Recently, my partner discovered a beautiful, moving letter from her grandfather to her grandmother, written back in 1951.
He wrote it to his “Darling Edith,” as he called her, before they were married, and perhaps before they were even engaged.
This 68-year old letter, with its elegant handwriting and simple prose, penned late at night, is lovely in so many ways:
I’m not writing to you simply because it is my turn as you said last evening, but rather because I want to, for I have been thinking of you all day. This kind of weather brings a wonderful feeling to me. It is the time of year that I enjoy most. It makes me think about a lot of things but mostly you or us.
It also expresses doubt and uncertainty over money, familiar to lovers of all ages across time:
Will you be contented with the little I can provide for you? Will our love be strong enough to overcome the lack of material things.
But doubt quickly turns to determination:
Will we have as much as the others of your family or mine? It’s hard to say but I’ll do it all in my power to graduate next January so we can be married on May 1st 1952.
And then he gets down to planning:
I think our wedding should be within reason. Nothing too showy or elaborate.
With a bit of relatable self-recrimination about overspending:
Another thing that troubles me is my useless spending habit. It seems I just can’t save much money. I’m going to try to control this from now on by setting up a budget and this can work if I adhere to it.
“This can work if I adhere to it.” Back to that sense of determination, which was perhaps more common in mid-century, post-war America.
Now comes a plan to afford a future together:
If I can keep on making $15 a week or more this is how I plan to use it: Mother & Dad for board – $5, Clothes $1; School $2; Spending $2; Our future – $5.
If I can keep my spending money down to $2 per week I’m sure I can save much more than I have been. Also if I can work a full week during Easter vacation I won’t have to take any money that I saved to pay for school.
What I find most remarkable about this letter isn’t the charmingly low cost of goods in 1951.
It’s the openness to talking about money, with specific numbers around earning, spending, and saving. Embarrassment around money makes such openness rare even today.
It’s often said that a budget is a “plan for freedom.” This letter shows how a budget can be more than a plan for freedom – it can be a plan for a life with the one you love.
Likewise, studies show that couples who talk about money tend to have happier relationships than those who don’t, even when they’re dealing with stressful money problems.
That was certainly the case with this relationship.
Poppy – as he was known to his grandchildren – did graduate from college. He and Edith married shortly after. He saved enough to buy a home in Pennsylvania, where he and Edith lived and raised children over the following decades.
His letter was discovered in that same house in April 2019, nearly seven decades after it was written. It was found as Edith’s family gathered with her to celebrate her 90th birthday.
Sadly, Poppy died in 1997, shortly after retiring. As you can tell by his letter, he was a meticulous, thoughtful person. I’m so grateful his letter is here to inspire us today.