This summer, as my mother was cleaning out my grandmother's home, a surprising discovery was made: A box of letters exchanged between my great-grandparents (Cecilia and Albert), neatly bound up with the letters filed in date order. The dates on the letters range between 1913 and 1918, which makes them nearly 100 years old.
For whatever reason (I'm the family sentimentalist?), the box was given to me to explore and to decide what to do with it.
The top of the old candy box these letters were stored in was labeled in my great-grandmother's handwriting as "love letters," and they were obviously saved because someone cherished them. Yet just because they've survived this long (both my great-grandparents died in the 1960's), does that automatically mean it's OK to read them? What if they contain secrets of the heart that were never meant to be seen or heard by another person other than the beloved to whom they were intended? In some real way, I believe there is an ethical consideration that should accompany the written leftovers of a person's life.
But curiosity got the best of me, and so I did read them. Heavy sigh of relief - no scary family secrets were revealed and no steamy, overtly sexual representations of early 20th century love were recounted.
However, what was revealed by these letters was amazing, albeit in the most mundane sense of that word. What I discovered was the base simplicity of very common people during a simpler era. The words on the pages (which include unsophisticated sentences, expressions, and a plethora of misspelled words) began to paint a picture in my mind of a life characterized and highlighted by things we take for granted in our modern era: food, boredom, music, and the weather, etc. Something as basic as what time the train was rolling into town and who was coming or going on that train was of the utmost importance to these people on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes even on an hour-to-hour basis.
Even more amazing: Despite the fact that this stash of love letters was exchanged between two people who were engaged to be married, hardly a word was spoken of a wedding or a new home. Or sex, for that matter. Can any of us imagine an engaged relationship today where these kinds of subjects would not be a huge portion of the primary conversation? And yet these two souls were able to conduct and appreciate their lives (and each other) without an obsession for the material accouterments of a wedding, and they likely felt shy about signing a letter with "hugs and kisses."
So, does it follow that these letters are one big yawn-fest? In some ways, yes. They're not exciting and they certainly don't tell the story of two sparkling personalities doing really interesting things together, or alone as individuals. Rather, they speak of the reality of hard physical work that characterized life during those times, as well as an intense longing for companionship and company during the evenings and on the weekends. (My great-grandparents were physically separated from one another during their engagement - and after they were married - by virtue of the fact that my great-grandfather worked in various iron mines throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.) Today we have cell phones, Facebook, and email. Back then, all they had was the mailman to keep them connected and entertained.
What follows on this blog is really just a tribute to the simple man and the simple woman of a by-gone era. Neither Cecilia or Albert became famous; neither wrote any great book or play, ran a successful business, or did anything in their life that is overtly memorable for any reason. Still, is not the history of the world made up of millions upon millions of similar common men and women? Is not even the simplest of love stories worthy of pause?