Uncovering a NoDa Love Story

When I left Charlotte this time, it seemed like every mile got me sick to want to come home to be with you again. But where am I? Here, and you’re there.

Write as soon as you get this.

My love,
my kitten,
I love you,
Your Howard

He was a homesick, lovesick recruit training in Texas to become an air policeman. She was Phyllis, aka Kitten, a Garinger High student with a ring on her finger.

Twenty days’ worth of their love story was uncovered in an attic in NoDa.

Jeff and Norma Hanson were pulling old insulation out of their attic in their Highland mill house about four years ago when out popped a stack of 50-year-old letters. They were all postmarked August 1966 and addressed to Phyllis, one of three sisters living in the home at the time.

The Hansons noted something peculiar.

They are addressed to Phyllis in care of Memorial Hospital in Charlotte. Why? Was she ill? Did she work there? Was she a volunteer candy striper? If so, why would Howard send them to the hospital instead of her home?

They also thought about where the letters were found. Was Phyllis attempting to hide them or were they in plain sight until someone blew in the insulation years later? Were they ever meant to be found?

After years of hesitation, the Hansons agreed to share their contents with Back in the Day. It’s a one-sided story of high school sweethearts and their long-distance relationship one August 53 years ago. Howard is deeply in love and eager to get married. He talks about meeting in tenth grade and the rings he has given her–a silver band, a sweetheart ring, his senior ring, an engagement ring bought with money borrowed from a grandparent. He calls her kitten as much as by her name, and he repeats them every few lines.

It’s also a peek into a slice of life in 1966: sweethearts separated by miles and a looming risk of his deployment overseas, possibly Vietnam.

While we don’t hear firsthand from Phyllis, one can extrapolate from Howard’s words that she was apprehensive.

The first letter is dated August 3. Howard’s sloppy scrawl covers paper with an Air Force watermark. He bought a frame for her photo for 65 cents. He envies a married colleague who pays only $65 for a fully-furnished apartment.

Darling, I know that you could never leave school, but I was just thinking how nice it would be to be married to the greatest girl in the world.”

August 4: He asks for her hair ribbons and another photograph.

We need to get married when I get back, so you can start getting the check.”

August 8:

Phyllis, some men have got to be a hero and some have got to be rich, but I know that I have to have you. If I have you I will be your hero and I will be rich. Rich as every man on Earth. I love you.”

By August 12, he is frustrated.

Phyllis, I still didn’t get a letter.”

He decides he shouldn’t call her “kitten” as much. August 15:

So you see my kitten, you are no longer kitten, you’re my Phyllis, the girl I saw grow to a woman and made me a man.”

In the next day’s letter, Howard is disappointed that Phyllis has postponed the wedding from June to August.

Phyllis, why do you keep putting it off?” “I will not let you change it again, Phyllis. I don’t think you have the right.”

And later:

You said that we could never go all the way again until we were married. Darling, I respect you for this and I will help you keep this promise to God.”

The only written words from Phyllis are two sentences summarizing the letter on the back of the envelope:

He is not going to let me change my mind again. He is going to help me keep my promise.”

By August 21, Howard is heartbroken and despondent. He has circled a number of wet spots on the bottom of the letter.

This is where my tears fell.”

Nevertheless, he has been saving money for the wedding and should have $400 by next August. He can’t seem to find a nice pair of earrings to buy for her. His grades are good. But why hasn’t he received a letter?

August 23: Her letters have arrived! He has one more week of school and then will be on regular duty, making more money. He will be an air policeman in the service, then a regular policeman.

We will not have the best money can buy, but we will live happily in our home. You see, I said ‘home,’ and not ‘house.’”

And so they did.