I have only rarely looked in Velna's trunk during the past 63 years since that is where she kept and hid her treasures. I decided to open the trunk the other day and discovered a box, slightly larger than a shoe box, that was sealed on all sides with heavy duty strapping tape. Velna obviously meant to protect the contents from prying eyes. After spending five minutes with a sharp knife, I was able to open the box. And this is what I found: every letter I wrote Velna from the time I met her in 1950 until we got married in December 1952, three years later, and every letter she had written to me during that time. I had no idea for 63 years that she had saved the letters she had written to me and I know I had asked her about those letters several times. We met in January 1950 on a blind date. I began my letter writing the following summer when I had to return home to the farm in Penrose in northwest Wyoming for the summer after completing two quarters of school at the University of Wyoming.
Here is the first letter, as nearly as I could find, that I wrote to Velna in spring 1950:
Garland Wyoming (post office located 7 miles from Penrose in tiny place with store and blacksmith shop)
Dinner time on Saturday, thank heaven
Seems like the mail man charged by 6 1/2 dozen times before your letter finally came which it did, this morning, at last, and actually its the best thing that happened all week.
Pardon my exquisite exclusive stationery but seemed to be the handiest available. Have been playing archaeology all week in spare time, trying to unearth my bedroom. My sisters haven't cleaned it yet and aren't about to, either, so I resigned myself to the awful, awful fate. Have burned practically everything except a few books and relics so now I don't have to hunt for the bed quite so long when I come in to go to sleep. Really shouldn't need cleaning again until fall. At least I unearthed a bottle of ink in the ruins.
My gruesome grades came through today, probably the last decent ones I'll ever have to brag about, so here's what happened: 5 measly straight up and downs (in other words 1s, since the U of Wyomong graded 1,2,3,4,5 before they started the new fangled A, B, C, etc.) in botany, intro animal husbandry, agronomy, English, and Military (required). Then 3's in PE (which I was never any good at), gasoline engines (which I never got the hang of), and speech (which was a shock because I had just won the state FFA public speaking contest and won 3d place in 11 western states contest in Reno NV). When Stevens (speech teacher) gave me a 3, I felt like going back and caving in his big, fat head but decided from his looks somebody had already beat me to it, so will let him suffer in blissful agony. Average: 1.58.
Have spent lovely week amongst the gnats, mosquitos, deer flies, bog clods (how we described the hard Penrose soil), hot sun--with nothing at all to do but hack weeds and sugar beets on rows 1/4 mile long and think of you and wish I were back in good old Cinder City (so called because Laramie was a major railroad hub with coal burning monster locomotives for moving over the summit to Cheyenne until the middle 1950s). I like it though in spite of all my gripes. I always wondered which was best--sitting at a desk and wishing I could be outside or outside wishing I could be sitting at a desk and have come to the conclusion that the lastest one is the bestest.
Dad told me to go ahead and find a job after the beets are thinned, hoed, and irrigated, the hay stacked, and the grain irrigated, which will probably be the middle of July. Should be lots of work this fall with new hotel, hospital, drug store, addition to grade school, but jobs are scarce as hen's teeth now. So if I'm lucky enough to get a job, I will work through as long as possible. Dad said he would hire me for 6 weeks in Oct. and Nov. to drive truck (seven miles to beet dump with about 6 tons of beets) and that should clear me with him. (Dad thought I owed him for pig feed for my pigs so I was working it off for no pay to help me get back to school).
I would really like to come back fall quarter mainly to see you (Please don't think all this is a line because I have meant everything I have said). Maybe a miracle can still happen but I couldn't accumulate much of a fortune from July to September even if I could find a job.
I guess its my turn to be Cinderella. Dad, Mom, and Louise are at conference in Salt Lake, Liz is working for Louise at the REA (rural electrification) office in Powell, leaving me home with kids, pigs, cows, beets, and not a can of beans in the house. Am delegated to take Judy (my sis) Ann, and Steve to see Cinderella in Powell.
After we all take a five minute intermission to dry our hankies after reading above sad, woeful tales, I still want to say that I'll never quite be able to tell you, Velna, how much I really miss you or how much I really like you. I'll never be able to change my mind about you being the sweetest, swellest gal I've ever known or could ever hope to know. Behave every chance you get and be sure to practice your whistling. Write soon. All my love, Dwight
I was 17 years old when I wrote that letter. I wrote dozens and dozens more the next three years before we got married. And then Velna and I traveled life's road together through all the bumpy spots and the smooth spots and the happy times and the difficult and challenging times and the occasional heartaches as we raised five children and lost one and I completed four years of graduate work and we went from Bozeman to Fort Collins CO (three times) to Ann Arbor to Cheyenne to Washington, D. C. and back to Laramie and back to Fort Collins and then finally, to Provo and Orem Utah. And all the time Velna worked and supported me and always agreed with what I wanted to do no matter how preposterous it might have seemed and we always planned together to figure out what to do next and how we were going to do it. Through all of these years, dear Velna, you never criticized me or held my mistakes against me while you set a quiet but no nonsense example to raise our brood of children and send them on their own life's path. And somehow, in some way, we made it through every crisis and every challenge and every health upset and we never gave up. Until we came to a final challenge we could not win or defeat.
And so here, after 63 years of 365 days a year together,doing the laundry, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, working on part time jobs, teaching 25,000 students in four universities, we came to a roadblock that left nothing but tears and emptiness and heartache and wondering why, why, how did this happen, why couldn't we have spent just a few more days or years together, and where is the deed to the house and how do I fold the underwear and how long do you cook the broccoli, and you plead with me, "Dwight, why am I so sick?" and "Will you pay the tithing?" and "Who will send out the birthday cards ?" So where did you go and when will I see you again and how am I supposed to know how to get by without you and when will I stop breaking into tears?
So here is the last letter I wrote to Velna, just a few days before Velna left me and before the doctors had told me they had run out of hope:
To my dear wife Velna,
We do not know why we are some times called upon to go through seemingly unbearable crises--you have weathered so many. I am so proud of your brave and courageous determination. I just want you to know how fortunate I have been to share your life with you, to feel your strength, to share your faith, and through it all you have always maintained your sweet and gentle disposition. You always remained kind to everyone, even those who may not have always earned your kindness.
Never, never give up. We give you all of our faith, all of our prayers, and we know there will be a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow.
Your Loving Husband,
Velna was too sick to read my message so I read it to her while holding her hand and then she wanted me to place it so she could see the picture of the flowers on the front of her card and then three days later she left me. The journey that lasted 66 years was over, at least as far as this mortal life is concerned. Life has a way of distilling the chaff and the mistakes and the hard times and leaving us with the sweet memories and eternal gifts that forever remain the priceless legacy of our years and our struggles and our good times and our hard tines, For these incomparable blessings we remain forever grateful and tearfully thankful.