My Parent’s Love Letters
I remember the August afternoon my mom sat me down to ask me what I would think if my parents were to divorce. It was just months before I would move to New York to begin college and we were sitting at the top of the stairs in our house on Lawrence Avenue. I knew I would not be around for the inevitable and the first words that came to me were, “Whatever makes you both happy.”
My parents first met 40 years ago on Halloween night at the skating rink on Haskell and 23rd Street in Lawrence, Kansas. My father was stationed 25 miles away at Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka and had taken the trip into Lawrence dressed in a kilt, appropriate for a boy born in Glasgow. My mom noticed him right away. At the time my mother was 15 but lied to my father and told him she was 16.
Just a year after they met, my father was sent to start his tour in Vietnam. Hundreds of letters and reel-to-reel audiotapes would be mailed back and forth. In June of 1968, when my father returned from Vietnam, he invited my mother’s family out to California to meet his family. After asking my grandfather if he could propose to his daughter, he drove down to Huntington Beach in his father’s car and asked my mother to be his wife. She said “yes.” They planned to marry in June of 1969 after my father completed his time in the United States Air Force. He moved to Lawrence and they rented an apartment on the 700 block of Mississippi Street. I was born in 1971, and my sister followed in 1974.
I cannot remember now where I first discovered their love letters and tapes, but it was probably in my father’s kit bag from Vietnam. Recently, I asked my mom to ship some of them out to me. She sat down, reread the letters, and cried for two hours. She called my father and asked him, “What happened to these two people?”
Johnny Miller (New York, NY) was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas. He earned his BFA at Parsons School of Design in New York where he studied under photographers Charles Harbutt and Vince Cianni. He has exhibited work at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in NY, Houston Center for Photography, and the Museum of the City of New York. His photographs are included in the permanent collections at the George Eastman House, Library of Congress, and the New York Historical Society. His work has been published in Elle-Japan, The Village Voice, Time Out New York, and Town & Country. He is co-founder of Otra-Vista, a cooperative dedicated to documentary photography.