Eleven years ago, Cheshire’s Lisa Franco walked into a small antique shop on the shores of Cape Cod to do a little browsing.
Having spent a lot of time over the years at the Cape, and the owner of a side business dealing with vintage items herself, Franco was no stranger to such small stores and the hidden treasures they could reveal.
But she couldn’t have ever predicted what she would find that day.
“I went down into the basement,” said Franco, “and saw this plastic laundry basket … filled with letters and papers and photos. I reached in, pulled one (letter) out, and read it.”
As she stood there, in the corner of this small shop, reading this World War II-era letter, Franco was overwhelmed. “I was weeping,” she recalls. “It was just so filled with emotion. It was just so beautiful.”
The letter had been written by Donald Storey to his sweetheart Margery Stickles, known as Mardy, while he was in the Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II. It was a love letter, shared between two young people during a time of incredible global turmoil, and it captivated Franco.
“I went back (to the shop) the next day and I bought all of the letters,” Franco said. “I really feel like I was destined to find them.”
In total, there were approximately 150 letters between Donald and Mardy, spanning five years of the war and its aftermath. The correspondence told the story of a romance that led to a family. It was about conflicts, politics, popular culture, and the hopes and dreams of two people who believed that the future would include a life spent with one another.
It was a wonderful story, one Franco wanted to share with the world.
“My Dearest Darling: Letters of Love in Wartime,” is the fulfillment of Franco’s desire to take the story of Donald and Mardy and share it with the world. The backbone of the book is the love story, which accounts for 75% of the work and includes snippets from over 130 of the letters shared between the couple, but it also incorporates history and a deeper look at the era in which both of them came of age.
“They were both only in their 20s,” reflected Franco. “In one of her letters, Mardy even refers to them as ‘kids,’ but they were growing up so fast.”
“I still get emotional reading some of the things (Donald) wrote,” she continued.
Before there was a book, however, there was a curiosity. Moved by the eloquence of Donald’s letters, Franco felt driven to find out more about the couple. She employed the help of an amateur genealogist, who agreed to track down the family. Within a day, Franco had the names and whereabouts of the Storeys — upstate New York.
Since Franco has family in that area and had been planning a visit, she decided to make a detour on her way. She contacted the Storey family and told them about the discovery, asking if she could meet them on her next trip to the area.
Margery Storey was still alive at the time — she died in 2017 — but, at 91, was suffering from dementia so her three children — two sons and one daughter — asked that the letters not be presented to her. However, the children, who had thought the correspondence were lost forever after accidentally being sold during an estate sale, were thrilled to learn of their recovery.
“I told them that I wanted to write a book, to bring this story alive for people,” said Franco. “I just thought it was all so beautiful.”
Franco is a journalist by trade — she was a writer/producer for WTNH Channel 8 who won several Emmy awards for her work, which includes documentary series on a variety of topics, before becoming the state communications director for one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country. Whether it was that background, or the sincere interest she showed in their parents, the children immediately gave their blessing.
“They trusted me implicitly,” Franco stated.
The work was arduous. To bring the whole tale to life, Franco believed she had to do much more than simply transcribe the letters shared between Donald and Mardy. Franco wanted to add context to everything being discussed, including aspects of letters that might be left out.
“(Donald) would often write, ‘You’ll hear about this (soon),’ or ‘We had a bit of fun last night,’ but never say what exactly it was (he was referring to),” explained Franco. “So I wanted to say it.”
Franco also gathered information on all of the ships on which Donald had served during the war, providing the context of what was happening in the Pacific at the time he was writing his letters back home.
“He couldn’t say what was happening (regarding specific conflicts) when writing Mardy, so I wanted to connect what was happening with him at the moment he was writing,” she said.
Yet, Franco wanted to ensure that the book remained an account of a love story, not a rehashing of well-known history. And as she went through the letters, she began to feel a closer connection to the two.
“I really feel like they are a part of my family,” she said. “I never met Donald, and I only met Mardy on a few occasions, but I feel like I know them … like they are (extended) grandparents.”
The correspondence spans five years, from when the two were first engaged, through their marriage, to the birth of their first child. The last letter Franco chronicles was written by Donald right before he was set to return home.
“There were times I’d be writing and have to remind myself, ‘Oh, OK — by this time they were engaged,’” she said, with a laugh. “I just was constantly making sure I was saying things correctly, and chronicling things right.”
“I told the family that I wasn’t doing this for money. I wanted to just share this beautiful story with the world,” she continued.
Franco had originally sought to have the work published through a publishing company, but when that never materialized she decided to go the self-publishing route. The entire process taught her a bit about herself.
“I didn’t realize I have so much tenacity,” she said, laughing. “There were so many challenges, so many hurdles along the way, and so many times where I could have given up, but I pushed through.”
When she had finally finished the project and clicked “publish,” a sense of relief washed over her.
“It had been 11 years,” she said. “I was just so happy to have it completed.”
In the short time the book has been available, Franco has already received a lot of positive feedback. She hopes that readers find the story of Donald and Mardy as engaging as she does.
But in the end, it’s the positive reviews she’s received from the Storey family that mean the most.
“One of (Donald and Mardy’s) sons said to me, ‘This book will answer the questions we should have asked (our parents),’” recalled an emotional Franco.
“What I am most proud of is that I was able to give this gift … to Donald and Mardy’s children and grandchildren and future generations (of the family),” she continued.
“My Dearest Darling: Letters of Love in Wartime” may be purchased online by visiting www.mydearestdarlingbook.com or through Amazon.