There are almost 400 old letters in all, enough to fill a cardboard box as long as your arm.
Antonia Collier kept the letters tucked away in storage for almost 30 years. She said she felt that reading her parents' World War II-era letters might invade their privacy, even though her mother had encouraged her to study them for insights into the family.
"I want you to read the letters from your father; you will understand me and him better," her mother had said before she died of leukemia in the mid-1980s.
The letters, neatly scripted and still in their original envelopes, cover about 22 months of correspondence between Collier's deceased parents, DeForest and Wilma Lowry, while Mr. Lowry was overseas during World War II. The first is dated Aug. 24, 1944, from an Army training base in California; the last is an air-mail missive from Asia dated June 10, 1946.
Finally, late last fall, Ms. Collier, now 72 years old and widowed, pulled out the old, yellowed envelopes and began to read. She was only 4 when her dad went to war.
"If I was ever going to do this, the time was now," she said in an interview.
The traditional love letter, with its formal ruminations of the heart, may someday be remembered as a quaint relic of the 20th century.
That's too bad. Tweets and texts offer crude passage for the lyrics of love.
Wilma and DeForest met when they were just kids really. He was 18; she was 11. Her father would bring baskets of vegetables to sell on McCallie Avenue, near where DeForest lived, and little Wilma would tag along.
Their paths crossed years later as young adults at a hiking club. The romance kindled for good on their first date when DeForest, 28, asked Wilma, 21, to marry him. She laughed off the hasty proposal, but DeForest persisted, and they were eventually wed.
By the time he volunteered to serve in World War II, DeForest was 34. He was overseas in China and Burma (now Myanmar) during the waning years of the war working as a medic.
When they married, DeForest promised his young bride that he would say "I love you" every day. Even a world war did not change his resolve on this.
On quiet nights, DeForest would sometimes write in verse to his wife and little daughter.
"The night comes on and I am here, to write my nightly letter, dear.
"My thoughts are with you and you alone, and of the time when I will be home.
"Far from the ones I love the best, and come again to our home to rest.
"When Wilma and Antonia again I'll see. The ones who mean the world to me."
DeForest, Aug. 24, 1945.
Then, on a Valentine's Day while he was away, DeForest penned these lines.
"No card this year can I send to you,
Nor box of chocolate candy.
No verse to say that love will do,
Or poem that is handy.
There's just some words that seem to start,
In reverent meaning, clear.
From down in your corner of my heart,
They are: "I love you, dear."
Even after DeForest died of a stroke in 1969, Wilma sometimes felt compelled to write to him.
In 1975, six years after he died, she wrote these words:
"I miss your kindness,
I miss your tender touch.
I miss your arms around me so much.
Many days have passed since you've been gone,
But my love is still as strong.
I know you won't return, but my heart still yearns.
The minutes, hours, days, weeks, years we were together were so few,
And still I am lonesome for you."
Antonia Collier says she is glad that she finally read her parents' letters. They helped her remember the day her father came home from war and how she almost ran through a screen door to get to him.
More, they gave her insights into the honest affection her mother and father had for one another. Which, at the end of the day, is the most precious gift parents can give to a child.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...