December 29, 2016

7 Things I Learned from my Grandparents’ College Love Letters.

From 1927 to 1929, my college-aged grandparents went on summertime adventures.

My grandmother went to stay with friends in nearby Hartford, CT, and my grandfather travelled to New Hampshire and Maine.

By serendipity and good timing, I recently came across the letters they wrote during that time. Transcribing them began as a practical decision, but turned into a labor of love.

And, 150 pages later, it was a lot of labor.

Yet it was a transformative experience for me as I relived their early love, saw their personalities in their words, and found my head lost in the 1920s, a time before they knew of the impending Great Depression, where the icy reaches of poverty would claw at them, or World War II, where a madman would seek to kill their relatives because of their religion.

It’s a gift and a privilege to type these letters. I feel that I am serving as a bridge between the generations. Perhaps one day my great nieces and nephews will come across the words in the letters and find the same comfort in them that I do. There is magic and also solace in knowing that I come from that deep love.

This is a different way of learning from the past than I have thought about before. It’s not about learning facts and figures, historical events, or even trends and fads. It’s about reflecting on the people whose DNA created me, understanding how alike we are across generations, and appreciating some of the beauty of bygone days.

These are some lessons I’ve been mulling over as I complete this heartfelt project:

1. Ask questions of the older generation. I have so many questions I wish I could ask my father, my grandparents, my great aunts and uncles. But I am able to ask them of my uncle and my mother, and I do—and it always brings reward.

2. Trust that people who love you, know you. While not knowing the specifics of my grandparents’ stories, and not asking nearly enough questions, I did know them. Reading these letters confirms for me that having had the good fortune to grow up with my grandparents nearby, I knew them for who they truly were—I probably knew them better and more deeply than they ever realized.

3. Complaining about visiting relatives is not unique to millennials, gen-Xers, or Baby Boomers. In one of the funnier pieces of correspondence, my elegant, well-mannered grandmother complains about having to go visit her relatives, much as I’m sure I did in my youth.

4. Love is love, no matter when. My grandparents say to each other the same silly things I’m certain my parents said to each other, that I’ve said to my husband, and I’m sure our kids will say to their significant others.

5. Believe in magic. My practical, grounded grandparents believed that it was magical serendipity when they were listening to the same music on the same radio stations while miles apart. They talked about meeting each other in their dreams, and would set specific times to do so.

6. Describe what you see around you to those you love. My grandparents’ letters described beautiful scenery and interesting events. The pleasure they took in creating the descriptions and in reading them was evident. Some of the stories in the letters are family lore that have been passed down through the generations. I wonder how often in later years they were able to recall those specific times and jointly remember them through the shared descriptions. The added gift is the joy of a granddaughter reading her grandfather’s description of seeing the aurora borealis
in Maine, in the very year that I went to Iceland in the hopes of seeing those very same lights.

7. Say I love you. My grandparents’ openly and repeatedly acknowledged that all they were really saying in their letters was “I love you.” Turns out you can never say that particular phrase too many times or in too many ways.

The time has now come to share this piece of work of mine with my family. I don’t know how or with whom it will resonate, but I do know that in some small way I have taken a place in my family not as a memory keeper, but as a memory sharer—a bridge across generations. I cherish that.


Author: Wendy Kuhn

Image: Flickr/Karsten Bitter

Editor: Callie Rushton

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