WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Margarette Abrams was stunned in early January when her past came rushing back in a phone call from a stranger.
"You have what?" she squealed upon hearing the news.
Love letters found buried for nearly six decades beneath attic insulation in Wilmington stirred memories long forgotten. The words on the dusty, crumbling papers - penned by a beau named Roger - were mesmerizing.
Dec. 3, 1946: "The radio is on, and right now, 'You Keep Coming Back Like a Song,' is playing. It doesn't take music to remind me of you, though, since you are in my mind every minute of the day. I go to sleep thinking of you and wondering if you are thinking of me. I wake up wondering if I am going to get a letter from you that day..."
Roger's heartsong was enchanting. He spoke to and of Margarette with such a whispering gentle love, an innocence that seems foreign in the modern world.
He wrote nearly every day of songs on the radio, classes he was taking, the view from his University of South Carolina dorm window - all to his muse, a precious high school girl in the Port City.
March 25, 1947: "Dearest, did I ever tell you how wonderful you are? Did I ever tell you how very, very much I love you? Or why it is that I love you so very much? Sometime when you have about a week to do nothing but listen to me talk I will tell you all of these things. It may take longer than a week..."
Catherine Britt found the letters in the attic of their Glendale Drive rental home in 2003, and she and her husband Jeremy toted the brittle correspondence around for a decade, wondering who the lovers were.
The mystery drove the Britts to the library where they were able to find Margarette's class picture in the 1948 New Hanover High School yearbook.
But beyond that, Margarette was an enigma. Sixty-six years later, the odds of finding her seemed insurmountable. There was no way to know if she or Roger were even still alive.
"We kept the letters because we felt her or her family would like a part of her history," Catherine said. "When we moved from that house we had packed them up and had forgotten about them until I came across them going through some old totes."
Each letter ends almost the same, "Yours and yours alone, Roger."
And as abruptly as the letters began, they ended. Nothing was resolved. In addition to wondering who the people were, the outcome of their relationship also was a mystery.
The letters from Roger begin in 1945.
Dec. 28, 1945: "I had wonderful Christmas but there was still one thing missing -- we'll discuss that when I see you again."
The last indication of contact between the two was an empty envelope postmarked March 1948.
There were no public records in Wilmington, outside of the yearbook, that listed Margarette Abrams. And property records for the house where the letters were found proved useless. Short of driving to Florence, S.C., records for Roger proved fairly elusive too. But elusive and impossible are two different things.
The Internet, which has made almost obsolete hand-written love letters like Margarette's, helped unlock the mystery.
Through obituaries, birth records and newspaper clippings, Margarette and Roger were found.
"I can't believe it," Margarette, 84, sighed from her home in Asheboro when she learned her love letters were still around. The last she knew she'd left them with her sister in Wilmington when she moved away. She'd been meaning to ask Martha what happened to them, but never got around to it. And now Martha is gone. Margarette's best guess is that Martha put them in the attic to store them, and the proclamations of enduring love were accidentally left behind.
Roger, 86, married and retired, was also surprised that the letters existed.
"I've often thought of Margarette," he said.
He said a mutual friend would occasionally mention speaking with her, but the two had no contact since 1948
Beyond that, he was uninterested in rehashing the past. Margarette, a private person by nature, was also initially reluctant to speak publicly. But after giving it some thought, she said, she had a change of heart.
"I was really hoping that this could be something beautiful. People are clamoring for something from the old times. And that's the reason why I will talk about it," she said.
Margarette was 3 years old in 1932 when her mother died following the birth of the last of her six children. Seven years later, when she was 10, she lost her father and the Abrams children were parceled out to family.
In 1944, after Margarette's sister Martha married and moved to Wilmington, Margarette joined her. The letters in the attic cache proved other suitors courted the beautiful Margarette through post, but Roger, a school mate she left behind in Florence, was the most prolific and lasting.
"He said the most wonderful things," she recalled. "I think the reason why I never forgot him is because he treated me like a lady. He was the most gentlemanly human being I'd ever met."
Oct. 15, 1947: "I love you darling. You are always uppermost in my conscious mind. You are the most important thing in my whole life, and always will be. You are my inspiration and my spirit and I am thoroughly convinced that you are the only one in the world who could handle that position... I'm looking forward to the time when I can give you a big promotion."
Courtship in the 1940s was unlike the modern era. Most girls didn't do anything more than hold hands and snuggle, Margarette said, and she was no exception.
"Now if a person dates for two months, the guy expects you to go to bed with them. It would be so good for the young people to see how it used to be," she said.
For Roger and Margarette, marriage seemed in the cards. But she was still in high school in Wilmington and he was in college 127 miles away.
Then something happened that was not explained in the letters.
Even to this day, Margarette didn't need a letter to remind her.
"His friend told him I was unfaithful," she said with a growl.
At first Margarette pleaded with Roger to believe her, but he cut off all communication.
"I was miserable," she said.
After three weeks of silence, her brother-in-law arrived with a letter for her. It was from Roger.
In it, Roger apologized for disbelieving Margarette, she said.
"He said that he just couldn't stand it anymore and he was sorry and that he would just like me to forgive his jealous rage," she said.
Margarette's reply - she is convinced - changed her life forever.
"I wrote him back and said, 'You should have thought about that three weeks ago,'" she recalled, her voice catching in her throat. "I've regretted it ever since."
Shortly after the devastating break up, Margarette met and married a dashing and equally smitten boy she worked with at the Walgreens in Winston-Salem, where she lived after graduation. From that union came two boys, Jody and Scott.
Margarette is now a grandmother of three. Her husband, David, died in 1998 after 49 years of marriage. Four years later, she lost her Jody to cancer. She's been around the world and not strayed far from home. She's welcomed dozens of babies and said goodbye to some. She's lost everything to a hurricane and has rebuilt her life.
She's happy, and funny, and active and kind.
In her immaculate home Monday, with her face nearly touching the yellowed pages so she could see, Margarette held the letters in her hands for the first time this millennium. The news of their discovery brought back memories of a time gone by.
"I feel 15 years old all over again. I look in the mirror and I'm trying to see myself as I was then," she said.
She's still beautiful, but her strawberry blond hair is white now and her bright blue eyes are failing.
She began to read aloud one of Roger's letters, then stopped and hid her tears behind the page. Even the countless moons that have passed since she first received the letters have done nothing to dull her love for the boy who adored her so.
"I was so awful to him," she said. "I never got to explain. I was so angry that he didn't believe me and I cut off my nose to spite my face.
"I wouldn't want to see him again, because I want him to remember me as I was, but if I could talk to him on the phone to explain..."
Some things time doesn't heal, she said.
A broken heart is one.
"He was my first love. And you never forget your first love."
Information from: The StarNews, http://starnewsonline.com