My dad wrote his first love letter in 1942. As a Purdue engineering student at the time, he came to Richmond, Indiana, with a fraternity brother to celebrate Thanksgiving because he was short of cash for the train home to Pittsburgh. While in Richmond he had a blind date with my mom. “She was the smartest woman I ever met,” he once told me. “She was never uppity—and there was this light in those blue eyes.” He began hitch-hiking to Richmond regularly.
My dad wooed mom with Frank Sinatra music. In the coming years, he wrote a couple dozen love letters. I know because my mother admitted to me they were hidden in the nightstand by their bed. “He was no Romeo; he was an engineer,” my mom explained. “But his love letters showed me that he had a beautiful heart.” I wanted to read the letters.
When dad graduated, they married and my mother followed him to Southbend, where my brother Les was born, and to Hartford, where I was born, and then back to Southbend where Charley was born, and eventually onward to Indianapolis, where we grew up in a suburb south of the city. In Indianapolis my dad helped design the first jet engine parts, and my mother undertook caring for our home and grew prize-winning roses. Once she told me, “I missed my home in the early years of our marriage. Sometimes, I cried,” she admitted, “But your dad would hold me, and it was okay. Then we made our own home. Our own family.” She believed this was the most important thing you could do, and she did it well.
While she discouraged me from thinking I would grow up to be a homemaker, she embraced being one. I have endless images in my head of her hanging the laundry outside, scrubbing the kitchen floors, and sewing our clothes on her Singer Sewing machine. She hummed as she did her chores. Frank Sinatra tunes.
At noon each day my dad called my mom to check on the stock-market, but as I recall it now, he was really checking on mom. Telling a joke. Perhaps flirting with her. Since he was once was mistaken for Frank Sinatra, he would often insist he was the famed actor calling. Many afternoons after the school bus dropped me off, I would run up the hill, hoping for the smell of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies—my dad’s favorite. At four each afternoon my mother prepared a meatloaf or a casserole and then she took a bath and put on fresh clothes. When my dad pushed through the door with his briefcase, my mom always seemed to light up the room. Then there was a long, warm embrace. Every day.
My parents must have fought, but I only have images of them yelling at my brothers or me for bringing the neighbor’s dog in the house or forgetting to ask when we stayed late at school. When there was a disagreement brewing, dad had a tried and true line to spout, “No one can argue with a man who looks like Frank Sinatra.”
My dad met my mom on what he called “the luckiest day of my life.” They shared 72 years together, and during that time I took their love for granted, but I never doubted it. Only now do I realize my great fortune. When dad died five years ago, I asked my mom if I could read the love letters he wrote to her. She looked a little sad. “Your dad asked me to burn them a few years ago. At this moment, I am sorry I did.”
I would love to have those love letters. But at least I still hold in me the beauty of their story. Now my parents share a niche in a lovely church garden. I visit them from time to time to honor what they gave me and what they shared, a love that seems to have transcended time. This is my legacy of love. An incredibly fortune one.
What is your legacy of love? Often we have to reach beyond the boundaries of family and even our losses to find them. A sibling who has passed? A mentor? A friendship? A lover? A pet? What is your legacy of love?
The Science of Love Letters
According to Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg, love is composed of three basic components–
Which element matters the most when you are writing a love letter or declaring your love to another? While an ideal love needs all three, one study showed we prefer commitment above all else. It would a good idea to sign love letters with “Forever Yours” or “Love Always!”