My mother married my stepfather in April 1963.
I was eleven years old at the time.
But let me back track a bit.
In 1962, my stepfather-to-be came to San Francisco to attend a professional conference. A girlfriend of my mother’s introduced my mother to my stepfather and cupid’s arrow stuck hard and fast.
Within two year’s time, my mother and I moved from San Francisco, California to Bethesda, Maryland, and life changed dramatically for both of us.
Throughout the long months before flying to Maryland, my stepfather wrote me many letters. Each letter was a personal introduction of sorts. In the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl I surely didn’t know what to expect from the man who would soon marry my mother and become the only father I had ever known.
Through the letters, he slowly revealed the kind of person he was and the kind of father he would be to me through his frequent and loving letters, which were either typed or handwritten and mailed directly to me.
He told me that he had a fifteen-foot sailboat and was fond of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. He said that he wanted to teach me how to sail. He told me that he was from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, his family still lived there and I would eventually meet them all. I knew he had an artistic side because he often included funny pictures and poems in his letters, all for my enjoyment. He told me that he wanted to teach me how to ice skate in the winter months on the frozen canals in Washington, DC. He was a devoted Roman Catholic and asked about my religious upbringing. He valued a strong and traditional education and his work caused him to travel widely.
But there was one thing that really stuck out about these letters. They were written on White House stationery.
At that time, my stepfather was acting as legal counsel for the Kennedy Administration. Several of the letters even mention my stepfather’s personal interactions with JFK.
December 16, 1962
By the way, during this past week, the President held his Christmas Party for his staff. I shook hands with him and wished him a Merry Christmas. During the evening, Caroline and one of her small friends came down the stairs to say hello to everybody. I sure wish you had been here to enjoy all the fun.
Many of the specific memories have faded for me. My stepfather, now 84 years old, has Alzheimer’s disease. As I hold my stepfather’s letters in my hands, I feel somehow connected to him again, and to my childhood, and to the love and affection that was so well expressed on sheets of paper.
Do you have family letters stored in shoeboxes up in your attic or on a shelf in your bedroom closet? When was the last time you read those letters and simply remembered days gone by? What do those letters mean to you? Please write and tell us. We’d love to hear from you.