The written word is a lot more than something that can convey a story or message. It connects people. I will never meet the vast, vast majority of people in this world, but because of something I read I may have a link to them. Blogs alone are excellent examples of the connectedness of strangers. Words build communities, bringing people together across the miles. But they can also bring people together across time.
I never knew my grandfather. Sadly, he passed away years before I was born. My mom told me stories about him. Memories of her sitting on the back of his chair, combing what little hair he had. How the constant ringing of the phone drove him nuts. The time he said “Happy Thankshgiving,” leading to a new family tradition. I know that he bore a slight resemblance to Barney Fife and that this fact made both my mother and I partial to the Andy Griffith Show.
I also know the story of him and my grandmother. I used to lie with my head in her lap, as she played with my hair and told it to me. It was always one of my favorites.
During World War II, he was stationed abroad. Before leaving he went on only one date with my grandmother, who worked in the same New York Life office, but that was apparently enough to have him asking her to wait for him. I guess he wanted to keep the relationship strong because he sent her 225 letters while he was away.
Grandma kept them all, storing them in a simple wooden box. I knew about the letters since I was a kid. Grandma liked talking about what a wonderful writer he was. As much as she valued those letters, she was always ready to let one of us borrow them. She was proud of him and wanted us to be too.
So, in high school, becoming more conscious of both my love of writing and history, I took Grandma up on her offer. Sitting at home, I read every one of his letters. It was like having a front row seat to his brain. His likes and dislikes; the love he had for his mother; the enjoyment he and my grandmother’s brother took in tormenting each other when their paths crossed abroad. Little things – He really liked the song At Last and mentioned a number of times that he wanted to dance with my grandmother to that at their wedding. And bigger things – His outrage that the United States wasn’t showing videos of the destruction found at concentration camps because it was felt that it would be too much for the public.
He returned home in December 1945 and my grandparents married on March 3, 1946 (Saturday would have been their 66th anniversary). Reading those letters, I bore witness to their whole courtship: from “Hello Kay” in 1942 to “Dear Dreamy Eyes” in 1945.
My mom often told my sister and me that she wished my grandfather had gotten the chance to meet us. That he would have loved us. I never had any trouble believing this. He was our grandfather; of course he would love us. It was sort of his job. Reading those letters I got a sense that we would have more than loved each other, we would have liked each other. We would have been friends. I’m sorry that I never got to meet him, but I’m exceedingly grateful to him for putting so much of himself into those letters and to Grandma for guarding them for all those years. Because of them, I got to know him.
And, because of them, I have one more reason to love the written word.