comfort from what you might have said. I guess it was better that way since it didn’t bother you. Anyway, I thought I’d snap out of it in a day or two.
But I didn’t. I can’t remember when I’ve been any unhappier…
Why the blues? Mainly I suppose because I’m too dumb to adapt myself to a new situation. But I miss you so much. After 6 years of college & working around here & there I land in exactly the spot & situation I’d always wanted. That includes a job I liked in a country I liked but mainly it means the girl I love. It’s tough to head off from that all of a sudden, at least for me…
What a Thanksgiving! Never had so much to be thankful for & never felt so little like being thankful. I thought it would be better not to mail this letter either, but found I couldn’t write anything else and I know you’ll be expecting something. Anyway if I could see you it would help me so much to tell it to you. It would be one of the times when I’d call you up at 8:00 o’clock to find out if I couldn’t come see you.
We went down town with the intention of eating at the “Cafe Francais” in Rockefeller Center, the place I told you about beside the skating rink. We decided that the $2.75 was a bit steep for a couple of $75 per month soldiers so we went to a “Child’s” restaurant. For $1.35 we got an imitation turkey dinner. Then we went to see “For Me & My Gal” with Judy Garland. And that’s not exactly a picture that a guy in my mood should see.
New York’s dimout seems to have worked fine on the city but not at all on the moon which is big & round tonight and makes me miss you even more.
I tried to convince myself how foolish I was to feel this way. I could be so much worse off but I’m always thinking how better off I was before I came here. When I learn to look at it the first way I’ll see how lucky I am & feel better.
The rumor is “no Christmas furlough.” When I think of being here 10 months without seeing you I actually shake right in my shoes.
Gee, Stellajoe I miss you, and for the first time I know what it is to miss someone I love. And I read & reread your letters just to satisfy that longing – and then look at your picture, then close my eyes & recall all the good times we had together. I’d hate to have the term “lovesick” applied to me because I don’t like the word. There must be a more descriptive name for the way I miss you. Do you know what I mean?
I guess I’d better shut this stuff off. Next time I write I’ll try and answer that nice long letter you wrote. And when you write remember I love you & when I read you letters I like nothing better than to find something that makes me think you know that & maybe (?) feel the same way.
September 12, 1905
My dear Ella
I will now full fill my promise and write you a few lines, it will be short but sweet so I will start with a kiss or two to let you know that love you more then ever. I hope that you arrived at Sister Minnie’s all safe and found them all O.K no doubt you enjoyed your trip as there was probely lots of nice boys on the car ha: ha:
I was glad that I came home when I did Sun. evening as it rained quite hard before I got here, but it has worried me quite a bit sinse to think that you was so down hearted because I came away so early but my dear girl it isnet very plesent to walk two miles in the rain, but never mind my dear it wont be long before I will be with you always just think how happy we will be.
Now if you will excuse me for a few min. I will eat one of thoughes nice apples you gave me.
Well Ella I dont know of any news so I will close with many good wishes and kisses to you from your true and loving boy
thoughes are all yours from your old Goose ha: ha:
June 13, 1945
France to Florida
Dearest Stellajoe —
Gee honey, I’ve been putting this letter off and off. I just haven’t felt like writing. And I’m forcing myself to tonight. Capt French, the 21st weather pilot, brought us mail day before yesterday. I got eight letters, three from my darling wife, so I have letters to answer. That is no excuse. There is no excuse. There are just times when I can’t do anything. Except search my mind for something that can give peace, put me at ease, cure my restlessness, my longings, my desires. When I can’t find it, I can’t write letters. There is very little I can do.
How I wish I could be with you on this June evening! My mind just runs from one thing to another. Little details of things we’d do. Sometimes it’s a pattern – a day dream of how we’d spend a whole day. But more often it’s just a vision of holding you in my arms. Then perhaps strolling thru the woods, or climbing a mountain. Or sitting before the fire in our own home. Or around the dinner table at home with everyone there. Driving thru the country with you. Of undressing you.
It ain’t good, honey. They’re pleasant thoughts, but they’re overshadowed, absorbed in an atmosphere of frustration generated from a knowledge that it just can’t be, and I don’t know how long it will be before it can.
I’m going to leave this till morning, sweetheart. If I still don’t feel like adding to it, I’ll mail it anyway. So even if it ain’t much, you’ll have a letter anyhow.
All my love