By Jalissa Mooney
Half a century of dust had been collecting up in this attic and now it was taking its revenge out on me, as I stuffed an old, broken doll into a black garbage bag. My grandmother was moving into a nursing home in a month and the house she had lived in for over fifty years would be going to her eldest son and daughter-in-law. Everyone was given a task to complete within the month to help get the house ready and I had the pleasure of being assigned the attic.
Looking around I could spot old boxes, vintage clothing, a wardrobe, broken toys scattered around the floor, and everything was covered in a layer of dust. I pulled out a pair of rubber gloves from my pocket and slid them onto my hands. Bending down I picked up some of the dirtiest items I had ever seen, including dead rats, smelly clothes, and one particular item of unknown origin but it had quite the aroma clinging to it.
I slowly cleared items off the floor and was better able to walk around in the attic until I reached the first stack of boxes. The top box was light as a feather and inside were the dirty remains of children's drawings. What were once vibrant colors of reds, blues, and greens, were now faded to the point where I almost couldn’t make out what they were pictures of. Grandma must have held onto the drawing her children had made when they were toddlers and little kids. Knowing my Uncle Eddy, the first-born son, he would tell me to throw them away.
Opening the garbage bag I overturned the box and dumped its continents into the trash. The tape on the box had lost its strength long ago so breaking the box down was an easy task. One by one I went through each box and its continents. One box held old baby clothes and I set that one aside in case there were memorabilia inside. Another box contained photo albums of all shapes and sizes. I glanced inside one and saw dozens of black and white photos. I recognized grandma and grandpa in some of them. Others featured the entire family, including my mother who was the youngest of three children. I especially liked the photo of everyone sitting around the Christmas table, hands clasped before them, saying their prayers before they eat. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting.
After two hours of combing through dusty boxes, I had the majority of them sorted for dumping or for the family to go through. Stepping to the side of the attic I moved to the wardrobe and opened the doors. A burst of dusty wind was expelled from inside and I began to cough into my fist for a few moments. When I could finally breathe enough to peer inside I could see that there were articles of clothing, certainly but lying just underneath the hanging clothes were two heart-shaped boxes. Perhaps they had once been a bright red color but time had done away with their vibrancy. I reached for the one on the left and peeled the lid off. Inside was a stack of old letters and each one seemed to have my grandmother's maiden name on them, Christy Lewis. Her married name was Daniels and it had been for more than half a century. These were mailed to her before she married.
My mother always told me that my curiosity would get me into trouble one day, despite her warning I found myself sitting down on the dirty floor and opening the first letter. There was a photograph of a young man in his early twenties, wearing a uniform. The date read 1962 at the top of the letter. For some reason, these had been important enough for grandma Christy to keep after sixty years.
April 20, 1962
My Dearest Christy,
I am lost without you. Last night I howled at the darkness and some other creature howled back. Perhaps he too has a loved one so far away from him. The other men in camp feel as I feel. I know this because I see the look in their eyes as they read their letters from home and long for a quick return. Today, I remembered the heat of your naked skin and the feel of your soft lips against mine. It helped me to keep going through the fields of Vietnam. This unfamiliar terrain would be more bearable if we were by each other’s side.
I looked up from the paper, stunned for a moment. Were these letters from grandpa Nicholas to grandma Christy? I skipped to the second page and my eyes raced to the bottom where the signature was likely to be.
All My Love,
Eric? Who was Eric? I knew how grandma had met grandpa, the story had always been one of my favorites. Nicholas Daniels had returned from the war after an injury and on his way home, he had tripped on his crutches and fallen on top of grandma as she was heading to work. She couldn’t leave an injured soldier by himself, so she took on the task of helping him get home and a few weeks later, he sought her out at her job in a boutique to ask her out. They dated for a solid year before Nicholas proposed at the very spot they had met. Fifty-one years later, Nicholas dies at the age of seventy-two leaving Christy a widow at the age of seventy.
I opened the second heart-shaped box and found several more letters. I flipped through them checking only the dates and signatures. Each one was signed by the same Eric and they were sent between the years 1962-1963. So, grandma had a love interest before she met grandpa. Not unusual, but why had she kept the letters all these years? What happened to Eric?
February 1, 1963
It’s been horrible these last few days. Bombs have been coming no-stop. The sound of bullets no longer faze me and I feel myself becoming more and more apathetic towards the world. The cruel and unforgiving world. My only comforting thought is you and our future. The house we will live in, the children we will have and the life we will share. I picture it every day, when the enemy comes out at night and when I stare at your photograph. They are my only comforts and have become my reason for surviving this terrifying war.
My tour is almost up, Christy. Two more months and I will be sailing home to marry and be with you. Imagine the life we will build together. Imagine all that we will have? It won’t be long now. I am coming home to you.
All My Love,
Behind this letter was a folded-up piece of paper. An old telegram from the army. One sentence stood out among the others.
We regret to inform you of the death of Eric Mooney on March 5, 1963.
Eric had died a month before he was due to return home. His platoon had been ambushed by the Vietnamese soldiers and only five out of twenty soldiers made it out alive. So, he died, I thought to myself. Grandma Christy’s first love had died in Vietnam. In June that same year, she met Nicholas Daniels and married him a year later. It may have taken that long to heal and allow herself to love again.
“Christy Ann Daniels, are you sleeping up there,” yelled my mother from downstairs?
“I’ll be right down,” I yelled back. I gripped the stack of letters and stuffed them under my t-shirt, between my pants and stomach. I had no idea what mom, dad, or even uncle Eddy would say about the letters. Either way, I wanted them to stay safe, for grandma’s sake if nothing more.
Taking the garbage bag by the strings I carried it downstairs with me and into the garage, where mom and dad were sorting through grandpa's old tools and the Christmas decorations.
“How’s it going up there,” dad asked?
“Good, I got through most of it, but I’ll need a broom if want to take care of some of the dust.”
He smiled and I smiled back as I turned back inside the house and started down the hallway. Grandma had decorated the hall walls with family photographs and grandpa's medals. He’d received a purple heart for injuries sustained in battle. Next to the portrait of grandpa in uniform was a smaller photo of his entire platoon. Something made me pause and look more closely at that photo of the group of men, some of whom were barely in their twenties at the time. Grandpa stood to the right of the group, with his arm around another man's shoulders as though they were the best of friends. It was that man who made me look more closely.
“Hey, Christy,” said uncle Eddy as he passed by, “if you’re done in the attic can you help me in the kitchen?”
I reached out and gripped his shoulder.
“Uncle Eddy, do you know who this is,” I asked, pointing to the photo?
He smiled, “Sweetie, that picture was taken before my parents were married, how would I know who they all are?”
I turned back to the photo as he left and got an idea. Reaching to take the photo down from the wall I turned it over and opened the back of the frame. Inside, on the back of the photo was a list of names. Twenty names in all listed, grandpas among them but what shocked me was the name next to his. Eric Mooney.