One summer Sunday in 2002, a vendor at San Francisco’s Alemany Flea Market offered me a cardboard box full of old papers for $50. He’d bought it months ago from a storage warehouse that was auctioning off the contents of abandoned lockers, he said, but he’d never made time to sort through it. Did I want to take it off his hands? I opened the box and spotted a postcard from the 1940 New York World’s Fair. As visions of eBay listings danced in my head, I told him I’d give him whatever cash was left in my wallet. I had $35. We called it a deal.
Sorting through the box later that night, I realized I’d stumbled on something more than a bargain. Jumbled together in that box were thirty years of mementos, all from a single family: report cards, holiday greetings, notes sent home from summer camp. Outnumbering everything else, though, were the letters — almost 100 of them, all in the same handwriting, most still in envelopes bearing postmarks from the early 1940s. A few had succumbed to damp, the edges eaten by mold and the ink blurred into illegibility, but the majority were perfectly legible. I sorted them into chronological order, began to read, and discovered that they were also earnest, passionate, witty, and charming. I fell in love instantly.
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