Friday, May 29, 2009

Grandma’s 1915 letters

MFB_page4d While there were so many letters from the 1914 stack, there are few from 1915. My guess is that, as I’ve mentioned earlier, Grandpa probably just wasn’t very good at saving them. I say that because as you read these letters, one thing comes through clearly: Grandma liked to write – to Grandpa and everyone else.

The first letter is from March 30, 1915. It’s datelined “Stringtown” – where is that, again? Somewhere between Otto and Burlington? – and is quite intriguing. She’s reading the Congressional Record, but just why is never revealed. Was there some burning issue in the area that was of concern to Big Horn Basin residents? I guess we may never know; it just seems so odd for them to be reading the Congressional Record.

Her next letter, dated May 9, is all about her cooking and cleaning at a sheep camp somewhere near Cody, Wyo. She speaks of being able to see Sage Creek and camping at “Red Cabin” one night. I’m not sure where that would be; maybe Rich could narrow down the location for us.

In her May 24 letter, Grandma takes of life at the sheep camp, but also reveals that she’s been keeping a diary.

“I have been keeping a diary since I came up and Willis likes to slip in and read it once in a while. Henry laughs at me for keeping it, but I don’t care. It’s lots of fun, sometimes.”

I’d sure like to see that diary, if it still exists. Anyone ever heard of it before?

The May 30 letter tells quite another tale of life at the sheep camp:

“You never would guess what  did today, I know. I shot a badger. He was in a trap, though, and I missed him the first time, but the second I shot him between the eye and ear. Don’t you think I’m getting brave? We saw him several days ago ad Chester tried to kill him but he ran down his hole. After dinner today, Mr. Baker chased him down his hole and set a trap for him. Then when he got caught, Henry and  went over and I shot him. He was just across the lake, about a quarter of a mile from the house. He was a pretty one.”

She then transitions from the badger story to the beauty of the camp area. She speaks of the flowers, and “pressing” some.

“If I just had you here, I’d be perfectly happy, I believe. I’d give a whole lot to see you tonight.”

Then it’s back to walking up the mountain with a .22-caliber rifle and shooting “picket pins.”

By June 23, she’s getting lonely and spends most of the letter trying to convince Grandpa to ride up over the Fourth of July to spend it with her.

Finally, in the July 2 letter, we get an echo of what Grandpa wrote to her:

“I’d like to box your ears for telling me that I could realize all my ideas of perfection in Collins. Theresa may like him but he lacks a whole lot of coming up to my ideas of perfection, I can tell you, and you know it. He can’t compare with someone else I know.”

But she likes to poke right back:

“I think I’d rather make a hit with Mr. Phelps than Jim, cause he told me this morning I could make better coffee than Theresa could. He’s old enough to be my daddy but that ought not to make any difference.”

The boredom of being on the mountain and dealing with so much rain led them to do some odd things, too:

“Yesterday morning it rained so hard they couldn’t shear so Henry started to mount a weazel [sic] he killed the other day and I helped him. We had a great time. You’d ought to see our work. I’m afraid you’d laugh at it though.”

Next week we’ll begin on the 1916 letters.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mary Anne McIntosh's 1914 letters, part 2

This is a photo of Mary Anne McIntosh with her students at Otto, Wyo. The date is unknown. Does anyone recognize a face besides Grandma/Mary? Click on the photo to make it larger.

As I take up where I left off with Grandma’s 1914 letters, we get evidence right away that she doesn’t much go in for the gooey romantic prose. In her Feb. 26 letter, she refers to the letters her roommate receives from her “beau,” a fellow named Paul:

They beat anything I ever saw. If you wrote one like that to me, I’d have you sent to Evanston [where the state mental hospital is located] by return mail. I never read anything so slushy and to think of getting one every day. It’s more than I could stand.

We – or should that be “I”? – also get an occasional lesson in medical lingo. In her March 24 letter, Grandma says they had dinner at Larsen’s’ because Norma Larsen has “quinzy” and Ruth has been doctoring her. I looked it up: “Quinsy” is “a recognized complication of tonsillitis and consists of a collection of pus beside the tonsils.Ick!

But that’s not all. Guess what they had for dinner? “Fried rabbit, and it surely tasted good.” OK, if she says so.

I also get a kick out of reading slang in her letters – especially if it’s slang that persists to this day. In her March 31 letter, she writes of not having much good to eat, so “Ruth went down to Sprague’s and bummed something to eat.” Honestly, I didn’t know that use of “bummed” predated the Great Depression.

When she wasn’t teaching – in the spring and summer – Grandma had to find other work. Her May 17 letter talks a little about the job search. She’s been helping with the mail at the post office, and:

I have the offer of another job, too. Jack Pierce wants me to go up to Newcomers for a week or ten days to cook for [sheep] shearers. Don’t know yet whether I’ll go.

In the May 24 letter, she teases Grandpa a little:

Jack told Carol he’d like to beat your time, so next time I see him I’ll bet I make eyes at him. Don’t be surprised if you hear of us eloping.

Then, later in the same letter, she notes that Grandpa has been working as a sheep herder:

I sold Marion [Grandpa’s younger brother] a pound of butter the other day and he said if it killed him they’d have to send for sheep-herder to come home and farm. I told him I didn’t care if it did, then. I’d kind of like to see my sheepherder.

Once in a while, too, her letters contain little oddities like this one, from May 31, 1914:

There is a man and his wife, their dog and donkey in town. They have walked from New York to San Francisco and are on their way back. They give some kind of shows as they go and are going to give one here Tuesday night.

I’m not saying I have – or will take – the time to go looking, but wouldn’t it be fun to see if anyone’s journal or news article mentions those people? I remember when I was a kid growing up in Basin, Wyo., we would meet people traveling through town and think they were so exotic just for living somewhere else, or having traveled across the country.

Grandpa did work to make the relationship last from his end. Of course we see her references to his letters, but also this from her June 21 letter:

I received your letter and the candy O.K. and surely enjoyed them both. I sure wished that you were here to help eat the candy.

In the same letter, she makes reference to an "Iva" who came to help eat the candy. My guess is that would be our Aunt Iva who married Grandpa's brother Marion. (Iva and Marion lived in the home behind us in Basin, Wyoming, when I was growing up, having moved there after retiring from the farm in Burlington.)

Later on in the same letter, she hints at some possible romantic intrigue between Grandpa, a woman named Theresa and herself. But she does so with a cool confidence that Grandpa is hers, and hers alone. She says that Theresa has gone to where he's working the sheep operation, but that she's not worried, then casually mentions that another man, Jim, didn't try very hard to sweep her (Mary) off her feet, and that anyway she thinks he and Theresa are a better match. It's all quite subtle and interesting to read.

Her June 28 letter is sort of a rehash of the June 21 letter, in some respects, since she discovered the earlier letter was forwarded to Burlington, and not where Grandpa was working. But she does tell him she longs for his company:

It is such a dandy night tonight that I wish you were here to take me for a ride. I don't think you had better stay away very long. It's too lonesome.

The same letter offers another window into her personality. It's a little long, but I'll quote this section in its entirety:

The Bishop had Iva and I arrange for a party to be given by the choir. We were to issue special invitations for it, but I didn't have time to write them so I told everyone about it. The Bishop and Jim and Nellie wouldn't come because they had no special invitation. I sure was wrathy. We had a short program, ice cream and cake and then played games until midnight. I wished all day that the Bishop would ask me why we didn't invite him and I would have told him we didn't want him to come. but he never mentioned it.

Now I know where I get it from. She also speaks of a "picture show" to be screened July 3: "One Hundred Years of Mormonism." I wonder if it was a church-made film, or independent? It would have been silent, of course, but I've never seen a reference to it before this, and I've read quite a bit in years past about Mormons in film -- especially during the silent era. I wonder if any copies survived?

The next letter we have is from Nov. 10, so Grandpa must not have been very good at saving them between summer and fall. That's too bad, but there is a difference in this very brief letter from all that have gone before it. She signs off with this:

Lots of love from Mary
I think that's the first letter she ends with the word "love." It's usually "Write soon to Mary" or something like that. Anyway, it's a little thing, but also maybe a big one, too.

And that concludes the review of 1914. Next week I'll begin on the 1915 letters.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Grandma's 1914 letters, part 1

First up, a little housecleaning: I heard back from our McIntosh cousin Sue McIntosh Adams about my May 2 question: "She speaks of a dance she’s been 'advertising' for, and calls it a 'Basket Dance.' Does anyone know what a basket dance was/is? I don’t have a clue."

Sue responds: "I believe it is probably the same as a box dance. What a box dance was is that money needed raised for whatever occassion and they would hold a box dance to raise it. The gals would fix a picnic lunch and go to the dance. Sometime during the dance they would auction off the box, with the gal as company, to the highest male bidder. This would raise money and the guy and gal then shared the food and conversation and a dance. Anyway, that is what a box dance was and as I say, a basket dance was probably similar."

So, there we have it. I'm sure she's correct. Thanks, Sue.

Now, for the 1914 letters. I'm afraid I've been getting a little carried away, and so I'll mae this partial posting, then come back later and get the rest of 1914. Please read on ...

As I’ve mention time and time again here, going through Grandma’s letters to Grandpa – OK, they weren’t yet married, but they would be – I really appreciate her sense of humor. I find myself comparing it to our considerably coarser way of conveying humor and sarcasm nowadays, and I wish I was more like her instead of more like, well, me.

A good example of this is in her first letter of 1914. On Jan. 5, she wrote of being invited to supper at Otto’s hotel (for those of you who know Otto, it makes the mind fairly spin to imagine a day when it could support a hotel, of any size) by her friend Ruth, who was spending time with quasi-boyfriend Wayne:

“They ate supper at the hotel at Mr. Daley’s expense. He is a friend of Ruth’s from Hyattville. I think she wanted me to go over so she wouldn’t have to entertain both of them. I don’t know which one she would have turned over to me.”

She skewers them all pretty well there, but does it all so politely that you almost overlook it.

Her mood could turn from sarcastic to downright depressed, though. In the same letter, she writes of her mother literally worrying herself sick over Ira, Mary’s brother. Her mother suspects he may be going “drinking” after basketball practice, and she gets so worked up she has to be medicated. She doesn’t hold much back when she describes her feelings to Grandpa:

“I surely will be glad when she is well again. I can hardly stand to stay down here when she is sick. It worries me awfully. It is bad enough to have to stay here when everything is all right at home. I get pretty ‘miserable’ at time[s]. Something like I was for a while last summer at Thermopolis.”

Reading that kind of wakes you up, doesn’t it? She must have battled the “blues” or worse while working the summer in Thermopolis (Ther-MOP, as everyone in Wyoming refers to it). It’s the not knowing that makes such lines in these letters to intriguing but frustrating, too.

In the Jan. 20, 1914, letter, she speaks of her culinary talents, or lack thereof:

“If you can’t read this, I’ll interpret it when I come home again. I was frying doughnuts tonight and burned three of my fingers. Consequently, I can’t handle my pen quite as well as usual. I made doughnuts enough to last a week. If you get hungry, I’ll send you a few by parcel post. I’m afraid you wouldn’t want me to send very many, though. They aren’t the ‘kind that mother makes,’ you know, and they might be hard on your digestive apparatus.”

Grandma’s letters also provide frequent peeks into the world of rural education after the turn of the century. Read this, from the Jan. 27, 1914, letter to see if anything seems different than today’s school experience (I’ll not pass judgment one way or the other, since I took a good whacking myself a time or two in Wyoming schools before corporal punishment was outlawed). She explains three of her male students have been misbehaving badly:

“I had the Board come down today and straighten them out. I’m to take them for a week on trial if they ask my forgiveness. It was a pretty serious offense, so if it is repeated, I’m to send them home and not let them come back. Harold Kirkpatrick was one of the boys. His father went out and got a switch and whipped him awfully hard before me and the rest of the Board. Then he made Harold tell me he was sorry and ask my forgiveness. It was more than I could stand. I squalled, of course. Mr. Hartman told me he was surprised to think it would affect me like that to see a youngster whipped. I never could whip one like that, I know.”

Does anyone know whether she stuck by that after she had her own children? I know Grandpa called for the children to “go cut a switch” when they misbehaved, but did Grandma?

In the Jan. 28 letter, she also speaks of being used as a pawn in someone else’s girlfriend-shopping. She speaks of going to a dance with Wayne, but:

“He wouldn’t have taken me only he knows his girl was coming up from Basin with another fellow and he wanted to get even. If I had known I wouldn’t have done it. He treats her shabby enough anyway, without me helping him out. I used to like him [Wayne], but he’s too badly stuck on Wayne now to suit me.”

Like I said, I really enjoy her wit and sarcasm. She doesn’t spare anyone she doesn’t care for, as in her Feb. 3 letter, when she allows that not only does she not care for a young man named Albert Welch, but that:

“I hate the Welch’s [sic] anyway, … and I wouldn’t think of going with such a thing as he is. You try to make me think, sometimes, that you are a bad boy, but if you were like Albert, I’d believe it and I don’t think I’d like you any better than I do him. As it is, I think you are a pretty good boy.”

We have to remember, too, that she’s 22 years old as she’s writing these letters. Dave is, if I have my math correct, about 30. That puts some of her comments into perspective.

In the Feb. 18 letter, as in others, she describes what novels she’s been reading. She likes the writer Gene Stratton Porter, and recommends both the books “The Harvester” and “At the Foot of the Rainbow.” I haven’t Googled those titles or the author, so is anyone out there familiar with those titles or the author? She says “At the Foot of the Rainbow” that the “hero is a Scotchman and he’s all right. I like Scotchmen, anyway.” As well she should with a name like McIntosh and a beau named Henderson.

And now, an answer to an earlier question: Did Mary ever whip the kids? In the Feb. 23 letter, she writes:

“My kids were pretty unruly this afternoon until I whipped two of my boys. Then they straightened up some. I hated to do it but I had to. Ruth thinks it’s foolish to use a switch, but I felt much better after I had used it, so I guess it helped some.”

Finally, some honesty about the whipping! “I felt much better after I had used it.” Wow.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

2009 Reunion “postponement”

First, sorry about not having this week’s bog entry about Grandma’s letters up and going. Between travel to Chicago and illness, it just wasn’t happening. I’ll resume by next weekend, if not before.

The big news, though, is that our official Henderson Reunion, edition 2009, will not be happening – in Burlington or anywhere, I’m afraid. Scheduling, health issues, travel arrangements and all the little things have conspired to do away with this year’s gathering. I’ve spoken with Merla, and we decided that next year would be better.

Now, what I need to know from all of YOU, are preferences for:

1. Location:

2. Date:

3: Format: (Should we continue doing the luncheon only, or should we try to expand it a little bit?)

A apologize about this being so short. Please e-mail me or call me and let me know what you’re thinking. We really want to keep this reunion going, because in the coming years it’ll be about keeping the cousins in touch.

Take care, everyone, and please contact me with your thoughts.


(Helen’s son)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grandma’s 1913 letters to Grandpa

Picture 298 OK, it’s week No. 2 for the discussion of Grandma’s letters to Grandpa. This week’s topic is the letters from 1913.

As I mentioned last week, I tend to be interested in the littlest details Grandma reveals in her letters. They tell me about her personality – the things she likes and doesn’t like. Take the Jan. 7, 1913, letter. In it, she talks about receiving photos of “Jack and Wilford”:

“Jack wears glasses now. He looks so funny. I hope I never have to wear them.”

And she allows that she doesn’t know how to play a game I had imagined was about the first one anyone ever learned as a child:

“Everyone here plays checkers now-a-days. I guess I’ll have to learn how.”

Others are just plain puzzling. I’m not sure what to make of the opening line of the Jan. 15, 1913, letter:

“Was awfully glad to [receive] your letter and didn’t get a bit hot before I got done with it. You can write just as many of that kind as you want to.”

Now, doesn’t it just kill you that we don’t have his letters to place that in context?

It’s also funny to see her drop in non sequiturs like this:

“I think if I was a basket ball player, I wouldn’t play when either Amandus or Glen played. I’d be afraid ‘me good looks would be spoiled forever.’ ”

It’s funny to see what she writes about other people, too. In the Feb. 12, 1913, letter, she lets fly:

“Do you know Mr. Grout? He’s about as batty as Bill Von Hess. He told us he was coming over to spend the evening last night. He wanted me to sing for him, the silly old thing. So Tella and I went up to Neta’s. Sister Sprague said she would send him up there and we were afraid she would.”

There also are comments about things that just seem to spring out of nowhere. In the Feb. 19, 1913, letter she talks, not all that seriously, about someone reading her fortune.

“After you folks went up to practice that night, Bob told our fortunes. They were surely funny. He told me I’d be a flirt if I could ever find any one to flirt with but, of course, that is a mistake, ’cause Billy will flirt with me most any time. He told Roah [Grandma’s sister] she would be married. She said, ‘More than once,’ and he said, ‘No, Roah, you’ll do darned well to get one.’ He didn’t tell us anything that was very complimentary; some of it was true, though.”

That, people, is a good sense of humor and a pretty fair writer, too. She makes me laugh out loud. More evidence is in her March 18, 1913, letter, in which she relates her experience at a local dance:

“We had one awful time. I fell down on my knees in a quadrille. Frank Gould’s feet got in my way. I told the kids his feet stuck out farther behind than they did in front. He’s sure awkward and so am I.”

Like I said: funny.

Picture 265 But there are also rough patches between the two of them. Her May 20, 1913, letter is short and to the point:

“What have I done that you should treat me the way you have lately? If I can make it right I will gladly do it. Will you please tell me what it is?”

Again, wouldn’t it be informative to know what he was writing to her? Her next letter, on June 2, 1913, comes from Thermopolis, Wyo., where I think she worked at least one summer, maybe more. They still haven’t sorted out whatever the conflict was, clearly:

“I received your note tonight. I was quite surprised to get it. I thought you weren’t going to answer mine. I looked and looked for an answer before I came over here, but was disappointed.

“Now, tell me what you heard. I couldn’t imagine why you didn’t come up after I came home, until one day Lilias told me some things she had heard. Then I wondered if you had heard something, too, so I sent you the note. I am sure I haven’t done anything for you to be angry about. I wish I could see you and tell you about it instead of writing.”

In her Oct. 21, 1913, letter, Grandma expresses some frustration about “fastening down” the desks in her Otto classroom. Apparently, someone named Kirk was supposed to do it, or at least be helping her.

“My hands were so sore I could hardly use them when I got through with it. I’ll bet Kirk’s ears were pretty warm all the while I worked, too. He’s the limit.”

Reading her letters sometimes takes a bit of surmising to figure out exactly what she’s saying. In her Nov. 3, 1913, letter, for example, she writes about what I guess are two guys who get drunk. It’s interesting the way she phrases it:

“Billy and Ed Harris went to the barbecue at Basin Friday. They got home Saturday about noon and Oh! They were feeling fine. It took the whole street for Ed to walk in and Billy was almost as bad. I never saw anything so disgusting. Billy was too silly for anything. I kept my front screen fastened so he wouldn’t come visit me.”

The very next day she writes another cryptic letter:

“I think you’re mean, though. You know very well that isn’t the reason I wanted you to release me up home. And I’m not teaching in the same department with John, either, so there! You think you are smart. If I had you here (and I sure wish I did) I’d box your ears nicely. You’re a bad boy, but I rather like bad boys, anyway. You don’t need to worry about the Bishop giving me a recommend, for I’m not going to ask for one. I don’t want to join this ward.”

I’m also intrigued by the snippets of stories she sprinkles throughout her letters. In the Nov. 8, 1913, letter, she writes one paragraph that’s frustratingly vague, but also a little haunting:

“I feel sorry for Bro. and Sister Reid. If I had a child that would treat me so, I’m afraid I’d use a club, too. I’m glad you helped them out, for they surely need it.”

And that’s it. Nothing more. A child? A club? Grandpa helping them out? I’d love to know what that was all about.

Another thing: I haven’t taken a count, but I’ll bet the word she uses most in all these letters is “lonely” or “lonesome.” Being a school teacher in Otto must have been isolating. She’s frequently quite blunt about how she doesn’t like to be alone, and she wishes she could be surrounded by family and friends. From time to time she even writes about her moods. One example is in her Nov. 11, 1913, letter, which she lightens with a reference to Grandpa:

“I’m glad you can’t see me tonight. Ruth says it tickles her to look at me, I look so cranky. I’d probably put on a different expression, though, if I saw you.”

In her Nov. 19, 1913, letter, she speaks of being close to a “hermit,” and says she does OK in the daytime, but likes to stay home at night and not go out at all. Taken altogether, she paints a picture with dark clouds hanging overhead.

And, as I’ve said before, the terminology in some of the letters is fun to read. In her Dec. 1, 1913, letter she refers to what we now call Germany as “Germania.”

In the same letter she speaks of going to a dance for which all the females are expected to bake and take a pie to be raffled off. Likewise, she speaks of a dance she’s been “advertising” for, and calls it a “Basket Dance.” Does anyone know what a basket dance was/is? I don’t have a clue.

She flirts with a romantic line from time to time, too, as in the Dec. 8, 1913, letter:

“Many thanks for the bill you sent. You are a dear, good boy. If you were here I might thank you in the way I’d like to.”

Also, she keeps mentioning “Stringtown,” but I still don’t understand which town that is. Does anyone know?

In the same letter, she writes of a dance for which she played the piano: When she ran out of tunes, the dance ended, but everyone stuck around to pull taffy.

And there is a reference to corporal punishment in her classroom in the letter:

“My youngsters were kind of bad this afternoon; Lou Blakesley and Frank Welch, especially. I whipped them both just before school was out.”

I know this is, as they say, a long drink of water. But I hope some of you find it useful or interesting. It’s been fun for me to read through the letters, and I hope some of you have been taking the time, too. Next week we’ll review the 1914 letters.