Thursday , February 15, 2018 - 4:00 AM1 comment
The first love letter I ever received was written in the childish scrawl of a first-grade classmate who dropped it on my desk as he walked by.This happened on a Valentine’s Day. Startled, I opened it to see a hand-drawn picture of what I believe was him and me holding hands beneath a banner that read, “I love you.” I wish I still had it. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember feeling shyly puzzled by it, and a little in awe of such tangible proof of devotion.
Love letters come in all sizes and content. A note left on a pillow, a lunchbox letter, or a lipstick heart on the mirror are pleasant physical evidence that someone is thinking of someone.
One of the most devoted love letters I ever read says, in part, “I just paid the insurance money off and am sending you six dollars. I ought to be able to send from ten to fifteen dollars every week from now on so if you need anything from the store go and get it.” It’s dated Dec. 16, 1922, sent from “Wid” to “Vie.”
John Willard “Wid” Hancey married Elvira “Vie” Christenca Hansen for better or worse in 1909. The “better” came as five children were born to them in the next 10 years. The “worse” came in the form of the Depression. This young couple, desperately trying to hang onto their farm, eventually realized the only way they could pay the mortgage was if Wid used his expert carpentry skills to earn money not available in their little mountain valley home. This meant leaving Utah and heading west to California, where new construction was underway near a strange place called Hollywood.
The two already knew how to write love letters. They exchanged letters almost daily for two years while Wid served a church mission and Vie waited for him. So in November 1922, with promises to write to each other, they tearfully parted again. In a car full of other young men from their little town also headed west to seek better money, Wid penned his first letter.
For the next half year, the two wrote letters, almost daily. Wid told Vie where he was working, what he was building, the strange sights he was seeing. Most of his letters held a few dollars to pay their debts and the mortgage, and to buy necessities. Vie’s letters were filled with what she and the children were doing, and the farm work. What the letters didn’t contain were complaints. It wasn’t that they didn’t have reasons to complain. Wid had to hustle constantly to find work, and sat idle and unpaid when it rained. Vie cared for the children alone, tended the farm, and tried to figure out which creditor to pay off next while getting along on nearly nothing.
Strangely, the letters do not contain a single “I love you.” Wid and Vie never once wrote those words. But they knew them — and lived them. Evidence of their devotion flows through every loyal line, and seeps from every affectionate word. Vie implored Wid to keep enough money to feed himself and to rest every now and then. Wid told Vie he’d sent a box of oranges for her and the “kiddies,” and cautioned her to be careful in the bitter, snowy weather. When Vie sent no letters for several days, Wid wrote three letters in a row, begging her to write. When she finally wrote to tell him she’d been very ill, he was half convinced he needed to come home to take care of her but she assured him she’d be alright.
Eventually the poverty wolf was driven from their door. They caught up the mortgage, brought the insurance up to date and paid off their debts. Through intense effort, the team of two triumphed. So Wid hung up his hammer and came home.
Wid and Vie raised nine children; my father was their second-to-youngest. I became the guardian of their priceless love letters a few years ago. I read them every now and then to remember that love can be spoken with actions, with unselfishness, with sacrifice, with putting your partner before yourself, your family ahead of your own needs, and sometimes by doing very difficult things today to secure a better tomorrow.
They also remind me that “I love you” is pretty easy to write. But proving it takes a lifetime of endeavor.
D. Louise Brown lives in Layton.
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