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A thorough cleaning reveals pages of hidden letters from a decades-old, illicit love affair.
SAM DEAN | The Roanoke Times
Some of the six pages of love letters stuffed into the stock of a shotgun Steve Underwood bought at a shooting match. The letters clearly describe an illicit love affair between two married people.
SAM DEAN | The Roanoke Times
Steve Underwood bought a 12-gauge Remington shotgun at shooting match. While taking the gun apart to clean it, he found six pages of love letters stuffed into the gun stock, letters that clearly describe an illicit love affair between two married people.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Will try to write you a few lines to let you know it meant everything to see you last night. … I don’t know what I am going to do. I love you very much, but I have to think of the kids and keep them together....”
You may have heard of shotgun weddings. This is the story of a shotgun love affair.
The gun belongs to Steve Underwood of north Roanoke County. He’s not the guy involved in the affair, though. He and his wife, Pat, have been married for 23 years and have a son and a daughter.
Underwood owns several guns and likes to shoot competitively. Last spring, he bought a shotgun from an older fellow he met at the weekly Old Country Shooting Match in Troutville organized by Roy Lacks.
“The old guy was kicking everybody’s butt, so I bought his gun from him,” he said.
The gun, a 12-gauge Remington Model 10 pump-action made in 1925, was in need of a good cleaning, said Underwood, who prefers his guns “clean and slick.”
As he disassembled the weapon to clean it inside and out, he unscrewed the metal plate on the bottom of the gun stock, called the butt plate. Inside the stock, a piece of paper jutted out of a hole. Underwood got excited, thinking it might be an original sales receipt for the gun or something better.
“I had dreams of $100 bills being stuffed up in there,” he said.
It wasn’t a historic document nor money. It was a moldy, smelly letter.
He pulled it out and discovered more paper stuffed in the stock. He used needle-nose pliers to pull out the papers, seven pages. A quick glance revealed that they were love letters.
After reading a few lines, he understood why they had been hidden inside the stock of a shotgun. The letters detailed an obvious illicit affair between two married people.
Few clues, names
If you only knew how I felt when he came for me early. Most of the time he waits until I call him. I am sorry about this. I wanted so much to see you. I am going to get a permanent next week on Thurs. and I know I will be late, but how can I ask you to try and meet me again?”
It is fitting that the letters were covered with gunk, because one feels icky reading them.
“They were dirty in more ways than one,” Underwood said. “Dirty little secrets.”
At some point in its 86 years, the shotgun probably had been owned by a guy who was messing around with another man’s wife. He apparently hid his lover’s letters in the gun, a good hiding place, Underwood deduced.
“How many wives would take the butt plate off your shotgun?” he said.
Fascinated by the sordid details, Underwood, 51, and his wife transcribed the moldy letters into a computer file and laminated the originals (“They were covered in nastiness,” Pat said, meaning it literally).
The seven letters — all written on blue-lined paper by the woman in the affair — tell a story of star-crossed lovers who seemed to be in pretty deep. The woman wishes for a wedding dress, mentions a possible divorce and writes about her gratefulness that her lover will someday “take my kids.”
The letters are undated and unsigned, but the writer does mention both her own and her lover’s names at one point. We will call them “Frances” and “Larry” to protect the guilty.
She calls her husband only by the letter “E.” Her lover’s wife she calls “the little woman.”
Judging by the descriptions, the couple worked together at a furniture factory in an unnamed town. She mentions snatching a glimpse of him as he leaves the “cabinet room” and she hopes she will no longer be banished to the “glue room.”
It is also apparent that their spouses suspect something is going on. Co-workers, too.
“Let me ask you this, does your wife mention the other women any more & when you go off, what does she say?” ...
“Thurs. I may have the car, but he still could be checking on me like he did that Sat.” ...
“[O]ne thing about H.H. & F. everything is straight as long as I look their way but when I turn my head to look at you it’s a different story. Then they have to start whispering about it … ”
Underwood still takes the gun to the shooting matches. The previous owner of the gun knew nothing of the letters when Underwood asked him about them. The fellow had bought the gun from another guy, who had bought it from another guy and so on. Underwood thinks the gun might have come out of North Carolina, so he has no way of knowing where the love letters were written — or when.
References to getting a permanent, buying S&H Green Stamps and going to a shopping center seem to date the letters to possibly the 1960s or ’70s.
He also has no idea how the story ends. The writer longs to be with her lover in each one, hoping for a day that they will be together forever — “I hope and pray my day will come for me & you,” she writes.
Underwood can only wonder what became of the couple.
“I hope it’s not just an unsolved mystery,” he said. “And I hope the gun was never used.”
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