Letters penned from a World War I soldier in France to his wife back home in Phoenix, Arizona, are finally making their way home to their rightful owner, once again, 95 years later.
“To now know someone that was lost to you, that’s incredible,” Lisa Adajian, the soldier’s granddaughter, told ABC News of the personal letters that are giving her a first-ever glimpse into her grandfather’s personality.
“I will be thinking of you while I am marching,” one of them read. “I will go with the regiment and be discharged. Then home tout de suite to my own darling girl … Will close with all my love to you and baby … Best wishes to all. I am, as ever, your loving Nathan.”
But just as life often does, love gets complicated.
“It still seems to be kind of a mystery,” Adajian said of her grandparents’ relationship that became estranged over time. “We didn’t know anything about them or about their relationship, or whether it was a good relationship or whether they were in love or anything like that.”
Byrd, her grandfather, had survived the war and moved home where he lived with his wife and two sons for 11 years before the marriage eventually fell apart.
“A lot of families from that era don’t really talk about the things you want to forget,” she explained. “The only stories we heard was that he was working for the Arizona Highway Department and traveling a lot, and she [Lota] found out he was having an affair, and she put the boys in the car and left for L.A.”
Adajian’s father was 12 when her grandmother moved them to Los Angeles, and two years later, her grandfather passed away from appendicitis.
“When I was growing up he was long out of the picture,” she said. “We asked my dad about him a couple of times and he made very brief comments and that was the total sum of everything we knew about him.”
This is where it gets complicated. After finding the bundle of love letters in a box in an empty carport more than 30 years ago, Sheryl Caliguire, a realtor from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, reached out to a local TV station in Phoenix to help find the family.
“I’ve had them a long time, but how could I not? That’s somebody’s family heirloom,” Caliguire told ABC News of her discovery.
About 30 years ago, Caliguire lived in the same condominium complex in Highland Park, California, as Adajian’s grandmother, Lota.
“We lived in the same condo, although she was probably in her 80s and I was in my early 20s,” she explained. “I had seen her, but we never were acquaintances.”
Each tenant had a storage unit, and Caliguire believes this one box of the WW I letters somehow got displaced from the rest of Lota’s belongings. When Caliguire found the box, it was by itself in an empty area.
And in the 1980s, she says, the San Bernardino area was a large military town because of nearby Norton Air Force base, which caused her to believe the box could have been anyone’s misplaced keepsakes.
She took them home knowing she’d one day find the letters’ rightful owner, completely unaware at the time that she could have simply walked them upstairs.
Since 1987, Caliguire and her military husband have moved to Texas, Oklahoma, New Jersey and now Pennsylvania, with the letters always in tow.
“I had looked several times and didn’t get very far,” Caliguire said. “It just didn’t seem like there was a chance of the finding family. That Arizona address was gone.”
But now, with the advances of social media and the ability to find people at your fingertips, she finally had a match.
“Finally, in February 2013, I contacted a news reporter in Phoenix thinking surely someone would want to do this story,” she explained.
The station found an old census, connected that name to a recent obituary, which then linked to an address in Portland, Oregon, that of Byrd’s granddaughter, Adajian, who says she’s looking forward to sharing these with the rest of her family and learning more about her grandparents’ relationship.
“The most interesting part to me is just thinking about my grandmother as a young woman and being in love with someone and enduring that separation,” Adajian said. “I’ve always thought about why she never remarried or dated or had any gentleman callers, and I’m really anxious to read the letters to understand their relationship.”
Not to mention, she added, “Getting to know my grandfather as a person, not just an entity, but now really seeing his personality.”
And although Caliguire has had a long journey with the letters for nearly 30 years, she couldn’t be more thrilled that they’ve finally made their way home.
“I knew they were somebody’s prized possessions,” she said. “I’m excited for Lisa to learn more about her family.”