I read the letter that Hamish had handed me quickly. It was addressed to “Dearest Lily,” and just contained an update of “My Lillian” (my mother), when she was only six years old, apparently just after her first ever piano recital. I swallowed hard on a lump growing in my throat as I handed him back the letter. “I’m guessing that ‘Dearest Lily’ is your grandmother?”
“Yes. Lillian Duncan nee Boyle. She grew up here, with her brother, to parents fresh off the boat from Scotland. She had some sort of something with your grandfather, as best as I can tell, I think they were together in high school or something like that, but when she was twenty-one, she moved to Scotland with her grandparents, married, and raised her family abroad. You grandfather continued to write her letters for years to come.”
“You said that they loved each other though? What makes you think that? From what I saw that was just friends keeping up a correspondence, which I would hardly consider being in love.”
“Oh—That would be because of this,” Hamish put the letter I handed him back carefully into a pocket of the folder, before pulling out another letter in its protective cover and handing it gently to me.
August 9, 1969
My Dearest Lily,
I miss you every single day, and it’s almost unbearable. I know it’s my own fault that the situation is like this, but I wish there had been a way that we could have done this differently. I wish you could have stayed with me, or that I could have gone with you. But, situations being what they are—Well, I don’t need to tell you the situation, I suppose. I probably also don’t need to remind you that it is my fault, and I am sorry.
I suppose it isn’t fair for me to moan this way, knowing it is my fault, but Dearest Lily, I don’t like the thought of not speaking to you, and every time I sit down to write you this is all that comes out. The proper complaining of a man who can’t wrap his head around quite how badly he’s messed things up.
Dearest Lily, I would understand entirely if you threw this letter out or burned it without reading it. I would even understand if you read this letter and did nothing but pity me or rage at me. If I never hear from you again, I’ll understand that as well. But I am sorry, Lily, and I will miss you terribly for as long as we are on opposite sides of the world.
All my heart and all my love,
“That coupled with this one,” Hamish swapped the letter in my hand with another one, “Leads me to believe that the feelings were mutual.”
August 20, 1969
My Dearest Lily,
Oh, I was so glad to receive your last, Lily. I know that things are complicated, and that I’ve hurt you in ways I can’t explain, but thank you for understanding that I’m doing the best I can in these awkward circumstances.
I’m glad that you don’t want to lose contact with me either. We’ve been through too much to let one moment’s mistake tear us apart completely, yea? I hope you agree with that. And maybe through time this will be getting easier for us. Maybe you won’t be so mad, maybe I won’t feel so guilty, maybe things can be better for us both. And I’m glad that we can keep writing each other.
Maureen is doing very well. Thank you for asking.
All my heart and all my love,
“I’m not sure what happened though. The information I can find seems to lead to the fact that this was a last-minute trip, that my Nan flew out to Scotland on a whim, and with a return ticket that she never used. I’m not sure what happened, why she decided to go and stay?”
“I’ve got a feeling I know why,” I said with a hint of dejection as I looked at the date of the letter in my hand.
“You do? If you don’t mind me asking, I would love to know anything you’re willing to tell me to help piece the story together.”
I hesitated, not because I didn’t want to tell him, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure if I should It would be airing dirty laundry that I didn’t even realize I had. Part of me wanted to confirm it with my mother before sharing it with a man I’d literally only know about twenty minutes. And yet—
Hamish must have sensed my hesitation, because he carefully gathered the letters and put them back into their folder, “Of course, family business is family business, and that means it’s none of mine. I don’t want to step on any toes or lose my nose, so I’ll back out now.”
I know I didn’t owe Hamish anything. Like I said, I’d just met this man. Maybe his grandmother had been in love with my grandfather, but that didn’t mean I owed him anything. Although, he’d literally flown across an ocean looking for answers, hoping to figure out something about his grandmother. I knew how disappointing that could be, how heartbreaking it was to not get answers you tried so hard to search for. Maybe, in a way, I could consider it his family’s dirty laundry too. After all, his world would have been just as different as mine if it had never happened.
“I can’t be sure until I check with my mother—and I need you to promise me that this isn’t something that’s going to be made public in any sense.”
“No, of course, this is my own familial curiosity. I might share it with my sister if you don’t mind, but no one past that.”
“The date on that letter was August 20, 1969. My mother was born February 3, 1970, only seven months later. Grandpa Dougie may have been in love with your Nan, but just before she left for Scotland, he knocked up my Grandma Maureen.”