Love, Joe

Every now and then something exciting happens to break the monotony.

Tomorrow starts my 13th week of working from home. Often it seems that one day and week meld into the next. My daughter, a summer nanny, undoubtedly feels the same way. New day, new quarrels. Same kids.

Many days when I greet her in the evening, I feel like Charlie Bucket’s grandmother, waiting in bed for a golden ticket from Willie Wonka or, at least, news from the outside world. Recently, Emmy delivered, coming home to report an extraordinary event.

Renovations are underway in the house where she’s nannying, and a construction worker called her over. He had found a letter, weather worn and crumpled, but still legible. Dated February 1, 1966, it had been buried in the wall. The history buff in me delighted in this, reading every word. The letter was from Joe to Connie and revealed heartbreak that the two young lovers were separated. Evidently Joe had just put Connie on a flight home to Nashville to be with her mother. Connie was pregnant—far enough along that the letter mentioned the baby kicking.

My imagination kicked into high gear as I pondered what caused the separation. Was Joe shipping out to Vietnam? That seems the most likely scenario. In the letter he urges Connie to write him, saying that letters help dissipate the boredom, the monotony, the isolation.

In the letter, Joe recommends a movie he had just seen: “Seven Women,” which is allegedly one of John Ford’s best. It is the story of a group of women in a mission in China in 1935 who are preyed on by Mongolian bandits. The premise of the film does not interest me, and I wonder if it appealed to Connie. Did she take his recommendation and go see it? And where did he see the film?

So many questions linger in my mind. My Internet research revealed that in 1966 over 6,000 American soldiers were killed and 30,000 wounded. Was Joe one of them? Did he return home to Connie? In the letter he says how fun it will be to take their child to a movie. He talks lovingly about the future: “I was just thinking tonight about how many things we have to do when I get home, but it might take a lifetime to do all the things I have planned…” Did those daydreams come true? Connie’s baby would be turning 54 this year. What kind of life did he or she have? Did she or he get to experience the parents’ powerful love?

According to the letter, Joe was slated to be gone for only 7 months—this means he would have been there in August 1966 when U.S. jets attacked two South Vietnamese villages by mistake, or when the U.S. bombed Northern Vietnamese troops in the Demilitarized Zone. Was he part of either of those exercises? Did he get out in time?

I checked public property records, and the current house was built in 1977, a full 10 years after the writing of this letter. Was part of the original structure preserved? Why was the letter hidden in the wall? Did Connie hide it? I desperately want to find Connie (who would be at least 72) or the family that lived there. Would this letter reveal secrets there were supposed to remain hidden? Is that why it was stuck in the wall?

My mother told me once that she had kept a box of all the correspondence between her and my dad when he was in Korea. Evidently my brother David found the box and occupied toddler me by reading them all out loud. It sounds as if some were quite spicy, because mom said when she discovered David’s antics, she burned the box. Oh how would I treasure those letters now (and how I hold it against David that we don’t have them!)

Of course, it is possible that Joe was away on work, or a safer occupation than fighting in Vietnam. Even so, I need to know the rest of the story. I need to know if the 70-something Connie and Joe survived and are still in love. Probably I will never know. But something in Joe’s writing lifted my spirits and I was buoyed for a few days by his youthful optimism. His words speak to us today as we anticipate the end of the pandemic, worry over the unrest in our country: “It’s probably best though to keep busy and not think too much and get too lonely.”

Joe was wise. Loneliness can be born from too many thoughts, too much worry; we need hope to assure us that however long this quarantine feels, however much we long for normalcy and reunions with our co-workers, family and friends, this too shall pass. I choose to believe that Joe survived and that he and Connie are still seeing movies together.

After all, Joe seemed sure of that too, writing: “Our day is coming though dear one just you wait and see.”

Ours is too.

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