The courtship between my grandparents took place largely in letters. An old-fashioned, romantic notion for those of us who live in the modern information age of technology. Most of our interpersonal communication is electronic. Cell phones, email and text messages were conventions barely known to my grandparents. Their social media consisted of stationary, a fountain pen and a two cent postage stamp. For nearly four years, from 1929 to 1933, Mary Potter and Jim Kunkler wrote letters to one another every day when they were not together. Sometimes twice a day.
Some years ago my mother happened upon a bundle of letters while cleaning out the basement of my grandparents’ home in Ohio. It wasn’t surprising. My grandmother was a saver. She kept everything. We found trunks filled with all kinds of stuff like World War II ration stamps, old baseball game programs and powder puffs still in their original packaging. Newspaper clippings with names of people she knew were tucked within the trunks of items for someday use or reference. The bundle of letters, though, were a valuable find, a true keepsake. Further sifting and sorting. More letter bundles were discovered. My mother had uncovered virtually all of the letters my grandparents’ wrote to one another during their courtship, along with some additional assorted correspondence.
My mother boxed up the letters and gave them to me for safe keeping. She also urged me to “do something with them someday.” I put them in the attic.
Someday came a few weeks ago when I realized that this treasure might be too easily lost forever like a deleted email. This cherished piece of family history, the story of Mary and Jim and their letter writing courtship needed to be shared with my children and preserved for future generations. Now was the time to do something about the letters.
So, I climbed up in the attic and began to rummage around the cardboard boxes and plastic bins. Our attic is a repository for cardboard boxes and plastic bins. We have a varied and extensive collection of cartons from such moving companies as Mayflower, United Van Lines and U-Haul as well as numerous shapes and sizes of Rubbermaid containers. (I guess I must be a little like my grandmother.) Finding the box with the letters was going to be a challenge. After an hour of searching and almost giving up that they were gone, I found the box. Behind the Christmas decorations, next to our daughter’s American Girl Collection and underneath a box with my high school yearbooks and memorabilia was the box of letters.
This correspondence has been read by only two people. Until now. As I read these personal letters, my twenty-something grandparents are both well known and strangers to me at the same time. The letters are like reading a conversation between two people that loved each other and that I happen to love, too. I just didn’t know them then. Strange but not fiction. How I wish they were still here to ask about the friends they mention and the funny anecdotes they record! Still, like any great mystery or adventure, there are clues to be explored to point me in the right direction that somehow will lead me to understand, just maybe, a little more about them. And perhaps myself in the process.