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I've Got My Love (Letters)
To Keep Me Warm
by Amy Kenneley

This winter seems colder. It must be me. We have been cocooning this past month, dashing out to run errands and to attend a few events of interest. But most nights we are glued to reruns of Law and Order.

With the remote in his hand and a bowl of microwave popcorn balanced on the hills and valleys of fuzzy blankets in mine, we are senior veggies.

Lest these winter nights lull me into a permanent vegetative state, I have been arranging family letters into 3-ring notebooks by the light of our non-HDTV. The results of this winter's tale? Several hefty collections of correspondence available for viewing by any (if at all) interested children.

Shoebox of Love

Tonight's project I have saved for last. Lifting the lid of an ancient shoebox, I lift out my husband's love letters. We were such kids that summer when we first met-- he fresh out of Great Lakes Naval Base, and me clinging to a last summer before high school started.

Ask me how much my children weighed at birth--can't remember. Ask me family phone numbers--can't remember. But I can recite his serial number, rank and ship's address even though it was more than half a century ago. That's how much we wrote to one another back then.

Unfolding each page, I re-read the sprawling hand of Himself, full of big loops on his 'g's and 'y's. There has always been a gentle ribbing between us as to who wrote the better, longer letter.

"I wrote more than you, but you threw them out," I accuse him.

"Where could I have kept them? I was always moving around!" he excuses himself.

And so it has continued through the years whenever the subject of our courtship comes up. So this cold winter evening I read his letters again, to see if memory is accurate.

The Real Deal

His letters are longer than I remembered. They are full of tidbits of his naval life-his buddies, his liberties on shore. He wrote about a skyful of stars at night on the ocean, a terrible hurricane, and watching sailfish and dolphins as his ship skirted the Caribbean. He always asked to be remembered to the "gang."

Those were the givens, but what I had forgotten was how much space he devoted to telling me he loved me. He wrote about our plans for the future, when he would finish his service.

He wrote about when he might get another leave to come home, how he was sorry he couldn't get back for an important event, how he missed being with me. Reading those words now, I am warmed by the thought of his devotion. No, not warmed only - Consumed, surrounded, and yes-coccooned.

The Dear John

But if I was sure of him, I wasn't so sure of me. The letters end in May of 1955. Reading his last letter to me, of how he understood how I was breaking our engagement, wishing me well, loving me always, I remember again the wrenching choice I made.

I could feel the hurt in the sprawling absolution he wrote so long ago. But we were too young--both of us. I needed breathing room. I mailed his ring back.

We spun off in our separate worlds for a time, two comets that blazed together for a time, then quickly burned, I thought. But we were not comets, we were planets.

It was the shoebox is empty now. The last page is slipped into a "top-loading, economy weight, semi-clear sheet protector, archival safe." This has been an evening a little different from the same-old, same-old. Only a matter of time until our orbits crossed again. Heaven ordained it.

The Mighty Pen

"Listen to this," I said for the umpteenth time this evening. I read from another letter. He laughs, "Did I say THAT?"

In another one I find a poem he wrote for me. It was pretty good, except the last line didn't scan, but what effort he must have made, sitting in a hot below-decks, the ship lurching across the ocean, to pen it!

We called a son to ask why his name is printed in large letters in orange crayon on several of his father's letters-when did that happen? "It must have happened when SOMEONE was learning to write his name." A someone who found some handy practice paper in the folded pages of a plain old shoebox. A shoebox full of wonderful, loving words.

Yes, words are cheap and actions speak louder than words. But what a lucky gal am I, to have not only the loving actions of a loving guy for a lifetime, but also the proof of the love together that he promised, written in his letters so long ago.

It HAS been a cold winter, but I have my love, and his letters, to keep me warm! (Because I saved them!)

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