The rain fell softly as I curled up in front of my brother’s bedroom dresser and slowly opened the bottom drawer.
I was alone. My mom was down the street playing bridge with Mrs. Abbot, Mrs. Demmel, and Mrs. Poling. I could hear brother Chuck and his friend Ricky shouting at each other in the backyard as they enacted their own version of cops and robbers. Even at just 10 years old, I held onto these rare times of privacy like a drowning girl holding onto a life raft. I couldn’t articulate the need for time alone yet, but I certainly could relish it.
My skin prickled with anticipation and satisfaction. I stopped suddenly. A noise – something banging on the floor.
Oh, just the dog scratching an itch.
After opening the drawer as far as I could without its heavy weight falling on my legs, I pushed aside some winter sweaters and crawled my hands into the nest of wool, eyes unseeing, feeling for my secret pleasure. Yes, they were still there! A few weeks ago I had first discovered them, the old letters, hidden in a place my mom must have believed was safe from prying eyes.
I chuckled as I slipped out one packet of thin envelopes grouped together with a rubber band. This packet contained all the letters postmarked August, 1944. I opened the first one, an entire unknown world – released.
My dad’s love letters to my mother when he was in the war.
“The war” in my childhood household was WWII. My father had been barely 18 when he was shipped overseas. My mom lived with her parents, commuted to New York City for her job as a secretary, living for the time when she could race back home on the early evening train to see if another letter had arrived.
Most of these letters were from France, some from Germany. They said little about the war or my father’s life as a paratrooper, which was the boring stuff in my 10-year-old mind anyway. What I was most interested in, most astonished at, was the way my dad wrote about his love.
He described the times he and my mom kissed on the couch after my grandparents went to bed. About how he longed for her. How he missed her. How he couldn’t wait to get home to her. Almost every letter said the same thing. Sometimes he’d mention the atrocious food he and his ‘buddies’ ate from a can. Sometimes he complained that he had KP duty again, because he’d come back past the curfew, drunk. Those things surprised me, but I raced right past them, most interested in his romantic words of sexual love and longing.
Later that day, when the whole family sat down for dinner, I’d look across the dining room table at my dad and try to imagine him, writing those love letters.
But I never could.