From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

The Right Approach

Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.

Rose Franken

Back in 1959 Bud and I, new army second lieutenants, received orders for the same unit at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. We graduated together from OCS but did not know each other well as we had been in different sections. Our new assignments brought us in daily contact and soon we became good friends. An outgoing Irishman, Bud enjoyed telling tales of growing up in the Bronx and recounting humorous situations involving parents and siblings. The family picture displayed in his room included an attractive younger sister. From the way he spoke about her she was obviously popular and not lacking “gentlemen callers.” The attraction was there—this was someone I wanted to meet. But she was in New York and I was in Oklahoma—a long way to be dating.

Eventually I got up my nerve and asked Bud if he would mind if I wrote his sister a letter. He looked a bit quizzical, but gave me the address and wished me luck. I pondered what approach would have the best chance of hooking her interest and receiving a reply. The standard “Let’s be pen pals” did not seem the way to go. After some thought I sent the following letter:

Dear Rita:

I’m a friend of your brother. I’ll come right to the point. I owe him some money. He said he would cancel the debt if I would marry his sister. As he related, the family has been trying to marry you off for some time—with little success! As fate would have it, I am looking for a woman of childbearing age who is in good health, capable of hard work, reasonably intelligent and comes from good stock! As you appear to meet these criteria, I have accepted your brother’s offer, and so for better or worse, we will be married. Thus, consider yourself engaged!

Enclosed you will find a temporary engagement ring (cigar band). Wear it with pride! If you have any questions about the details of the marriage, our future life together or other minor points just let me know. I will complete my active duty obligation in the near future. You may select an appropriate date for our wedding any time following my discharge.

Your husband-to-be,

I had no idea if she would reply, or if she would toss the letter out, thinking, “What nut did my brother meet and why did he give him my address?” On the other hand, if she did reply this could be fun. About a week later a perfume-laden letter arrived.

She had taken the bait! It read:

Dear Ed:

Your letter certainly came as a surprise! I am grateful that my brother has arranged for someone to take me “off the shelf.” I planned to wear my “temporary engagement ring” until I found out that it comes from a very “cheap” cigar! I don’t mind the marriage commitment, but I want to do it in style and comfort. This brings me to certain “conditions” of our intended betrothal. Naturally you plan to keep me in the manner to which I hope to become accustomed. To be specific, we will need a maid/cook as well as someone who takes care of the house and grounds. I hesitate to set a date for our entry into marital bliss until you can assure me that such will be the case.

Awaiting your reply with a fluttering heart!


Ah, the challenge! This was getting good. I replied:

My dear bride-to-be:

It was gratifying to hear that you have accepted my proposal. Now we can plan our life together. Further, I can understand your reluctance to wear that cigar band, as it was from an inexpensive brand. You are absolutely right! I should have known that you were a girl with “class.” Thus, enclosed is a band from a Dutch Master, a much better brand. You can wear this one with pride!

I am happy to report that the conditions you specified (housekeeper/cook and groundskeeper) can be met. You see, we will be living with my parents and, as you will soon find out, Mom keeps a clean house and is a good cook while Dad keeps the lawn cut and the house in good repair. If you would want Mom to wear a special apron or something, I’m sure I can talk her into it. We can even get a bit of a uniform for Dad. I’m sure that this arrangement will satisfy your demands.

I did have one other question. You signed your letter “with a fluttering heart.” Were you implying that you have a heart murmur or some other type of cardiac condition? Your brother assured me that you were “as healthy as a horse” when I agreed to marry you. I’m just checking, as one can’t be too careful these days! Also, I have no picture of you. Please send one at your earliest convenience.

Your husband-to-be,

Her reply came in about two weeks.

Dearest Ed:

Your plan for us to live with your parents is certainly an interesting arrangement. I can’t wait to hear about other plans you have for our life together, as you seem so sensitive, romantic and intuitive. How lucky can a girl get! By the way, how much money did you owe my brother?

In response to your inquiry about a possible “heart condition,” the answer is “neigh.” You see, I am as healthy as a horse. However, the thought occurs to me that if I continue to respond to your letters perhaps I should have my head examined.

Sorry, I have no picture of me alone to send you. I have some with boyfriends, but somehow it would seem “tacky” to send one of those. Thus, I’ve decided not to send a picture and I’m sure you’ll understand. You’ll have to admire me without the benefit of external props. Just think of me as perfection!

With bated breath I await your response!


Hum, how to respond? This one took some thought and a bit of research. The final product was as follows:

My dear Rita:

In your last letter you wondered what our life would be like together. A great question! I see you as the perfect wife. The life of such a woman is described clearly in the Bible, specifically in the book of Proverbs, chapter 31. I quote some of the verses:

“She does her work with eager hands.
She gets up while it is still dark
Giving her household their food.
She puts her back into her work
And shows how strong her arms can be.
She weaves linen sheets and sells them,
She supplies the merchant with sashes. Etc.
Also: Her husband is respected at the city gates,
And praises her good works to the elders.”

Obviously, the message needs to be updated to reflect our current culture, but the meaning is clear—you’ll work your fingers to the bone and love it! Now be honest, isn’t that the type of wife you always imagined yourself to be?

This brings up another point, namely, the picture. Perhaps I wasn’t clear regarding this. My words, or at least my intent, was not to give you an option regarding sending a picture. So let me be clear—send a picture. Again, it is important that we establish the proper line of authority for our life together. Remember St. Paul’s statement, “Wives be subject to your husbands.” The fact that we are not yet married is a minor technicality. So, I expect a picture!

Regarding the money I owed your brother—it was $3. He said you were worth every penny.

One last point. You signed the last letter—“with bated breath.” I just want to make sure that you weren’t implying that you have a lung problem or persistent halitosis. I await your picture!

Your sensitive husband-to-be,

In a few weeks a small package arrived that obviously was a picture frame.

Enclosed was a picture of a girl of about seven or eight seated on a piano stool. She displayed a broad smile that reflected the absence of her two front teeth. A large bow in her hair complemented a fluffy dress. Score one for her! How do I respond? It took a while to develop the following:

My dear Rita:

Just a short note to let you know that your picture arrived safe and sound. I know our life together will be conflict free, given your willingness to follow the dictates of your husband-to-be. However, I would be less than candid if I did not confess that the picture took me by surprise. You see, in the picture you seem more mature than your letters have indicated to date! But, I guess some surprises are to be expected in any relationship.

One item we have failed to discuss—the dowry. Please let me know the assets you will bring into our marriage.

Your husband-to-be,

Several weeks went by without a reply. Had I pushed it too far? On the surface it was just good fun, yet I felt we were developing a relationship. I wanted to meet her and thought she had similar feelings. Well, I thought, guess again.

Shortly thereafter Bud advised me that he received a letter from Rita telling him that she was entering a convent, something she had always considered. She asked him to say good-bye to me and to let me know that she had enjoyed the letter writing and was sorry that we didn’t have a chance to meet. I thought, Were my letters the last straw, driving her into the convent? I muttered to myself, I guess it was the wrong approach!

Soon my required active duty time was up and I returned home. Bud’s commitment kept him in the army a bit longer. About six months later I received a letter from Bud inviting me for a weekend in the Bronx to celebrate his discharge. He noted, “As an added incentive I am featuring one ex-nun.” How could I resist? I flew to New York and we met.

Our fortieth wedding anniversary is not too far away. It was the “right approach.”

Edmund Phillips

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