REVIEW: Dear Heart: The Courting Letters by Judith Pinkerton Josephson
In 2010 teacher Lisa Anderson has almost given up on love after a failed, longtime relationship and internet dating disasters. In a cluttered attic, she discovers an antique writing box labeled “Courting Letters.” Untying the beribboned packets inside, she finds tattered envelopes, their contents penned more than a century before. As Lisa begins to read, she learns that in 1907 in Ipswich, England, the authors, Gertie and Fred, meet. Just as their friendship deepens into something more, Fred and his family emigrate to America in search of a better life. Hopes for the budding relationship fade. Long months pass. Then a letter from Fred to Gertie arrives. The two begin a dance of written words, but the romance is fraught with obstacles, not the least of which is the Atlantic Ocean. Separation and distance also conspire against Lisa when her intriguing new beau must return to his native Spain. Dear Heart: The Courting Letters weaves a tapestry from two intersecting love stories. Will the threads hold or pull apart?
Dear Ms. Josephson,
What an absolutely charming story of Gertrude Livock and Fred Wigginton’s long path from meeting, through romance to – finally! – marriage over the course of two years and from an ocean and half a continent away. The photos and illustrations of places and people in their lives was an unexpected, added bonus. Mixed in with their romance is the modern one of a woman who discovers the letters and falls in love with these two, not knowing who they might be.
The start of their relationship is all that is proper though Fred seems to linger after he meets Gertie. Soon they are “walking out” and meeting the families. Gertie – five years older than Fred and past 35 – worries the age difference will cool Fred’s interest but soon she has hopes. That is until he suddenly announces that he and most of his family are relocating to St. Paul in America. A stunned Gertie gets basically a handshake and a watch before Fred leaves and little communication from him for nearly a year.
After being weighted down with family responsibilities since as the eldest son he’s the man of the family, Fred finally realizes he’d better get a move on now that he has a good job and the Wiggentons are more settled. Gertie is cool, though, determined not to get her hopes up for someone who didn’t write and never made any promises. Startled at her merely friendly response – really she addresses him like a chum – Fred knuckles down.
The slow pace of their letters – taking 2-3 weeks to cross between Minnesota and England – contrast to modern Lisa’s interactions with her friends, brother and a few “let’s just be friends” dates. Then Lisa meets Mario with whom she immediately clicks before his job sends him home to Spain. Now she has a better idea of what Fred and Gertie faced.
Will Fred finally convince Gertie that she’s The One? Will her family agree? Is a couple who are both in their 30s past the age when a compatible marriage can be attained? as Gertie’s Uncle warns her. Reading two years of letters which showed the doubts, hesitations and toll from the distance between them, I was on pins and needles. And as his brother reminds Fred, Gertie has two other possible contenders, buzzing around her like drones, who have the advantage of proximity. Gertie is tiring of a relationship of letters and Fred’s seeming inability to pop the question.
When Fred finally makes his heartfelt move, Gertie and I were both ecstatic. Fred, meanwhile, is left desperate for weeks awaiting a reply. To borrow lines from their favorite playwright, “the course of true love never did run smooth” but “all’s well that ends well.” This is a lovely true story that charmed me the whole way. B