My father’s parents were married for seventy years—they met at a roller rink when my grandmother was fifteen, my grandfather twenty-two. She was seventeen when she married him, and together they had five children (my dad being the youngest), many homes, and of course, many memories. Looking through old pictures of them, they were classically beautiful—the kind of authenticity that Hollywood tries so hard to create in post-Depression era flashback montages.
I thought that love letters were a myth, something that only existed in fiction, in the form of Nicholas Sparks movies, and if lucky enough in reality, vintage shops. Within the loops of cursive contain passionate confessions and observations, and despite their antiquity they still capture the youthful spark of the person who wrote them. Alas, the myth of love letters was debunked for me last month in the living room of my paternal grandparents’ house in Camden County, Georgia, the day of my granddaddy’s funeral. I read three letters that my granddaddy wrote to my grandmother before they were married. They were poignant and funny, and a little sassy at times. The stationery was still in near-mint condition, and despite being written in 1948, the words on the yellowing paper felt so new to me. I could imagine my granddaddy sitting down at a desk or kitchen table drafting these letters. I only knew him as an old man (he was ninety-four when he died, so he was in his seventies when I was born), but seeing this side of him, a young man in love, was so eye-opening to me. He expressed his concerns, his insecurities about whether or not he would hear from my grandmother again, his disappointment at not being able to reach her over the phone. “Who knew he was such a romantic?” My cousin asked as we read through the more affectionate parts of the letters. It then occurred to me that he was a Scorpio.
My cousin and I sat next to each other on the couch giggling while we read the letters—some of my granddaddy’s observations were so simple but they put a smile on my face:
“Guess what? I went to the movie last night. I saw ‘Hills of Home.’ It was O.K. but nothing extra.”
“I suppose it will rain for three or four months now, although I certainly hope not because I don’t like rainy weather. It gives me the blues.”
The few days I spent in Georgia were full of words, ranging from eulogies to pleasantries exchanged between relatives I hadn’t seen in years. The language of loss is expressed in different ways, depending on the person, but a common expression that was shared that week was “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
I’m surprised at how much I’ve learned about love and communicating my feelings this summer. Obviously, love (and courtship in general) is different now than it was in the time of my grandparents. The closest we get to love letters is long text messages, and swiping right is now among the grandest of gestures. With so many things going back to the age of analog, like instant film photography, vinyl appreciation, and even fashion trends—is it unfair to wish that the way we approach love and dating was doing the same in terms of the thoughtfulness that came from that era? From a feminist perspective, women were certainly not as liberated decades ago in their dating life compared to now, so I wouldn’t wish for that part of history to make a comeback.
I was in the passenger seat of Carla’s car last week and she said “I don’t want to date someone just to date them, and a lot of people our age aren’t like that.” But while I get her point, and the two of us are alike in the sense that we don’t like uncertainty, we’re at a point in our lives where unfortunately there are a lot of grey areas. Everything, especially dating, isn’t just black and white. We have very little control over what someone’s intentions are when we first meet them, but then again, how does anyone know what they really want at this age? My mom married my dad when she was twenty-three, which is the age I’ll be turning in November. Three days after she met my dad he gave her a picture of himself with a poem written on the back of it and a key to his apartment—not sure to credit this as Big Cancer or Big Aquarius Energy, but either way, here I am twenty-two years later to tell the tale.
There’s no written rule somewhere that states that dating is what we Millennials have to do with our spare time in our early-to-mid twenties. Yet meeting someone, or being in a relationship is so often treated like a goal in my generation, which isn’t exactly healthy. What I’ve noticed is that so many people my age are scared of their own feelings, especially when they first meet someone. I’m not saying that establishing emotional boundaries isn’t important, but we’re so quick to create so many rules/communication barriers due to past trauma from other relationships and/or out of fear that we’ll come off as the person who “cares more.” It shouldn’t be so complicated, but it is, because everyone’s brains are wired differently. I wish we were braver when it comes to challenging the “what if” scenarios—what if this turns out to be something great, etc. I guess I’m a firm believer in communicating when you want to see someone, or how you feel about them, regardless of how casual or serious the situation is. As a writer, I try to follow the “show don’t tell” rule, but as a person, I’m the opposite.
You’d think as a child of divorce that I’d be cynical, and psychologically deem commitment as unrealistic, but that’s not the case. This is probably going to sound more like an extension of vanity rather than a personal connection, but since getting a glimpse of a part of my grandparents’ past, I’m realizing that maybe the old-fashioned part of me (romantically speaking) comes from my granddaddy. In high school I’d write letters for my boyfriends—not love letters of course, but “like letters” because that’s about as serious as feelings can get as a teenager. I can’t say the same for Romeo and Juliet, though, or their predecessors, Pyramus and Thisbe.
I know it’s been a while since my last post but it’s been difficult coming up with something to write about. I’m afraid of sounding like a broken record—how much more can I write about life as a twentysomething in Cleveland, about writing itself, about love and dating? As it turns out, a lot, but still. Not to say that I’m in a weird period of my life where things feel stagnant, but inspiration has been hard to come by lately. Since I visited the South I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my grandparents’ love letters, and getting to see a part of a love story that was almost three quarters of a century long. 2019 has been a year full of loss for both sides of my family, and a great deal of nostalgia has come out of it. Although I’ve attended more funerals and shed more tears than I wanted to this year, I’ve come out of it as a more passionate, intuitive person. I lost men in my life who grew up in times drastically different from the one I’m living in now, but both men were bold and set in their ways, like I am now. Both of my grandfathers were romantics, and approached most if not all things in life with passion. I want to try and do the same to the best of my abilities.