Leave Them and Love Them

Damon Runyon

Someone suggested that old love letters be turned in on the waste paper drive.

It struck me as a great idea and I regretted that I had none to contribute myself. I was always a burn-em-up-right-away fellow on that kind of correspondence.

I do not mean to convey the impression that I received many love letters. I never was the type that inspires tender missives. But the few I did receive I promptly destroyed. It was a matter of gallantry with me.

I shall always remember the one I chewed up and swallowed in Otto Flotto’s saloon in Denver long years ago. It was from a lovely little lady who worked in the Horn Dairy restaurant and I digested the document when I saw approaching me a switchman gentleman who had been going with the lady for some time before I cut in and who I suspected of intent to search me for possible incriminating evidence of my encroachment.

I was not wrong in this suspicion, either, as he held me with one hand and frisked me with the other. I was still gulping on the letter and unable to speak coherently which the switchman gentleman took as indications of great fear on my part. He kept remarking, soothingly:

“Don’t be scairt, podner. If you ain’t got no notes from Sal on you, you won’t be hurt and if you have I’ll kill you as painlessly as possible so you’ve got nothin’ to worry about.”

I have always felt there was poetic justice in the fact that he finally brought me a beer by way of apology for his search and this beer washed down the little wad of paper that was stuck in my throat just at a moment when I felt I would have to eject it.

I do not now remember the full contents of the letter—it was a very long time ago—but I do recollect that it carried a touching postcript that said, “I shall love you forever and always and I wish you would lend me ten dollars as my room rent is due.”

I never wrote any love letters because of a parental admonition early in life. I was ten years old and was in the throes of composing a confession of sweet emotion to a beautiful girl of nine who went to the same school I did when my old man came in and on learning the nature of my effort, said:

“Son, I am now going to give you some advice about women which I hope and trust you will bear in mind all your life. It is as follows: ‘Don’t write—send word.’”

Well, having nothing to contribute to the waste paper drive on my own account, I thought of a friend of mine, now in his middle years, who has always been a bit of a Lothario, with a blazing love affair on tap at all times. It occurred to me that he must have a raft of old love letters and that I would be doing a patriotic service by getting him to contribute them to the paper drive.

“Why, sure,” he said, when I spoke to him about the matter. “I must have a million of them. I kept the love letters I received figuring I might go broke someday and need the blank sides for my own correspondence, though you would be surprised how many dolls use both sides of the paper writing love letters. They must have spoiled tons of paper that way.”

“I suppose you have them in the attic in an old trunk?” I said. “Perhaps put away in lavender? And surely arranged in neat ribbon-tied bundles?”

“No,” he said, “I haven’t got an attic. They are in an empty egg-crate in the garage. You wait and I’ll get some of them.”

He returned presently with both fists full of old letters which he said he had grabbed at random from his store and sat he down to read one written on pink paper. He read to himself and by the time he reached the last page tears were running down his cheeks. Then he read one on pale blue paper and sobbed openly.

“They’re from Grace and Mable,” he said in a choking voice. “They were written twenty years ago, I only wish I could remember who those dames were.”

I left him fairly rocking with lachrymoseness over a letter dated 1912 that he said was from Henrietta but he could not think Henrietta what.