EUGENE, Ore. — In the summers of 1958 and 1959, U.S. Army private Albert A. "Bob" Robertson, 19, sent Lynne Marie Culver almost 50 photos and postcards. He was serving in Europe, far from his home in Eugene, and he wrote to the Junction City High School girl every chance he got. On the back of the photos he described the places he'd seen. He assured her he was thinking of her and not drinking too much or acting too rowdy.
He signed each one "Love, Bob."
Almost 60 years later, Karen Wilson Rodriguez opened an old photo album belonging to her late mother, Lynne Marie (Culver) Wilson. It was a few weeks after Wilson's death of lung cancer at the age of 73. Her daughter keenly missed her laughing, warm-hearted mother as she sorted through her things.
"She was a young 73," Rodriguez said. "And it had happened so fast."
Wilson died in John Day in eastern Oregon, where Rodriguez had moved from Seattle in 2007 to be near her. Their houses were close, as were the mother and daughter. Cleaning and locking up her mother's house was the last thing she could do for her.
As she leafed through the photo album, her sadness turned to intrigue as she looked at the photos of a smiling young soldier. His image and messages told her a love story she'd never heard. The envelopes in which the photos had been mailed were missing, but the notes that Robertson had written to Culver were full of affection. The photos made Rodriguez want to know whether Robertson was still alive, and how their love story had ended. She also wanted to hear more about this chapter in her mother's life.
Robertson's face was even vaguely familiar.
"I knew (Bob) from growing up," Rodriguez recalled recently. Robertson and her mother were distantly related by marriage: His mother had married Lynne Marie Culver's great uncle; Culver and Robertson might have met at a family get-together in Junction City.
Rodriguez was certain of two things by the time she'd closed the album: "Bob was very much in love with my mom" — and she would either find Robertson and give him the photos or give them to his relatives.
It took weeks of online searching of ancestry sites and social media until, in late October, she found a Facebook page featuring a photo of someone who might have been one of Robertson's children.
Excited, Rodriguez sent a message to the owner of the page, Ashley Robertson. Her husband Adam, 26, turned out to be Bob Robertson's youngest child.
After exchanging excited phone calls and Web messages, Rodriguez express-mailed the packet of photos and mementos to the west Eugene home where Adam and Ashley Robertson lived with their son, Benny, 5, and daughter, Brinleigh, 1.
When Ashley Robertson called The Register-Guard to share the story, she said the photos comforted her and her husband, and provided intriguing information about Bob Robertson.
They learned that Lynne Marie Culver Wilson had died Sept. 21 — the date that would have been Robertson's 79th birthday.
Robertson — known to his family in his later years as "Robbie" — had died in a Eugene care facility on Sept. 16, 2016.
For Adam Robertson, his father's death was the final separation from a man he'd seen growing up for only a few weeks each summer. He'd been born when his father was 53 years old, and his parents divorced before he could remember.
"To (Adam), (Robbie) always was a retired guy who lived on a boat," Ashley Robertson said. While there was an affection — and many similarities — between father and son, their family dynamic was complicated.
But Lynne Marie was a name that Robbie Robertson's first child, Carrie Robertson, remembers well.
Robbie Robertson "was madly in love with Lynne Marie," she said recently. "I'm sure."
After his military service, including his tour in Europe, she said, her father worked in the shipping and packaging department of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, where he met his first wife, who became Carrie Robertson's mother. Carrie Robertson was born 48 years ago and has a younger brother. She stayed close to her father even after he and her mother divorced. She was surprised when, years later, he married again. That union ended soon after Adam Robertson's birth.
During those years, her father worked as a commercial fisherman along the coast between California and Alaska. In the 1980s, he worked in the physical plant at the University of Oregon.
She said her father never forgot his first love of the late 1950s, not through two marriages and four children.
After he retired, he lived on boats moored in Coos Bay and Florence. A medical emergency in 2009 marked the start of a slowly declining health that led to his final move to a Eugene care center.
Both Lynne Culver Wilson and Robbie Robertson were single at the time of their respective deaths, but it doesn't appear that they ever had a reunion after a final meeting in the summer of 1959.
Back from Europe that summer "he went to see her at her house in Junction City," Ashley Robertson said. "She was there with another guy. (Robertson) said right then, 'It's him or me.' She chose the other man.
The rejection devastated the young soldier.
"He burned his uniform and all of his letters and military records," Adam Robertson said. He'd never seen photos of his father from his days in the military, and he seldom spoke of those days, even though Adam had followed his father's example and enlisted in the Army. It wasn't until decades later that he learned his father also had completed his basic training at Fort Lewis near Tacoma.
Ashley and Adam Robertson still were mourning Robbie Robertson's death a year later when Rodriguez called.
As they looked through the photos, military memorabilia and souvenirs, they said it felt as if Rodriguez had given them something back — although it was something they'd never had.
"I'd never seen these photos," Adam Robertson said. He recognized how much he and his father looked alike in their late teens and early 20s.
"My husband is very happy," Ashley Robertson said. "We don't have anything original of Robbie from when he was young."
Adam Robertson said he'd heard once or twice about a woman named Lynne who had meant a good deal to his father at one time, but he hadn't known how much until he saw the photos and read what his father had written on the back. The failed romance "broke his heart," Adam Robertson said.
Rodriguez said that contacting Robertson's family has helped her cope with the loss of her mother.
She said that in 1962, her mother graduated from high school and married the young man she'd chosen that day in 1959.
"My mother loved my father very much," Rodriguez said. The marriage didn't last, but she said her father would not want to talk about it; he remains a very private person, she said, and he is still grieving the loss of his ex-wife.
Rodriguez did not want to detail her mother's personal history, but Lynne Culver Wilson's obituary in the John Day-based Blue Mountain Eagle noted that she had three children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren — and had played the fiddle. A recent photo shows her holding the instrument, and laughing. She was an accomplished violinist who played for years with the Eugene Symphony and performed with musical groups, almost to the time of her death.
Ashley Robertson and Rodriguez each said that Bob Robertson and Lynne Culver shared two lifelong loves: Oregon and music.
"It was a love story that keeps on giving," Ashley Robertson said.