It was a gray spring day; the buds on the trees were just starting to bloom. I walked across the kitchen floor, and my bare feet slid across the carpet. Looking out the window, the reflection from the windows on the old house nearby caught my attention. The house was the original home on our property, and it sat not too far from my farmhouse. It had been abandoned for many years, and I’d been curious about what was inside. After putting on my shoes and jacket, I headed outside and toward the dilapidated house. Not sure what I was going to find, I cautiously made my way through the front door. I stepped over old furniture and debris and wandered through the first floor. After I had walked through the downstairs, I eased my way up the narrow, creaking stairs and glanced around. My heart started pounding, expecting anything, something to jump out at any turn. “I think you watched too many scary movies as a teenager,” I whispered to myself. At first, I only saw dusty, broken furniture and papers strewn about. But when I was about to turn around and go home, I found a stack of letters in an upstairs bedroom.
Guilt bubbled up in my stomach as I picked the letters up. I glanced over my shoulder, feeling like at any moment I would be caught red-handed with envelopes not addressed to me. But, I brushed the guilt aside and gently slid the worn paper from one of the envelopes.
They were love letters from the previous owners of our home, in the days when postage was only three cents. The wife grew up in this old house, and then when she married, they built a home (where I live) within walking distance of her childhood home.
I was excited about my find, and I looked around to see if there were more, but didn’t have any luck. With the envelopes clutched in my hand, I headed home, and pulled my coat up around my ears from the brisk breeze.
I placed the stack of letters on my kitchen table and carefully opened them one at a time—not wanting to lose track of which envelope each went in.
Piecing together the letters’ order by their postmark, I put together a fractured timeline of their courtship. The letters were from 1938, when she would have been 26 years old. “My dearest Buff,” the letters began on weathered paper, his black ink faded with time. I imagined hearing his ink pen scratching along the thick paper. Did he write the letters from his kitchen table? Or at a desk in the evening after work? His words were lined up neatly across the unlined pages. It looked like he took his time, taking care with each word.
After reading each letter, I placed them back in their envelopes. I wished I had the letters she had sent back to him in return. What did she say? Were her letters as neat and thought out? Did she scribble out a reply in neat penmanship, maybe in the late evenings by a lamp in the kitchen?
I knew they married and had two children, and in 1955 they built the house we now call home. But I wondered what she was like as a young wife, having been married only a few months myself.
A few days later, I went back to the old house, hoping to find the letters she had written to him. I knew it was a long shot, but I wanted to read her replies. I poked around in the old house but nothing turned up. I would never know if she had a nickname for him or if it was only he who had a special name for her.
I’ve always loved historical fiction. When I stepped into that old house, finding the letters felt like walking into a real-life book. Often, that time period is romanticized, and maybe that’s part of the appeal. I want to know: how they lived and how they loved.
When Rich and I first started dating, we didn’t exchange letters, but there were hundreds of text messages. And sometimes he wrote me short Post-It notes and left them for me to find. Times have changed in the last 60 years, where a letter cost three cents and took days, maybe weeks, to be received. Now, texting makes communication instant.
These letters reminded me that living on this land is a love letter in itself. The long hours and sometimes back-breaking work isn’t done because we want to become rich. Farmers and ranchers do it for the love of the land.
My kids won’t find old love letters lying around between their parents. But I hope they can see our love written in the fields, in this house, and the time we spend together—cultivating their hearts, alongside the land.