"She kissed all of her letters with Revlon pink and red lipstick," Meghan Coomes Hagedorn tells PEOPLE
This story was originally published on Feb. 21, 2017.
Meghan Coomes Hagedorn grew up hearing the romantic story behind her grandparents’ marriage. And a few years ago, she decided to turn their love story into something tangible.
Agnes and Thomas Coomes met when Agnes was a senior in high school. When Thomas was deployed overseas during WWII, the couple remained connected through their letters, which they wrote every single day.
“They were merely dating, yet they wrote each other every day for 3 years, 3 months and 4 days during the war,” Hagedorn, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband Matt Hagedorn, tells PEOPLE. “Having heard that growing up, I was really attached to the story.”
In 2010, Hagedorn was traveling nonstop as a TV producer — and getting pretty homesick for her family in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I asked Grandma if I could take one of their letters and turn it into an everyday bracelet so that when I traveled, I always had my family on me,” she says. “That’s how it all began.”
Hagedorn used other pieces of the letter to make a ring for her grandmother and began to make other pieces from replicas of the thousands of letters Agnes and Thomas sent each other while they were separated during the war. She then started her own jewelry line, Forever Yours, Agnes.
“I only used the original letter for a few pieces of jewelry, everything else is a copy,” she says.
Thomas and Agnes were married on June 16, 1945 (at age 26 and 22 respectively). Thomas died in 1999 at 80 years old, and Agnes passed away in December 2016 at 94, but their love lives on through their family — and Hagedorn’s jewelry.
“My grandmother said, ‘I never thought anybody would care about those old letters!’ ” Hagedorn recalls. “She thought it was so neat. She got to revisit that part of her life 70 years later. It was a really special thing that we got to do together.”
Hagedorn says she was blown away by the passion between her grandparents in their old letters.
“They weren’t even engaged or married, yet they recognized that they had this connection and they fostered it through these letters,” she says. “And they both wrote so poetically. They had this inherent longing for each other. In reading it, you feel like you’re looking right into their hearts.”
Hagedorn’s favorite letters are those her grandmother signed with a kiss.
“She kissed all of her letters with Revlon pink and red lipstick. The color has maintained all these years. The lipstick-kissed letters are really special because it’s like her little fingerprint, it’s so unique,” she says. “And my grandfather signed his letters with, “With an ocean of love and a kiss on every wave,’ which was really romantic.”
The most touching letter, according to Hagedorn, was one Agnes wrote on New Year’s Eve in 1943.
“The opening line was, ‘I can’t believe we didn’t see each other the entire year of 1943.’ She documented her entire New Year’s Eve that night, writing, ‘I’ll write when the bells are ringing,’ and then, ‘Happy New Year, darling, the bells are ringing, it’s 12 a.m.’
“It’s like six pages long, it’s so incredible. They numbered their letters and wrote in secret code so she always knew where he was. It was very romantic.”
Hagedorn says her grandmother was devastated when Thomas died in 1999.
“It was traumatizing for her. But being such a strong woman, she always had a smile on her face and never talked about being sad,” she says. “She picked herself up and lived 18 years more.
“I feel like anybody who lived through a war like that, where you’re forced to be separated, you just become really tough. Those were tough times. They didn’t choose to be apart.”
Hagedorn has incorporated her grandparents’ passion for letter writing into her own marriage.
“On my wedding day, my husband gave me a snippet of our hand-written vows and I turned it into jewelry. His cuff links were my wedding vows,” she says. “And I used letters from my parents when they were in college.”
“I’m constantly leaving my husband Matt little notes in places or surprising him with little things like that,” she adds. “It keeps the spark in the relationship.”
Hagedorn has also taken her jewelry overseas to spread the love to the people of Nepal who were devastated by a powerful earthquake in 2015.
“The Nepalese feel that the world has forgotten about them; so, prior to going, I had family and friends write ‘The World Loves You’ in Nepali, and I made necklaces from them.
“While traveling, when I encountered someone who helped me or touched me in a way, I would give that person a necklace as a ‘thank you’ as well as a reminder that the world, has not, in fact, forgotten about them.”
She adds, “A simple little note takes no time at all, yet it can be so meaningful.”