In 1962 a man watched as a demolition crew tore down an old house on Liberty Street in Franklin, Pa. Feeling as though a piece of history might be lost forever, he saved the box full of old banisters on the curb for trash pickup and gave them to his granddaughter.
Penney White and her husband are both retired educators, having lived and worked in Jacksonville, Fla.
The couple moved to Covington six years ago to be close to their daughter Sally and her family, whom they now live next to.
White's path to Covington started in Franklin. That's where the story of two brothers begins.
"My grandfather thought I would like having the box full of old banisters as a memento from our hometown," White recalls. "He gave them to me and I just put them in the shed and forgot about them."
The box moved from Panama City, Fla. to Jacksonville, remaining untouched for 20 years. Finally, after she had retired, White pulled the box out of her storage shed and decided to sift through its contents.
"I was just cleaning out the box and looking at the banisters and at the bottom was a plastic bag," White recalls.
The bag contained a stack of old letters held together with a dry-rotted rubber band. White immediately knew the letters were old.
"When I first found them I didn't know what they were," she said. "I had to hold them up to the light just to attempt to read them, but they were so brittle and hard to read."
White had stumbled upon a stack of letters written by two brothers serving in WWI to family members back home.
She spent the next six months deciphering the letters, taking extra care not to damage the fragile paper.
In all, White translated 42 letters sent from France to the small farmhouse on which the boys grew up in Franklin.
She recorded each word of each letter in its original form and decided to compile them into a book she calls "42 Letters Home".
"I tried every scheme I could think of to make them legible," she said. "My computer kept trying to correct the spelling and such, but I wanted to type them out just as I read them. I wanted them to be authentic."
The boy's letters give insight to the lives of two brothers that follow each other over to France during WWI. White said as she read the letters, she felt an attachment to her grandfather who she moved away from as a young girl. But more so, she felt the letters needed to be shared
"I didn't spend that much time with my granddad when I was growing up," she said. "I felt like this was a connection--only a connection between the two of us, but it would make a connection for all kinds of people."
White moved away from Pennsylvania five years after the death of her father and from then on her visits to her grandfather were short and infrequent.
After she knew what she had, White read the letters over and over before deciding to compile them in a book. But the more she engrossed herself in the story, the clearer the decision became to present the letters for everyone to read.
"At first I thought the target audience would be elderly men," admitted White. "But the more I read it, the more I thought that it was a story and everyone could enjoy."
White decided to publish the book herself and believes everyone would be captivated by the story of the boys and the decisions they make with their family.
"These were just two farm boys who were put in a world so different from what they were used to," White added. "As you read the letters you get to meet the family and you read about the decisions they make. It captivates the period and what they were like during that time."
White attempted to contact the boys' family in Pennsylvania but said she has been unable to find anyone related to the brothers. As a result, she plans to visit Franklin this fall and hopes the historic society can help her locate any relatives.
"Every fall they have a festival in town that attracts thousands of people," she said. "I am excited and hopeful that somebody will come foreword, whether it be a cousin or whatever, and we can meet them."
These days White enjoys spending time with her family and said she would like to teach part-time if the opportunity arose. In the meantime, volunteers at Mainstay Academy, where her daughter teaches kindergarten.
While the letters were unexpected, White views them as a gift from her grandfather for everyone to enjoy. She has put the letters in a safety deposit box to protect them from further deterioration. And while she understands she may never find a relative, she is hopeful she may learn what happened after the letters stopped.
"I'd like to find out what happened to them," she said. "Maybe I could do an additional section or a book about them after I learn what became of them."