I don't believe I ever wrote my wife a letter. And I don't believe I ever received one from her. In the more than 46 wonderful years we spent together, I can't remember either of us sitting down and putting our thoughts on paper. That seems strange to me now that I have realized it, nearly two years after her death.
The other day I pounded out "Love Letters" on the piano. I still enjoy the song, which came out in 1945, and which I often played, among others, while my wife put the finishing touches on dinner. Many times she whistled right along as I thumped my way through the old tune. It tells the story of a lonely person who is comforted by the words of a distant lover in a letter that came "straight from your heart."
I realize now that, during all our years together, from our first date on, we were never apart long enough to need a letter. Even though I was on the road for a number of years as a salesman for U.S. Steel, I was never away more than five days except for two 12-day trips to the West Coast. On any of those brief separations, phone calls were enough to keep us in touch. I don't remember even contemplating writing to her and I don't imagine she ever thought about writing to me.
Certainly, there were notes to each other--thoughtful little greetings, even an occasional rhyme on cards that came on birthdays, Valentine's Day and with gifts. For some reason, early on I began to address any cards to her with her given name, Marion, in the middle and four pet names around it in a circle. That became a tradition with us and she signed cards to me in same way: her name surrounded by "Mar," "Lucy," "Petunia," and "Marigold." One or two of those nicknames may have changed but most were constant all our lives.
What bothers me now is that I don't have anything tangible to look at. Yes, of course, I have pictures--photos, slides, even a couple of collections of slides on videocassettes. And, yes, it is heartwarming to see her and our family as it was and as it grew through all the stages of our lives. We were lucky enough to explore many fascinating parts of the world as a couple and with our two sons as they were growing up. The memories that pictures and souvenirs produce are marvelous, and I wouldn't part with them, but what I don't have, in black or blue on white, are her thoughts.
We had no secrets from each other, at least none that I know of or even suspect. We were close from that first date: a dinner during which she ate heartily but told me she "didn't like to eat," a remark that we laughed about all the rest of our days together; and a show, a musical, which I later discovered was her favorite form of entertainment and which I had stumbled upon by pure chance. I never so much as looked at anyone else as a soulmate after that. I never wanted to, or needed to, in all those years.
But what I don't have is a letter from her in her handwriting--on her stationery-- from her heart to mine. I regret she never had one from me and I wonder if she ever wanted one, or ever missed having a little bit of the real me to hold on to. A letter can be that.
There is not much that is more personal than a letter, particularly a love letter. No card, no poem, no gift is as intimate as a letter. I'm sorry now that I never wrote to her, even if it would have been in my nearly indecipherable handwriting. I probably shouldn't feel this way--there never really was a need, and who thinks ahead to what might happen? I know that what I'm sorry about is that I don't have a letter from her, in her bold, beautiful script, to read and reread.
What I'm trying to say is that our lives have changed. That special something in a personal letter has disappeared with the advent of telephones, airplanes and now e-mail--which is impersonal and limited by the lack of what I shall call "personal ambience."
I've come across a few books in the last few years that have included the letters of many American presidents and statesmen--and in some cases even photographs of their handwriting. What a wonderful way to bring these men to life and humanize our country's history a bit.
That thought brings me back to my original realization: that no matter how close my wife and I were, no matter how much we loved each other, and no matter how many heartwarming memories I have of our togetherness, I don't have any tangible record of her heart speaking to mine. And how I wish I did.