Hi my friends, hope this August brings you warm, sunny days…with just enough rainy ones to barricade yourself indoors to whip up a creative frenzy.
I am always on the lookout for vintage ephemera to use in my artwork and sometimes pay a steep price for just a few of the more ‘interesting’ pieces, but this week I scored a mother lode on eBay. And met a lovely, charming and interesting seller in the deal. She bought a box (and I’m talking a BOX in all Caps!) of ‘Love Letters’ (c. 1959-1960) at an estate sale to sell on eBay and along I come with Visa in-hand to make a fair offer rather than wait for the auction to end. She accepted graciously and I received them two days ago.
Diving in, I find a young lady “Mary” from Pennsylvania who is writing to her man who’s in the service….I’ll call him “Ray”. I’m still a bit sensitive to their privacy even though I trolled the internet around 2 a.m. last night and found both were deceased. Ray in 2017 and Mary died this year. Hence the ‘estate sale’. According to his obit, there are no mention of children and I cannot access Mary’s full obit …. yet. A childless couple could explain why the letters are now in New Bern, North Carolina, guarded by me. I digress. Mary appeared to be two-, three- and four-timing “Ray” but what would one expect. Their relationship began with old-fashioned playful verbal ‘jabbing’ and of course by the end of 1960, when it appeared Ray was exiting the service (Marines) to 16 page letters about every day “stuff” with an average of 67 “I love you so much’s” written into every margin and after each light-content sentence. In my hands and care, I hold a story.
Is it a love story? Perhaps. Perhaps not as one would expect. Even though the letters end when he comes home after being discharged from the service, an engagement notice had been sent to the papers, but nothing mentions the actual wedding – until I read the obit and discovered they did indeed marry and remained married until Ray died at age 80. Once again, the internet (sigh, no privacy!) shows a handsome ranch home in a rural setting, neat and trim – holding the secrets of 60+ years of a life together. The early letters were what one might smugly expect: playful jabbing, lots of sexual flirtatious innuendos and progress to what I’ve mentioned above….the mushy stuff. I’m thinking Mary must have been about 17 or 18 y/o (she had a job in a shoe factory) and Ray 18 or 19 y/o. Lots of bravado (threatening to kill her boss if he didn’t stop flirting with her and demanding she ‘be good’ until he got home. They had pre-marital sex but never really used the word “sex” instead calling it ‘IT’ or referring to ‘getting some’. Sign of the times. Military leave was difficult for them both – always followed by oodles of letters apologizing for starting a fight. They were moving deeper into a relationship that was face-to-face and not just fantasy on paper. I can feel a sweetness in them. A forced maturity (nothing to do in the service but get drunk every night and Mary was ‘bored’ at home with just work and every day routine).
If I was a playwright – and I most certainly am not – I would be very much tempted to write a sensitive stage play using these letters, capturing the correspondence from 1954 (where a very young Mary was writing to other boys (in pencil I might add) perhaps in her school) and ending with Ray’s discharge from the Marines apparently in 1960. Developing their ‘story line’ would be so fun, difficult ….. and bittersweet. Mary and Ray saved their letters from each other – Ray holding onto the promise of a girlfriend when he was discharged and Mary wanting a husband to relieve her boredom.
While I rarely use my original pieces in my art (scan, baby!), I might resist the urge to try and find a living relative to return them to and use the originals in a few ‘altered books’. Stay tuned.