Saturday, June 20, 2009

Grandma's 1916 letters, part 3

Another week, another batch of letters.

As we've seen in the weeks leading up to this one, Grandma's letters are becoming more and more romantically overt -- she's expressing love and longing out in the open.

Her Aug. 9 letter is a good example. She writes of going to town -- Burlington, I guess -- to visit the post office and get a letter from Grandpa. Someone named Inez was kidding her about his letters, and wondering if they contained any kisses.

"I said you never sent any, that you always delivered them in person an I wouldn't have them any other way."
I also love her descriptions of lazy afternoons in the age before TV and, I guess, radio. She writes of "Bro. Preator" taking her and a bunch of her friends -- Mandy, Margaret, Susie, May, Sylvia and Gert -- to the river (probably the Greybull River?) for swimming and a picnic.

"May and Sylvia took a freezer of ice cream, Susie a cake and Gert and I some sandwiches. We were sure hungry after our swim. The water was fine, but I nearly froze for half an hour after we got out."

As we've seen in earlier letters, Grandma gets downright melancholy when she can't see her beau as often as she'd like. Her Aug. 13 letter is typical of this. She writes of severe disappointment that he couldn't travel to see her over the previous weekend.

"I wish I could be with you. There's no place I'd rather be than where you are. I believe we could get along alright. We'd try to mighty hard, wouldn't we?"

There are other bits and pieces that might be interesting to some of you, too, besides the lovey-dovey content. In the Aug. 13 letter she talks about politics a little -- specifically, the school superintendent race. She even escorts a candidate she favors around town to do some shoe-leather campaigning.

In her Aug. 17 letter, she mentions that they've begun Sunday closings of the stores and pool hall. I'm sort of surprised that wasn't the norm to begin with. Burlington was a Mormon town, always has been, but views of the Sabbath and commerce have definitely morphed over time. We've become a bit more sanctimonious about its observance in recent decades here in Utah, I know.

Speaking of religion, Grandma makes continuous references to attending church, or not, but I think her Aug. 27 letter may be the first of the whole bunch to note that nobody bothered to go one week. She also refers to a dance at which many of the men were drinking, so much so that one, Chauncey, was "hardly able to mount the stepladder to put out the lights." That also reminds us that they didn't have electricity in that part of the Big Horn Basin then; if memory serves, it wasn't until the 1930s and the Rural Electric Association that power lines were strung through the area -- at least that's what they told us in grade school.

Well, it's been a busier-than-usual week for me, so I'll end there. Didn't review many letters, but maybe I'll get to more next week.

Take care, all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Grandma's 1916 letters, part 2

I’ll continue with the 1916 letters this week, picking up with the July 20 letter. She’s less and less inclined to hide her devotion to Grandpa. And not the least bit shy about letting him know he should stay away from other women.

“The next time a nice young lady comes to Renner’s, you’d better come straight home, or I’ll be minus a man. Still, if you looked as badly as you said you did, she probably didn’t lose either head or heart. I think you’d be safer at home, though, if any more red-haired girls happen up that way. I know your failing for red hair. Ha! Ha!”

Then she teases him with this anecdote, about trying to get a young man to take her along to somewhere lots of other people are going:

“I smiled hard as I could at Amandus, thinking he might take me, but it didn’t affect him at all. I can’t imagine why, either.”
By July 30, she’s quite lonely and not a bit shy about telling him:

“Every where I go I miss you, so I hate to go anywhere. I’ll be mighty glad when you’re home again. I feel as though I never, never could let you go again, dear. I’m too lonesome without you. It’s not quite so bad during the weekwhen I have to keep so busy but Sundays are fierce.”
Later on, she talks about reading an article in the Era, a church publication, titled the “Measure and Destiny of Woman.”

“It is a dandy piece; telling all that a woman should be in her home. If I could just be as I ought to be, dear, I could make a happy home for you, but I’m afraid I’m lacking in lots of ways. And if I shouldn’t make you happy, sweetheart, I believe it would kill me. I wouldn’t want to live, at least, if you weren’t happy with me.”
Well, that’s about as explicit an expression of love – maybe even scary, don’t you think? – as we’ve seen in any of these letters.

Then, the very next day, she talks of a letter she got back from Grandpa:

“I’m glad, dear, that I am so dear to you. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t. I never doubt your love for me, even if you do think sometimes that I do. And you’re dearer to me, Dave, than anyone else could ever be.”
Sweet, isn’t it? And then we segue into this:

“The negroes gave a show tonight. I didn’t want to go very badly, but Jack wanted me to go with him, so I did. The show was pretty good.”
It must have been a traveling band of performers, I’m guessing. Probably not too many people of color in those parts of Wyoming then.

Then, after no mention of race that I can recall in her earlier letters, other than the one just previous, she writes in the Aug. 2 letter:

“I’ve been picking gooseberries and making jelly today. Any time you run out of work, come down and I’ll give you a job. You ought to see my hands. They look like they might belong to a negress.”
I realize she’s just referring to the darkened color of her hands after working with the berries, but still it’s a little jarring.

Finally, in her Aug. 6 letter, we get confirmation that she kept Grandpa’s letters – at least some of them.

“I’ve just been up reading your letters. I keep the ones I’ve got since you’ve been up to Fenton in my handkerchief case in one corner of my dresser drawer. Then when I get real lonesome, I go upstairs and read them and then I want you more than ever. Since Carol left, I’ve been sleeping alone upstairs and usually the last thing I do before I pile into bed is to go through your letters.”
(Fenton, Wyo., is about as far west of Burlington as Otto is east.)

She closes the letter with this:

“I wish I could talk to you instead of writing. If you were here tonight, I’d sit on your knee until you were good and tired. That wouldn’t be all I’d do, either, would it?”
Well, that’s all I have time for this week. I’ll continue with more letters from 1916 next week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Grandma's 1916 letters, part 1

The first letter we have from Grandma to Grandpa in 1916 is from May 23. It finds her lonely, and grieving for a lamb. Like the previous year, she’s working at a sheep camp.

“I had a little black-faced lamb, the cutest little thing you ever saw. I was going to keep him here until I got ready to go home. But I had to tie him up to keep him from following the men off and I didn’t have any better sense than to tie the string around his neck and he choked himself to death, night before last.”

By June 4, she has another lamb or two, and they’re surviving an unusual diet. She also writes that she’s making baby bonnets again:

“I’m crocheting one for Nellie’s baby, then I have to make one for Lottie’s. Lottie named her baby Lena. It tickled Mama half to death. She didn’t expect a namesake.”

On Independence Day, her letter doesn’t mince words about her love and affection for Grandpa.

“You don’t know how glad I was to get your letter last night. I’ve read it till I almost know it by heart. And I’ve been lonesome, too, dear. I hated to see you go back. I tried to get Caroline to go up town that Monday morning, but after I saw you I was glad she wouldn’t. If we had been somewhere else I would have liked that hug. You would probably have gotten something, too.”

The later, in the same letter:

“… I came home to write to you. I wish I had you here by me. I wouldn’t write much more, I’ll bet.”

In the same letter, she makes reference to geography, and I’m trying to figure out just what she’s talking about. By this time, she’s back in Burlington, having concluded her work at the sheep camp. She writes:

“I don’t want you to cross the river any more when it [sic] so high, sweet-heart. It scares me for you to. I couldn’t get along without you, so, you see, you’d better be careful what you’re doing.”

The she sort of backs into a subtle warning to him about spending time with other women:

“I’m just as glad as you are that Billy did so much interfering. I don’t want you going over to see Nina, either, young man, or I shall come up and investigate.”

Her letter of July 9 offers a funny bit of trivia. The big July 24th celebration that year – the 24th was the date in 1847 that the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley after being hounded from the United States – was to be in Otto instead of Burlington, and the Otto residents were so excited they “say they are going to send up all their cars to bring us down to celebrate and they are going to have a pavilion to dance on.”

I guess the attraction and convenience of riding in automobiles would be expected to boost the numbers in attendance.

She also mentions that “Jim Yorgason has a new Hupmobile.” She adds that “Della does the driving. Jim can’t handle the car at all.”

I should also mention that she refers to all sorts of family members and neighbors in al these letters. She lets go with good and bad about everyone, so I hope people aren’t offended; she must be on the other side cuffing Grandpa upside the head for saving all these letters, and apologizing to her friends and family members for some of the unflattering things she wrote about them.

In the July 13 letter, we get a sense of what must have been Grandpa’s mischievousness in his letters to her:

“I’m going to quit making ‘baby clothes,’ especially if it’s going to remind you of Bro. Packard’s sayings. You’re a bad boy and I’m going to try and box your ears nicely when I get hold of you again.”

Then, in her July 16 letter, she writes something that puts me right back onto my childhood in Wyoming:

“There are certainly lots of cars going through to the Park now.”

She’s referring to Yellowstone National Park. And in those days, it must have been unusual to see so many automobiles. In my youth, 50 years later and in a town 30 miles east of Burlington, the cars themselves weren’t at all unusual, of course, but, like her, the warm months were spent seeing tourists from all over the nation heading to and from Yellowstone – or, as everyone in that part of Wyoming still calls it, “the Park.” One of our pastimes was to look for cars that were from as far away as possible: Florida, East Coast states, etc.