I randomly picked a letter from an old cardboard box of a hundred more exactly like it, given to my husband, Peter, in 1985 by his Grandmother who said it was a treasure, their love letters. Written by his Grandfather Bill Cunningham in Cambridge, Mass. to Mildred (Minkie) Pilpel at university in Madison, Wisconsin, the first letter I read was postmarked June 18, 1917. I couldn’t stop reading. I continued to pick at random. Peter had known to save the letters but had not yet read them. As far as I know, no one has read them since they were sent to Minkie, 103 years ago.
June 17, 1917
…. to pluck it forth and heal the tiny wound with a kiss.
No letter to answer! In holiday season (the seventeenth is a holiday here) the mails do not run smoothly. Hence I have no letter. Your last post-card was only a wail—a voice crying in the wilderness —"weary and ill at lease.” I suppose from now till the blessed 22nd you’ll do your hibernating. After the awful cramming of history, you are entitled to much luxurious sleep. Once exams are over you feel as though you were entering an entirely new existence. Throw off the grub and be a glorious butterfly. Think no more of Pelagianism and Thucydides, of Gregory and the forged Decretal —
begin now to gather rose buds and now and then a thorn prick your tender skin, behold I am there to pluck it forth and heal the tiny wound with a kiss.
April 11, 1917
I like them there—not exactly gaunt, you know,
No, Minkie, my love,
I like them there—not exactly gaunt, you know, so that one can feel each separate rib in one’s natural explorations, but then enough not to be too much of a burden to one’s rather exogenous though of course, venerable) legs. Did I ever prophecy corpulence for you? It must have been in one of my dark moments. Certainly, that prediction, if made, (which I doubt) did not intimate my desire with reference to your general expansiveness—which, I hope, will be in a mental rather than a physical direction. Savages like their women fat, yes, even disgustingly obese; perhaps the Yankee who looks to his wife as a household drudge prefers an eye filling specimen as a sign of endurance; I know that crude souls hanker for heavy armored cruisers—women with a full panoply of fleshy charm. Not for me, thank you.