Long-lost love letter returns home
Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 8:01 pm
By CHAS SISK
NASHVILLE (AP) — This is either a story about modern technology breaking down distance, or one about good, old-fashioned letter writing forging a connection that is more enduring.
It starts with a note sent in late November 1953 by a young reporter. Addressed in a neat, easily readable cursive to a Miss Louise Snowden of Birmingham, Ala., the letter was folded into a Tennessean envelope, affixed with a 3-cent stamp and dropped into a newsroom mailbox.
The letter turned up again in December. Postmarked Nov. 20, 1953, the letter was still unopened and in pristine condition, but it had been marked “Return to Sender.”
It showed up in Tennessean editor Mark Silverman’s mail. Silverman opened it, and what he found was a simple note from one lover to another, signed Grantland.
Silverman’s mind immediately turned to Grantland Rice, the famed sportswriter from Murfreesboro who made his name at The Tennessean with a colorful writing style. It was Rice who named the Notre Dame backfield of the 1920s “The Four Horsemen” and coined the aphorism “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
Rice died in 1954, seven months after the letter was sent. Was this a lost letter from the great writer? But if so, who could Louise Snowden be?
An online search quickly turned up a lead: A newsletter published last year by a church in Birmingham mentioned a “Louise Snowden Rice.”
A call to the church secretary confirmed that she had been a member and said that her husband had, indeed, been named Grantland. And, although Louise had died, Grantland was still very much alive.
Turns out, it was not the famed Grantland Rice, but his nephew, Grantland Rice II. In 1953, the younger Grantland Rice was a 26-year-old reporter on The Tennessean’s sports desk, covering college and high school sports.
Louise Snowden was a 24-year-old bacteriologist whom Rice had met at the University of Alabama two years previously. Rice’s career had taken him to Nashville, while Snowden had furthered her career as a researcher in Birmingham.
But Rice was still in love with the smart, pretty brunette. The two had been engaged in the fall of 1953, and they would marry the following spring.
Louise would move up to Nashville after the wedding, but the couple would return to Birmingham in 1955. Then, Grantland Rice would leave full-time journalism to become a stockbroker and travel agent.
The Tennessean reached Grantland Rice through his Birmingham travel agency, still open to this day. His first statement when told that one of his letters had turned up again after more than half a century?
“I bet it was a 3-cent stamp.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service said the markings on the envelope suggest it did make it all the way to Birmingham in 1953 but never to Snowden’s mailbox. For reasons unknown, someone put it back in the mail last week. But because the postage was insufficient, the letter was returned to its sender.
The story is unusual but not unprecedented, the spokeswoman said. Once, an entire bag of lost letters sent by World War II soldiers was found and delivered, reuniting loved ones in the United States with the young men who had written them from overseas decades before.
Louise Snowden Rice died from a stroke at 79 in March 2008. A quiet but energetic woman, she volunteered as a tour guide at museums, worked for various charities and was active in their Birmingham church to the end of her life, even as the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had begun to dull her skills, Grantland Rice said.
“She was the smart one in the family.”
While cleaning out their attic in Birmingham 10 days ago, Rice came across a box with more than 100 letters that he had written Snowden while they were apart. Each bore a 3-cent stamp. Most had been mailed in Tennessean envelopes.
“I hope they don’t charge me,” he joked.
The letters mainly contain trivia from Rice’s daily life — where he had eaten, whom he had seen, how he kept occupied with his fiancée hundreds of miles away. Before e-mail and when long-distance phone calls were still expensive, it was letter writing that kept young lovers who were living far apart connected.
“All I talked about was playing tennis and drinking beer,” he said. “I’ve wondered why she married me.”
Rice gave the paper his current address in Birmingham, where the returned letter was sent.
In this letter in particular, Rice complains to Snowden of having to slog to Mount Pleasant to cover a football game in dreary November weather. He tells her of the late dinner he had eaten the night before after deadline, of speaking to mutual friends, of a bedsheet that wore out.
It’s an ordinary account of an ordinary day. Yet, Rice closes with a soft touch, by looking forward to an upcoming trip back to Birmingham. He reminds her of their plans to shop for furniture and for an engagement ring.
“We’ll have fun looking at the catalogs,” Rice tells his bride-to-be. “Did you ever get the one on rings?”
It’s the story of one last letter between two lovers, written as they end lives apart and start a new life together.
Published in The Messenger 1.13.10