Category Archives: Valentine’s Day

Writers, get the most out of your stories

box of lettersbox of lettersIn February, I wrote “Century old love letters go home for Valentine’s Day” for The Daily News, Longview, WA. (See the story on this blogsite.) My writing teacher said it was a great story. I didn’t know how great until, the morning it came out in the paper, Channel 2 News from Portland, OR called and wanted to use the story as its Valentine feature.

My friends and I had purchased these old love letters at an antique shop on the Oregon Coast. How, we wondered, did they get there from Texas? We were intrigued, and set out to find their family. Thank goodness for the Internet, because without it, we wouldn’t have found the family genealogist who had researched that very family for thirty years. After a few emails back and forth, I sent the letters home to Texas, where their new owner reads them to her grown children.

Any of us who write for publication know that when you have a good story, you should write it for more than one magazine or newspaper. Each version should be specifically tailored to the publication receiving it. Today, I called the editor of the newspaper in that small Texas town and told him my idea. He was interested, and asked me to email the story. I got the correct spelling of his name, and found out how he would like me to send the story. He prefers email, but some editors prefer snail mail. You must know what the editor wants and follow his guidelines, and you must know the editor’s name when you send the query. “Dear Sir” doesn’t sell stories.

Once I had sent the email, I packed the copies of the letters back into their brown leather bag and put them away. As soon as I did, I realized I wasn’t done. What about the towns those long-ago lovers lived in, I wondered? Would their newspapers be interested in the stories too?

I looked up the two towns and found that they shared the same newspaper. There, in the center of the newspaper’s web page, was a notice requesting story ideas for the 150th anniversary edition. It seemed a perfect fit…and I almost forgot to try it!

So often, we don’t carry our ideas far enough. It can be hard enough to find a great idea. When you do, don’t waste it. Write it for all it’s worth.

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Filed under Family Memories, love letters, submitting stories, Texas, The Daily News, Valentine's Day, writing, writing for publication

Century-old love letters go home for Valentine’s Day

Learn more about this love story tonight on KATU Channel 2 News! KATU read my story in The Daily News and came to my home where they interviewed me to find out more about the special story of Miss Millie and J. D. Wright’s romance. Here’s a link to the news segment:

If you enjoy this story or would like to suggest other “heartwarming or emotion-evoking true stories” for me to write, please comment on this blog. Happy Valentine’s Day!

                     Pat Nelson

Thursday, February 14, 2008

By Pat Nelson / For the Daily News, reprinted with permission

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.


The Daily News reporter Leila Summers added this sidebar:

Jymie Carol Hawley couldn’t believe her luck.

The long-lost love letters sent from Woodland last month provided Hawley, a Texas resident and family genealogist, with rare insight to lives of her distant ancestors J. D. Wright and Millie Pirtle.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “I just think it’s history, and it’s a (love) story.”

How these letters landed on the Oregon Coast remains a mystery, said Hawley, 50, in a phone interview. If Jim’s and Millie’s descendants moved to Oregon, the region could be a new place to search for other lines of the Wright family, she said.

“That’s one reason I’m trying to find the whereabouts of (their) children and grandchildren,” Hawley said. “Maybe the family moved to the West coast.”

Though Hawley herself is a distant relative to J. D. Wright, the Texas resident hopes the letters will someday rest with closer descendants of the couple, who’s eloquent writing whe’s grown to cherish.

“I plan to keep them forever unless I find a member of the family who’s in closer relation and they want them,” she said.

J. D. Wright (who went by “Jim”) is the fourth cousin, four-times removed from Hawley’s late husband.

Just before Pat Nelson contacted Hawley last fall, the Texas resident’s own research recovered a century-old family Bible…a great treasure in itself. Hearing from Nelson nearly put Hawley through the roof, she said.

“I was just thrilled,” she said.

Hawley hasn’t yet read all of Jim and Miss Millie’s letters, but she’s read many of them aloud to her grown children, many of whom are married.

“They’re all young and in love,” she said. They’ve enjoyed hearing the way “true feelings and thoughts” were put into romantic exchanges of yesteryear.

Some of the comments about this article:My Opinion wrote on Feb 14, 2008 6:31 AM:

” This is a great article for Valentine’s Day.A true story of finding “Mr. Wright”.Thanks for running it TDN. “

momof4 wrote on Feb 14, 2008 9:32 AM:

” What a great article. I love to read positive, uplifting things. I am so glad they found the family, what great keepsakes. “

paul wrote on Feb 14, 2008 9:45 AM:

” Incredible story! I love it!! “

Louie wrote on Feb 14, 2008 9:55 AM:

” A perfect story for this Valentine’s Day. I have the letters my father sent my mother when he was stationed off Attu on a minesweeper during WW2. I treasure them. Unfortunately the letters mom sent to dad had to be ‘deep sixed’ due to lack of storage space. A heartfelt loss to our family. I can just imagine these relatives jubilation at receiving these beautifully written pieces for their family’s history. Nice going you sleuths in Woodland. “

Mrs. M wrote on Feb 14, 2008 10:41 AM:

” Sweet “

Michele wrote on Feb 14, 2008 10:47 AM:

” As always you have put a smile on my face with your story. I love reading your articles as they are full of life and sparkle.”

my2cents wrote on Feb 14, 2008 11:13 AM:

” This was a lovely piece! Thanks so much for sharing a sweet story

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Filed under Family History, love letters, Texas, Valentine's Day, Woodland, writing