from lawnmower storage and the occasional need for a sled
on a snowy day, the tool shed behind the East Fishkill home
of the Knapp family doesn’t get much use. More than half of
the large, cluttered space is filled to the ceiling with cardboard
boxes containing the possessions of great-grandmother Anna
Lucille Gibbia. She was a product of the Great Depression
and a pack rat; the family always assumed that there was little
of value hidden among the boxes. They remained untouched for
more than 20 years until last October, when the Knapps began
the weeklong process of cleaning out the shed.
among boxes, empty Tic Tac containers, an old joke book, an
LP of President Kennedy’s inauguration speech, and a bag of
empty used envelopes, the Knapps discovered a small wooden
box with the date “April 4, 1925” haphazardly scratched on
the lid. This tiny treasure chest had kept its contents safe
from the rain and time that had damaged so many of the other
items stored beside it.
the box were love letters, more than eight decades old, written
to Anna Lucille from her suitor, and eventual husband, James
Grazio. Sheaves of hand-penned letters—written between 1925
and 1927 and still in pristine condition—unfold into the story
of two young lovers in pre-Great Depression New York.
tell you, I certainly enjoyed being in your company last Sunday,
and I am looking forward to the day when I may again have
the pleasure of your company, which I hope will be real soon.
. . . Thinking perhaps I might love you with my writing, I
will put the brakes on my pen by extending to you my kindest
Elizabeth Knapp, a college student living in Albany, went
back to East Fishkill one October weekend to help her parents
and two younger brothers with the shed excavation. When her
parents told her about the newly-discovered letters, her cleaning
plans dissolved. She immediately took the box of letters inside
and spent the afternoon reading them all, in order, from start
never met her great-grandfather; he passed away years before
she was born. Aside from yearly visits to Florida, she did
not have much opportunity to get close to her great-grandmother.
But page by page, in her bedroom—surrounded by the posters
and pictures she’d pinned to the walls as she began to learn
about love herself—she uncovered the love story of Anna Lucille
(who would later be called Gigi), a live-in nanny for the
Metz family, and James, an insurance salesman.
when Mr. Metz, who worked with James, introduced him to Anna
Lucille. James worked and lived in Beacon. Gigi lived in Poughkeepsie,
and attended nursing school in Jamaica, Queens, against her
father’s wishes. In the early months of their courtship, James
traveled often for work. He would visit Gigi at the Metz family
home, then drive back home to Beacon, making for long days
and late nights.
way to Poughkeepsie you told me I would be better off coming
home alone because I would have no chatterbox beside me, but
what do you think of me going to sleep at the wheel on the
way home? It did not take long for me to awaken when I felt
myself driving into the ditch. I am so tired and lazy that
I am writing this lying in bed, which proves to you that even
when I am in bed I am thinking of you . . .
an educated businessman, was not a writer by trade or even
hobby. Gigi, however, was adamant that he write her letters
while he was away, and James, so early in love, did his best
to comply. He sprinkled apologies throughout the letters for
what he thought of as a lack of writing ability.
young lady, did you know that I am about as handy at writing
letters as I am at flying kites, and I can’t even get the
string in the air?
would never know this, but years later his great-granddaughter
Elizabeth would be a writer. A lover of words and history,
she found particular enjoyment not only in the romance of
her great-grandparents, but in the glimpses of life in her
hometown 80 years ago.
our Main Street is about all done and I’ll bet you won’t know
the town when you get back. You will think you are on 5th
Avenue itself what with the new pavement and the new 10 cent
many of the letters referred to family members that she knew
only by name, when Elizabeth reached the final letter, she
was pleasantly surprised to read about a person that she knew
I am not with you, how are you and the family? You know, even
Mrs. Spiro asked me tonight when it was coming, and I told
her Santa Clause was to bring it.
that Gigi would deliver in December was Elizabeth’s great-aunt
Lena Marie. Two years later, the Great Depression would hit.
The family would struggle, but survive, and go on to have
two more daughters—the youngest of which would be Elizabeth’s
own grandmother, Francis Louise.
story of James and Gigi would not make for a very exciting
movie. There are no star-crossed lovers or love triangles,
no shouting from the mountaintops. Their love was honest and
simple, with no need for extravagance, but these letters are
a glimpse of everyday love, which in itself is wholly miraculous.
James and Gigi remained happily married, and although they
have both passed away, one can assume that James is still
hers—until Niagara falls.