Friday, April 24, 2009

Grandma Mary's 1912 letters to Grandpa Dave

At the same time she was writing her letters, she was keeping a travel journal that’s also on the Web site. In spring 1912, she had taken the train to Utah to visit family she left a dozen years earlier. It’s fun to read the two together.

For me, the most interesting items are to details about life in 1912. From her first letter, dated
May 5, 1912, with a Tooele, Utah, dateline, she acknowledges receiving a letter from Dave. Then she writes,

“… I am going to attend Vie’s [who is Vie?] Graduation Exercises tonight. Tomorrow Lilias [who is Lilias?] and I will go sightseeing. Friday convention [what convention? An education convention?] begins and will close Sunday.”
In the travel journal, she records:

“After supper I pressed my silk dress, then we went up to the Odeon to Vie’s Graduation Exercises. We couldn’t hear the speakers but the music was fine.”
Later in the same letter, she notes, “I went to four dances in St. John. They have such small crowds. Last night and the night before I went to a show. It was vaudeville entirely but it was pretty good. When I get to Salt Lake I’ll see the good shows.”

In a letter dated
May 20, 1912, she makes reference to another letter she got from Dave, containing this tidbit:

“Was glad to hear you could almost put your fingers together. You’re improving wonderfully. You’d better be careful, though, with that razor or you won’t have any fingers left.”
Also in these letters, she mentions endless family names. This is where, I’m thinking, we could really use the help of our McIntosh cousins to fill in some blanks. For instance, she speaks of going to the “Dymock ranch” – obviously of the Dymock family our Great-Great-Grandmother Caroline Elizabeth Caldwell McIntosh Dymock married into late in life. Grandma talks of going to the ranch and staying there for a couple of days.

By July, she’s back in Wyoming and writing from Basin (the town where I grew up). It’s obvious she never meant for anyone but Grandpa to read these letters. Using this
letter as an example, here’s what I mean:

“Bert Mortensen and Leon Lewis were there visiting. I didn’t hardly know Bert; she is so fat. Fatter than I am, even. We had a good time down there.”
Or, this paragraph, which in my reading of it implies a little smooching? Or, perhaps, a lack thereof?

“I haven’t taken the mumps yet so I think there’s no danger, now, of me having them. Lilias tried to make me believe I’d sure take them from you but I told her she didn’t know quite all about the mumps.”
As you can see, her sense of humor is pretty dry, sometimes, and sharp. In this Aug. 20, 1912 letter, she talks about going to a dance:

“I couldn’t find a beau. I smiled hard as I could at Sqintus but all for nothing. He evidently doesn’t like me as well as he does Caroline. I had a good time anyway.”
As with any dating relationship – and especially one conducted over long distances, relatively speaking – Mary and Dave didn’t always get along. Look at how she opens her Aug. 22, 1912, letter:

“Whatever have you been hearing that made you think I was angry? I just got your letter about two hours ago and was quite surprised. If I had you here for about a minute I believe I’d ‘box your ears.’ Why, I haven’t a thing on earth to be angry about, and I hope you’ve decided by this time that I’m not.”
About a month later, on Sept. 24, she tells him the story of another suitor and how she spent her Sunday afternoon dodging him. Later in the letter, we learn his name is “Willie.” She doesn’t seem too keen on him:

“Sunday after church ‘my bargain’ was right on hand to walk home with me. I thought I would never get rid of him. After we got home he went to help Sister Sprague feed the pigs and Tella and I slipped out and went down to the river. He went up to the store and got a horse and followed us. We started back home and he took the horse back up town and came back to Sprague’s. We saw him coming and went down to the garden and stayed a long time but when we went up to the house he was still there talking to Bro. Sprague. Then we got Lois to take us for a ride. About sundown we came home and Willie was gone, for which we were truly thankful. He’s sure a stayer.”
Willie [Tolman] turns out to be something of a pest. I guess they had stalkers then, too. From Oct. 1, 1912, she writes Dave there is to be a Democratic Party rally and dance, and she wishes she would have known about it earlier so she could invite him to Otto, where she teaches school, to go with her. She worries that Willie may show up:

“If Willie Tolman comes for me to go with him, he may not get out of the house alive He worries me awfully. He was up here again Sunday and I asked him if he wouldn’t go home and stop bothering me but he didn’t. He was back again Monday before I had breakfast.”
We learn, too, that the primary mode of transportation in 1912 in the Big Horn Basin was still by horse or horse-drawn carriage. Grandma is always writing about going one place or another if she can get a “team,” or about waiting for the “stage” to come through town with the mail.

And, as we noticed a little earlier, she mentions political parties from time to time. From Oct. 23, 1912:

“They had a Socialist Rally here last night but I didn’t go to it. Mr. Iliff and Amasa Tanner were down in the car. There are quite a few Socialists here.”
Once in a while in the letters, we get an echo from one of Grandpa’s letters to Grandma. An example in the
Nov. 7, 1912, letter:

“I don’t agree with you. I think school teachers aren’t hard customers and that you aren’t simple; so there.”
I take it Grandpa must have been teasing her a bit. More of the same in the
Dec. 3, 1912, letter:

“You said you pitied Willie if I went to conference with him. Shame on you! You know he would have enjoyed the trip; so would you or most anyone. Ha! Ha!”
She also swerves into politics again – or at least democracy:

“Who did you vote for? I voted, for the first time. I told them when I got through that I felt like a citizen now.”
I also get a kick out of the way she turns a phrase:

“I felt bluer than indigo Tuesday night at the dance.”
She’s not above being a little mischievous, either. In the
Nov. 25, 1912, letter, she’s writing from Basin, where she’s gone for a teachers’ conference. But, she explains:

“The Worland High School Basket[ball] Team is here and are going to play with Basin tonight. I think I’ll go and watch them instead of going to the lecture.”
That’s my grandma, all right. Must be where I got my love of the game … or my aversion to education.

Finally, in the
Dec. 16, 1912, letter, she writes of trouble at the dance:

“Some of the ‘wild bunch’ got smart in the Hall and broke up the dance. I guess they acted horrid. Some of them were shooting around last night. [I assume she means gunfire.] They are talking of having them arrested. I hope they, for the way they act is a disgrace.”
Well, that takes care of 1912. Next week I’ll skim through the letters of 1913.

That’s what strikes me in the letters. I’m interested to know what jumps out at you?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grandma Mary’s letters to Grandpa Dave


I remember hearing about “the letters” shortly after Grandpa Henderson’s funeral in 1971.

He had left few things behind. There was some clothing. (In our house, we weren’t above recycling anything that was still passable. And since Mom had boxed up some of his bib overalls, I found them and took to wearing them in high school and during my first year at USU.) There also was a chest containing mementos, mostly – arguably the most important of which were old photos and a collection of 136 letters Grandma had written to Grandpa while they were courting between 1912 and 1917.

Mom, Marie and Aunt Iva sorted through everything. Then photos, etc., were distributed to the siblings. The thing that piqued my interest, even back then, was listening to them speculate about the letters that weren’t in the chest. Namely, the letters Grandpa had written to Grandma – because Grandma’s letters make repeated reference to the letters she received from him.

Think about this for a minute. Any of us who knew Grandpa Dave and were asked to describe his personality would not offer as our first response that he was “sentimental.” Don’t get me wrong: He loved his children and grandchildren, fiercely, but he wasn’t much for saying it. He could be, in a word, ornery … as well as highly entertaining and given to laughter. (Indeed, he was quite a raconteur.) But the fact that he’d saved those letters all those years – this was 1971, and Grandma had died in 1929 – revealed a lot about how much he loved his wife and cherished her memory. It only makes sense that Still, where were those other letters?

Marie’s and Mom’s hypothesis was that Grandpa had burned them: His reason, I’m sure, was that he wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to see his love letters to her, even though they probably were nothing approaching mushy. On one or more occasions, the sisters recalled, Grandpa cleared “junk” out of the attic in the old house and had a bonfire. The way Mom remembers it, framed photos were included in the items being torched when she was very young, but I heard Marie dispute that during the last years of her life. Marie did, however, agree that Grandpa had staged at least one burning of items that included what most of us would consider family heirlooms. It makes me sick to think about what might have been lost, but logically, since he saved the photos and letter in the chest, maybe he didn’t get rid of vital family history items. Mom says she remembers a large family Bible with writing – with birthdays, baptisms, etc., inked on the inside cover pages – that went missing at some point, but I have trouble believing that Grandpa, for any reason, would have destroyed something like that.

Long story short: We have Grandma’s letters, but not Grandpa’s. We’re still fortunate. This week I’ll point you to the page with all the letters listed, by date. It was Marsha’s idea to scan them in as images; someday, I’ll undertake the job of transcribing all of them into digital text for searching purposes. (My brother, Tony, and his wife, Kris, already did this once years ago, but the original file was lost and I’ve never been able to locate an OCR program that will recognize the lovely font they were printed in. Oh, well.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll publish a series of posts here pointing you to specific letters and their content.

In the meantime, do any of you recall stories about the letters, the bonfire(s) or anything else? If so, please share them via the “comment” button below, or by e-mailing me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Life Story of Carlos McIntosh Henderson

Picture 916 This week I’d like to focus on Uncle Carlos McIntosh Henderson. On our family Web site – The Henderson Reunion – I have a couple of pages devoted exclusively to Carlos: his biography, and his obituary.

Carlos – everybody in the family pronounces his name “Car-less” – was a stranger to me for most of my early life. He and his sweet wife Marguerite lived in California during my youth, so the only time I remember seeing him was at funerals, like Grandpa’s. But before I came along – and presumably before Carolos and his family moved to Southern California – they were around a lot, as there are many photos of them on the Web site, including here, here, here and here.

Roughly the time these photos were taken, Carole wrote the aforementioned biography of her father. And in it, we learn interesting little details about his life, like:

One of my father's earliest childhood memories was pulling rope behind him and going to the fields to find my grandfather. Many times he was found by my grandfather tracking the mark of the rope after he had wandered away. He attended elementary school and high school at Burlington and he says that many times he would wade in snow up to his waist while walking one and one-half miles to catch the horse-drawn school carriage.

Picture 008

Carlos and Marguerite had five children – our cousins: Ken, Carole, Jo (Karen), Jan and Al. I remember seeing them from time to time during my youth. But I didn’t get to know any of Carlos’ family at all until later in their lives, and mine, when Carlos and Marguerite moved to Utah and settled in Layton, where I lived. It was a great joy to get together from time to time, whether just talking with them at my parents’ house, a picnic or attending the wedding reception of one of my second cousins.

It should be noted, too, that Carlos was a great man of faith, too. He had served served as a bishop – more than once, I think – and was his stake’s patriarch in Layton. People loved him, respected and revered him, and for good reason.

I was working at the local newspaper at the time, and once in a while Carlos would call me to let me know he liked something I wrote or to congratulate me on a promotion; it really meant a lot, and I still cherish those conversations.

Carlos died too early, at age 76, in 1998. His funeral service was one I’ll long recall, perhaps especially for Ken’s remarks about his father’s life and service and faith. It’s too bad Carlos didn’t live to see us begin the family reunions again – we had the first one the very summer he died, in 1998 – but our cousins Carole, Jo, Ken and some of their children have been with us. (Al, their brother, a really fun guy to be around at a family gathering – and as close to a twin appearance-wise to the late Crockett Lamont as I’ve seen in the family – sadly passed away a few years ago, within a week or so of his mother, our Aunt Marguerite.)

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look at the links provided, and to recall the fine man, Carlos McIntosh Henderson.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Looking back through Mark's eyes

I don't know about you, but I love discovering what a writing coach once described as "little gold coins" sprinkled throughout whatever I'm reading. He described them as little surprises that reward, and maybe even enlighten, the reader.

As you read through Mark Henderson's memories of his youth, which I've excerpted on the the family Web site, you'll find lots of valuable, entertaining and informative items. For example, did you know Grandpa and Grandma moved the family around Burlington a little bit during the first few years of their marriage?

"While I was still very young, we moved to A.E. Schlaef's ranch two miles southwest of Burlington, where we raised some very good crops. At the end of three years we moved back to our own farm."


"In 1924 we moved to Orson Johnson's home in Burlington so my brother would not have so far to walk to school. We lived there only one year before returning to our own farm, which, at that time, consisted of 80 acres."

Mark also remembers details that soak the narrative with information about life's conveniences -- or lack thereof -- and customs of the time. Like this:

"In the fall of 1925 I started to elementary school. My brother and I had to walk a mile and a half to get to the school wagon every morning and back at night. It was a covered wagon with a pot-bellied stove for keeping us warm in the winter when it got quite cold. My aunt, Roah Dunsworth, was my teacher in the first and second grades ... . The only spanking I ever got in school occurred when I refused to act the part of the pig in the story of the Little Red Hen, in the first grade, when my aunt spanked me with an axe handle which had been fashioned into a paddle."
And here's another one of those gold coins, when Mark talks about the family's looming trip to Salt Lake City in 1928 to go through the LDS Church temple there:

"My older brother and I were old enough at the time to really get excited about such a trip and lay awake many a night planning and talking about that exciting trip."
Maybe it's just me, but that sentence creates a terrific little scene of two boys so excited for a journey they can't sleep. It takes me back to my childhood, and anticipation of various road trips we took as a family.

But this was no ordinary road trip. As Mark recalls, it was crowded and eventful. All the kids -- eight of them -- plus Grandma and Grandpa -- made the trip, via Yellowstone National Park, in a 1927 Chevy. It's a great story.

Also, Mark talks in some detail about farm life, school and religion during his youth. He captures -- as I said, with lots and lots of great, revealing detail -- what it was like to grow up during hard times. When I read his story, and our late Uncle Rip's, which I featured in January, it puts into perspective the current financial situation in our country and the world: troublesome, yes, but we're all watching it unravel on television or while listening to it via podcasts on our iPods.

Anyway, I hope you'll take time to read through Mark's recollections and learn a bit more about a great man in our family.