Love in a biscuit tin
Easing the lid off the Mcvitie’s biscuit tin, I reached in and rifled around.
‘Hey, get your mitts out of there!’ yelled my mum Megan from the kitchen.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been caught red-handed.but it wasn’t a cheeky custard cream or chocolate bourbon I was after. It was love letters. Everyone in our family knew the story behind the dozens of notes stashed inside the old tin.
That didn’t stop my big brother Brian, 7, and me, then 4, begging for our favourite one at bedtime.
We’d snuggle down under the duvet as Mum would hold a letter in her hands, telling us the story off by heart...
It all started in April 1948, when my mum, 22, met my dad Denis, 23, in London.
Mum’d been visiting her sister Betty for Easter weekend.
Betty’s husband and my dad were old Army pals.
While Dad was living in Southampton, Betty and her husband were lodging with my dad’s parents in London.
The four of them ended up staying together that weekend.
It was love at first sight for Mum and Dad.
After the weekend was over, they began writing to each other.
Dad sent the first letter, a whopping 10 pages long!
And in the second paragraph, he’d asked, Will you marry me?
‘I knew I’d say yes,’ Mum chuckled. ‘But I had to make him wait.’
It wasn’t until the next month, when they met again in London, that Dad gave her a gold ring.
And, all the while, their letters continued.
On 31 July 1948, they married at a small service in Union Chapel, in north London.
The letters got bundled together and packaged up when they moved in with Dad’s parents.
At some point, Mum even arranged them in date order.
But then they were forgotten, as my brother Brian arrived in November 1949, followed by me in May 1952.
Then, in 1954, Dad got tuberculosis, a serious bacterial lung infection, and was sent to a hospital in St Albans.
Alone with two young children to look after, Mum started taking the letters out to read in the night.
I could tell she missed Dad even more than we did. And Brian and I were happy to hear Mum and Dad’s stories. Reading them made her feel better, too, I guess. By the time Dad came home in 1956, Brian and I could recite most of them by heart. Then, in October 1961, our little sister Lynn was born, and we passed the tales down to her. In 1968, we moved house to Essex, and the love notes of course came with us. Fifty years on, the ‘courting letters’ as we call them, are a family treasure. We’ve never actually read them, though – they’re too personal – but Mum says she wouldn’t mind if we ever did. ‘It’s just about our lives at the time,’ she says. ‘What we were doing that day, where we went dancing that night.’ Now Mum and Dad are in their 90s, it must be nice to be able to look back on that time. Some day, I hope I’ll inherit the letters – a testament to my parents’ wonderful relationship. We’re lucky that those amazing letters have lasted so long.
Some families have heirlooms, but our treasure’s paper thin Denise French, 66, Essex
Some day, I hope that I will inherit the letters
With my parents today
Me and Brian when we were little