Love Letters In My Backyard

Love Letters In My Backyard

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.

A Few Good Things

A Few Good Things

As a kid, I remember thinking of Christmas as a mile-marker. I would look back over how much had changed from one year to the next. In high school, I’m sure I wondered if the next Christmas I would have a boyfriend. (Spoiler alert: I did not.) Or the year I went from not being able to drive (legally) to driving on my own. Then a couple of years later, I went from living at home to my first year in college. There were sad reflections too. The Christmas we spent with my aunt, knowing it would be her last. A couple of years before that, we gathered around my grandpa’s bed for his final Christmas—he passed away a couple of months after the new year. The following Christmases felt different. It wasn’t that it just felt like something was missing. Someone really was. 

As an adult, I see Christmas mainly through the eyes of my kids. Last year, Rhett and Allie were 5 and 3 and they were both old enough to be excited about Christmas. Their eyes sparkled with the magic and lights, the wonder of what would be under the tree on Christmas morning. I never even brought up Santa, they remembered from the past year. Last Christmas, my belly had the hint of a baby bump—and we didn’t know if the growing baby was a boy or a girl. The overwhelming feeling of adding a third baby to the family was slowly wearing off, and finally, my appetite was back to normal—my days of nausea behind me. We celebrated with my family in Wyoming, with yet another empty space on Christmas Day—my cousin had passed away two months before Christmas. 

This year, I know many people around the world will have empty places around their Christmas trees and tables. Maybe because someone passed away since last December, or maybe because they aren’t gathering together this year.

As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but wonder what Christmas 2021 will look like. Will masks be something we are talking about in the present tense or a thing of the past? (Let’s hope.) Will Rhett and Allie still believe in Santa? How many words will Nora be able to speak? I pray my family will still have the same people around the tree, even if we aren’t celebrating together. 

Even though this Christmas won’t look like year’s past, I know from experience that no Christmas looks the same as the year before. There is always good and hard. But I believe both can exist together. 

//

These are the good things I want to remember about 2020. 

In January we remodeled our kitchen that was stuck in 1955—and it’s beautiful. I’m grateful for it every day, and haven’t once missed the orange carpet.

Nora was born on May 21st in an exciting roadside delivery. Adding a new baby to our family is at the top of my “Good List” for 2020. I don’t take it for granted what a blessing a new baby is—one wished and prayed for by many.

Rich turned 40! I don’t know if he would consider it a part of the “good list.” But I’m reminded every year that growing older is a gift that’s not afforded to everyone. 

A few weeks before his birthday, we celebrated with friends. We rented a cabin on the river and the guys fished and the girls got pedicures. We ate good food, watched The Office, had cake, and relaxed.

We had another successful and safe harvest. I also survived my first summer and harvest season as a mom of three. I spent most of harvest cooking meals, with one half day spent driving a combine (with a three-month old in tow).

I kept the flowers in my garden boxes alive all summer—which is truly a miracle. 

Rhett started kindergarten in August and can go in-person. We’re thankful for his teachers and the school for making it possible in this crazy year.

 This year I was especially thankful to live in a rural area. With hundreds of acres surrounding us, the kids were able to run, play, and farm with dad, and life went on (mostly) as normal for them.

Rhett is learning to read and write and wrote me this note last week. 

“Rhett loves mom”

Allie started taking dance class once a week this fall and loves it. Since Rhett started school, there is a lot of talk at home about his teacher and class and learning, and Allie loves having her own teacher and class. She taught herself to write her name and is excited to be in school next year.

In October, Nora was baptized in the church I grew up in. When the pastor was pouring the water on her head (in the silent church) she had a huge blowout in her diaper. Rich remained calm under pressure and held onto her bottom to keep everything in place. He held it together long enough to finish the baptism and get a few family photos. Afterward, my mom admitted that at first she thought it was my sister passing gas and was worried she was getting sick. My sister was slightly offended.

Rich and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary in September. We spent the weekend before with the kids (on our first trip as a family of five) in Glacier National Park. We ate Chinese take-out and enjoyed the absolute beauty that is Glacier. On our actual anniversary, I baked a cake. Mostly because I like to eat cake. 

Nora cannot wait to be on the move to keep up with her siblings. She thinks their crazy antics are hilarious. She just turned seven months old and her two bottom teeth came in at the same time. She is so happy and always has a smile on her face. Allie and I often say how much “we want to eat her!” Rich still finds this disturbing, but has come to terms with it three babies in.

Above all else, one thing remains the same—the true meaning of Christmas. We will be celebrating the birth of our Savior—and that is something great.

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

The hot water pours down my back, steam surrounding me. “Babe. There’s something I need to tell you,” I say through the fog. 

I turn my head toward the bedroom, his outline is faint through the dingy hotel shower curtain. 

“Okay,” he slowly replies. 

“Nevermind,” I say. Butterflies feel like they are going to jump out of my throat. 

I hear the bed creak as he sits up, followed by the sound of him placing his phone on the nightstand. 

“You can’t start something like that and not finish,” he says. 

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s true, so I don’t know if I should tell you,” I reply. 

“Just tell me.”

I pause, wishing the water pressure matched the pounding of my heart. I let the water continue to run down my back, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Stacy. You’re making me nervous. What is it?” his voice rising. 

I take a deep breath. 

“I might be pregnant,” I breathe out. 

The silence that fills the room is deafening.

“I haven’t taken a test yet, but I’m a few days late . . .” I say. 

I shut the shower off, then move the curtain to the side—the curtain rings rattling overhead. Despite the clanging from the bathroom fan, it’s clearly not working—my shape is barely visible in the mirror above the sink. After grabbing a crisp white towel from the rack, I begin to dry myself. I reach up and wipe the condensation from the mirror, taking a look at myself for the first time since I’ve said the words I’ve been carrying out loud.

Tightening the towel around my chest, I walk to my suitcase perched on the table by the floor to ceiling windows. I begin to get dressed and look down the 20 floors to the busy street below. My mind flashes back to the last eight months of negative pregnancy tests, coupled with my knee surgery that forced us to postpone trying for three months. The past two months I didn’t even bother with the ovulation sticks. Despite them saying I was ovulating for the last year—the negative pregnancy tests outweighed their positives.

He leans his head against the headboard. “Should we go and get a pregnancy test?”

“I’m sure there’s a store around here somewhere,” I say, grabbing my phone from the table. “Looks like there’s a Target a few blocks down the street.”

We chat for a few minutes, a mixture of excitement and nerves fill the hotel room. I picture our two kids at home on the farm with their grandparents, feeling like it’s too soon to get excited about a baby. But then picturing a baby with two older kids sends me into a slight panic.

I collapse onto the bed. “I don’t know if I can handle three kids,” I exhale. “I thought I wanted another baby, but now I feel like we waited too long.”

I pause, running my hand across the maroon bedspread. “We can actually travel and leave the kids for a few days.”

He nods his head. “Well, we don’t know anything yet.”

After I’ve dressed and blow-dried my hair, I grab my purse and room key and we head to the elevator. We silently ride down the 20 floors and walk through the lobby. The sounds and smells of Chicago hit me as soon as the revolving door opens. The shock of concrete, people clogging the sidewalk, and traffic is such a contrast to our life at home, it makes me pause. Outside our front door on the farm I’m surrounded by dirt roads, wheat fields, and cattle. For a moment, I’m able to forget about the tiny being that might or might not be growing inside of me. 

We step onto the sidewalk, making sure to stay out of the way of the other pedestrians. I look down at the street, still wet from last night’s downpour. Then I squint my eyes from the sun and glance up at the tall buildings around me.

“Which way?” he asks, grabbing my hand. 

I squeeze his hand with more confidence than I actually feel.

I nod to the left, “This way.”

//

**This essay was written as part of the workshop, “Reading Well, Writing Well.” The assignment was to focus on writing dialogue.**