Paul trotted up to the neat white cottage and opened up the wooden gate with one hand, a bottle of wine tucked under the other arm. He always enjoyed his grandmother fussing over the gifts he brought over. He knocked politely, then let himself in. Walking towards the sunny kitchen in the back of the house, he heard mumbling coming from the right parlor room.
His grandmother must be on her computer again.
Leaving the bottle on the countertop, Paul walked through the archway and observed the spare form of his favorite relative, who was typing busily on the keyboard and staring intently at the glowing screen of the laptop.
“Hi, Nana”, Paul leaned over and kissed a wrinkled cheek, “where are you going today?” His grandmother looked up briefly to beam at him.
“Millie found a site where you can try and find people you knew from your past. I think I found an old girlfriend I used to knock around with in the 40’s.” Paul smiled at her, but grimaced internally as he recognized the name of his grandmother’s co-conspirator. The crazy schemes the two of them had tried were almost legendary; tandem skydiving, motorcycle lessons, a belly dancing class; the list was endless. Paul only hoped that the computer websites would keep them out of any dangerous situations and also out of his hair.
Recently, they had been both subtly and overtly throwing out the names and statistics of potential women for him to date. It was sometimes a trial to sidestep their matchmaking attempts without hurting their feelings. Any time they got together, Paul knew they going to try and change his life. On the other hand, if the two old biddies, err, old friends were busy looking into their own lives, maybe they’d leave his alone.
“Good hunting, then, Nana. I just stopped to see how you were doing before I go on-shift.”
“You’re a good man, Paul. I can’t imagine why some woman hasn’t snatched you up. Why last week, I spoke with our old neighbor Alice Masden who has a cute niece that’s almost your age…”
The ringing of his cell phone allowed Paul to gracefully back out of the sticky conversation she was trying to set up. He gave his now-frowning grandmother a cheerful wave as he headed out the front door again and pressed the green button on his phone. “Hello, this is Paul. What’s up?”
Christine smiled as she began the final cleanup of the wonderful old desk. Lifting the gabled overhang, she carefully screwed the hinges and lifted the top off, revealing the final two shelves to be cleaned and restored. After placing the lid on a worktable to be disassembled and clean, she turned back to the desk, and peered into the recess between the two narrow shelves. She saw a vague patch of white in the rear left corner.
What could that be, she wondered as she picked up a small flashlight. Looking closely, it appeared to be some type of paper, but it was out of reach to her questing fingers. She walked back to the worktable and sifted through the tools and items until she found a narrow wooden dowel. She cautiously wiggled the stick behind the paper until it loosened and moved closer to the front of the desk, where she was finally able to get a hold of it and gently pull it out of the cubbyhole.
It looked like a crumpled roll of onionskin, the brittle edges slightly brown with age and wrapped with a faded blue ribbon. Christine tamped down her growing excitement as she untied the ribbon and attempted to spread the pages across the table. The roll slowly yielded to the gentle pressure she exerted, gradually revealing several small envelopes.
She picked up the topmost one. The upper right of the envelope sported a large “V” circled by “U.S. Mail” and a right-side postmark “March 13, 1943”. The envelope window had what looked like a photocopied paper with the name William Jackson and an address in Richmond. Christine put the envelope down, sat down in the office chair next to the desk and called her grandfather on the shop phone. His gruff voice was welcomed in her ear.
“What do you need, kitten?”
“Pop-pop, can you please come to the workshop? I have to show you something from the desk.” The timbre of her voice must have cued him because he quickly hung up and was at in the shop in a very short amount of time. He stared down at small pile of curled envelopes, his brow furrowed.
“Where did you find these again?” he asked.
“In the upper compartments, under the overhang and wedged in the back of the second shelf”, she replied, “I think they are letters for you, but I don’t know what they are.”
Ned took a moment to clear his throat, and touched the paper almost reverently. “In World War II, they used V-mail as a way of reducing the size of letters. Sometimes it was the only communication we had from back home when we were Europe. I had forgotten I had even kept these in the desk.”
“Are they from Grandma? I know you married her right after you got discharged from the Army.” Christine thought for a moment, reached for the yellowing papers and said, “Is it okay if I read them?”
Ned resisted an urge to snatch them off the desk. “No, they weren’t from your grandmother. They were from my first love.” Christine stared back at him, wide-eyed.