Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dear Vernon: Letters Capturing a Punta Gorda Love Story

It was almost 70 years ago when a chance encounter between two teenagers sparked an enduring love between two Punta Gordans -- Vernon and Edna Jane Peeples.  After she passed away recently, Vernon Peeples started rediscovering  the letters that they had exchanged over the course of four years while they were separated when Edna Jane went with her family to Miami and Vernon went off to school in Tallahassee.

Vernon recalled the story of their courtship to a reporter and his beautiful account appears in this week's  Florida Weekly.  And when we visited Vernon this week the hundreds of letters were still strewn across his cocktail table.  Vernon, being the storyteller he is,  couldn't resist telling us more about his meeting with Edna Jane in November of 1945.  "She was the daughter of the new  Presbyterian minister" he began.  And when he first saw her as he was walking down Marion Ave. to catch a school bus, as he recalled, he was immediately smitten.  Edna Jane and he were in the same homeroom at Charlotte High School and fast established a chaste old-fashioned relationship. It took over three months before they shared a kiss.  "Our parents wanted to split it up," Vernon told us, "they were concerned we were too serious."   But there was no splitting up these two, not then and not for decades later.

Vernon has found comfort in rereading the love letters they wrote to each other, noting that Edna Jane's  were  more frequent while his were much longer often going on for several pages.  He would drive periodically to Miami where Edna Jane was studying Nursing from Tallahassee where  he was completing  his degree at Florida State. He would drive all Friday night to reach Miami Saturday morning to spend time with Edna Jane, but it was the letters that kept them connected over the distance.

At one point Edna Jane did try to break off the relationship in a letter, but Vernon wrote her back outlining logically why she shouldn't do that.  She wrote back days later inviting him to join her family for a visit in New York.  Needless-to-say, there was no breakup.  They became engaged, but honoring their respective parents they made a commitment not to marry until they competed their schooling.  At that time Nursing students could not get married.

They married in August of 1951, had three children, and as Edna Jane promised "loved forever."

The  letters not only contain the romantic love story of a Punta Gorda couple, as Vernon notes "they relate the history of the time", how teenagers thought, what they did, the social mores of the time. They are an important part of  history which Vernon indicates should be part of the Punta Gorda History Center.