My dad, Joseph Harris Brown, died over fifty years ago after a lengthy hospitalization. The veteran’s hospital where he was placed was about 60 miles from our home. When he died my mother was 32 with seven young children. I was the youngest of the group and really don’t have any memories of him. Yet, I still feel the loss to this day. Years later, when my mom died, my sister Ann sent me the original letters written by my mom and dad when he was in the hospital. Through the years, I heard many stories shared about him but always longed to know more. Did he and my mom love each other? Did they love their children and the life they built together?
The letters found inside those faded brown envelopes, with the dated postmarks and stamps, gave me an intimate look into their marriage and provided answers. By far, they are my most treasured keepsakes. In the letters my dad wrote to my mom, he would tell her he was doing ok and share just a bit about his condition; however, most of the letters would offer encouragement to my mom for being such a great wife and mom. He was proud of her strength and how she was taking care of home while he was away. My dad would ask about the children and sometimes would offer tips to my mother about mundane family matters.
In her letters, my mom in turn, would write to him saying we all were fine and share tidbits about our lives. Since at that time, my mom didn’t drive she would tell him who would be driving us to visit him and the date he could expect us at the hospital. She shared who agreed to drive her, which kids would be coming to visit and who would be babysitting the kids left at home. The letters were upbeat and while the love for their children was referenced in an ancillary manner, what was most paramount in the letters was their love for each other. I can’t explain why that's important, but I find such joy in knowing my mom and dad really loved each other and loved the life they built as a young couple particularly given the time period and the difficulties they no doubt faced as African-Americans. I don’t have to rely on second hand tellings of this truth. Their letters are the sweetest love letters I have ever read. Somehow, reading about how they supported each other during what had to be a very scary time for them provided answers to many unspoken questions.