In a box, under a blanket, under a bed, lies a neatly ribboned stack of sepia-tinged letters. All addressed, all ready to go, but none posted. Time aged them, but the written words are as strong as they were the day they landed on the pages. Beautiful prose entwined with a range of raw emotions: love, hope, desire. Longing. My second-great-grandfather was not a writer by trade, but his penned words built a foundation for generations to come, making a lasting impression on those who were privileged to read them.
In troubled times, obligated by a sense of duty, he went off to war, leaving behind the woman he loved. Promises of marriage, family, a home. Wait for me, he told her. We’ll make our dreams come true as soon as I come home. He crossed deep, dark waters to a land unknown and unkind. A harsh reality from the protected life he previously knew.
My second-great-grandmother waited, patiently impatient for him to return. She read books and sewed dresses and pruned rose bushes. The thorns pierced the skin between her fingers, and as she watched the blood rolling down her hand and dripping onto the dusty garden dirt, she worried, envisioning my grandfather suffering some kind of evil fate.
As my grandfather watched the blood of his enemies, the blood of his friends, seep into the rain-soaked mud beneath his heavy, muck-ridden boots, he envisioned my grandmother, dressed in white, holding a bouquet of crimson roses.
He wrote letters by the week, hoping they’d make it home. Hoping he would soon follow. He needed to let her know he was ok. Alive. But he kept a growing pile of letters, a secret diary of his innermost thoughts and hopes and wishes and dreams. He addressed them all, just in case. He escaped the shocking truth of what he saw every day by letting his imagination take him home, where he truly wanted to be. A house he had yet to build, a home they had yet to fill.
He promised himself he would give them to her in person one day. If he made it back home, she was the one he would entrust with his whole heart, his deepest, most private thoughts. The biggest show of gratefulness he could think of to give. If he didn’t live, neither would she. This revelation kept him going, kept him focused, every single day.
Blazing, blistering sun in suspiciously empty fields contrasted with warm summer nights on the porch swing. The sound of gunfire and canons tuned out to Irving Berlin on the radio and dancing on toes in the living room. The taste of stale water replaced by fresh lemonade with a drop of honey, lemon wedge on the side, five cents a glass. Lurking enemies in the shadows became a game of hide-and-seek in the tall grasses of the back forty. Wind chimes chiming, breezes blowing, birds singing.
My grandmother sat in the kitchen with the radio on, and all thoughts turned to my grandfather. Heart twisted in knots, wondering if he was ok, picturing what he was seeing. Hearing what he’d be hearing. Despair sat like a lump of coal in her stomach, ever-burning, ever-waiting to light up into flame. Wind chimes turned to rapid-fire. Lemonade changed to muddy water. The willow trees out back became enemy soldiers standing watch in the dark.
The sent letters were guarded, both of them scared to dream aloud of the life they couldn’t touch. But my grandfather’s private, unsent letters laid bare his soul.
When the war was over, the letters finally made it home. But they stayed hidden in a box, under a blanket, under a bed, a time capsule of memories waiting to be made. They remained safely tucked away for more than a decade before they were opened.
Each one carefully unsealed, revealing heartfelt words on paper riddled with the smell of gun smoke, nervous sweat, and tired tears. Every scroll of his pen a wish put on paper.
Each one addressed: To my future daughter.
When she was old enough, she finally got the chance to read them. His words brought deep heartache mixed with joy. The letters blurring the lines between his dreams and her memories, a drop of humbled happiness fell from her eye and splotched the ink on the final words, “Love, Dad.” She may not have understood what his eyes saw in the war, but she understood what drove him to survive. Hope for the future.
A hope that kept him alive. A hope from which she blossomed.
The letters went back under the bed and remained protected for many decades, passed down through generations until they found their way to me. The original author is long gone. Reading them allowed me to get to know a man I never knew in person, but one I owe my existence to. A secret love story between a father and an unborn daughter, his will to live, his way back home from the unimaginable truths he endured. His inner strength enabled him to give these letters to the daughter he didn’t yet have when he wrote them. They were not sent by post, no. But they were sent out into the void, into the Universe, clandestine wishes for a life he wanted so badly to live. Willing it to make them come true. And it listened.
Kathleen Foxx is an emerging multi-genre author from Southern Ontario, Canada. In addition to novels, she enjoys creating literary pieces in micro, flash, and short fiction/nonfiction. She has words in/forthcoming in Paragraph Planet and Glittery Literary. She is active on social media and tweets often @kfoxx_writes.