Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Letters

Finally - the post about the Letters. Sorry, this will be a long one - but there are pics - so try to hang in there...

A few weekends ago, on Saturday night I was over at Big-D's. He was cleaning out his spare room/office. I am not much help due to a pulled muscle in my back and don't know where things go anyway, but I stay to keep him "company". I am laying on the floor and soon take notice of the attic door in the ceiling.

"Have you ever been up in your attic?" I inquire.

To which he replies, "Once."

Prompting me to ask, "So, is it full of bats and spiders and stuff?"

To which he offers, "Nope. Just boxes."

"What do you store up there?" I ask again, trying to keep this invigorating conversation afloat.

"Not me. They belong to previous owners."

"What's in them?" I ask, thinking this could be pretty cool.

"Um...I don't know," he responds.

At this point I sit up, forgetting about the pain in my back and ask, "What???? There are boxes up there that were left from previous owners and you haven't looked through them yet?"

He chuckles, "No..."

"Get them down!" I urge perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

"Why do you care what's in them?" he chuckles again. "Probably just junk."

"This is like, If Walls Could Talk!" I say, referring to that TV show wherein they find old stuff hidden in the walls of old houses.

"Huh?" he replies.

"Umm... like those letters George and Jerry read after Susan's father's cabin burned down?"

"Oh, the Cheever Letters," Big-D announces. I knew he'd understand if I went all Seinfeld on him.

So, down came the boxes.
There were a few boxes filled with smaller empty boxes. But there was one with a cool gumball machine. It even still contained 1 green gumball. (Ya - we just left it in there.)

There was also an old remote control car that looked like it was from the 70's, a coin collection, a $2-bill from 1976, sewing kit, a notebook apparently from someone's college days, some senior class photos and then this:

There was one box filled with letters and cards.

There were enough cards to keep Hallmark in business for a very long time. So, I did what any other "normal" person would do... I read them!

As I started reading, the writers came to life for me. I could picture them in my mind. I could hear their voices, and came to understand the emotions behind the words as I read them out loud. Big-D continued cleaning, listening as I read.

The Letters were between Paula and Greg (I won't give last names due to privacy). Here is what I was able to piece together early on from the letters. (might not be 100% accurate - but again, going solely off the letters.)

Paula was a young school teacher, fresh out of college perhaps. In addition to that, she was the secretary at the local Assembly of God church. Greg's hometown is about 4 hours south of here. His father was a pastor, and he too was studying to be one. As he finished his Jr year of college in Missouri, Greg secured an internship of some sort with the Assembly of God church - here, locally. Thus, their paths had crossed and they had gotten to know each other very well that summer. It was obvious that Paula had a crush on Greg, though his letters were purely "friendly" (typical male) as he completed his internship. He was very diligent in focusing on his work.

At the end of the summer, Greg returned to Missouri to finish his evangelical studies. The two continued to write back and forth. She always signed her letters "Your friend, Paula" and he always signed his, "Your Pal, Greg." Most of the letters were about her students or his classes; the weather, the church, etc. They always made it known to each other that they were constantly praying for the other. Sweet, huh?

As graduation drew near, he made plans to move home. Though, they also made plans to spend a lot of time together that summer. It is unclear as to whether or not he lived far and commuted often or if he ended up moving to be near her. Nevertheless, they began dating and shared their feelings for one another and became engaged. [an "awww" would be appropriate here.]

As they drew nearer their wedding day, the passion for one another intensified in the letters, as I am sure it did in real life too. A lot of "only 4 more weeks until..." and "only 3 more weeks until..." type of letters. Ya - they kind of got a little steamy too - well, as much as an extremely well-behaved, uber-conservative Christian girl and boy can get, anyway.

Now - just A quick little pause to explain as I am laying on the floor reading the letters out loud, and arrive at the steamy parts, Big-D sort of did one of those double-takes and a "she wrote what?" Next thing I know - Big-D has stopped his cleaning and sorting, and comes over by me to relax and listen as I continue to read. Ya - they were *that* good. [It was like story-hour at the library...for adults...tee hee].

Anyway, they got married. But the notes don't stop there. I think, based on some of the cards, Greg worked a second job at the Pepsi plant. Though I am not sure if he did this after they were married, if it was a night shift or what. Anyway - he apparently did not have to get up as early as she did to get ready to go teach school. So, she left him little "love-notes" on post-its and put them on the bathroom mirror (I am assuming, based on the nature of some of the post-its). Then he'd get up and read them, and at the end of the day, she must have taken them down and saved them, or something. Anyway - there was quite the collection of post-it notes too.

I think we spent nearly three hours laying on the floor, reading all of those letters and notes. Seriously, they were the sweetest thing ever. I don't know why, but all of a sudden, I just felt excited; a sense of renewal for some reason. Finding these adorable letters was exciting for me. I sit up and say, "Can I keep these?"

Big-D laughs, "Keep them? You want to keep them?" I nod and throw a puppy-dog-eyes look as best I can. (which incidentally, looks like this...)

"What year were these written?" Big-D asks. I can practically SEE his "rational-logical-I.T.Guy Brain" processing my request. I check the letters and it looks like everything is between 1993-1995. Big-D then suggests, "Why don't we see if we can find the owners? They might like to have this stuff."

So, we go down to the computer and try to search for their names in the local white page listings. Nothing. Big-D suggests trying to find one or both of them through my Facebook account. Genius. I try her first. After all, I have her maiden and married names as well as the name of the High School she attended (it was in one of her journals). Nothing again.

Next I try his name. I find one match, but it is in another state. Could it be him? I don't want to give out too much information in case it isn't the right person, or in the event they are no longer married. So I send him a message via Facebook. "Are you the Greg [last name] that married Paula [last name] from [city]?"

The next night, just as I happen to be over at Big-D's again, my Blackberry alerts me to his reply. "yes..."
"Uh-oh," I say to Big-D.

"What?" he asks. I tell him what the reply says. "So?" Big-D asks.

"Well, they are obviously not married anymore," I explain.

"How do you get that from 'yes...'" he questions.

I go to explain that it is a feeling; a sense that I get from the reply. The reply could have included ANY of the following statements:
  • Yes! I am!
  • Did you two go to school together?
  • Did we know you from the church?
  • How did you know Paula?
But it didn't. A simple and rather cautious "yes..." was all. Big-D points out that the conspiracy theorist in him would probably be cautious too. I'm sure he thinks my rational thinking to be a little irrational at this point.

Nonetheless, I feel certain that Greg and Paula are no longer married. But without a way to contact her, I send the following reply, also wanting to be cautious. "We found some of your boxes in the attic at [address]. If you have family or friends still in the area, we'd be happy to drop them off somewhere."
I hesitated at telling him there were letters. I guess part of me thought that if they weren't married, and if it ended up in an ugly divorce or something, I didn't want him to have the letters. I was hopeful that he might give me a little more information in the next reply.
No such luck. The response I got that time was "Wow. Sure. Call [man] and [woman], [ph #]. They live in [city]." I was sure by now they were no longer married as the last name of the friends was different than his or Paula's.

I went home that night and could not get the discovery of the letters from the night before out of my mind. About 2 in the morning, I realized that since he replied to my FB message, I could now view his profile for 30 days. I reach over to the night stand and turn on the bedside lamp, and pull my laptop over to the bed. I sit up, shove my glasses on my face and make hand gestures at the computer to tell it to hurry up and move along. It's up and running, and I am furiously typing away on FB. I log in. I click on my Inbox, I click on Greg's profile. I scan it...it reads:

Greg is married to Dawn.

Whoa! Dawn is not Paula. What happened to Paula? My heart sank. I set the laptop on the chair next to my bed, and turn off the lamp. I lay down physically exhausted, yet my mind is racing. What happened? Did they get divorced? Did she die? or worse.... did He kill HER??? My head was spinning, my heart was racing. "Get a grip, Emma," I had to tell myself. "After all, we are talking about a man of God here. I am sure he did not murder his wife." Nevertheless, I couldn't sleep.

At 2:30 in the morning, it hits me that due to my job at the title company, I have access to public county real estate records. I sit up, turn on the bedside lamp, and once again reach for my laptop. I turn the lap top on, and again tell it to hurry, by waving my hands at it. I pull up the county recorder's website, and after finally remembering my username and password, I am in. I search for the property and find it. I search through the abstract/chain-of title.

Greg and Paula were the first owners of the Condo. They bought it while they were newlyweds and the condos had just been built. Fine. Great. I continue to scroll through the abstract. Almost two years later, I notice they do a refinance...but wait... uh-oh. The Refi is only in his name...wait, what's this? And Affidavit of Identity...(oh no, I know where this is going)...with Death Certificate. It was recorded to remove Paula's name from the title, meaning she has died.

I start to cry. I know this has happened years ago, but it just made me so sad. After all, I was just getting to "know" her. I decide I HAVE to know how she died. I write down the entry number to the death certificate and tuck the paper in my purse. My plan was to go and pull the county micro-fiche copy of the death cert so I could see exactly what happened.

In the meantime, I sent the following email to Big-D, which I knew he would also get on his Blackberry:
I know it is the middle of the night, but I couldn't sleep. Just pulled up your property on the county site. According to public records, she died. I feel like crying. I am going to see if I can pull a copy of the death certificate tomorrow. I need to know how she died.
So as soon as I walked into the office, I go to the backroom, and search through the micro-fiche files until I locate the correct entry number, book and page. I told myself that I was using my "powers" for good, and that it is actualy public record, but that I am just eliminating the step of driving down to the county courthouse myself. Anyway, I slip the microfiche under the glass and turn the machine on. I scroll down to the bottom of the death certificate in search of the cause of death. "Post-Partum Heart Failure." I started to tear up as I hit the print button to print myself a copy. I immediately call Big-D.
Big-D: Hello
Me: Did you get my email last night?
Big-D: Yes.
Me: I just pulled a copy of the death certificate, and she died after giving birth to her baby.
Big-D: What?... Oh... Wow.
Me: I just feel like crying.
Big-D: Aww. Well, it is sad. So, is the baby still alive?
Me: I don't know. But the parents names are on the death certificate, so I am going to see if I can find them.
Big-D: Ok.
Me: OK... gotta go. Bye.
Big-D: Bye.

I google the parents names and find a local white pages listing. I write down the information, and plan to call them as soon as I get off of work. Then I start thinking, what if Greg and the parents aren't in contact anymore? I mean, I already told Greg we had some boxes of his. But - I am sure the parents would enjoy some of her things too... like her sewing kit or her childhood journals, etc. I call Big-D back.
Big-D: Hello
Me: Hey, it's me. So, I just googled the parents, and they live here. So, I am thinking that we should still give Greg his stuff, and all the letters. I mean they were written to him after all. Plus I don't think Mom and Dad want to read the steamy "I can't wait till we [you-know-what]" letters.
Big-D: Probably not.
Me: But I'm thinking Mom and Dad should get the journals, the sewing kit - since it still had some cross-stitches in there that she had started, and her high school stuff. Whaddya think?
Big-D: Well... technically, it is my property, since it was left in the home. So I can do whatever I want with it. So, if you wanna call the parents, that's fine. Call the parents.
Me: K... thanks. Gotta go. Bye.
Big-D: Bye.

Now that that's settled, I get started on my real work - you know, the job I get paid to do. Nonetheless, I can't help but read the death certificate over and over. My friend, Teeners from the company next door comes over. I tell her the story and show her the Certificate of Death. She points out the date. I almost start to cry again. It was just 2 days shy of being the 11th year anniversary of Paula's death. Whoa. So, I begin to read each entry of the death certificate a little more closely now. I called Big-D.
Big-D: Hello.
Me: Hey, it's me. So, I was just reading the death certificate a little closer, and guess what.
Big-D: What?
Me: She goes into the hospital and has the baby. The physician checks on her at some point before she goes to sleep for the night. Then, sometime in the wee hours of the morning is when she died of heart failure. And they had only been married about a year and a half.
Big-D: Whoa.
Me: I know, huh? And guess what else?
Big-D: Huh?
Me: Tomorrow the baby would be like 11 years old, which means that Wednesday is the 11th anniversary of Paula's death. What a coincidence, huh?
Big-D: Wow...yeah...wow.
Me: K... I just wanted to tell you that. Gotta go. Bye.
Big-D: Bye.

I was glad that Big-D was shocked and empathized over the news. Granted, he wasn't going to cry like me, but his little "aww" and "whoa" and such was so cute, I could've kissed him. So, anyway, all of that happened within the first hour of me arriving at work. I just wanted the day to go by fast so I could call the parents. In the meantime, I google-map the address to see where exactly they lived. I couldn't believe it. They live one block from Big-D's. I just had to call him and tell him.

Big-D: Hello.
Me: Hey, guess what. I just googled the parents address, and they live like one block from you.
Big-D: Really? What's the address?
Me: [I ramble address off]
Big-D: Cool.
Me: Yeah, so before I call, do you want to take the stuff over to them or would you rather them
come and pick it up?
Big-D: Find out when they will be home and I can drop everything off to them. Unless you want me to call.
Me: Well ...you can call the parents if you want, but Greg has my name from Facebook, so that's the name he is giving to his friends. [plus, I really wanted to be the one to call :( ]
Big-D: Oh yeah, that's right. Well then you call and I can drop the stuff off.
Me: [awkward pause, and puppydog eyes which he cannot see over the phone]
Big-D: ...Or WE can drop the stuff off, cuz you'll probably wanna be there. And knowing you, you’ll probably get a story out of the parents…then they’ll probably start crying, so then you’ll probably start crying, and then you’ll leave with new best friends. And of course you’ll then have to blog about it all.
Me: [tail wagging] Pretty much. Okay, I'll call and let you know.
Big-D: Okay.
Me: K... gotta go. Bye.
Big-D: Bye.
So, after work, like at 5:01pm, I called the number Greg gave me. No answer. I leave a message. Then I call the parents house. The voice of an old woman answered.
Mother: Hello?
Me: Is this Jacquie?
Mother: Yes it is.
Me: Hi. My name is Emma, and the reason I am calling is because we found some stuff in the attic over at [address] that belonged to Paula, and I thought you might want them.
~long pause~
Mother: Oh, yes. Yes. I want them. Yes. Where should I come to get them?
Me: Well, we can drop them off to you. When will you be home?
Mother: I am home all day today and all day tomorrow.
Me: Ok. We could probably bring them by tonight.
Mother: That would be awesome. Oh, God bless you. This is Awesome.
So, later, I meet Big-D at his house, and we gather the things for the mother. I am feeling really nervous, and do my best not to cry. We walk over to the house and ring the bell. The mother appears in a robe, looking slightly disoriented. I explain that I spoke with her on the phone earlier and have Paula's things. She starts to raise her arms a little as if she wants to hug me, but then hesitates, as if she is not sure she should. So - me - being the obnoxious person that I am, go in for the hug. I do not let myself cry.
We give her the things, and she is just speechless, in a state of shock perhaps. I notice her bare feet, which seem almost purple, leading me to believe that she is ill. I know diabetes can cause poor circulation, but then again, maybe she is just old. Anyway, I can tell she is tired, so we leave her with the boxes as she bids us farewell with about a dozen God Bless You's and several This Is Awesome's. As Big-D and I leave, it is all we can do not to break into song, "Our God is an Awesome God".
Shortly after arriving back at Big-D's, my cell phone rings.
Me: Hello?
Mother: Did you just bring me boxes?
Me: Yes. That was me.
Mother: Oh, I just started looking through them... Oh, thank you so much. You are just really awesome to do this. Can I pay you or something?
Me: [chuckle] No. You don't need to pay us. Just finding you is payment enough.
Mother: Well, please, if there is ever anything I can do, let me know. Oh my, I just know Rachel will love to see this.
Me: Oh, is Rachel her sister?
Mother: Her daughter. She lives with her father and her step-mom in [other state]. She has three little sisters now. She will just love this.
Me: I am so glad.
Mother: Thank you so much.
I get off the phone and relay the conversation to Big-D. Then as I sit on the couch, I can't help think of Rachel. Tears fill my eyes again. Big-D asks, "You okay?"
I tell him, "I'm just thinking...about the baby. About Rachel." Then after a moment, I add, "I don't think that pictures would be enough. Pictures would not be enough for me. I mean, this girl did not grow up knowing her mother. All she has are pictures to go on. That wouldn't be enough for me." The flood gate opens, and the tears come down. I can't help it. I continue, "I mean I just think about all of my firsts with my own mom, and feel bad that Rachel doesn't get that. Her first word, her first day of kindergarten, her first period, her first date, her wedding day..."
"Slow down," Big-D says, as he pats my back. "She's only 11. Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
We both chuckle at that. I am physically tired and emotionally drained after the events of the evening, so I get up to leave to go home. Big-D can tell that I am still emotional, still feeling bad about Rachel's loss. "Just think," he says, "You made an old woman happy tonight." I smile. It was a good thought to end on.
I did end up getting ahold of the other people a few days later. Turns out, it was the sister and brother-in-law of Paula. She tells us where to take the rest of the stuff and we do. She also tells
us that Greg probably gave us her name instead of the mother's because apparently things weren't always smooth between Greg and Mom. And also, because the mother is starting to show signs of early-Alzheimers. We chat for a minute, and she thanks us for caring enough to get the boxes in the right hands.
Then, the adventure was over. Just like that. All within a week. There was love and tragedy like any other good love-story. And while at first I didn't feel like there was a happy ending, because I didn't think it was fair that Paula had to die, I realized that finding the boxes around the anniversary of Paula's death was perhaps no coincidence after all. Perhaps there were things in there that the family needed to see; needed to read. There was closure. And that is the resolution that every good love story needs. I feel blessed that I was able to play a small part in that happy ending.
Guess, it's time to write the next chapter in my own life... create my own adventure.


Anonymous said...

WOW! That is an amazing story! Seriously, I was just lost in reading it. Thank you for sharing that. We are too alike, I would have done the same thing.

Selaen said...

oh my god, that is just such an amazing journey! I've moved about a lot (rental flats), but I've never found anything but old manky shoes..

I bet you made one family, and especially one little girl especially happy!


Anonymous said...

Emma, I'm speechless. This is so wonderful. What an adventure and what a blessing to be a part of their love story. I'm happy for you and thanks for sharing. I was glued to the screen! How beautiful.

TravAndToni said...

Totally incredible! The very best part = I can "see" the sparkle that was in your eye!

I wonder if Paula put the boxes in the attic. I'll bet she did, especially the box full of letters. What a fabulous story. Fiction couldn't be any better.

Debbi said...

I love this story!

And I loved how Big D made reference to your blog! lol

What a great read, Em!

Janet said...

what a great story!

Ronnica said...

This is a long post, but I read it all. I wanted to know what happened, too! I'm glad that you were able to return those things to the rightful owners.

Adam Wills said...

OK. This was absolutely riveting. Found myself reading it while getting ready in the morning. Unfortunately I started reading it right at the time I dropped my towel to throw on the first layer of clothes (that's undies (or G's for those that are LDS)for those that do it in the right order). Wait that was a parenthesis inside of a parenthesis, is that even allowed? OK back to my comment. Anyways, I started reading reading at said point of clothing myself, and before I knew I had finished reading it all, and had totally forgotten that I was nekid! I guess that makes the story pretty riveting in my book. And I kind of knew the story already to boot.

Anyways, thanks for sharing every detail, and for being bold enough to get Big-D to take action. Big-D sounds like a cool dude to me. You should date him! ;) Maybe you should start leaving him post it notes on his car every night and start your own story.

Who got the gumball machine? Who got the lone green gumball? Can you share the steamy parts in a follow up post for adults only? (I totally need some steam in my life at the moment)

ann said...

WOW that was Great!! Thanks for taking the time to write it all down that must of takin forever!

I almost cried reading it!

Ruthykins said...

i didn't even notice that it was a long post. i was so into the story, and trying not to cry until derek left. he always makes fun of me.

RhondaLue said...



p.s. I was totally wishing all those post-its were completely viewable when I clicked on them to enlarge. Paula sounds like an amazing wife.

Puphigirl said...

What about the gumball machine? For crying out loud it's the most important part of the story! And you just blow past it like nothing!

I wasn't going to read the story 'cause I figured it involved crying and stuff that girls like. But I read it and it was a pretty good read. Still though, gumball machine. The story is not over!

Tamie said...

ok that was super-long -- but so amazing! i'm just like that it wanting to find "the story" out of things....what a great few days for you and *D*
you had yourself a little adventure :)

Ratmonkey said...

Wow, I don't think anything like that has ever happened to me... good story.


Susie said...

Wow!! You could write a screenplay off of that story!! Who would play you? The old woman?

greenolive said...

How amazing. I needed a good cry today.

purplehaze said...

That was a great thing you did,I was pretty choked up reading the story. How sad. Thanks for sharing.

Holli and Billy said...

Such a great story!! h

Amy said...

COOL!!! now I'm crying, thanks for sharing!!!

okeydokeyifine said...

I figure that the man must have fallen in love with his second wife and thereby giving his baby girl a Mother with whom she shared all her Firsts. This is the mother she knows and I am sure nothing will be taken away from the relationship they have, though it is sweet to have the things from her Mother. I know I would like to have them, were I in this situation.

Cassie the Sassie Lassie said...

I cannot believe you uncovered something like that. That's like something you read in books. Emma, I'm sure you are a hero (or similar) in that little girl's eyes... maybe even the dad's (Greg's). That is truly amazing.

Anonymous said...

BTW, great puppy dog look :)

Blog Stalker said...

What an awesome story! I know I find myself always "people watching" and interested more than I should in peoples arguments or "drama". And I would have so been upin that attic looking through those boxes.

Who the heck can know they are up there and never even once look through them? Crazy!

Anyway, what a great journey as you found out about Paula and her life.

Have a great day!

Vickie said...

Great story, Emma! I got so into it. I was doing the "jerk" when I thought they divorced. Then got a little bummed when she died. Wow, it was like reading a book.

That was very awesome of you two to return the items.

Betty said...

You´re right. That was long. But I loved reading every word! What a great story and what a great part you played!
Very interesting and touching!