Monthly Archives: March 2012

Reading Between the Lines


Postmark Jefferson City, MO

February 11, 1930 10 PM


Dear Jim:
I will have to do like you did yesterday, make my letter short.  Mother and I want to go to the show and I will mail this one as we pass the post office.

You should be proud of your grade in Heat Machinery.  I knew you would get along alright.

Jim, I can’t seem to find a date for Henry, but maybe Friday the girl I wanted will decide to play cards with us.  She thinks her friend from out of town will be here.  She won’t be sure until Friday.

One of my little boys who has a bad shoulder is coming to Columbia tomorrow to the Crippled Children’s Hospital.  He is very poor and the state is going to pay for his operations and treatments.

I was surely surprised when you called last night. It seemed good to talk to you.

Jim, if you think you have too much work to do this weekend and should stay in Columbia we can go to Clinton later on.  I don’t mind waiting at all.

This weather is sure grand.  I love to be out all day.  I have to eat lunch at school this week.  I have charge of the lunch room.

Well excuse this short note.  I’ll do better next time.

Sorry you had to go clear downtown to mail my letter.  If you don’t have time, mail it in a box.  I’ll get two letters the next day.


Deciphering some of these letters is an exercise in reading between the lines.  This letter is an example of how the subject matter is open to interpretation.

First, there is the subject of the post office.  Based on the opening and closing sentences of Mary’s letter, mailing correspondence from the actual post office seems preferable to dropping notes in mailboxes  (which, by the way, were green in 1930).  Otherwise, why would Jim walk clear downtown to mail Mary her letter?  Their attention to collection times adds to the urgency of their correspondence.  Neither one wants to miss a day, a moment of what is happening in the other’s life when they are not together.

Then there is the good grade in Heat Machinery.  What do I know about heat machinery?  I have a gas stove, a convection oven and a microwave in my kitchen.  There’s the clothes dryer in the laundry room and my hair dryer in the bathroom.  Do hot rollers count?   That’s about the extent of the heat machinery that I operate.  (Notice I didn’t even mention an iron.)  Jim was an engineering major at the University of Missouri.  I had to do a Google search to figure out what in the world the class he got a good grade in might be about.  Heat machinery has to do with steam engines.  What’s a steam engine, you say?  Like most things they’ve been generally replaced with the more modern…unless you happen to be in an old building that still uses a boiler to force heat in the winter.   I’ll spare you the details of turbines and internal combustion because when it comes to reading between the lines, there is only one necessary engine to know and study:  Google.

What to do about Henry?  He is this elusive fellow who always seem to be lurking about the edges of their life.  Is this the friend who introduced Jim to Mary, Mary to Jim?  Clearly, he needs a date.

The little boy who needs surgery for a bad shoulder could be suffering the effects of polio.  He is surely suffering the effects of the Great Depression.  I read this and I am worried for him.  Reading between the lines affects me.

She mentions the phone call and their conversation.  Reading between the lines, they must have discussed visiting Jim’s parents who live in Clinton.  Reading more closely between the lines, could they have been discussing Mary’s first time to meet the parents?  It sounds like the meeting will be postponed until a later time.

Lunch room duty.  Mystery meat.  Quivery green Jell-O.  Spilled milk.   Enough said.

Ready to read some more between the lines…

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Dear Mary

Dear Mary,

I made an angel food cake to go with fresh Florida strawberries for dessert tonight.  It made me think of you.  My kitchen smells like I remember yours smelling when I was a little girl and licked the batter off the beaters.

I am reading your letters.  The ones you wrote Jim while you were courting.  I didn’t think you’d mind much since you saved them.  

I am amazed that both of you saved three years of letters; notes you wrote every day.  Amazed that most all of them have been preserved. (I wish I had more of the letters Jim wrote to you early on…) More amazed that these didn’t get lost in some cross country move or get damaged over the years. However it was possible, however it came to be, I am grateful.  It is maybe one of the best gifts you ever gave to me.  I just keep opening it up over and over again!

I just finished the letter from your trip in early February 1930 when you visited your Aunt Laura in St. Louis.  I don’t remember you talking about her much, but I know that she was almost 18 years older than your mother, Mena.   She sounds like a special aunt and that you cherished the blue satin and velvet quilt as a treasured keepsake.   Whatever became of that quilt?

The show you saw sounded so interesting that I researched the song you mentioned, “Lover Come Back to Me.”  I found a 1965 television performance by Barbra Streisand on YouTube.  The song is marvelous.  So is Barbra.  

I have so many questions.  What are your big plans with Jim for the upcoming weekend?  Are you going to give him the surprise?  What game are you going to?  Did you go to Brewer Fieldhouse in Columbia to watch Mizzou basketball?  I looked up their season record…they won the Big Six Conference!

 Must close.  Dinner guests coming soon.  Will be glad to read another letter tomorrow.



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From the Scenic Limited

From The Scenic Limited Missouri Pacific Lines (St. Louis, Kansas City and the West)

Sunday February 9

Dear Jim,

I will try and write a few lines while going home.  The train is a hard place to write believe me.

We have had a grand trip and everything seemed to come my way.  My aunt gave me a real old silk quilt.  It is lined with blue satin and along the sides it has blue velvet.  It is really an odd thing but very pretty.  I have always like it but didn’t dream she would get so big hearted as to give it to me.

If this train would slow down I might be able to write.  I don’t seem to be able to stay at the desk hardly.

My aunt is so old and sick.  She is just a pity.  She shouldn’t be so helpless but on account of being in several wrecks or accidents in her life she has had about all her bones broken and that has aged her so much.  

Jim, what about the tickets for the game?  Tell me and Dad will give me a check for you.

I guess you have had a big weekend.  I hope so.  

I’ll really do better tomorrow.  Excuse this writing.  The train is awful.



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Special Delivery from St. Louis

Mary and Jim wrote to one another everyday, sometimes twice in one day and also on Sundays.  Mail was delivered regularly Monday through Saturday, but not on Sunday.  Special Delivery was a service of the U.S. Postal Service from 1885 to 1997 when overnight, express mail took its place.  A Special Delivery letter was dispatched immediately through a special messenger.  So that they never missed a day to write one another a letter, they sent one another “specials” for delivery on Sundays.  This is the first “special” I found in the letter box.

Postmark St. Louis, MO

February 8, 1930 10 PM 


Saturday Night

Dear Jim:

Just a note to tell you that I am alright.

The show was grand and even though I lost some sleep by coming I’m really glad.

I haven’t bought anything but some beads so I’ll be able to come down again.

Please excuse this pencil but we are at a little shop getting dinner and this is my only chance to write you.  I’ll do much better tomorrow.

I hope you and Henry have a good weekend.  Maybe we will have a big time next week.

If I get a chance tonight I’ll write more but I just can’t do any better at present.

Be sure and write me about what you think best in regard to next week end.  I want to do what you really think will be best.

I wish you could have seen the show it was just wonderful.  You would just love the music.  “Lover Come Back to Me” was marvelous.

Must close.  Please forgive me for writing this short letter.  I just wanted you to hear.

Will be glad to get your letter tomorrow.



What makes this letter “special” is not only the way it was delivered but that Mary planned to write to Jim after the show.  Along with the lipstick, compact and handkerchief in her purse, she also managed to tuck in some note paper, an envelope and enough stamps to send it Special Delivery.  Maybe she forgot her pen in the excitement of going to the Fox Theater for the evening, or she might have run out of ink, so she asks the waitress who takes their pie and ice cream order if she can borrow her pencil.  As marvelous as her weekend has been in St. Louis, she is already dreaming and planning about the upcoming weekend she would spend with Jim.


The picture show that she saw that night was New Moon, a story about two star crossed lovers who have a ship board romance and must overcome overwhelming odds to be together.  The movie featured the song, “Lover Come Back to Me.”  The song has been recorded by Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Barbra Streisand.  If you watch Dancing With the Stars, you’ve heard it.  Brooke Burke and Derek Hough danced the Quickstep to it in Season 7.

You went away.  I let you.  We broke the ties that bind.  I wanted to forget you and leave the past behind.  Still, the magic of the night I met you seems to stay forever in my mind.

The sky was blue and high above.  The moon was new and so was love.  This eager heart of mine was singing.  Lover where can you be.

This heart of mine is singing.  Lover come back to me.  

(Oscar Hammerstein II)

The lyrics remind me a little of my grandparents’ unfolding love story.  Broken ties but Jim stayed forever on her mind.  The moon is new and so is their love.  Surely, Mary’s heart is singing as she pencils this “special” to Jim.

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Girl Trip

I only found the one letter Jim wrote to Mary during the month of January.  In fact, it is the only letter I could find from him until the end of April.  My mother recently came across another bundle of letters.  A few from Mary postmarked 1930 but most of the envelopes are dated much later.  Just a reminder that it is really rather remarkable that so many letters were saved to begin with, and even more remarkable that the existing letters didn’t get lost somewhere along the years and the many, many moves to the homes where they lived.

This is a short letter from Mary, who is in St. Louis with her mother to visit her aunt and good friend Frances at the beginning of February.

Postmark St. Louis, MO 

February 6, 1930 6 PM


Dear Jim:
I received your letter this afternoon and was glad to get the date bar recipe.  I’ll try my luck soon.

If nothing happens I think I can come over for the dance the 28th.  Larry will drive over I’m sure with me.  Will they dress formal or not?
Frances-a girlfriend of mine went all over town with me tonight-just acting silly.   So she took me up.  We ate everything Crown offered.  We bought Valentines and then Frances got real serious and bought some pillow cases.  She plans to use them in her old maids apartment.

I am going to a bridge party tonight.  I am so dirty and tired am afraid I’ll never get fixed.

Mother and I will probably stay in St. Louis Saturday night-if her sister insists. You send my special here though and I’ll be home about 4:30 p.m. I’ll send yours from St. Louis.

This will be a big weekend for you.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Jim if I send letters so you will get them where you room on Monday, Wednesday, Friday is that right?  Tuesday and Thursday at the Lambda Chi House.

Well you will get a long letter soon from me-even if the last two have been short-honest.



Girl trip!  I picture Mary and Frances giggling at the counter of the Crown Candy Kitchen eating a grilled cheese sandwich and drinking a strawberry malt, then sampling the heavenly hash. My grandmother loved that candy concoction of milk chocolate, marshmallow and pecans.  It was her very favorite candy, and Jim made sure that she always had a box of it!

Crown Candy Kitchen is vintage St. Louis.  The soda shop opened in 1913 by two best friends who came to America from Greece.  The Crown Candy Kitchen Challenge since that time is that anyone who drinks five shakes or malts in 30 minutes gets them free and their name on a plaque in the store.  The challenge was attempted on the Travel Channel’s Man Versus Food Series in 2009.  Locals and visitors still line up to have lunch and buy the hand dipped chocolates for themselves or their special someone.  We’re left to guess if Mary also bought Jim a Valentine while they were there.

I can also envision the girlfriends browsing the shelves of Famous-Barr Department Store for linens to go in Frances‘ “old maid apartment.”   Famous-Barr is now Macy’s.  Seems like all the department stores I remember from the different places I’ve lived are now Macy’s.  Don’t get me wrong, Macy’s is great; I especially love to visit the flagship store with its wooden escalators in the heart of Manhattan.  Definitely a girl trip destination! But I long for the local department stores where Mary shopped.  The kind where sales clerks would have selected dresses off of the rack to show her; also help her choose which one to wear to the dance.

Special.  Speaking of special…Mary and Jim are about to send each other “specials” for the first time.  What’s a “special?”  And, I want one!

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It’s A Surprise!

Postmark Jefferson City, MO January 30, 5:30 PM


Dear Jim:

I was surely surprised yesterday when you called me.  It was sure thoughtful of you.  I was quite thrilled.  If we broke the line I can’t imagine how we did it -can you?
We had a long teachers meeting this afternoon at the college.  All the teachers are in town.  Our superintendent really was angry because some teachers have been late so often and others leave too soon after school  I usually get to school on time but often leave before I should.  We are supposed to stay ten minutes after school is out.

Dad is taking Mother and me out to dinner at the Hotel tonight.  I’ll have to make this short-so I can get dressed up.  Some men are giving it.

Jim I haven’t heard from Henry since you left.  I guess he is alright.

I have a surprise for you in a few weeks.  I decided the other day.  You can guess all you please-but I won’t tell.  I’ll just surprise you some time.

I hope everything is alright at school.  You will come out with your usual good grades in the end.  One always feels that the first week is awful hard.  I will be proud of you when you finish even if you haven’t made the highest grades.  They don’t always count the most.

It has been trying to snow here all day.  I hope it doesn’t.  I am so tired of bad weather.

Your letter written Tuesday came today.  It was mailed at 10 AM the 29th.  If you mail a letter at night at the post office I get it about 10 the next morning-mail your letters at the co-op-they collect more often there, I think.




A surprise.  How fun!  With all the cold and snowy weather, could it be a stocking hat or warm gloves or a wool scarf?  Maybe a sled?  More candy, or perhaps cookies?  I wonder what it could be?  I wonder how long Jim will have to wonder what it could be?

I’m a sucker for a good surprise.  As it turns out, I happened to be married to the world’s all time best surprise giver.  Ever.  Sure, I have been the recipient of flowers for no special reason, funny doodads and shiny trinkets.  But, my husband is at a totally higher level when it comes to creating surprises.  Think stratosphere.  Once I learned our travel destination at 35,000 feet.  I immediately regretted packing the sweatshirt and hiking boots for a trip to the Virgin Islands.  He has also been known to mastermind events with family and friends all across the country.  He employs many accomplices.  One memorable Valentine’s Day he surprised me with a catered dinner and a harpist…in our very own dining room!  On the other hand, I am not very good at giving surprises.  For one, you must admit that the bar is set pretty high.  Yet, it also happens that I am married to a champion surprise finder outer.  He utilizes his sleuthing super powers to read my body language and the tone of my voice to determine if I might be up to something.  He engages me in conversation that inevitably leads me to make a slip of the tongue.  He has also been known to coerce others to gain information.  As I said, he has many accomplices.  It doesn’t help that I get so excited about the surprise and the element of surprise that I can’t wait for the perfect moment to catch him off guard, which is never since he is always on guard so this makes it next to impossible.  You see my problem?

I guess the thing that makes a good surprise is that it comes unexpected, for no reason other than wanting to give the other person joy.  A moment of pure grace.  Like I said, I’m a sucker for a good surprise.

What’s a memorable surprise you’ve received or given?

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The Art of Flirting Through the Mail

Like a sculptor molding clay or an artist painting a landscape or a musician composing a melody, flirting is an art.  It is creative expression.  It also requires skill and practice.  People flirt for a variety of reasons.  Some people cannot stop flirting.  I’ve met some who should really try.  But mostly, flirting is playful, romantic; gestures and comments to demonstrate interest in the other person.

I was thinking about Mary and Jim and how they flirted through the mail.  How do you send a wink in an envelope?  Or a suggestive smile or a giggle?  Mary sent Jim candy.  Flirting…yes or no?  He calls her “honey.”  Definitely flirting.  Don’t you think?  He flatters  her.  Shamelessly flatters her.  She’s just the sweetest thing he can think of.  Awww!

The next piece of correspondence I find is from Mary.  It is a letter tucked into a purple envelope lined with tissue patterned with gold fans.  The postmark is January 29, 1930, 6:00 PM.

See if you can detect any flirting.

Wednesday, January 29, 1930

Dear Jim:

Well, now I am afraid you have found a girl and quit me.  Please don’t.  I’m afraid I would go jump off the bridge.

I taught school today but I was so sleepy I almost died.  I had to go to the dentist also.  Monday I’ll have them cleaned and then I’ll be through for about six or eight months.

Mother was at a party today and I went for her.  I got stuck on a hill and I thought I would sure be there all night.  I finally had to put the chains down and drive over them.  

Say sometime when Ed Brown gets well and you think about it-ask him for Helen Gilmore’s address.  I would like to drive write her.  I hope your foot is alright-if it isn’t be sure and take care of it because you might have what Ed has-please don’t.

Jim this is going to be rather short but Nixon will mail it and save the walking up the hill tonight.

Write soon.  I hope every thing goes alright in school.



Text messaging is the flirtation tool of this century.  I found seven rules for flirting in a text.  #1  Make smiley faces or frowny faces to communicate your mood.  #2  Use nicknames or pet names whenever possible like “sweetie,”  “darling,”  or “honey.”  #3 Wait for the other person to respond before you send another message.  #4  Asks how he or she feels or what they’re doing.  #5  Act cute and flirty as if the person was with you.  #6  Grab their attention right off the bat.  #7  Be the first one to end the conversation by telling them you need to do something or go somewhere.  Keep them wondering what else you having going on.

Notice any similarities?  No smiley faces or frowny faces, but there is some unquestionable flirting going on.

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