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My Grandmother’s Lover


The summer of ’66 was a good one. My parents let me buy a lemon yellow bikini. My best friend’s brother was required to take us along to the beach, and even though we had to sit in the back seat and weren’t allowed to sing along to radio, we were in heaven.

One tiny pocket of discomfort that year came via my grandmother. She was vacationing in Rome, without my grandfather, who had opted to stay home and run the family business.

After a perfect day at the beach, I found this on the kitchen table, in one of those Per Via Aerea tissue-thin envelopes:

Dear Linda,

I thought New York City was noisy. But Rome is noisy with gestures! Last night I saw the Coliseum by moonlight. It was a full moon. Unfortunately, I did not have my lover with me. I hope someday you will see this beautiful sight with your special lover,

Love, Your Grandmother

I’m sure she meant well, but the word lover was nothing I ever expected to slip from my grandmother’s lips. She was, well… ancient. She wore gray wool skirts and full-length girdles and stockings, even in the humidity of a New York City summer. I had never seen my grandparents touch each other. Sometimes she would smile at one of his silly jokes or puns, but more than likely it would be, “That’s enough, Will.”

Now, all of a sudden, he was her lover? I put the letter away and hoped the visual image it incurred would fade. Soon.

Then, a few lifetimes later, when I was in my fifties, I inherited a box of my grandparents’ letters to each other. My mother, an archivist at heart, needed to make sure they would endure, and I was her best candidate.

The letters were written when my grandmother would travel to Vermont each summer. She was in her 20s, and my grandfather—ever the practical one—stayed behind. The letters are filled with young love I never got to see in person.

“I’m not sleeping well,” he writes. “I keep telling myself not long until I see my Isabella again.”

For all my 1966 uneasiness over my grandmother’s wording, now I understood. She watched me then—young and smooth and always in love—and she was remembering herself when she was, too. I wore halter tops and let my hair get streaked by the sun. She walked along an unpaved road in Vermont in the morning, hoping for a letter from the man she loved.

When my first grandson was three, he and I were taking a walk, and I was trying to explain how we were all related.

I said, “I’m your daddy’s mom.”

He gave me one of those toddler giggles, an indication that he knew better than I. “You’re not a mom!” he said with absolute certainty. “You’re a grandma!”

His discovery about his grandmother awaits.

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13 thoughts on “My Grandmother’s Lover”

  1. Hi Linda! When I got together with my husband in my early 20s I remember us both thinking my parents were OLD and that my grandparents were ancient. Now I am far older than my parents were then and probably the same age as my grandparents were at the time….funny how that perception changes huh? But what a great gift your grandmother shared to show you that love, romance and passion happens no matter what our age. ~Kathy

    • Hi Kathy, my grandmother was one of my early “fans.” She always made a special point to comment on my writing when I was a girl, and I never forgot the encouragement she gave me. It’s doubly thrilling to write about her now. Linda

  2. It’s always shocking to realize our parents and grandparents had lives before us! I love that your grandmother wrote about her lover, and hope that technology will not prevent future generations from making the same kinds of discoveries from old handwritten letters.

    • Thanks, Lois. I hope those words and thoughts pass through the generations, too, regardless of how they arrive. Linda

  3. I remember being aware that my divorced grandmother had a male friend she referred to as “AC.” I never met him; my parents never commented, and because I didn’t really know what to make of it, I never asked. Now I wish I had. Brenda

  4. I remember the first time I found a love letter from my father to my mother. I thought I would be traumatized for life. I still have it …now it’s beautiful!

  5. I’ve saved the letters that my then-boyfriend/now-husband wrote to me on birch bark paper he created himself and then mailed to me…and they survived the USPS! They’re sweet, romantic reminders of our youth and distress at having to be apart the summer of ’80 because of jobs. I hope my daughters love them someday and cherish them as much as I do.

  6. I recall being very young, maybe 8-10 and my widowed grandmother giggling once about a ‘boyfriend’ – I was curious but didn’t like to ask her to explain, but then again, she was always giggling and had such a cheeky side to her, I miss her so much. I moved to the UK in my late 20s and still live here, her home was Australia but I wrote to her quite frequently, I knew she would enjoy my stories and I also thought that one day I would probably get those letters back, that they would be something to pass onto my nieces who would never know her. Sadly, when she died my Dad was told by his sister that Grandma had never received any letters from me – but I know that’s a lie because she replied when she could – we presumed they had been destroyed. All because of some petty, family business. However, like you, I am writing a book. Grandma and her letters will live on and your story has reminded me to write a few more love letters of my own, thank you!

    • Esther,

      Letters and grandmothers. If we’re lucky, we realize how important both are in our lives! I’m enjoying your writing on 1010 Park Place. Great stuff.

      — Linda

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