My home is stuffed with precious things. None more so than this small box of envelopes.
After 65 years secreted away in a plastic bag, they were discovered by my Aunt last year.
The represent the most precious cargo, for these letters were written during England's war years and date from 1943 to 1947. They were tokens of love between my grandmother (at home, husbandless, with 4 kids to support), and her eldest, handsome, brave boy Joe who joined the RAF and went to fight the Nazis.
The letters are full of love, adventure, fear, deprivation, cold and disaster. Joe's crew was shot down on their virgin mission in a Lancaster Bomber. He met a girl and talked of marriage. His mother chastised.
Each and every letter from Joe to his mom ends with the words "God Bless and Keep Smiling - I do! xxxxx"
These little bite-sized memoirs are treasures enough in themselves, but for one fact. Joe survived the war and was posted to Singapore, but in 1947 the letters cease abruptly. Joe passed away from cancer in a military hospital at the age of just 22 years. Far from home, his mother restricted by the ability to travel due to the cost and the presence of 3 small children, he continued to write, wobbly-handed shorter notes, upbeat and witty.
His final letters tell her that he's fine and she must 'keep smiling'.
As a child, I failed to recognise the significance of the photograph which steadfastly took pride of place on the mantelpiece, year after year. As a grown woman and mother, I become emotional every time I see these letters, and ashamed of my former ignorance of the story of this man, my uncle, our family hero.
Let me introduce you to Joe, so that he may be remembered always, and inspire others to recognise the value of the keepsakes which they own. Our objects hold wondrous stories, and the people we love hold even more. It is a tragedy that we find such a lack of interest in ourselves that we fail to pass these stories on.
Time will make all things which hold love precious, so I urge you to preserve your memories whilst they are still fresh. A birthday card written today to your child will be clutched to their chest in 20 years time when it is rediscovered.
A home is just a home, and a card is just a card, but your memories will last a lifetime.
"Life's a Journey, SaveEveryStep"