The couple who lived in the house next door to me when I was growing up owned their home for more than 50 years. Helen and Richard raised their children there and stayed in the house until they passed away in their late 80s. After they left the house, a younger couple moved in and started raising a family of their own.
On a Saturday afternoon while doing repair work on the house, the new owners discovered a stack of love letters behind a loose plank in a bedroom wall. After reading “To my dearest Helen” at the top of one of the letters, they brought them to my mother so that she might be able to pass them along to Helen and Richard’s children.
My mother was delighted by her new neighbor’s discovery, and snuck a peek at the letter at the top of the pile. The letter spoke of being off at war and the uncertainty that existed in every moment. The letter’s author longed to be with Helen again and missed her dearly. Then, my mother looked at the signature, and the name wasn’t Richard’s.
When my mother passed the stack of letters along to Helen and Richard’s eldest son, she carefully chose her words. The son explained to my mother that Helen had been married to a man who died in World War II. She must not have been able to part with the letters from her first husband, and so she hid them behind the secret panel in her bedroom. The son didn’t know if she had meant to leave them or had forgotten about them over time. But, he was glad that she had kept them so that he could learn about a time in his mother’s life that she had rarely mentioned to him while she was alive.
My mother relayed the story to me minutes after Helen and Richard’s son pulled out of her driveway. We agreed that it was a beautiful story, the kind that movie plots or Nicholas Spark novels are based.
I scan most of the letters and cards I receive from family and friends and keep them only in digital format, but I have never been able to scan and toss the love letters my husband has given to me. They’re currently wrapped with a ribbon and kept in a bureau drawer. The irony is that if my house were ever destroyed, I’d have a backup copy of all of my other correspondence but lose the precious love letters from my husband.
I don’t think after hearing this story from my mother that I will ever be able to toss the love letters from my husband, even if I scan them first. Instead, I’m going to preserve the letters the best way I can:
- Scan the letters. In worst case scenario circumstances, a scan is better than nothing.
- Lightly dust the letters with a clean, dry cloth.
- Order the letters by date.
- Insert the letters into archival 8.5 x 11 pocket. The sleeves will help to protect the letters from deterioration.
- Store pages in an archival box:
The hidden panel in the bedroom is a romantic gesture, but if I’m going to keep the letters I would rather them be as protected as possible. If you have shunned our advice in the past to scan correspondence, you might want to consider the process I’ve just described as an alternative. I really like the idea of my children being able to see the love letters my husband shared with me.