Friday, May 13, 2016

Love Letters

After leisurely savoring the saved letters of people who wrote my great Uncle during the war, I finally got to the small stack of letters from the lady who would become his wife after the war. Disappointingly, only three of the letters actually contained letters and the rest were simply empty envelopes, their contents lost to time. But the three letters that remained, vastly filled in the spaces I have of who my great uncles wife was.

At the time of the letters, my great uncle was 20 years old and serving on the U.S.S. Iowa battleship in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. Roma, his future wife was 26 years old and transitioning from her family farm to a job in Colorado. From the tone of the first letter she wrote back, it was obvious that my great uncle had an infatuation with her for she kept saying things like 'your secret is safe with me' and signing it 'confidentially yours.' Roma was obviously flattered that of all the mail he wrote to those back in the States, he found time to write to her.

Great confusion runs in my family over Keith's love of Roma. She was a 'cripple' as my my grandfather and Keith's younger brother would say. From her pictures, she was small, hunched and deformed so I'm guessing it was a disease of the spine. Eventually it killed her because she and my great uncle were only married for six years before her death. After reading the letters she wrote, I now know they shared a lot in common. Both obviously loved the arts and both wrote extensively about what music was popular, movies, plays and musicals they had recently seen, etc. On a side note for those newer to this blog, my great uncle collected the top 5 songs in the nation according to ratings from before the war to his death a few years ago. It was a massive collection of records, tapes and CD's, the likes of which I have never seen elsewhere.

Although my great great grandmother who also wrote to Keith never mentioned Roma by name, she must have known of her. In several of her numerous letters she would stress that "a married life is a long one and a single life goes by fast." She urged my great uncle to take his time and not be in a rush. I don't know if I am simply reading to far into things or perhaps my great uncles family thought that he could do better than to marry a 'crippled' lady.

But get married after the war they did and after Roma's death, my uncle would be active in community theaters and he always had seen all the latest movies when I asked about them as a kid. He never did remarry nor have children and I think a lot of that had to do with his deep love for Roma. Before I was born and many years after Roma's death, my great Uncle Keith would have some sort of huge mental breakdown that got him sent to a psych home for a stint that may or may not have included electrode therapy according to family lore. Looking back through modern eyes, perhaps he had some sort of PTSD from the war and her death. I was fortunate to know my great Uncle for nearly four decades before his death and he never seemed crazy to me. All I could 'see' was devotion as I carried his casket to the plot right next to his wife Roma.

Along with the letters, I found a new picture I hadn't seen before. I had two pictures of my great uncle Keith and his wife Roma on their wedding day but always by themselves and outside the church. Below, this picture shows them inside the church standing with my great grandparents on the right and Roma's parents on the left. I was fortunate to know both of my great grandparents and have found memories of both of them. Looking at the photo, I'm not sure my great uncle Keith's family was happy over the marriage but it definitely looks like they were supportive of his decision on the day of the wedding.


sage said...

Now I wonder what letters I have saved that one of my nephews might read! :) It is interesting to learn keys to what made those who lived before us.

Ed said...

Sage - Unfortunately with today's prevalence of social media and emails, reading letters of ancestors may soon be a thing of the past. With that in mind, I have recently started a journal (besides my daily journal) where I'm slowly but surely writing in stories of my family that I know in hopes that someday somebody will find it and can read them like I'm doing these letters.

Kelly said...

What an interesting post! I'm not a romantic by any stretch of the word, but I find this story enchanting and love having the photo to go with it. I'm also fascinated with the info about the music collection. Thanks for including that tidbit again.

I don't really know if my dad wrote letters to my mother. I'm sure he did, but have no idea what happened to them. He wrote to my sister (who was born after he'd already left for the Pacific and didn't meet until she was two, I think) and I assume her daughter will find those somewhere in all my sister's stuff.

Letter-writing is becoming a lost art and I find that sad.

Bob said...

Fascinating, Ed. I believe there's a book here, don't you?

Ed said...

Kelly - I find it interesting because I can't imagine myself at his age getting crammed onto a boat, many having already been blown up by U-boats, for a trip to a theater front where thousands had died already. And this man volunteered four times before they let him go! I am in awe of his and his generation's courage.

Bob - I find a book in a lot of things but unfortunately, thus far, I have not found a way to download it from my mind onto paper.