By Gordana Dimovska/Special to The News
A community’s archives is always host to a wealth of wild and wonderful stories; from images of the first fire trucks in town to happy memories of parties on the river, you are sure to find the soul of this city in these records.
There are some, however, that were never meant to be seen by prying eyes but have found their way into our holdings and can tell us a lot about the private lives of our ancestors.
Almost a decade ago, some musty letters were found in a wall by the new owners of a heritage house in Maple Ridge.
Opening letter after letter, stuffed behind plaster and dusted with dirt, they discovered the story of a hidden affair that spanned over a decade and had been otherwise forgotten.
As this is a sensitive story, we will call these star-crossed lovers Buster and Marlene.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Buster lived here in Maple Ridge, an affluent man of good repute with a wife and son.
Marlene, whose last name was never revealed in the papers, started out in Portland, Ore. before moving across the U.S.A. to settle in New York.
The letters (the earliest being from 1937) describe Marlene’s move and establishment of a new life in New York, while reminiscing about the times she and Buster spent together.
She wistfully reminds him of how they met in 1933, and how they knew then that they could never be together – but she only had eyes for him.
While we are missing Buster’s replies, we can see through Marlene’s letters that he was looking out for her, sometimes issuing a cheque to fund professional training.
At times, Marlene travels and writes to Buster, urging him to meet with her while she is nearby. We never do find out if they kept meeting, but some part of us may hope they did.
Marlene also sent along numerous greeting cards for all occasions. While the letters stop in the early 1940s, the greeting cards continue through to 1947.
Besides being a record of their relationship, they are also lovely examples of Second-World-War-era graphic design.
When these letters first came in, they were considered too sensitive to publish or release and were therefore hidden in a drawer and forgotten.
After their rediscovery in 2020, thorough consideration led to the decision to preserve and accession them, making them accessible to the public when requested. Even though the subject matter is divisive, we felt it was important to preserve this evidence of a love that clearly endured a long time.
Buster died in 1949 and Marlene’s trail vanishes after the last of the correspondences in the archives.
It is our hope that these letters will one day prove valuable to whomever wants to understand both of their lives.
– Gordana Dimovska is the community archivist with the Maple Ridge Museum and Community Archives
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