Four years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Newport, Ore. with Woodland residents Mary Ann and Ted St. Mars. We visited an antique store where I saw an Old Spice box, browned with age, but in good shape. I held it up to read the lightly- penciled note on its side: “Mama and Papa’s Love Letters. Millie Pirtle and J. D. Wright.”Once I knew the box contained love letters, I couldn’t resist. I called Mary Ann over, opened the box, and carefully removed one of the many little square white envelopes. The cursive handwriting looked like art. The postmark was Aug. 10, 1904. I could picture a lady’s slender hand dipping a fountain pen into an inkwell to fill it before drawing the beautifully curved lines.Mary Ann and I thought it would be fun to read the old letters. “How much are they?” I asked the clerk, holding up the unmarked box.“I don’t know. How about $5?”We each placed $2.50 on the counter and left with our prize.The three of us were caretakers of those love letters for four years, knowing that the $5 we paid didn’t really make them ours. Through those letters, we got to know the correspondents, Millie Pirtle of Salona, Texas, and her beau, James D. Wright of Bowie, Texas, and we believed they wanted their letters to go home.Our job was to find out where “home” was.Millie, a proper lady, began each letter formally with “Mr. Wright.”He began his to her with “Miss Millie.”
It was easy to follow the progression of their romance just by the way Mr. Wright closed his letters. In August of 1904, he signed “as ever your friend,“ but by November, he signed, “I close with all my love for you!”
When the two first started corresponding, Millie shared her uneasiness with her newfound feelings when she wrote: “I hardly know how to answer your letter as I fear I hardly know the sentiment of my own mind and you have asked for my mind exactly.”
Mr. Wright knew just how to win Miss Millie’s heart: “It is your true soul which I admire, your mind of pure thoughts.”
At one point in September, Mr. Wright seemed to question where he stood by signing the letter “I remain your true friend…? & lover.”
But soon, he knew he was gaining Miss Millie’s love when she wrote “Mr. Wright, my heart is wholly my own except what of it is yours. You have stolen a part of it. Can’t say when.”
He didn’t have to wait long for Millie to get in touch with her true feelings. Later in September she wrote: “Tonight I have a feeling towards you I have never felt for anyone else, a feeling I have never felt before, a feeling all so new, so strange, all so quick, so unexpected, and yet so sweet, so calm, I do not care to part with it. Is this the beginning of love?”
When Mr. Wright wasn’t writing flowery love notes, he also had a sense of humor. In one letter, he wrote about a lady who was keeping her eye on them: “If you had looked around some you would have known we were being watched for I could see her large eyes roll around like that of a cow when she hears the hay rattle.”
Once the two had agreed to marry, Mr. Wright relaxed his writing style a bit and added this post script that was less flowery than some of his writing and gave Miss Millie a peek at his evening routine: “I was so interested in this letter that I forgot to take my tobacco so I must sit up awhile longer and read the news.”
Millie may have thought at one point that Mr. Wright was getting a bit too comfortable with their relationship, and in her letter of Oct. 10, she wrote, “The reason I took my hand from you was not that it hurt me or that I was afraid of it for I am not afraid of it at all. I do not know just why I did, only I felt you had no right to try it and that you should not.”
All was forgiven by Halloween, though, when Millie wrote, “I am proud that I love you and that you love me. I am proud ‘twas you that won my love for I feel that the love you return is as pure and true as my own.”
With their marriage only two weeks away, Miss Millie wrote, “Mr. Wright, it is with a strange sweetness that I reflect on the time when we shall be as one.”
Miss Millie and Mr. Wright kept the love letters as a keepsake throughout their lives. Ted and Mary Ann St. Mars and I knew what we had to do.
Ted photocopied all of the letters, and stored the originals in a safe place. Then, we started searching the Internet for their family.
We finally located Jymie Carol Inmon, who had researched the family for 30 years. In January, the 1904 love letters left Woodland and traveled back to Texas where they will spend Valentine’s Day 2008 with Jymie Carol and her four children… second cousins four times removed to James David Wright.