The Epistolary Courtship
In the pre-email, Twitterless, Facebook-free era when envelopes emblazoned with 13 cent stamps routinely carried letters to and from family, friends, business associates, and lovers, whether writer and recipient were separated by a couple of blocks or an entire country, Julie and I each wrote well over 100 letters between Labor Day weekend, when we reunited after being incommunicado for six years, and Christmas Day, when we moved in together.
Julie’s letters were, as one might expect, stunningly erudite, grammatically correct, and syntactically sound with a marked tendency toward the epigrammatic, no small feat in those days before every ambitious dolt attempting to impress a sweetie, a boss, or whomever could lard email messages with random quotes and aphorisms, courtesy of The Great And Powerful Google.
The first letter from Julie I serendipitously selected today, for example, ends with this line:
I love you intensely and for good.
“Intensely and for good” is, by the way, a Browning reference, albeit one shamelessly paraphrased and taken criminally out of context, but I don’t care; I like the melody of the words.
And the line is hardly profound, but it’s characteristic of Julie’s writing and more than a step or two beyond the sort of letter I typically received.
I soon realized that my only advantage in this ongoing correspondence was a greater willingness to casually invoke modestly-moderately crude and, on occasion, lewd terms in my compositions – nothing that would shock a longshoreman but still studiously coarse enough to contrast with Julie’s invariably proper, although never prim, constructions.1
Of course, I used my power only for good, such as redirecting a discourse drifting dangerously close to intellectual precepts or, worse, an emotionally laden give-and-take toward altogether more appropriate down and dirty topics, many of which involved anatomical explications.2
And this tactic worked – but for all too short a time.
I recently came across a note from Julie that marked the point at which my grand strategy was negated.
I had given Julie a subscription to Chicago Magazine, an especially self-serving gift given that we were then deciding whether to live in Dallas (the site of Julie’s home and job) or Chicago (where I lived), along with a card that read simply
Well, who the hell do you think would send you this?
I judged this sufficient to jog Julie’s attention.
A couple of weeks later, I received a birthday present from Julie, a salt and pepper grinder made of brightly polished wood. Attached was the card from her, on which was inscribed the following:
I love a quick study.
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.
Note: Originally posted May 21, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com