Payback time for love letter from long ago

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Back in the day, if a couple living in different towns wanted to communicate with one another it was either by long-distance telephone or letters. Long distance was quite expensive back then and mostly reserved for emergencies or big news.

I’d been seeing Jim for a couple of years during college. After I graduated I returned home looking for a job and was hired at a bookstore. Jim remained in the Ohio college town where we’d met. Since neither of us had much money, we mostly wrote letters to each other. Long letters.

He was working as a welder then, but decided he wanted to move westward and try his hand at logging. He loaded his orange VW Super Beetle with his worldly belongings and swung by my house to say goodbye on his way.

I can still picture my sorry self standing in the middle of my street waving to his rear-view mirror as he pulled away, headed for Olympia, Washington.

Our long-distance relationship expanded by 2,500 miles. Many couples might rightfully have thrown in the towel; we continued to write each other, sometimes daily. We even, sparing no expense, would talk long distance.

One day Jim drove to Pike Place in Seattle where he bought for me a beautiful malachite pendant with a hand-tooled silver bezel and bail — a gift I treasured.

After nearly losing his life at least three times in three weeks while working as a choker setter (the guy who wraps the steel cable around felled logs on the side of a mountain so they can be retrieved), Jim decided logging wasn’t his thing.

The relatives he was staying with suggested we both apply to work in Yellowstone National Park.

Finally reunited in late summer, we spent a season backpacking all through the park on our days off, returned to Ohio and married in 1981, and ultimately migrated back to the Northwest we’d fallen in love with, in 1985.

A few years ago, we took a dream trip to Mexico. We booked a snorkeling excursion — in retrospect, probably a mistake.

Rather than being able to walk in and walk out of the ocean, our party all donned headgear and fins and had to jump over the edge of a boat to bob in water swells well over our heads. This didn’t go well for Jim, who had never snorkeled before … and is ocean-phobic. I had better luck and was able to settle in with the rest of the group; Jim was happy to watch from the safe haven of the boat.

In my fumbling to gear up, however, I hadn’t thought to remove my malachite necklace. Back on shore I discovered the necklace I had for 35 years was gone. Lost forever in the depths of the Caribbean. Probably embedded in the belly of some sea creature. I was downhearted.

In recent years, McGough & Co. Jewelers in Whitefish has held a Valentine’s Day Love Letter contest. The winner would get $1,000 toward a jewelry purchase.

I’d saved quite a few of Jim’s letters from those years before we married. I dug them out of storage and began rereading them. Jim was hesitant at first, but eventually warmed up to the idea of laying his heart on his sleeve and even walked into McGough’s with me to enter one of his letters in the contest.

It didn’t win the $1,000 … but it did get runner-up and $100.

Together we picked out a polished uncut malachite stone from the store’s collection and left the jeweler with a description and sketch.

A few weeks later we picked up the new pendant, which not only replaced the one I’d lost, but will forever remind me of the love we’d found.

This year McGough’s is sponsoring an Instagram contest. Post your love story photo and add the #mcgoughfortwogiveaway. The winner will receive a $1,000 gift card to the store.

Happy Valentine’s Day and good luck!

Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or

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