Years ago when I was feeling down about the end of a relationship, my mother decided to present me with something that she thought would pull me out of my funk. It was a box of love letters between my maternal grandparents Abraham and Mollie from the 1920s, who both unfortunately passed away long before I was born.
My grandfather was a salesman with a territory that spanned through upstate New York requiring him to travel often; letters were how he kept in touch. I took my time reading through all the letters, the way you want to savor a book you’ve fallen in love with, dreading the last page. I didn’t want it to be over. I knew I would re-read them but there was something magical about that first look at them, not knowing what was going to happen or what they were going to say and knowing it was all real. The box and its contents is one of my most treasured possessions, pieces of people I never met but who are still important to my life and who I am. And each letter, while a poignant reminder of what love can look like, has also presented some important lessons I try to always carry with me.
The details are important
My grandfather spends some letters intently describing what his hotel room is like, the scenery on the drive or bus ride upstate, and what makes each town he visits special. It’s obvious that he misses Mollie and by creating images for her in his letters of where he is and what he’s doing, it’s the closest he can get to sharing time with her even when they’re not physically together.
Sometimes just asking shows that you care
Granted he’s not getting the answers immediately, but he asks if she’s feeling better after she wrote that she wasn’t well for a few days. He inquires about her parents and friends and how everyone is doing and wishes them all well. He asks her to tell him how her day has been and that he hopes it’s been wonderful. I can only assume he was hoping she’d send letters back as descriptive as the ones he sent her (which she did).
It’s important to tell people how much you care about them
Not one letter goes by without Abe proclaiming how much he cares for Mollie, how deeply he missed her while away, and how he couldn’t wait to get back to her. And she in return. He often mentions that he wishes she was with him so she could see the things he was seeing and they could experience it together. He ends almost every letter by saying “I’ll close with love” and referring to her as darling or sweetheart, or my favorite “little one.” (Mollie was barely five foot two in height which spawned the nickname).
True love means learnings how to be apart as well as together
Even in the midst of eloquently telling Mollie that he was lonely without her, he tells her to go out dancing with her friends and have fun while he’s gone. She writes to him about enjoying time with her friends and dropping in on his parents for dinner, but that she hopes business is going extremely well while she waits for him to come back home.
It’s okay to fight (but still communicate!)
There’s a couple of letters that show how Abe must have left a hotel before Mollie’s letter arrived and they both thought the other hadn’t written in a week and they have a small spat and then apologize to each other. In a time where there was no immediate communication like we have now, it must have been torture waiting to hear from someone and not knowing where you stood. Nowadays we panic if someone doesn’t text back within minutes! But couples are always going to have arguments here and there, the important thing to do is not be above talking it out and apologizing if necessary.
I know these letters are more than ninety years old but reading them does make it seem like the foundation of strong love and lessons derived really can transcend the times in which it’s experienced. That it’s all as simple as caring about someone and making a commitment no matter what the circumstances. And when the circumstances aren’t ideal, you can still make the decision that you want to try and make it work.
[All images courtesy author]