• The Death of Cliff Huxtable / Chapter 9: Winnie and Nelson Tibideaux



    May 29, 1962
              Dear Clair,
    The seas are rough...waves bouncing beneath storms...and sickness all around. I'm fine but I'm sick too. I'm homesick for you. I miss you beyond the reach of my duty. I love the Navy but I love you more. I will marry you Clair. I am going to enroll at Hillman. I will attend medical school...become a doctor...a surgeon...and be your husband. We will have children...two...maybe three. I see my future with you and I am walking towards that future. I'm coming home...to you.
              Love, Cliff.

    Nelson holds the love letter on off white parchment with care in both hands. This delicate artifact of his grand parents' love and courtship is but one of dozens of letters he and his twin sister, Winnie, are exploring. Kept in a small vintage leather suitcase, the letters range in color from tea-stained tan to egg shell white, marking the varying decades love lived between the Huxtables.

    Nelson and Winnie relax in their grand parents' bedroom as the repast crowd remember and wane in the night.
         "Are all of these letters from grandpa to grandma?" asks Winnie.
         "Most of them...looks like it. I see some from grandma to granddad too. But yeah...mainly from granddad to grandma. Man...he was pressed."
         "Well...I mean grandma was a catch." Winnie sifts through the letters and come across an envelope with a photo tucked in with the love note. She carefully pulls out the letter and the photo, "See...this one is from grandma and she sent grandpa a photo too. Look!" Winnie holds up the photo for Nelson to see.


         "Oh wow..." marvels Nelson. "Ok...well...that's...ok...that ain't how grandma's are suppose to look."
         "She was young and beautiful, huh?"
         "Granddad didn't stand a chance. What does her letter say?"

    Winnie's fingers gently unfold Clair Hanks' letter,

    June 30, 1962
         Dear Heathcliff,
    Days pass slowly, waiting for you to come home. I want to be excited that you will be attending Hillman, but for a sweet afternoon and a stroll by the lake near the church, I want you to myself.


    ​Winnie stops reading,
         "WAIT! WHAT YOU DOIN'?! WHY DID YOU STOP READING!!"
    Winnie folds the letter perfectly in the creases and replaces the photo of Clair back in the envelope.
         "I am not reading this. This is a private letter..."
         "They're ALL private letters!! READ IT!"
         "Ok...Nelson...you're being creepy grand son right now and it's weird."

    Winnie replaces the envelope into the short stack of letters the twins have already read. Nelson reaches for the letter, defying Winnie's refusal to continue. Winnie strikes her brother's hand with the quickness of swatting an annoying fly.
         "OUCH!! What you do that for?!"
         "Because you're being an asshole."
         "You're an asshole."
         "I'm the asshole's twin. We're not identical."

    Nelson rubs his tingling hand while giving his sister the "I can't stand you sometimes" look. His eyes moves on to a small bundle of dark tan letters. He reaches, with caution, for the bundle. The letters are older than the letters he and his sister have been reading from Cliff and Clair. They are fragile correspondences between their great grand parents, Anna and Russell Huxtable.
         "Oh wow, Winnie...look."

    ​Nelson passes a couple of the letters to Winnie. They both look in awe at the penmanship and poetry their two elders shared with one another. Nelson selects a letter to read and a photo a young Russell drops out.  Nelson reads aloud in his great grand father's voice,

    ​August 17, 1945
         My Dearest Anna...my only love.
    Your love gets me through these long days of war and death. I listen to the song in your voice over the constant firing of weapons and the cries of the barely alive. I am barely alive...without you. I miss you Anna. When I come home, I am going to marry you. I am going to make you my wife and live the best days of my life as your husband. If you will have me...love me forever...as I vow to love you. In this letter, you will find a photo of me. All the fellas and I took photos to send to our loves. We had to share the suit, but it was worth it. I was thinking about making it home to you when they took the picture. As soon as this war ends, our life together will begin. I'm coming home.
         Yours, Russell

         "What was the date on that one, Nelson?" asks Winnie as she sifts through the short stack looking for Anna's response. "Ahh...here it is."
    Winnie pulls Anna's response to Russell and reads it aloud,

    September 1, 1945     My Love,
    I do not know what news gives me the greatest joy: the war being declared over, you coming home, or me getting to be your wife. Oh Russell, I have loved you, and only you, for as long as I can remember and for as long as I live. I think on our life together. I think of the children we will have together. I pray for girls...two...maybe three daughters because this world is not as kind to Negro sons. When we get you home from this war, we will never be apart. My life waits for you. Come home, my love. Come, be home, with me.
         Forever yours, Anna

         "Wow...we come from people who love deeply." expresses Winnie proudly.
         "Yes...yes we do." replies Nelson.

    ​Nelson puts the stack of vintage letters back together and replaces it in the suitcase. Winnie gathers her stack as well and neatly restore the letters in the suitcase. Once the twins replace all the letters, Nelson spots a lone letter tucked into the side of the suitcase, wedged in between the interior fabric and the hard leather outer shell. Nelson digs his index finger into the side of the suitcase, wiggling the hidden letter out of its secret compartment. Winnie watches as Nelson finally frees the letter.
         "Hey...what is that?"
         "I don't know. It isn't with the other letters and was even kinda hidden away."

    ​Nelson first reads the envelop. It is addressed to Cliff but the return address has no name...just the address. Seeing that the letter has been opened and presumably read, Nelson takes the letter out. Winnie isn't certain this letter is meant for anyone to read it but her grand father.
         "Maybe we shouldn't read this one, Nelson."
         "Why not?"
         "Ummm...because it was hidden. Clearly this isn't a letter grandpa wanted anyone to find."


    Nelson takes a moment to consider what Winnie is suggesting. This makes him want to read the letter even more.
         "Winnie...do you think granddad was cheating on grandma?"
         "Never. Not in a million years."

    The two sit quietly. The letter, out of its envelop is sitting in Nelson's hand. All he has to do is unfold the note and all their questions will be answered...or so they think.
         "Ok...Winnie...Granddad did not cheat on Grandma. He would never do that and this isn't some letter hidden and tucked away. When we put the letters back...or when whoever the last person to go through these letters put them back...one of them was accidentally shoved in between the fabric and the case. It's no big deal. No one cheated. Ok?"
    Winnie pauses for a moment and then embraces Nelson's theory,
         "Ok."
         "Ok then."


    Nelson places the envelop on the bed and unfolds the letter. A single photo drops out of the honeysuckle scented paper. Winnie picks up the photo as Nelson brings the parchment to his nose for a sniff.
         "Oh man...this smells good."
    Winnie stares at the photo trying to recognize the beautiful black woman smiling back at her. She has never seen this face but recognizes the smile of a woman in love. While Winnie examines the photo, Nelson begins to read the letter,

    ​September 13, 1958
    My darling Cliff...


         "Whoa!" exclaims Winnie. Nelson stops reading and scans the four pages of handwritten musings to get to the last page for a name. Upon reading the salutation, Nelson asks his sister,
         "Who is Eunice Chantilly?"

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