It was one of those very possessions that was the source of my apprehension that particular evening. The item, a collection of letters, had held a certain power over me for the better part of the previous year. These were the love letters, dated 1913, that I had uncovered beneath the rotted floorboards in our general store. Once my eyes deciphered that unbelievable phrase "chew this up and swallow it if necessary", I was forever hooked. Every free moment was spent pouring over the pages, physically piecing together the decaying fragments of paper while simultaneously unraveling a love story for the ages. The letters demanded my every thought, my every waking hour, and even a few of my subconscious dreams. My intrigue consumed me to such a point that finally late one night, exhausted and overwhelmed, I stashed them in the trunk and vowed to not think of them again...at least for a few months. I needed time to recover, to emerge from the ebb & sway of the Ozarks of the 19-teens, and to reacquaint myself with the hustle & bustle of the Ozarks in the 21st century.
My plan worked. I had managed to merge back into reality fairly quickly, and I kept my mind off the letters for the remainder of the year. I hadn't opened the trunk in over six months, but now with my mind refreshed, my heart was telling me it was time to once again give in to the lure. And I was nervous. I knew the challenge before me was next to impossible. Deciphering the love story that had all but faded into history except for the glimpse remaining on those disintegrating yellowed pages would not be an easy task. Yet my curiosity demanded that I try. I nodded my head in silent resolve, squared my shoulders, and slowly flipped open the latches.
"Dear Sweetheart, I love you just as much as ever and I don't consider it time wasted...I picked a beautiful red rose this morning, I wish I could have given it to you but some other fella who called got it. I know you are very busy, but don't forget me. You'll never be sorry if you can only love me enough. Now for goodness sake, don't lose this! Chew it up and swallow it if necessary, then you won't need anymore tobacco..."
Oh, how I'd missed her! This young school teacher so desperately in love with her older, unattainable beau. In her beautiful penmanship she pours out her heart to him, she chastises him, she longs for him, and she peppers it all with her sharp wit. There several letters in the bundle, and each one gives me a deeper look into her life, her surroundings, and her world. It is a fragmented but fascinating read, and even though I never knew her, her words fuel my imagination like the coal that fueled the train she eventually rode west. Without a doubt, it's one of the most intriguing voyages I've ever been on.
To be continued...
P.S. In case you're curious, here's the original post:
February 4, 2014
The rotted floorboards crumbled in my hands, the pieces falling through the hole we had created, past the now exposed support beam that was holding up the floor, and into the darkness of the basement below. My husband and I were working on our renovation project, an old general store building, and had decided to tackle tearing out the water damaged areas of the floor. It was getting messy. I reached through the gaping hole in what was left of the floor to scoop off the debris that had piled up on the support beam. I grabbed a handful of splinters and started to toss them on down, but something caught my eye. It looked like old paper, and the handwriting on it, though faded, was beautiful. I brought it closer for a better look, and in the dim light I read "We can't be too careful. Chew this up and swallow it if necessary..." My heart jumped. All work was forgotten. I knelt there on the beam and slowly, carefully unfolded what turned out to be honest-to-goodness secret love letters. Dated 1913. From a young school teacher to an older man. She never mentions her name, or his either. But she doesn't hold back her adoration, her longing, and sometimes her frustration with him. She is feisty, funny, and flirty, and I see why he liked her. I have yet to piece together their story, but from what I've read so far, it's an epic one. And even though it happened over a hundred years ago, it's only beginning for me.