“My mother, Kathleen Holdaway circa 1946. She would have been about the age of Jenny in this story.
Look here, Jenny.” Lucille settled in a kitchen chair and pulled a letter out of her apron pocket. “You know I never go nowhere without my Mama’s Bible. I forgot I had the first letter I wrote your daddy at Huntsville. He wrote me back on the back side. Do you want to hear it?”
“Oh yes, Mama, if It’s not too personal.” Jenny examined the worn envelope. “It’s good you wrote small so he could scratch your name out and use the same envelope to write back. You wrote this in pencil. I’d have thought you’d have written in pen. This writing is so faded.”
“Honey, I didn’t have no pen. We was poor. I was at Aunt Lu’s and she gave me a dozen eggs. I took ’em to the store and traded for two sheets of paper, an envelope, and two stamps. She knew your daddy wouldn’t have no way to git stamps. The store owner had the post office, too. He told me how to address the envelope so your daddy could reuse it. I had to borry his pencil. Anyway, let me read it to you. It’s faded and you might not make it out.”
My Dearest Russ, We have fell on some hard times. I got word from Uncle Melvin about you and Luther gitting in trouble. I wish you had stayed clear of trouble, but I know you was trying to take care of me and the children. I will be waiting for you when you get out, for I love you.
That brings me to sad news. Our boy Jimmy died three days after we got here. We buried him down by the creek. My heart is broke to have to tell you when you already got trouble. I will stay here with Aunt Lucy. Jenny is well, but misses you and Jimmy.
Please write to me on the back of this letter. A stamp is folded inside. I love you always and will pray for you. I will write you again when I can get a stamp. Till we are together again. Your loving wife Lucille
“Now look here on the back where he wrote back.” Lucille said.
Dear Wife, When I put you on the bus, I feared it was the last time I’d see Jimmy. I wished I’d figured a way to git y’all away soon enough to save him. I hope Jenny is well. They say I will be here five years. You are a young, pretty woman. If you meet someone else and have a chance at a better life, I will set you free. I broke the law and must serve my time, but you don’t need to suffer along with me. I will always love and pray for you.
You must not worry about me. I will not do anything to get in trouble. I miss your cooking. We mostly get beans. The man in my cell don’t talk, but he don’t give me no trouble. Nobody here talks about what they done. I would be glad for a letter if you can get a stamp, but don’t do without to get one. Take care of yourself and Jenny. I hope God lets us be together again.
All my love, Russ
Lucille took her glasses off, took a hankie out of her pocket, wiped her eyes, and cleaned her glasses. She refolded the letter and returned it its envelope. “Don’t let me forget to put this back in my Bible.” She looked up to see Jenny with tears running down her cheeks.
“That’s so sad, Mama. Your heart must have been breaking when you had to write Daddy that Jimmy was dead.”
“That was one of the saddest things I ever done. I was still numb from losing Jimmy. That was the worst. Next to that was walkin’ off and leavin’ you a’cryin’ at the Hope Home. You were’t even three and ain’t never been away from me even one night. You done lost Jimmy, your daddy, and now I was a’walkin’ off. I never felt so low.”
It was three months before I got to write to your daddy again. I found a dime in the dust of the road when I was a’walkin’ to the store to get some lye for Aunt Lucy. That was the first money I’d had since before Jimmy died. I bought you a lollipop, two three-cent stamps, two sheets of paper. The store-owner gave me an envelope with a coffee stain and loaned me his pencil. I wrote your daddy I’d be a’waitin’ when he got out.