It’s been a few months since I shared the last excerpt of my NaNoWriMo novel “Letters of a Lifetime.”  I recently reengaged in the editing process and am excited to continue working on my novel.  Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 2. 
 
We pick up where Anne just finished reading a shocking letter indicating her recently deceased mother was an unwed mother in the 1940’s. 
 

Anne shook her head in disbelief.  Who was Jack, and what became of his parents? Did they know about the baby? Did Ruth give the baby up for adoption, or did she keep it? Anne’s hunger for answers and truth intensified as she reread the letter.

She sank a little further into the couch, letting her mind wander a bit before diving into the next letter.

 

December 10, 1944

Dear Ruth,

Christmas is coming soon and I wonder if your parents will come see you for Christmas?  They don’t really speak to me anymore.  I guess they think I’ll give away your secret.  You know I will never tell a soul ‘til the day I die.  Promises between best friends are forever.  Our church choir is practicing twice a week now for the pageant.  It’s going to be a beautiful event.  We’re hoping it will snow Christmas Day, wouldn’t that just be so elegant?  Mrs. Johnson’s math class is unbearable.  She’s taken to adding extra homework on saying we’ll appreciate this later.  I think she’s just ornery about her son off at war and taking it out on all of us left behind.  Some of the boys in class are talking about signing up as soon as they can.  Does it bother you that I talk about that?  I’m very sorry if it does.  We’ll be ice skating soon.  Remember when we went for the first time in 3rd grade?  We both fell so many times I think we were bruised for weeks. 

Only a few months now before baby is born.  I want to come see you so badly, but don’t want to risk giving away your secret.

Until next time,

Love and hugs,

Shirley

Anne tried to imagine her mother as a pregnant teenager living away from home –being sent away from home by angry parents.  Her best friend was ostracized too, for knowing her secret.  The baby’s dad must be named Jack and he apparently died in the war.  The details were emerging, but she was still reeling from the shock factor.

Was Jack forced to go away to war to save his family’s name?  Ruth hadn’t mentioned anything about his family being angry.  Did they even know?  As quickly as one question was answered, more were created.  She hoped the remaining letters would provide the answers to her growing list of questions.

 

January 15, 1945

Dear Ruth,

The Christmas pageant was a huge success and we raised money for the Catholic Charity Society.  They were so pleased when we presented the money to them.  It was the bright spot in my holiday.  With graduation coming in the spring, I’m feeling a bit nervous about my future.  Rusty still has a crush on me; he’s asked me to go steady but I just can’t say yes.  He isn’t my knight, you know.  I do remember you telling me not to be so picky, but I just can’t imagine kissing him goodnight every night for the rest of my life.  That crooked mouth of his and his big ears would set me to giggling so much I fear we’d never do well.  Well anyhow, I know I hurt his feelings, but I had to refuse.  Maybe I’ll end up an old spinster, but at least I won’t laugh myself silly every night.

Remember our pledge before you left?  I intend to keep it, you know. 

Give your baby belly a rub from me.  I know you must be very round by now.

Love, Shirley

PS:  We made fudge for Christmas!  It was heavenly –we had to save our rations for enough ingredients, but it was worth it!  Mama was so proud and Daddy was sure surprised! 

 

What was the pledge?  Was Shirley referring to her previous promise to keep the pregnancy a secret, or was there something else?  Anne got up and fixed herself a cup of hot tea while she imagined Shirley writing secret letters to Ruth hidden away in Fergus Falls.  Was her mother happy to get the letters or did it make the pain worse, not being able to see her friend?  Anne wondered if her grandparents ever went to visit Ruth, or if they remained bitter throughout the entire pregnancy.  But for the grace of God, how many other girls didn’t get pregnant before marriage?  She thought her grandparents were awfully judgmental, but then remembered times were different back then. 

Anne was getting too sleepy to read more, so she let Charlie out to do his business and joined Derek upstairs.  Her heart and legs were heavy as she climbed the stairs that night.

The next morning, Anne and Charlie left for their usual morning run.  Anne hoped the fresh air would clear her mind enough to focus on the remaining three letters from Shirley.  She vacillated between being angry with her mother for keeping the secret, and feeling sorry for her.  It was a lot to think about –possibly having a half-sibling out there somewhere.  And she couldn’t help but wonder if there were other family secrets, too.

Running past the elementary school reminded her of dropping off Abby in her pigtails and pink backpack.  She couldn’t imagine giving up her daughter and never knowing what happened her.  In that moment, Anne’s compassion overrode her anger and she tried to envision what it must have been like for her mom to wonder about the lost baby all those years.

Charlie got wind of something exciting and began pulling on the leash so hard Anne was instantly returned to the present.  He lunged into the bushes just as Anne saw a cat’s tail disappear.  “C’mom, Charlie, let’s go,” she urged him.  Her daily five-mile run was often interrupted by his antics and it frustrated her.  Some days she was tempted to just leave him home.

Derek was working on the lawn mower when Anne and Charlie burst into the garage, both panting.  “Hi!” Anne said with enthusiasm.  Derek smiled, enjoying her runner’s high, knowing it might not last when she dug back into those letters.  “Hi back!” he said with a grin.  She tousled his hair, gave him a smooch, and headed for the shower. 

She’d already decided she would read the remaining letters this morning.  Depending on what was in them, she might even dive into the other mystery stack as well.  Anne was curious why they’d never been mailed, but being the linear, logical type she wanted to do things in order.

While the tea water was heating and her oatmeal was cooking, she sat on the couch and opened letter number five.

Dearest Ruth,

You may already know the news, but I’m sorry to tell you we found out Andrew Carter was killed in the line of duty.  I know you were good friends for a long time.  His service will be in a couple of weeks.  Poor Mrs. Carter is beside herself.  I think she might go crazy with her grief.  I’m so sorry about Jack, too, Ruth. 

Do you wonder if Mrs. Mitchell would be excited to know she’s about to become a grandma?  Will you ever tell her?  Maybe someday when baby is bigger? 

How will you celebrate your birthday, Ruth?  You’ll be 18 – I have to wait another two months before mine.  It will be strange celebrating without you.  We’ve always had our birthdays together.

Until next time,

Love, Shirley

 

So Jack’s last name was Mitchell.  Anne decided she should jot some names down in a notebook to help make sense of all these people she didn’t know…yet.  Jack Mitchell, father to her mother’s firstborn.  This was complicated, but doable.  She sketched out a family tree and added Jack, Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell and Ruth.  It was an odd sensation to think somehow she and Mrs. Mitchell had a connection to the same tree.

Anne’s cell rang the familiar ringtone of Journey’s Open Arms which signaled it was Abby calling.  She answered “Hi honey!” with a smile on her face.  “Hi mom,” Abby replied.  “What’cha doin’?”  Anne described the events of her run with Charlie and told Abby she’d been reading the letters from Grandma’s friend.  Abby told her she’d been thinking a lot about the situation and was still struggling with the whole thing.  “Mom,” she said carefully “You never really answered me about whether you and Dad have big secrets like this or not.”  Anne didn’t hesitate before answering “Honey, I can assure you there are no unknown siblings running around you need to worry about.  Is there more to the question than that?  I know you’re upset with Grandma, but I’m not her, okay?”

“Yeah, I know Mom,” she said sullenly.  “It’s just that, well you know, Grandma always seemed so honest and true.  I feel like I can’t trust anyone now.”  Anne knew the feeling because she’d been second guessing her own instincts, too.  “I think I know what you mean, honey.” She said.  “I guess we have to remember she was as honest as she could be without telling us that one part of her life.  But, it does kinda put a black mark on everything else for me, too.” 

Anne went outside to the back yard with a glass of ice water for Derek.  When he shut the mower off and came over, she handed him the water and said “I’m kinda worried about Abby.  She’s pretty bummed out and she’s up at school all by herself.”  Anne told him she’d offered to drive up tomorrow and he rolled his eyes. “That’s a long drive for one day”, he said.  “I’ve got a big meeting Monday morning, Anne.  I can’t just drop everything because she’s got PMS or something.”  Anne bristled and said coldly “PMS?  Really, Derek?  Well, I’m going to support our daughter.  You can come if you like, but I’m going with or without you.”  She walked back into the house without a backwards glance.  Derek knew she meant it.

She was mad at Derek, mad at her mom, and worried about Abby.  The whole mess was the result of finding out her mom had a baby years ago no one even knew about.  It was maddening that her world had turned upside down so quickly.  Still, Anne couldn’t resist picking up the next letter in hopes of finding an end to the chaos.

Dear Ruth,

My birthday was nice.  Rusty came by and brought me a card.  He’s still carrying a torch for me.  Do you think I should go steady with him after all?  He got accepted to Harvard in the pre-med program.  Can you imagine Rusty being a doctor?  He isn’t going to war because of school.  Some of the boys make fun of him and say he’s a candy-ass (sorry, but that’s what they say!).  I think he’s too smart for them and they don’t like it. 

Blackie didn’t come home for a couple of days and I thought sure a coon got him or something.   He got three mice this week.  Dad says he’s finally earning his keep around here.  I sure was happy to see him show up again, even if he did have those icky mice.

Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell left town for a few days and only Mr. Mitchell came back.  He told people at work she was having such a good time visiting family she decided to take a few extra days.  I think she’s going to be gone a lot longer than a few days. 

All us seniors are getting excited for graduation.  People still ask about you, Ruth.  I tell them you are probably going to graduate from that school since your uncle still isn’t doing well.  Oh dear, I even went and told them you got pinned by a boy from the college.  You’re a hero around here, now!  I got tired of the chore stories and thought a boy story might be better.  Anyhow, if someone finds out about the baby, maybe they’ll think he’s the daddy.

Please don’t be mad at me.

Until next time,

Love, Shirley 

Anne liked Shirley’s spunk and found herself wondering what kind of letters she would write to a friend in the same situation.  She could feel Shirley’s loneliness and wondered if Shirley ended up marrying Rusty with the crooked mouth and big ears after all.  These people were coming alive right here in her living room.  If it weren’t for the possibility of having a half-sibling, she could imagine this real life mystery turning her into a detective just for fun.  Instead, she was consumed with finding out more about her roots and who her mother really was.

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