Mid-December of that year, he decided to go to the cabin anyway.
For much of that year, after his wife Angie’s death in late January, he had done virtually nothing. He was surrounded by memories of her at every turn, and that was where he wanted and needed to be.
She had been sick for a long time, “so it wasn’t really unexpected,” people thought. But somehow, he had still never expected it.
He had stopped going the places they used to go. No more pizza on Thursday nights, nor barbecue on Saturday afternoons. People at church started to wonder if he might have died, too.
And many nights, he wished he had.
But, he decided, on a whim one day, to go ahead and use the cabin booking they had made the prior year. And now, here he was, making the long drive up to Snow Hollow.
He traveled silently in the car (she had always been the one to choose the music) looking around at the mountain scenery, and thinking how much she would have loved seeing it like this. He still caught himself, from time-to-time, thinking she was there, out of the corner of his eye, only to turn expectantly towards what turned out to be an empty passenger seat.
The parking area was down the hill a ways from the cabin, and he pulled up right around sunset. He could smell wood-smoke from neighboring chimneys as he stepped into the bracing air, his one piece of luggage in hand. He trudged up the hill, scraped the key into the lock, turned the handle, and stepped into the well-remembered ancient smell of the place.
Flipping on the lights, he saw the familiar large room (the only other room was a bathroom) that was a combination of a kitchen, dining, living, and bed room. The fireplace had dry wood placed in it for his use, and he wasted no time starting a fire and lighting a couple of the kerosene lamps.
As he looked around the cabin more closely, he noticed that there had been some repair work done on one of the built-in shelves, the upper two-thirds of which were now made of a newer looking wood. He’d never really looked at any of the books on those shelves (other than to note the titles), and he absentmindedly pulled one down from the top called Lost Worlds.
It was a old Time/Life book about ancient civilizations. It appeared to have taken water damage at some point, as several of the pages were stuck together. Still, the photographs were incredible. He sat down by one of the lamps to look at it more closely.
Turning to a chapter on the Babylonian civilization, he found an envelope that had apparently been used as a bookmark at some point. Turning it over, he saw that it was postmarked from 1968.
The original letter appeared to still be in it. He pulled it out and read it.
Saigon, December 23rd, 1968
My dearest Diana —
I always do imagine it snowing back home. It seems as hot here right now as it was in the summer. I am counting the days now (143!) until I should be headed back home to see you. I think about you all the time, here, and I miss you more than any words could ever express.
This place has been harder than I was expecting, and I thought it would be hard. But we all pull together, us guys, and we’ll pull each other through, I know it. Having you to think about makes everything better, so much better.
I think I know what I want to do with my regular life, now! I want to teach. You’re probably laughing reading that, given how impatient you know me to be. But I’ve changed, I think, here. Teaching about animals and about agriculture sounds like heaven to me now.
The last picture you sent is probably my favorite one yet. I can’t send you an updated one of me as I have a bandage on my head right now from a minor thing that happened the other day. It’s no big deal, but it’s made me self-conscious about pictures. I’m sure you understand. It’s nothing to worry about.
Well, I have to keep this short as we’re kind of busy. Give my love to everyone there. I love you, more than anything in the world, and I always will.
The letter had every sign of having had large teardrops on it. Or maybe, he thought, it was part of the water damage the book had taken. He wasn’t sure.
Looking back at the envelope (which did not appear water damaged), he saw “Sgt. Arthur Jacobsen” written in the top left hand part of the envelope.
Two years prior was the last time he had been in Snow Hollow; at that time, there was neither wireless nor cellular available. However, he had noticed upon pulling up that he still seemed to have phone service, so he started searching the name “Arthur Jacobsen” There were a pretty good number of them, but none of them were definitively this one.
Next he tried (having guessed that they were married) “Diana Jacobsen”, but he got pretty much the same types of results: lots of people by that name, including many he could rule out, but no “one”. Trying both Arthur and Diana Jacobsen did no better.
He tried then lists of people whose names are on the Vietnam wall, but no one by that name had died in Vietnam, either, which he was relieved to know. So he placed the envelope back in the book, and placed the book back on the shelf.
The next few days passed without incident. He decided one night to go into the village and pick up a few things (like batteries). The old owner of the village’s one store saw him and offered condolences. He had never really gotten used to the ritual of explaining to people about his wife’s death, so he was always glad when he met someone who had already heard.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked the store owner.
“Since I was a kid, in the 1940’s.”
“Did you ever know anybody named Arthur Jacobsen?”
“Artie Jacobsen? Yeah, of course. His family used to own the cabin you’re staying in.”
“Was he ever married to someone named Diana?”
“Married? No. That was a sad story. She died while he was in Vietnam. Sudden illness. They were engaged at the time.”
“Does he still live here?”
“No, he moved years ago, I’m not sure where. Why are you curious about Artie?”
“I found a letter in the cabin he had written to her while he was in Vietnam. I just thought whoever wrote it might want to have it.”
“I’ll ask around, see if anyone else knows where he moved to.”
Back at the cabin, he perused the letter again. It might have been one of the last things she read from him before she died. Or, she might have already passed by the time it got there. If she had sent him a picture he liked, she was probably well at the time. But the storekeeper said it was sudden.
Artie had loved Diana the same way he had loved his Angie, and she had loved him. but they never had a wedding, or a honeymoon, or any of it. All the great memories he had, they never got a chance to make, and Diana had probably spent the last year of her life in mortal terror of a message being delivered that Artie had died in combat.
And then she got sick and died, and he didn’t even know it had happened until some time after.
When the week was up, and he still hadn’t heard from the shopkeeper (who he knew had his cellphone number) he decided that the letter had been left in the book for some reason, and that he was better off just leaving it there. He never looked again for Artie Jacobsen, but he left Snow Hollow feeling a lot less alone.
Way south and east of Snow Hollow, in a sunny town in South Carolina, a sixty-eight year old man sat, surrounded for the holidays by his children and grandchildren. He smiled at all the noise, smiled at all the mess, and spoke quietly to each little face that came up to him in his red plush chair.
In the same room, on the bottom of a bookshelf, was an undamaged copy of Lost Worlds, one that also contained a letter in it:
Snow Hollow, November 2nd, 1968
My dearest Artie —
The big news here was the blizzard. We got an early blizzard this year, and, even though it’s all over with, the roof took some damage and we got some leakage here at your parent’s cabin. Your father fixed all that, but before than, some water leaked in and damaged the beautiful book you gave me for my birthday. Some of the pages are now stuck together, including the photographs of Egypt that I loved so much. But most of it is intact, and I’m grateful the damage wasn’t more. If you ever wanted to get me a replacement copy, I wouldn’t object to getting the same gift twice!
People ask me about the wedding every day. I say it will be this coming summer, but that we won’t work out all the details until you’re back. However, I do have a dress picked out. I hope you’ll like it. It made your mom cry at the dress shop, and then I started crying. We two were a mess. I love your mom and dad by the way, they’ve been so sweet to me while I’m staying here.
I know you don’t know what you want to do with your life when you’re back, and I’m really sorry if I’ve ever put pressure on you about that. I’m so proud of you, the man you are, then I go an undo all that by making unreasonable demands. Please forgive me.
Your dad took the enclosed photograph the other week while we were down in the village. When it came back from the developers, your mom immediately thought you would really like it. It was a good hair day.
Don’t spend one moment worrying about anything here, just make it home safe. And always know I love, love, love you as much as any girl every loved a boy, and that I will be proud one day to take your name.
All my love,