“Mail, it was called mail . . . “
A scene from “You’ve Got Mail”:
Schuyler Fox: “Cecilia Kelly, lovely woman, I think we might have had a date once . . . maybe we just exchanged letters.”
Joe Fox: ” You wrote her letters?”
Schuyler Fox: “Mail, it was called mail.
Nelson Fox: “Stamps. Envelopes.”
Joe Fox: “You know, I’ve heard of it.”
Schuyler Fox: “Cecilia had beautiful penmanship. She was too young for me, but she was . . . enchanting.”
Today people fall in love through email. Or Twitter.
My parents fell in love through the mail.
That is the way the story was told to me. Now both my parents are gone and I only have one aunt who could verify the facts. But I choose to tell the version I remember (as told by my mother) to my children and to those who will listen . . . so here goes.
My parents attended the same college back in the early 1940s. Now East Carolina University (Greenville, NC), it was then affectionally known as “ECTC” (East Carolina Teacher’s College). But their story did not begin there.
It began with humble beginnings.
My mother, Annie Laura, was the daughter of a tobacco farmer in eastern North Carolina. The oldest of six siblings and called “Sister”, she took charge of the household whenever my grandmother was pregnant had to go on bed rest for weeks at a time. She was a strong, capable, and beautiful woman.
My father grew up in a tiny two-bedroom dwelling in “Little Washington” (NC). His father was a carpenter, his mother a homemaker. My father sold apples on the street corner and delivered newspapers to finance his college education.
He excelled in high school and when he finally arrived at ECTC, he made his mark: News Editor & head writer for the Greenville daily. Correspondent for the Raleigh N&O, the Norfolk Times and United Press. Assistant Editor of the college newspaper. Student radio program director. Vice President of the YMCA. And Founder & President of the Young Democrats Club.
The BMOC (Big Man on Campus).
As my mother told it, he was “out of her league”. She would watch him from her dorm room, sauntering across campus, chatting it up with a young co-ed, rushing off to class.
And then the war broke out and my father was drafted. He left the comfort of college, enlisted in the Army, and was sent to South America to protect the Panama Canal.
One of the skills my mother learned on the farm was sewing. She belonged to a “sewing circle” and she and her friends decided they would take part in the war effort and write letters to servicemen.
My mother drew my father’s name. And that is when it all began.
Their three years of writing letters. Of forming a friendship. And, with time, a deeper connection. Of falling in love (through letters). And of my father proposing, and my mother accepting, via paper and ink.
My mother had beautiful penmanship, not unlike Cecilia Kelly’s, I imagine. I can see how my father found her, well . . . enchanting.
My father’s hand is barely legible. And yet his words are some of the most romantic, and tender, I have ever read.
My youngest daughter, Annie, chose to make an altered book of my parents’ letters for an art project when she was at VCU Arts. In her words: “This is a true love story, told through letters.” And so it is.
Thank you, Annie, for these beautiful images. You can follow Annie on Twitter @skyspaintedblue.