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Treasures From The Past

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene
Photography by: Stephanie Stringfellow

Elbert Darling,
© Stephanie Stringfellow Photography
I am almost the happiest girl in the world. I would be the happiest girl in the world if you were here by me now—but still, I am happy because I have received two letters from you this week. One came yesterday and one today…so I’ve spent considerable time thinking about things you said….
Elbert, there is only one thing I don’t like about your letters, and I might just as well be frank—there isn’t enough of them! I regret receiving a letter because after it is read, I know I’ll have to wait two more days for another—but I’m so thankful for those that I do receive!…
Every night I wish for you—I want so badly to crawl up close to you. Sometimes I can feel myself inside your heart. Honest! It must be a pretty big heart!…

Remember that I’ll always love you,


My Lover,
© Stephanie Stringfellow Photography
Well, Maureen, I can truly say that I have never spent such a drab, lonely day in all my life as today has been. It has been raining a drizzly fine rain all day—you know, just the kind that makes one feel as though life wasn’t worth living. Oh, it’s been terrible! But perhaps it would have been much worse had I not worked so hard. I’ve been on the go almost every minute, but my mind has been on you constantly—Oh honey!—you asked me not to be this way, but you know very well I can’t help it, so I must tell you how I feel.
After your car passed out of my sight last evening, I simply felt terrible! It was even much worse than when you left here last year—I don’t know why, but it just was. I came home and tried to sit and talk with my family, but I had a huge lump in my throat and I just had to cry and get it over with…
After I had entered my room, I caught sight of you picture on my dresser, and honest honey, it was just like a streak of lightning went through me. I sat on my bed looking at it and thought of all the things we had done and seen in our four days together. Oh, honey, it was all so perfectly “grand!” that I fear I shall never get over it…
I’m so in love with you, Maureen! You’re on my mind wherever I am or whatever I’m doing. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me—nuts!…
I shall see you perhaps in May or June. My love is completely yours,
© Stephanie Stringfellow Photography
Come with me; I want to show you something,” my Aunt said as she led me up the attic stairs one warm summer afternoon. We had just spent the better part of the morning sorting and sifting through old family photos, most of them captions of my grandmother in the prime of her youth, who had passed away when I was just five years old. My curiosity couldn’t be quenched as I asked question after question about my grandmother, this woman who looked just like me. My only memories of her holding me on her lap as she told stories of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears. And then there is that one memory that holds worlds of meaning to me, but would probably sound trivial to anyone else. I was hopping on one foot as she sat holding court in her favorite Queen Anne style antique chair, watching me admiringly as only a grandmother could, when she asked, “Can you hop on your other foot?”

Something about the way her voice carried through me made me pause, my head cocked jauntily to the side. And then I knew. “Of course I can, Gramma! I’m Jacque! I can do anything!” I said this with such fervor and confidence as I switched my hops back and forth from one foot to the other, it’s a wonder she didn’t so much as allow a giggle to escape her twitching, smiling lips.

“Well, now, that’s exactly what I thought,” Grandmother said quietly, her eyes lovingly taking in the sight of her four year old granddaughter laughing and hopping around before her. Somehow, she instilled that kind of confidence into all who knew her intimately, and for that, I am eternally grateful. In the core of who I am, I know I am capable of accomplishing anything, thanks to her encouragement.

And then it was over. Her health went so quickly after that, I hardly remember anything else, except that my mother was so sad the day she died.

© Stephanie Stringfellow Photography

My Aunt pushed open the attic door, and we both sneezed in the whirl of dust surrounding us. “It’s over here by the window,” she said, picking her way past old bed frames and picture frames and cardboard boxes. I followed, wondering what wonderful treasure of my grandmother’s my aunt had hidden up in this dim, dusty attic. To my delight, she pulled a cedar treasure chest across the floor and opened it in the shaft of late afternoon sunlight gently spilling in through the attic window. Inside, hundreds of letters in stamped envelopes were stuffed into every nook and cranny!

“These are the love letters your grandmother and grandfather wrote to each other during the course of their four year courtship. They were so deeply in love, they wrote to each other every two or three days,” she explained, carefully reaching into the chest and pulling out a worn envelope. “Your grandmother cherished these, and even numbered them so they could be read in sequence.” My aunt looked up at me, her blue eyes shining with unshed tears as she handed the letter to me. “Read these, and I think all your questions about Grandma will be answered in her own words.”

© Stephanie Stringfellow Photography

I took the letters home with me and spent the next week completely absorbed in the lives of my grandmother and grandfather. They met in 1932, during the Great Depression. My grandmother’s father was a doctor, a well-respected man whose family didn’t seem to suffer as much as most others did during this time of economic adversity. My grandfather’s dad was a candy maker. His family invented the first chocolate bar, and their candies were as well-known then as the “Hershey” name is now, until the Depression hit.

They wrote to each other of their families, work, and daily goings on, of their undying passion for one another, of their sorrows, of their joys and triumphs, and of their quiet, most intimate thoughts; those thoughts one would share with only the truest of confidantes.

Through their letters, I learned of how devotion and friendship between two lovers can grow and expand through the expression of written words. They were physically together only mere weeks out of every year. There would be no phone calls, no emails, no texts or skype. Only pen, paper, and their thoughts. Yet Maureen and Elbert, my grandparents, would go on to be married, raise eleven children, write a book, open a business that could support their growing family, and even give workshops in their community teaching couples how to cultivate an enduring marriage. All this they did together, as a team. As husband and wife. As friends.

© Stephanie Stringfellow Photography #20

Each letter is like a treasure, a peak into my grandparents’ past.

My past.

Though they are both gone from this life, the legacy of their love lives on in over one hundred grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I cherish the writings of their letters as much as the few memories I have held of them, now kept locked and safe in the treasure chest of my heart.