Wednesday, March 23, 2011

my own national (regional) treasure!

a recent editorial on tells the story of how a 200-year old french love letter was found recently in the arm of an antique chair, in the process of restoration.

the writer ends his letter to his lady with this adieu:
"my dear, i cover you with kisses and caresses until… i need you in this moment of desire. i love you."

have you ever heard of anything sweeter? well, i suppose you have, naturally. but this is pretty good.

i had a similar story this past year when i had my old piano retuned, back when i was living in gettysburg. i had bought this piano in 2008 from the director of athletics at gettysburg college, dave, who i knew fairly well. dave's father was a piano teacher, and could never get him to play as a child, but in an attempt to pass on the musical tradition, the family had bought the piano for their daughters to learn upon. none of them ended up wanting to play either (sad!) so dave was happy to sell this slightly beat up, but decent, little upright console wurlizter from the 70's to me for $100.

so this lovely old man came to do the tuning, and since neither of us knew when it was tuned last, he decided to make a thorough job of it and pulled the baseboards out from underneath. as he pulled off the boards, an aged square of paper fell out onto the carpet. we both paused and looked at it, the curiosity and excitement growing in me like a narrative scene from a nancy drew novel come to life.

he picked up the paper and handed it to me and asked if it was mine. no, i said, looking at it carefully. it was an envelope, yellowed and dusty, but fairly well preserved from having been inside the piano all this time. the seal was already broken, so whoever was the recipient must have already perused the message inside. or had they?

with trembling fingers i pulled out the letter and flipped it open. it was written on a greeting card with a scenic picture from somewhere in upstate new york, and inside the tiny script filled each available side of the paper. the date on the letter read 1974! feeling somewhat guilty, but then too curious to feel all that guilty, i started to read the letter.

it was a message to no one in dave's family that i knew of, but the contents were fairly simple–greetings after a journey home from college, news on the family, etc. fairly uneventful. and yet, if i returned this letter to dave, what would be his reaction? was such a simple transaction to dredge up memories of a long forgotten–or perhaps repressed–family connection, a friendship that had once been so close, but which inopportune circumstances had rendered asunder?

i carefully put the letter and envelope in a ziplock bag and the next day, i emailed dave and told him about what i'd found. his reply gave little away: he was surprised, but interested, and agreed to take a look at it.

then came the big moment to give it to him. i wasn't able to find an opportunity so i gave it to my colleague ryan who said he would be seeing the family later that day. ryan was under strict instructions to give me every last detail of dave's reaction. he promised.

i waited for the news to come. the next day, i eagerly ran down to ryan's office and demanded a recounting of yesterday's events. i could just envision dave's eyes alighting on the letter…then widening with recognition…then filling with bitter, but tender tears. i looked expectantly at ryan.

ryan shrugged. "yeah, he had no idea what that was about. some cousin or something."

dammit. why isn't real life ever like in movies?


YachujDispone said...

I enjoyed reading this, Agatha! Cousin Carolina

Agatha Wells said...

Thanks cuz! I wrote another entry a couple of weeks ago about great-grandmother, Caroline Washburn Wells, which you might enjoy. how is she related to you again?

it's not just for the classroom!