Do you think that it’s possible to love someone you have never met? Is it possible to love someone who lived and died before you were even born? Cécile Cosqueric, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Paris, France in 1919 is whom I’m talking about. I believe her life was meant to touch mine. I am a twelve-year-old American girl, living in Atlanta, Georgia in the year 2002. Cécile is not a famous girl, nor is she a relative of mine. Cécile is actually an ordinary girl. If I have never met her, then how can I know her?
Right now, I hold in my hand a letter—a fragile, discolored envelope, aged by time. This letter could fall to pieces in my hands if not held gently enough. A beautiful, flowing script graces the front, created by a hand well practiced. A pen dipped in an inkwell has addressed the letter, yet another giveaway to its age. The postmark is my clue as to exactly how old this letter is, and it’s the postmarks that also help me put the letters into order. You see, I hold in my hand just one letter. But on the table in front of me are seventy-five letters!
A letter is hard to come by in today’s world. I am an ordinary girl living in “the new millennium.” Letters are no longer a popular form of communication. Since there is no need for letters, I have probably only written five in my entire life! E-mail is today’s replacement letter. E-mail is easy and convenient. Why write a letter when it is so time-consuming, and not quickly received? E-mail is instantly received, and easily disposed of. Just a click of the delete button, and the computer will ask, “Are you sure you would like to delete this?” After the “yes” button is clicked, the e-mail is completely deleted, lost in cyberspace and never to be read again. The thought of writing seventy-five letters is so contrary to the “You’ve got mail” culture of today. The thought of saving seventy-five letters is even more contrary. Who would save the letters for so many years? Who were these letters sent to?
Over a span of four years, there was only one recipient of all of these letters. Her name was Ruth. Like me, she was another twelve-year-old American girl. Each letter made the journey from Paris, France, across the Atlantic Ocean, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. The two girls were pen pals, and their friendship developed solely through their letters. They never met in person.
As I open the first letter sent to Ruth that was previously opened over eighty years ago, I feel excited. I pull out the faded pink paper and begin to read. A special note in the top left-hand corner says, “I put my letter in the letterbox the day of the peace.” Cécile was referring to the end of World War I. Her letter describes herself as a French girl looking for an American girl to correspond with. She is sixteen years old and lives in Paris with her parents. She has a twenty-year-old brother, Lucien, (nicknamed Lulu) and a “pretty” cat named Bidart. Her letter gets somber when she describes in broken English, “There are many American soldiers in Paris. Near my house bombs are dropped in a house which have been demolished, many persons have been killed.” I can’t imagine the tragedy she has seen at such a young age. She ends her first letter with many questions about Ruth and her country. Her final salutation reads, “By waiting news from you, I kiss you, Cécile.”
Cécile’s second letter describes a historical site.
Monday was a fine day, July 14th, a large parade passed under the Arc de Triomphe, then American soldiers with their flags, the sailors and Pershing; English soldiers, Belgians, Italians, etc . . . and at last French troops composed of several men from each regiment. Four-millions of persons have seen the soldiers pass.
Cécile describes the celebrations that continued after the parade.
On the grands boulevards there was thousands and thousands of people crying, running, dancing, singing, pushing [selling] guns that were taken on the front. I have seen an English nurse on the top of a gas lamp in the street, singing the “Marseillaise” and the “God Save the King.” Round her was 500 more perhaps singing with her. Farther in the avenue de l’Opera an American soldier was singing too, while other American soldiers was making noise with the motor of their motor cars. What a jazz band!!!
Before I go any further, I would like to explain how these girls, separated by half the globe, got each other’s addresses and began to write the letters that would grow into a loving friendship. After World War I, there were many children whose parents died in the war. Americans looked for ways to assist them. Money and letters from American schoolchildren were sent to cheer them. Ruth was one of those schoolchildren who wrote a letter to a war orphan as a class assignment. Louise Drogorn was the orphan who received the letter in Paris in 1919. She was a friend of Cécile Cosqueric. Louise knew Cécile wanted an American girl to correspond with, so she gave Cécile Ruth’s address.
Opening each letter, one by one, I feel as though I am opening pieces of lost treasure, because each envelope has a treasure inside. I feel so privileged to be given a window back in time. Cécile becomes very real to me because of the things she has enclosed in each envelope. I open up one letter, and a pressed flower falls out. This dry, brittle, lifeless flower once brightly adorned Cécile’s hair at a party, as she went on to explain in her letter. Cécile was very interested in fashion, movies, and actresses, like many girls today. She sent newspaper articles about French actresses, pages from 1920s Parisian fashion magazines, and wrote of her favorite movies. She even wrote out, word for word, the script of a play she saw and sent it to Ruth. Cécile was very artistic, and would send paper dolls she made, drawings, and detailed watercolor paintings. To approximate where she lived and worked, she sent a map of Paris. She also sent a map she made herself of her neighborhood where bombs were dropped in World War I. I couldn’t even begin to understand how she found the courage to live amongst war for so long. Cécile also sent more personal things, such as photos of herself, her family, her cat, and even a lock of her dark hair, tied with a thin silk ribbon.
In one of Cécile’s letters, she made a very profound and insightful statement, saying,
Don’t you think our characters are same? I think so, you are perhaps more vivacious than me, but we surely have the same ideas and heart. You ask me in one of your letters about your heart; oh! I know where it is.
Cécile also gave one of her most heartfelt and humorous comments in her next letter, which said,
Why is the world so large??? I wonder! I am sad when I think you are so far away from me. Oh! If! could enter the envelope I shall go and see you. But the envelope is so small. If you are thinner than me, come in your next letter . . . I only send in my envelope a kiss, but a large, large, large, large kiss for you, darling. My better wishes of health for you and your family.
I remain, your loving friend, Cécile.
It has taken weeks to read all seventy-five letters chronicling four years of Cécile’s life. As I begin to read the last batch of letters, I find myself wishing there were more. I don’t want them to end. I want to know what happens to Cécile. Does she go on and marry? Have children? What happens in the rest of her life? Will I ever know the whole story, or is this just going to be four years suspended in time? I’ve grown to care for Cécile, and I don’t want to let her go.
The next letter I hold in my hand is tied with a creamy-colored silk ribbon. Out of all the letters I have read this is the only one tied in a lovely ribbon. Ruth must have wished this letter to be set apart from all the others. Unlike the other letters from Cécile that have been several pages in length, this is a single card.
Paris, 29 September, 1922
My darling Ruth,
I am at home since a few weeks, not well at all. Though I am feeling a little bit better and I think I shall write you a long letter very soon. I had some letters from you and I wanted to answer them but . . . that awful fever did not allow me to do as I wanted. Write me always nice letters as you do, they make me feel so glad when I read them.
Love and kisses, Cécile
After reading this letter from Cécile to Ruth, I stumble upon an unexpected letter from Lulu to Ruth. It’s been an uncharacteristic two months since Cécile’s last letter. This letter’s tone is of a very sad brother.
Paris, 20 December, 1922
My dear, dear Ruth,
Please forgive my long delay because you have a good heart. The principal reason is, Cécile is so much ill, she is very ill and we despair to save her; she is abed since first days of September and is very thin and skinny and nothing interests her but your letters. In your next letters, don’t say you know Cécile is so ill . . . so good-bye and I kiss you for Cécile and for me.
I know the content of the next envelope before I read it because of the bold black border framing it. Printed in French is a message that I strain to decipher.
“Mademoiselle Cécile COSQUERIC dies January 3rd, 1923.” Smaller envelopes, framed in the same black border, are handwritten notes from Cécile’s parents and Lulu. Lulu writes,
Paris, 20 January, 1923
My dear Ruth,
Cécile is dead. Like a very, very good Christian and is surely near God. Pray often for her. We received this morning your letter of the first for Cécile.
I kiss you strongly, Lulu.
As I read the notices written to Ruth, I also feel as though I have suffered a loss. I had connected with Cécile. Through all the letters, I had grown to love Cécile, and she had become a good friend of mine. Cécile was such a loving person, and taken at an age so young. For a fleeting moment, I feel as though I am Ruth and Ruth is me, and I know why the connection is so strong.
You see, Ruth is my great-grandmother. These letters still exist because they have been passed down from my great-grandma to my grandma to my mother and now to me. Each generation so loved these letters and was compelled to save them and pass them along. Over eighty years have passed since these letters were first penned by a lovely French girl to her American friend. So much has changed during all those years, but what hasn’t changed is the excitement of opening each letter as the story of this French girl unfolds. I am the fourth generation to receive kisses from Cécile.
Note: You can see more of Cécile’s letters on our Web site, www.stonesoup.com. In addition, you can listen to Marie reading her story aloud. If you’d like to find your own pen pal, go to the links section of our Web site and click on “Find a pen pal.”