I hate Valentine’s Day.
As we have all realized by now, everything about this designated day of “love” is painfully artificial.
(Except the chocolates, they are delicious…)
What is so egregiously insulting about this fake holiday is that *real* love is actually the antithesis of artificiality.
Love is the most genuine, pure emotion we have. It comes without reason, without preamble or pause, in flourishing waves that gradually but powerfully wash over us and leave us forever different in their wake.
Love changes us. Love inspires us. Love shapes our lives.
Love is the reason why each and every one of us exists.
I certainly wouldn’t be here if my parents didn’t fall in love inside a Barnett Bank in 1974. Or if both sets of my grandparents didn’t fall in love. And their parents before them and their parents before them.
In this vein, I am fortunate to have many examples of loving couples in my life, but none is as remarkable as my great-grandparents (my mother’s mother’s parents) Homer Lee and Pauline Boddie.
Homer Lee and Pauline were (and I say this with only a tiny trace of facetiousness) the Romeo and Juliet of Elmore County, Alabama. In May of 1922, after months of secret letters, Homer Lee and Pauline ran away against her parents’ wishes to get married. She was 15, he was 20, and they were in love.
They were married for 67 years, until death did them part in 1989.
Last Thanksgiving while visiting my family in Elmore County (the loving descendants my great-grandparents and their seven children), I came across a box of these secret letters that were shared between my great-grandparents in the months leading up to their elopement.
Now, I only had four years with my great-grandfather, Pop, but from what I remember and the stories I’ve heard, I can tell you he was very much a man’s man (exactly what you’d imagine of a man born in 1901 in rural Alabama). He was a mechanic, a farmer, and a hunter fond of flannel, overalls, and boots. Whether he was tuning an engine, plowing the rusty Alabama earth, or slicing up vinegar soaked cucumbers (for the family’s prized sweet pickle recipe) Pop was the kind of guy who loved working with his hands.
So you can imagine the surprise when I read Pop’s delicate script laced across pages upon pages of yellowed paper, declaring with every line his passionate, gentle love for my great-grandmother, MaMa (pronounced MawMaw). It’s even more profound given that Pop had only a grade school education.
One of the first letters we found from Pop to MaMa was dated February 5, 1922.
It’s 16 pages long (SIXTEEN PAGES Y’ALL!) and filled with the words of a man so desperately in love that it’s clear his sole purpose on Earth is winning the heart of one woman.
Y’all, it is seriously one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
Admittedly, it does border on sappy at times, but I can’t help swelling with emotion as I imagine Pop, hunched over the dining table by candlelight, spilling his heart across this paper in silver swirls of pencil lead.
My mom typed up the letter and I’ve included it (in its entirety) below, with some of my favorite passages (because again, it’s SIXTEEN PAGES long) highlighted in bold. After you read, you’ll understand (as I do now) why Mama gave in three months later and ran away with him to start their happily ever after.
Feb 5, 1922 (Sunday)
I was so glad to get your letter that I did not know what to do. I looked for one every day last week but was disappointed. I thought that there was something the matter with you but am so glad that there wasn’t. Dear, you don’t know how glad I was to get your letter. Darling, I have thought of last Sunday evening a thousand times. Darling if it was not for you I don’t know what in the world I would do for there is nothing in the world as precious to me as you my dear.
Oh Dear, don’t think of such a thing as me not loving you for you are the one and only one I love. There has never a boy loved a girl as I love you.
I have thought of marrying many times. It is like you say that it is for life but that is nothing when one loves a girl like I love you. I would never get tired of you for remember you, dear heart, are the one and only one I love. Yes, dear, I always will love you. I mean just as long as I live.
I don’t blame you for not wanting to live around here for there is nothing but a hard living here. You know I want you to share it with me for I have a heart full of lifetime love for you.
Oh Dear, I would have liked to been a little school boy the day that you taught school for I already knew the first rule that is to love the teacher. I am sure you would have been kind to me and I would be good. I enjoyed the music fine that Sunday evening but I believe I could not help from being uneasy there was so much that I had to tell you that you would have been glad to hear. Oh Dear, I would have liked to have talked to you all the time but saw that they were watching you and I thought they would lay the blame on you. No indeed it didn’t seem like olden times but very little. Darling, you don’t know how hard it is for me to think that I can’t come to see you. Don’t listen to what every body says.
If I can live long enough I am going to prove to people that I am trying to do what God would have me do. Darling, I love you and hope that you love me. Dear, I hope you will always love me. Dear, don’t be uneasy about me doing right for I never expect to do wrong any more as long as I live so I will expect you to love me. Dear, I will always be faithful so every thing will come right in the end. Dear, I hope they will treat you right. If they don’t it brings sorrow on my heart for you are the one that I expect to be my wife some day.
Oh Dear, you have asked me a hard question about going off to school. You know I don’t want you to go in one way and in another way I do for I think every body ought to have a good education. I could tell you more about it if I was talking to you.
Yes, Dear, if you were to go off and stay a year I would ?wait? You know I have told you many times that I would always love you. I am honest in everything I say. Yes, my darling, I would just give anything in the world if you was here now. I would give anything in the world to get to talk to you just one hour.
Oh, Dear, you know I wanted to set by you so bad but was afraid that they would run me off. Dear, forgive me for that and I will never do that way anymore. Oh, Dear, I would not hurt your heart for nothing in the world anymore. No, Dear, it was not because I didn’t love you for I love you with all my heart. Oh, Dear, you have been so good to me. Oh, Pauline, my darling, I love you so much that if I live to be a hundred years I will still love you more than words could tell. Dear, you have stuck to me so well and how much more that makes me love you. I hope by the help of God that some day we can prove our love to one another, don’t you Dear?
Yes, Dear, if you will love me and be as good to me as you have been in the past I will wait just as long as you want to. No, Dear, I will never get tired if you will love me as you say you do. Yes, Dear, I will wait, so don’t be uneasy. I am true to you my Dear.
Darling, I have thought of you a thousand times today and have wanted to come over there many times when I didn’t get to come. Yes, I remember the night when I said that I wanted to come over there and stay but I could say something that you would think of more than you have that if I could get the chance. Yes, Dear, I am going to show to them and not only them the whole world just what I am and always will be for your sake and for mine too.
Oh, Dear, it almost breaks my heart to hear you say that I cannot come but I know it is not your fault. Oh, I want to come so bad. No, Dear, I could never tell you of my love for it would increase so if I were to start that I never would get through telling it. Oh yes, Dear, be true to me for I am true to you and always will be. I think by God being my helper we will get to set together in that ole front room soon, don’t you? But if we never get to set in that one we will set in our own some day where there will be no one to bother us.
Dear, I guess you are going to the singing next Sunday eve. I will be expecting to see you up there and would like to talk with you just a little if there is any possible chance. Be sure and let me know whether you go up to Mary’s or not. Oh, Dear, you don’t know how glad I would be if I could get to talk to you about for long hours. Darling, you don’t know how bad I do want to be with you. When you are lonesome and by your self I could just love you so much. Dear, I hope that I will get the chance to love you to my satisfaction some day before long, don’t you dear?
No, I don’t object to Mary addressing the letters but I don’t think it best to let so many know that, do you? Say Johnie said don’t tell nobody that he was passing our letters for he did not want to get in trouble.
Dear, when you said that you was mine when called for did you mean that if I were to call for you now. Please be true dear if you were to fool me I would be crazy all the rest of my life. Would you be ready to go if I were to call soon.
When they tell you how bad it would be if we were to marry don’t get mad with them. Just stick with me and we will show them what kind of time we will have. Oh yes, Dear, you are mighty right. You could call me yours just as you are if you wish and I would be so happy. Darling, you say that I am the only boy that you ever went with that you thought of marrying. Maybe I am the only boy that you have ever loved well enough to marry. I can say for myself and be true that you are the only girl I ever loved well enough to marry and be true. Don’t think of what Florence Tate told you and be afraid for you are the only girl that I ever did love. No Dear, my love will never change, will yours? So don’t be uneasy, my love is for life. I don’t mean to just love you to get married and then hate you. I always will love you. Dear, if you was only mine and would be just as sweet as you have been in the past, oh how I would love you. Oh
Dear, just think what a happy life we could live.
Well, I am sorry to say it but I will have to, that is good bye from one who dearly loves you and is wishing you his every minute. You, my dear, are the one I want right now.
With an over flowing heart of love, HLB