A Reclusive Grandma

Nancy took the key from her grandmother’s house out of her pocket. It’s been ages since she’s been there. Ally, her grandmother had passed away two weeks ago. Asthma. Nancy feels guilty for not visiting her as much as she should. Nancy’s mother asked if she could go through some of Ally’s stuff and see if there was anything to donate, sell or, to keep.

Nancy went upstairs to the attic; turned on the bare lightbulb. The attic has a wooden floor, and it was full of cardboard boxes neatly labeled ‘Clothes’ and ‘Albums’. This is the tidiest attic I’ve ever seen. One of the boxes, labeled ‘Johnny’, in the back caught her attention. Who’s Johnny? There was no one in her family, that she knew of, that had that name. Her grandfather’s name was Franklin. He had passed away ten years ago when Nancy was a teenager.

The box had two stacks, one with brown, leather notebooks and the other with letters. Tons of them. Nancy noticed that there were other boxes labeled ‘Johnny’, way in the back of the attic. She took a stack of letters and read some of them. The letters dated back to 1943 (Ally would have been 13 years old) and were from a guy named John Leeve. John Leeve? Sounds familiar. Nancy googled him. John Leeve was an American aviator during the Second World War, who later became an abstract expressionist painter. Could this be the same John Leeve? Nancy picked up one of the sketchbooks, it had a lot of rough drafts, some abstract, but mostly portraits…. Of Ally! Nancy resembled Ally: same brownish-blue eyes, fair skin, smooth, straight hair, big smile. She was a lovely young woman. John was in love with Ally!

But what happened? Nancy read more letters. One of them, from 1949, when Ally was 18 years old. It said:

“My Dearest Ally,

With great sorrow, I received the news of your inevitable marriage to Franklin Debourne. Our greatest efforts to convince your parents and sabotage the wedding were unfruitful. Our plans of growing old together in Paris seem so far away. I came to a resolution that I will move to Paris. Alone. I do it because I can’t stand to witness you marrying another man, and I don’t want to be an obstacle to your possible happiness with him. You will always be in my heart.

With unconditional love, yours truly,


John Leeve.

Nancy googled John Leeve again. He still lived in Paris. Nancy picked up the box and went downstairs, resolved in buying a plane ticket.

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