Allen Tully wrote the love letter in 1950.
He mailed it with a 6-cent airmail stamp from Savannah, Ga., in 1950. It was postmarked at 8:30 p.m. on July 23, in the year 1950.
But where it spent the next 63 years — and how it suddenly resurfaced 10 days ago — is a bit of a mystery.
It's a mystery to Allen Tully, who said he found the letter in his mailbox, unopened.
It's a mystery to the former Betsey Lieber, the girl Tully wrote back in 1950, who eventually became his wife.
And the reappearance of the letter is a puzzle to me as well.
But what I'm absolutely sure about is that this story isn't really about envelopes and mailboxes at all.
* * *
Allen Tully calls me Oct. 9. He has just walked to the curbside mailbox of his west Omaha home and discovered something astonishing.
He is “dumbfounded!” He is “thunderstruck.”
“I can't believe it!” he keeps saying.
“Can you imagine?” he keeps asking.
Tully, 84, the retired former men's clothier and dog kennel operator, says he was thumbing through the junk mail when he recognized his handwriting on an old, white envelope from the Hotel De Soto in Savannah.
He had stayed there once during Army officer training camp in Camp Gordon, Ga., where he was spending the summer between his junior and senior years of college at the University of Nebraska.
The camp was a lonely two months and a 1,100-mile drive from the rural Sarpy County farm where Betsey, his college girlfriend, was passing the summer of 1950.
Here was the very letter he had penned to her at age 21.
Tully said he tore open the envelope and read the words he had written those many years ago.
“Soon I will be home and we will be able to talk about all the silly things we always do. I will be able to hold your hand once more and the world will be at peace — at least for me. I do miss you, Betsey.”
Allen showed this letter to his wife, a woman who at age 82 has a memory fogged by time.
Allen called their daughter. And he called me.
“Can you imagine? 1950? And they just got around to delivering it?”
* * *
The next day we are all sitting around the Tully kitchen table, looking at the envelope.
It is your standard business-size white envelope with the Hotel De Soto's logo in the lefthand corner, a red airmail stamp in the right corner with the Postal Service's cancellation stamp over it. In stark, black cursive are six simple words: “Miss Betsey Lieber, Fort Crook, Nebr.”
There is no street address — Betsey lived at the end of a dirt road south of Papillion. The letter predated ZIP codes.
Nowhere on the envelope is the one name — Tully — that Betsey and Allen have shared since 1955.
And nowhere is any other marking that would indicate that the U.S. Postal Service had done anything special to track Betsey down.
“I went and pulled it out of the mailbox and I looked at it and I thought, Georgia?” Allen Tully says.
The letter he wrote 63 years ago is funny and heartfelt. He apologizes for not having written and says it's because the Army has kept him busy. There's the overnight bivouac that “wasn't the greatest.”
Then he had KP duty again, which “wasn't too fine either.” He complained about being tired and about writing such a “boring everyday letter” because he has other things to say.
“You know what they are and how I feel — it hurts just to think about you — hurts down deep in the middle of my chest — makes me want to shout or scream,” wrote Allen. “I feel as if my whole life is being wasted and there is nothing I can do.”
He signed the letter affectionately: “All my love, Allen.”
Their daughter, Julie Westman, says that over the years, her father wrote her mother lots of letters.
Betsey looks over to her husband: “We've been married how many years?”
Allen answers right away: “Fifty-eight.”
* * *
He saw her on campus.
She was a striking blonde with a great smile, “one of the most beautiful women I'd seen in my life,” Allen said.
They went on a double date, only Allen was paired up with Betsey's friend and Betsey was paired up with his.
He remembers the four of them driving in his convertible around Lincoln. Betsey stood up in the back seat, flung her arms wide as if to embrace the world and was so filled with joie de vivre that Allen fell for her right then and there.
They dated. Then came Allen's ROTC training in Georgia. Then came his senior year. Then came graduation and an Army commission to Vienna, and Allen's mother's insistence that he marry a nice Jewish girl.
Allen's father, T.A. Tully, was a Jewish immigrant from Belarus. Many extended family members who had stayed behind had been killed in the Holocaust.
Allen listened to his mother. He married a Jewish woman who was not Methodist Betsey. Two years later they divorced.
Allen immediately tried to reach Betsey, but she no longer answered the phone at the Sarpy County farm. She had graduated and moved on. But where?
Allen wrote Betsey's mother a letter. Soon, in 1954, he was on the road to Pueblo, Colo., where Betsey was teaching.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
They dated that fall. Allen proposed in December. They married in March 1955. Betsey converted. The couple spent most of their entire married life in Omaha, where they had three children and ran their businesses.
In recent years, the couple lost both their sons to pancreatic cancer. And they both have dealt with their own health concerns.
* * *
The Tullys live in a tidy ranch home south of 126th and Pacific Streets.
Their mailbox is long and green with a red flag. It is planted near the curb.
How did that letter with its sparse mailing information wind up in the correct mailbox these many years later?
Roger Humphries, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Omaha, said it seemed unlikely that it was delivered earlier this month. The Tullys' mail carrier had no recollection of the distinctive envelope. Nor was it addressed to the Tullys at their current address.
Had a Postal Service employee found the letter under a machine or in a cabinet or tucked away somewhere after 63 years — and then, somehow, managed to make a connection to the Tullys — it would have been delivered inside a larger envelope with a note tucked inside to explain.
Tully insists he found the letter unopened in the mailbox, with no note or special markings.
It appeared on an October day in 2013 just as it might have in July 1950.
The Tullys' home is so tidy that Humphries' theory — that the old letter somehow got mixed in with the day's mail — doesn't seem likely.
Was there another explanation, I asked their daughter. Could one of the Tullys have put an old letter out for the mail?
Julie Westman didn't think so. She, too, was puzzled.
“The whole thing is really weird,” she said.
The letter's reappearance is a mystery.
And I frankly am not interested in solving it.
For what was discovered in the mailbox is something that has been with Allen and Betsey Tully all these years.
What Allen found and shared with his wife — shared with all of us — was simple and pure and rather beautiful.
He found a reminder of their love.