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“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.”

"This is not a letter . . . "

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 parents, James and Annie Laura Whitfield

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.

'Open thine heart and write."

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.

words, like lovers, entwined on a bed of paper

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.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful.

    July 9, 2011
  2. This is a lovely post Laura and great to see letter writing hasn’t been totally forgotten! You’ve inspired me to respond in kind ….

    July 9, 2011
  3. What a beautiful story. Amazing how fate works isn’t it? 🙂
    I am also holding out for something so wonderful.

    July 9, 2011
    • Thanks, Jen, this one’s been stirring in me for quite some time. Today was the day to put it on paper.

      I love getting your photos in my inbox each day! It keeps me guessing–I never know what object you’re going to capture next! Still need to comment on your Paris post. sigh. So beautiful and moving, it needs more than a casual nod. Thanks again, Jen. You’re the best!

      July 9, 2011
  4. What a beautiful blog piece (and gorgeous pictures). It struck a chord with me as my husband and I fell in love through letter writing 25 years ago. It sounds hopelessly old-fashioned now but it was lovely. I looked forward to his letters very much!

    July 11, 2011
    • Thanks for sharing. So glad you found your love through letters. I have a friend who still writes me beautiful handwritten notes. It truly is an art. And a gift.

      July 11, 2011
  5. Miles, thank you so much for including me in your post! I have actually read this letter before and was amazed at the deep and tender sentiments it held–thanks for sharing. Laura

    July 9, 2011

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