Monday, February 22, 2016

1) Introduction- Letters From The Past

Letters From The Past

During a 1981 Christmas visit with my parents, Betty and Jack Riley, I first learned of the existence of saved letters from their correspondence during World War II. It was a difficult time for our family. My mother was in the final stages of a serious illness and we all understood that her death was looming. She had my father bring out the box of old letters and we read through some of them. They intrigued me, as they were a window into my parents private and personal past. I read a few of them but the visit was busy with concerns for my ill mother and my father who was also hospitalized, with heart failure, during that holiday. The letters were forgotten and only months later, when both of my parents had died, did my siblings and I rediscover them. In the years to follow, I read many of the letters somewhat haphazardly and not sequentially. I had in mind to someday organize and transcribe them. I knew they held within them an interesting story and would give me great insight into my parents’ young lives.

My parents’ romance was sparked in high school but grew in depth through these letters written to each other over three years. Jack was two years older than Betty. It was at Anchorage High School in Anchorage Kentucky that he met Betty, Betty’s sister Anne, and their cousins, Bob and Bill Giltner. Betty and Jack had gone out on a few dates together but they certainly were not “steadies” before the War. Jack’s girlfriend at the time he left for military service, as you will see mentioned in many of the early letters, was Libby Bazzell, who also attended Anchorage High.

Many girls felt it was their duty to write to the boys they knew who had gone off to fight in the War. Of course, not all of these correspondences led to romance and to a marriage. About five months after Jack came home from overseas, he and Betty did marry. They had been teenagers, only 16 and 18 when they had last seen each other. When he came back they were 19 and 21, young adults.

A Little Background Information

My father, Jack Woodward Riley, Jr. was born on June 21, 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the first and only child of his parents, Jack W. Riley, Sr. and Avery Ethel Merriman. He grew up mostly in Louisville but the family also spent some time living in Queens, New York City, New York. Before Dad enlisted in the Army Air Corp the family lived on Bonner Avenue in St. Matthews, Kentucky. He was on the Anchorage High football team.

My mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Fairleigh Geiger was born on August 14, 1926, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the first of two daughters born to Thomas Geiger and Emma Fairleigh. Betty had a younger sister, Anne. Thomas Geiger died of brain cancer at the age of 35, in 1940. When he died the family was living with Emma’s mother, Nanine Fairleigh, at her home on Westport Road, about halfway between St. Matthews and Anchorage. Bob and Bill Giltner, Betty and Anne's first cousins, also lived with Nanine Fairleigh. These boys were the same ages as Betty and Anne and lived with their grandmother so that they could attend Anchorage High School, apparently deemed better than the county school where their parents lived and had a thriving farm. In 1943 Emma married Horace Allen, an old family friend, and after this marriage, Emma, Horace, Betty and Anne moved to a small home on Maple Crest Court, in the Crescent Hill neighborhood of Louisville. Betty was a popular student at Anchorage High and one of the top students in her class. Because of the family’s move to Crescent Hill in 1943, Betty attended her last year of high school at Atherton School for Girls, in Louisville.


  1. My parents, Ewing Hardy, Jr. and Joan Boone, went to Anchorage High School with them. They never mentioned letters, but we found two stashes while cleaning out the house last year after dad died. We haven't read through them yet--we had to get things boxed up and out of the house--but they're clearly from the 1940's. And I know they were friends with your parents. -Jon

    1. How interesting! Can't wait to hear what you discover in those letters.