Love Letters - by Linda Pischke
(This is a true story written for "Good Old Days Magazine." It appeared in the April 2002 issue.)
Aunt Pauline's frail heart came to a stop in the middle of her morning prayers. Her confirmation Bible slid to the floor, its worn pages fluttering as it came to rest beside her feet, and the cherry-wood rocker in which she had been comforted as a child was suddenly very still. Pauline Barth-Priem had lived everyone of her 82 years in the old house on Elm Street.
Moments after her death, the back door opened and my Uncle Willie struggled up the steps to the summer kitchen, leaning hard against the handrail for support. In his left hand he carried a bucket of tomatoes, the first of the season.
Bill, as she called him, hung his wool cap on the hook by the door, unlaced his high-top shoes and stepped out of them before entering the main part of the house. "Yoo-hoo, Dearie. Look what I found in the garden." Willie set the ripe fruit on the drainboard, washed and dried his hands and shuffled into the parlor.
"You sleepin', Dearie?" he whispered. "Looks like you dropped your Bible."
He stooped to pick it up, turned suddenly and looked into Pauline's face. His right hand cupped behind his ear. He strained to hear the familiar sound of her snore. Only silence. Willie lifted her hand and and shook it slightly. It lay limp.
"Dearie, oh my little Dearie..." Bill collapsed onto the footstool beside her rocker and wept.
That evening, my parents were summoned. My mother, Gladys, was Pauline's only living relative. By noon the next day, she and my father had arrived in Indiana to help Willie with the funeral arrangements.
Gladys, I'd be beholdin' if you and Jack would stay a few days to help me get things settled," Willie said to my mother after the services. "I'm not much good deciding what to do with women's things. Keep what you want and give the rest to the mission folks."
The day after the funeral, Mother set to cleaning. The great walnut dresser in Pauline's bedroom held corsets and cotton stockings, handkerchiefs with finely tatted lace edges, winter scarves and long knitted under-drawers. She took house dresses and flowered Sunday frocks from the wardrobe, removed them from their hangers and tossed them onto the patchwork quilt that covered the four-poster bed.
Dad got on his hands and knees to empty the closet floor. He brought out leather dress shoes with thick heels and black laces, three round hatboxes, two handbags and a sewing basket.
"Is that all of it?" my mother asked, wiping the back her hand across her forehead.
"Not quite," Dad stood up and handed an old candy box to Willie.
"I don't recall seeing this before," Willie said as he turned the parcel over. Faded pink ribbon was wrapped twice around the box and tied in a bow. Under the ribbon, scrawled on blue stationery, were the words, "Private. Keep Out!"
"Well, I'll be doggoned." He scratched his chin and handed it back to Jack. "I'm not sure I can open it..." Willie's voice quivered. "Seems like Pauline kept some sort of secret." He cleared his throat. "I got to respect that."
After a short discussion, it was decided that Jack should open the box. Willie would wait in the parlor. If the candy box contained private information, something Pauline intended to keep from her Bill, Jack would burn the contents and never speak of it again.
Willie entered the parlor and eased himself into the empty rocker. A frown crossed his wrinkled brow. Never in 51 years had he imagined a secret between him and his beloved Dearie. What could it be? He lowered his head into his hands and waited.
Sounds of laughter broke the silence. Mother hurried to the parlor, giggling. "Come here, Willie. We have something to show you. It seems Pauline had a secret after all - one she intended to keep...from her mother!"
The contents of the candy box lay exposed on the table. There were letters, 31 of them...passionate love letters, all postmarked Elkhart, Indiana, 1925. All were addressed to Miss Pauline Barth.
And all of them began with the words, "My Dearie...."
Reprinted by permission from April 2002 issue of Good Old Days, DRG Publishing, Berne, IN 46711. All rights reserved.