I was about age 10 when I began spending a week or two at a time in the summers at my grandfather’s house in the next town. My grandmother had died a couple years before. My mother and her five sisters had all grown up in that house before they each married and moved away from home. Only the third-born daughter had remained there, never having married. Both she and my widowed grandfather went off to work on a daily basis, leaving me alone in the large six-bedroom house, but that was no problem for an adventurer like me. There were always things within the house to explore, as well as a long sidewalk in back on which to roller skate, and just down the road was my good buddy Hazel, with whom I could always find something fun to do. She had a horse and a barn, both of which provided many hours of fun.
One thing that held my fascination about the large house itself was that there were lots of places for a person my age to snoop, but especially in Irma’s room, there were two drawers of jewelry in separate boxes of their own. I loved to open each one and admire the varied beautiful brooches, pins, bracelets and necklaces she had among her vast collection. Then one day I noticed among her treasures, something in the back of the drawer that I had never noticed before: a pile of letters hand-written to her many years before by a man in the service. World War II would have been on then. Irma had never married or dated as far as we knew, and we cousins wondered if she had ever had a serious romantic relationship. She was certainly a pretty lady and had been all her life, just as her sisters, all of whom, we were told, were admired by all the young man in town. They were known as the beautiful Swedish girls.
Now, here I stood with the letters in my hand, which, as I read, revealed themselves as more than letters of friendship, written by a guy who was obviously in love and missing her greatly. It was regrettable that I couldn’t read what she had written to him, but his letters sounded as though they were very much in love and even often replying to tender things she had written to him. I’m not sure I read them all, or even found them all back then, but it made me wonder how such a sweet relationship could have gone asunder that they weren’t together now.
Like most anyone with a conscience doing something he knows is wrong, I was afraid I’d get caught having read them by not placing them back just right, so I only read them that once. I wondered if he was killed in the war. Perhaps one day I would get to learn the truth, I speculated.
Years passed and I sometimes thought about those letters. They certainly represented many unanswered questions, as Irma went through her entire life alone. What a shame, I thought, that such fondness for each other never reached the fruition of being together. I would probably outlive her and when that time came, I knew the letters would still be in that house somewhere and would be found. My various siblings and cousins had speculated on whether or not she had ever been serious about anyone and I knew that she had. I even wanted to ask her as I got older, but the subject didn’t seem approachable, as she didn’t like to open up about her personal sentimental feelings. I knew she would never have told me anyway.
When she died at age 95, I was among the chief heirs to go through her belongings because of my time availability and proximity. When I got to her room, I did find the stack of old love letters, mailed by the guy in the service. There seemed more than I remembered, but probably just more than what I remembered finding many years before. I set them aside to take home and read at my leisure when I wasn’t surrounded with other things to do, such was the case in that moment of rediscovery, as I was sorting through her estate.
On a leisurely afternoon at home, I opened the first letter with the intention of getting through them all eventually. They were yellowed and crisp with even more age and as I read the first page, it struck me how real the feelings were when they were penned and how timeless they seemed. No matter when something like that is put on paper, it comes from the heart just as much and is just as real, whether it was written long ago or recently. However, after reading the first one I was thinking too, that it was an invasion to which no one should be entitled, because whatever they had should remain between just the two of them as they had intended when they were written and received. That way it would stay totally theirs, just as she obviously wanted it through all the years. Just because someone dies, doesn’t mean those left behind have the right to invade the secret world they guarded so as solely their own. It should always belong to only to them, as was their desire. Who was I to unravel that now and then tell my also curious family? The two of them are entitled to that and the years that have passed are insignificant, for their feelings then were still just as real and worthy of privacy. It struck me that the only way to protect that right for the two of them, was to pack the letters back up and throw them away before anyone else, even me, could see them and crash into that world meant for the two of them only, that they had created for themselves and had wished to protect.
So, leaving them undisturbed, I threw them all in the wastebasket unread, in honor of their wishes and to preserve their well-kept mystery, their loving world and their right. They deserve to exist and live on, just as that in that world captured in their letters, unchanged, even by invaders many decades later. Inside that world at least Irma so coveted and kept so very private, so her own, they can and will always be just where and as they wanted to exist and remain.