Illinois tornadoes: Out of loss comes love

The love letter didn't come to Anne Ortman in a bottle.

And it wasn't found in an attic or bricked away behind a wall.

This love letter came by tornado on Sunday, via the winds of the killer storms that devastated Washington, Ill., more than 100 miles away.

Ortman, a legal secretary for a large downtown Chicago law firm, was cooking Hungarian goulash for her family on Sunday when her daughter rushed inside her southwest suburban home.

"Yes, it came by tornado," Ortman told me over the phone. "We live in Shorewood. The tornado hit Washington. That's more than 100 miles away. My daughter found it in the street. She ran into the kitchen, saying, 'Look what I found!'"

It was an envelope, rain-soaked, battered, almost destroyed after its high-speed journey through wind, rain and hail. It carried a Washington, Ill., address.

"I didn't know quite what to do with it," Ortman said. "I didn't want to open it at first. I didn't want it to be destroyed. So I put it on the crockpot to dry. My husband, Bob, said, 'It's just too weird.'

"Oh my goodness. When it was dry, I read it. And then I contacted you."

She sent me a copy, a letter written by a man to a girl he loved. There's the urgency of the young in it, and passion, and lines and words crossed out, others inserted, the kind of thing a man would write if he was in a hurry and all he could see was the girl he missed.

Women save such letters. Men too.

"It's just so romantic," Anne said. "I've received letters like that when I was young. I've saved mine. All of them. And in this one, you read that he's away in the service. She's at home. He loves her. You can tell. It's just sweet. But I don't know when it was written."

I thought about reaching out to Washington, but there's so much devastation there right now that the last thing the town needs is a reporter poking around about an old love letter.

"And then, what if she wanted to keep this private?" Anne said. "What if she's married to someone else? I don't want to cause anyone any heartache."

So we decided on a plan:

I'll reprint some of the letter and leave the names out of it. If it belongs to you, you'll know.

If this letter was written to you, you'll know the man's name, and what branch of the service he belonged to. You'll know certain details.

And then, if you want it, you can contact the young fellow who helps me with the column, William Lee — he likes to be called "Old School" in print — and you can write him at wlee@tribune.com.

Here's an excerpt of the letter:

Groove me and (name) please write soon. ...

The trip was just awful. By the way, keep the letter confidential. Baby, I miss your kisses terribly. Next letter I'll write you a surprise.

CHICAGO

More