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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

Love letters spell out fondest memories

By Tanya Bricking Leach
Advertiser Staff Writer

When The Advertiser asked readers to share with us what their love letters mean to them, nearly 100 people wrote in to tell their stories.

Bill and Joan Robinson of Nu'uanu saved three years of 1950s love letters that they wrote to each other while they were apart because of the Korean War. He was in the Navy, she was an art student in New York. He built this moongate in their back yard.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

We don't have enough room to share them all, but perhaps Lina Gaynor Prudencio, of Kahului, Maui, best expressed why love letters are important:

"Whenever I re-read my love letters, I relive the warm feeling of love, closeness, experiences shared, loving intentions and replays of private moments," she said. "One of our primal needs as human beings is to be wanted. Kept love letters give us that validation."

For Valentine's Day, here's a sampling of sweet nothings that mean so much."Wanted: Very badly — One young Boston Bean last seen departing from Grand Central Station 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 25. It is believed that if this BB is in the proper mood he will answer ..."

They begin like that, or with greetings such as "Dearest Blue Eyes," "Darling," "Sweetheart" and even "Rat."

Tucked atop a bookcase in the Robinson study in Nu'uanu, one of the last of the love letters between a sailor and his sweetheart starts off: "Hello my dearest husband."

A chance meeting at a Manhattan beer garden in 1950 could have simply made for fond memories of dancing with a stranger. But love letters made the romance of Bill and Joan Robinson withstand the test of time.

There's lots of evidence of how they fell in love: It's documented in 21 volumes representing three feet of albums labeled "Joan-Bill" and "Bill-Joan," dated 1950-52.

At the time, during the Korean War, Bill Robinson was transferred to the Pacific, and Joan Schurer was an art student in New York.

The day after meeting her, Robinson penned his first letter but didn't know Schurer's address, so he sent it for general delivery in Pittsfield, N.Y.

"When I got a letter in Pittsfield, the first one," she said, "I knew this was meant to be."

He started sending letters to her school, so many that the dean noticed and said the school could no longer handle the delivery.

She sent back drawings and told Robinson about her days.

"Regardless of what the contents were," she said, "it was just great to get a letter."

He arranged to bring her to Hawai'i, and they married Oct. 17, 1952, at Diamond Head.

The groom is 88 now, and the bride is 77. They have eight children and 14 grandchildren.

Bill used to keep their love letters in a Navy sea trunk until he noticed they were beginning to mold, so he put them in binders stored on the bookshelf.

"At holidays, the children will pull them down randomly," he said. "They enjoy all of the albums. But none of our kids had this kind of experience."

It was true courtship, Joan said. And through it, she discovered, "I'd rather be with him than anybody."

It's still true today.


'You just don't forget'

Delores Christiansen also keeps letters from the Korean War. For her, they are a reminder of what might have been.

William Robert "Bob" Martin gave her a diamond ring before he left and promised to marry her. But they never wed.

"The letters, to me they mean so much because he never came back," she said. "He was missing in action." He was 23.

Christiansen went on to marry and have children. But she never gave up the cedar chest filled with things from Martin.

She later divorced, moved to Hawai'i, and found Martin's name on the wall at Punchbowl cemetery. Her cedar chest is worn from her many moves, but that's where she keeps his letters.

"You just don't forget someone like that," she said. "I still think of him sometimes out of the blue."

Thinking of soldiers at war today brings her back to old feelings.

"I pray every day for those boys that are over there," she said. "I just want them to come back."


Another first love

Margaret Murray Giles of Honolulu also remembers her first love, her high school sweetheart who enlisted in the Navy before the end of World War II.

They corresponded for a year, and she saved his letters tied with a pink satin ribbon.

She married someone else and so did he.

When he died 11 years ago, his sister sent the letters from long ago. She added them to her bundle. "You never forget your first love," she said.


Joys and heartaches

Mark Plischke is left with a box full of memories of the love of his life, RoseMarlene Dominguez. He especially remembers Sept. 1, 2002, as the day "a miracle occurred."

"It wasn't on the front page of the local newspaper," wrote Plischke, 41, of 'Aiea. "It wasn't on the 6 o'clock news. As a matter of fact, it almost went down as another uneventful day in my life. That is, except for my meeting Marlene."

Within a few months, they discovered she had cancer and spent the next two years fighting it. She died at 37 on Dec. 30, 2004. Plischke felt compelled to share letters that express the joys and heartaches of true love.

He gave her the first, about how rare it was to find someone so special, shortly after meeting her. And the second, he gave to her at her funeral:

"I love you, Marlene, and shall keep you in my heart. You are a part of my soul, as I know that I am a part of yours. Through tears, I see that this is not an end. In time, we will meet again."


Promises to the grave

That's also the sentiment 72-year-old Gloria Dadulla has about her late husband, Francis.

They courted as pen pals while he was in Hawai'i and she was in the Philippines.

He asked her to marry him before they met. In Manila, he slipped an engagement ring on her finger. They married in 1954.

He died in 2001, and thinking of the letters still bring the Salt Lake woman comfort.

"I promised to him and to myself, I will take these love letters to my grave."


'Happiness spills out'

Dalis Strain of 'Ewa Beach knew her husband, Fred, only two weeks when they married in October 1985. He was a sailor who warned her he'd be going off to sea.

She still keeps the first love poem she got from him framed on her desk and cards and letters in hat boxes in the bedroom.

"The events in the world, the events in our lives," she said, "our happiness spills out on all those pages."


Contained in a sonnet

Sue Gatham also keeps a poem framed. It's from her husband, Jim, a sailor who began writing her shortly after they met and he left on deployment.

For Sue, 37, it's still a powerful notion that he wrote her a sonnet. It says, in part:

"But morning comes and light breaks through the clouds,/ The sun's bright fire burns into the mist/And suddenly a warming glow surrounds/ What loneliness had clenched inside its fist."


Note tucked in a purse

Words from her sweetheart also are poetic for Meredith Cardenas. She keeps the last letter from him tucked in her purse.

Cardenas, 21, lives here while her boyfriend, 23-year-old Kevin Fraites, is in Canada. They exchanged notes even when they lived minutes apart. She keeps the last one close, "to reread whenever I'm feeling down."


Sentiments from 1978

J. Paahana Yee, of Kailua, also keeps a love note in her purse. Hers is one her husband, Ben, wrote in 1978.

How many times has she reread it? Enough to be able to say they'll celebrate their 50th anniversary in November.


Dreams have come true

For Earl and Virginia Dayton of Kalihi, the flame has been burning for 46 years. Their love letters are "wrinkled like our bodies," Virginia wrote, but remind them of their teenage wishes.

"We now see how our love is a priceless bond, at age 61 and 62, as compared to the love letters of high school days," she said. "We still hold hands and share a kiss that can still make us feel like newlyweds."

Their letters are put away now, she said, "rarely looked at because our dreams and wishes have come true."


Nostalgia remains

Gladys Quinto, 37, is convinced love was more romantic before the days of e-mail.

When she left Hawai'i for college, her boyfriend here wrote almost daily and always had a "love" stamp on the envelope.

"I always imagined that I would pull them out, share them with a daughter I hope to have one day, when she was feeling down about some boy, to remind her that there are great, romantic guys out there," she said. "Or share them with a son, to let him know that the little things in life, like writing letters, really mean a lot to girls."


'Extremely resilient'

D.J. Strauss of Maunalani Heights has more than 500 romantic exchanges, spanning from when her husband, Paul, asked her to a prom (Kalani class of '66) to his tour in Vietnam.

The letters have moved with them, 18 times at last count.

"The letters are in remarkably good condition, as is our marriage of 36 years," she wrote. "Not perfect, mind you, but extremely resilient."


A trail to give a boost

"Look under the basket on the entertainment center, the one next to the ceramic rabbit vase and that's where you'll find today's treat."

That's how Pam Shim's trail of notes for her husband, Tom, began when she went to the Mainland last summer.

The Kane'ohe woman left a note and a treat for each day she was gone. They began writing to each other 25 years ago.

"When we need a little boost," she said, "all that is needed is a quick read of one of these notes and you instantly feel blessed and loved."


Letters a Family affair

"I never knew I could miss someone so much."

That was what Lee Kennington wrote in his first letter on Aug. 11, 1991, to Angie, the woman who became his wife.

They met as military kids in Europe, and their letters began when Angie's dad retired, and Lee was in Belgium.

"Every time I saw his handwriting on the airmail envelopes, my heart would jump," she said.

They were engaged three weeks after he returned in 1994.

Now he's in Afghanistan, and 32-year-old Lee writes to their daughters in Wahiawa as well.


In the cookie box

Boldly written in black on an 84-ounce Kauai Kookie box:

"Our Love Letters — DO NOT DESTROY!"

Those are part of the collection of 58-year-old Russell Smith and his wife, Adrienne, 54, of Mililani.

"They still remain in fairly good condition except for a few mildew spots and stains," she said, but are as precious as ever.


What love looks like

When they first got engaged, Jacque Martin would find love notes from Kim Martin under the wiper blade on her car.

The 'Ewa Beach woman said their notebooks of letters, cards and e-mails have become family heirlooms.

"Kim designed a logo for us using our initials, a heart, and the Christian fish symbol," she said. "He framed it for Valentine's Day. He had a star named after me. Most of all, he showed our daughters what true love looks like day in and day out."

And that is what makes sweet nothings priceless.

Tanya Bricking Leach writes about relationships. Reach her at 525-8026 or tleach@honoluluadvertiser.com.