The Story of the Lost Love LettersPosted: 2 February 2011
Today, 2nd February, is my maternal grandad’s birthday. He died at the back end of July, almost four years ago. I remember him as a cheerful and independent man who loved his garden. He painted, he made beautiful things with his hands from wood. He built on a collection of household tools and gadgets to rival the contents of a hardware shop. He sold poppies.
When you lose someone, you realise that you didn’t know them as well as you thought. You remember all the questions you wanted to ask but never did. Stories come out, the kind that only emerge when people’s thoughts are settled on the one who has left; stories that you never heard before, that paint a completely different picture of the person you knew. Sometimes these stories are best left unspoken. Others are truly beautiful.
It wasn’t long after my grandad’s funeral that I finally heard one of these stories. It’s one that deserves to be told and now, on his birthday, is as good a time as any to tell it.
It all started when my grandad enlisted and was sent to Burma to take part in one of the last British campaigns in the country. Taking place near the end of the Second World War, the allied forces were in battle against those of Japan and Thailand. It was a service for which he was awarded several medals, including the Burma Star.
My grandad was the youngest of eight siblings, born into a large catholic family in County Durham. In his youth his mother passed away, leaving her eight children without a mother and his father without a wife. My great-grandfather decided to take on a housekeeper. She herself was a widow and the guardian of her own granddaughter, having lost her daughter (the child’s mother) years before.
In his long absence from home, my grandad’s father persuaded him to begin writing to the granddaughter of his housekeeper, to help the time to pass. These correspondances were at first polite inquiries and cheerful accounts of life at home. But as time passed, the letters that crossed the continent gradually began to be filled with their growing affection for each other. They fell deeply in love.
My grandad survived the conflict in Burma and returned home to his family; and to the lady he’d written to for so long. They were married and had two children; a son – my uncle, and a daughter – my mother.
I never knew my nana. My grandad was devastated when she passed away suddenly; overnight, the year before I was born. But I’ve since been told by those who knew her that I resemble her in many ways; especially in personality.
When my grandad died and his house was emptied, the many letters he had kept were never found. My mother, the teller of the story, told me she had searched everywhere in vain for them. Perhaps my grandad destroyed the letters many years ago. Nobody knows. But this is a true story, and the fact they really existed brought me comfort at a time when I really needed it.
I wish I had asked my grandad about his experiences when I had the chance. He may not have told me what I wanted to know. All the same, I feel like there is a side of him that I will never see. Important memories were scattered to the four winds with him; lost forever, like the letters.