The Case of the Missing Lipstick

Postmark Jefferson City, MO

April 8, 1930 7:30 p.m.

(Two letters in one envelope…)

Read this first.  I wrote this at school in case someone saw it they wouldn’t think it was a letter.  

Dear Jim: 

I can’t find out from Dad yet what I can do about driving our car over Saturday.  He thinks he might want it.  I am about ready to go to sleep.  I can’t get enough it seems.  Tomorrow night I have bridge club and I’ll be glad when it is over believe me.  Somehow I am not so fond of the girls as I am the other bunch.  Next week I am going to have another club.  Then I’ll be through for awhile.  Please excuse this paper but it is all I have at school.  I might not get home in time to write one.  I am going to see Frances.  She is at home now.  I really am anxious to go.  She has something interesting to tell me.  George had his folks came see her Sunday.  Mrs. F said “She was glad George was going to marry such a good woman.”  Frances said she thought that was a funny way to express her feelings. 

Jim, I have a slight cold today but I can’t blame you, can I?

The weather is so pretty I wish I could get out and walk about two or three miles.  I might get some energy.

Well I must quit.  I’ll finish when I get home and read your letter.


Dear Jim:

I was surprised to get your letter.  I mean the kind you wrote.  You are really grand to me and I am so glad you have the ideas and ideals you have.  I hope my actions are always like you want them to be.

I have been out to Frances’ house for about an hour and half talking hard and fast.  She is up and walked out to the car to meet me.  It was been eight days since she was operated on.

I was glad to get my lipstick.  I couldn’t decide just what I did with it.  I really didn’t think you took it back with you.  

Well, I am glad you wrote the nice long letter.  It was a real surprise.



The letter box is full of mystery.  This letter has mystery galore.  Starting with the furtive note written during school on manilla art paper with a pencil; so no one might suspect she was jotting a letter!

It is important to pay attention to the clues each letter holds.

Mary is hostessing her bridge club tomorrow.  Who will attend?  What about favors and food? Given the date of the letter, I was able to locate this newspaper item about the party.  I am guessing the girls listed have no clue Miss Mary Potter is not as fond of them as she is the other bunch.

Frances and George Furtney are engaged.  Whatever it was Frances had interesting to tell Mary has their tongues wagging.  No clue.

Mary has a cold.  Her suggestion that she perhaps should blame Jim hints that they’ve been close enough to share one another’s germs.  A kiss?  The missing lipstick is another mystery that might provide the proof!

The grandest mystery is the letter Jim wrote to Mary.  I have not yet stumbled upon it to open up the secrets it contains.  The ideas and ideals he shared.  The thoughts and feelings that make her want to make him happy and proud.

How I hope now she gets to drive the car on Saturday!


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Big Things Happening

A month has passed.  No letters to be found written from Jim to Mary. What few letters from March 1930 are written from Mary to Jim.

It seems that they are spending more and more time together.  Jim visits Mary at her home in Jefferson City.  Mary attends a dance with Jim in Columbia.  Big things are happening!

Mary has her hands full teaching school.  She has 32 energetic students in her class!  This leaves her with little energy to make date bars and fudge or attend her bridge club.

Jim is studying hard.  Heat Machinery and other classes have been giving him headaches.  Mary worries about this.  Henry worries Mary, too.  He’s been telling her Jim’s parents are worried he is “going too much.”  Now she is worried that Jim’s folks don’t want him to come over to Jefferson City very often.  Big time worry!

Worry for nothing, it seems.  Among the news in this letter is that Jim has been inducted to Tau Beta Pi, the second oldest honorary society (Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest) and the only honor society for engineers.  Buzz Aldrin (astronaut), Frank Capra (movie director), Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are notable members. Guess he must have come out alright on that quiz!

Postmark Jefferson City, MO

April 4, 1930 6:30 PM

Tuesday 2:30 PM

Dear Jim:
It looks as if I can’t ever get time to write a good letter.

I’ll try to take my recess period for it this afternoon.  Some one will just about get their nose hurt or fall down.  That always happens when you don’t want it to.  

The school board is supposed to visit this afternoon.  I guess they will land some time soon.  My children will probably act like wild animals for them.

I had a grand time last night and I got to ride out in a new Packard Sedan.  The car really is a beauty.  It is so big and the engine is perfect.  Lillian Tweedie drove it.  It belongs to her father.

I am thrilled over Tau Beta Pi.  I guess Henry won’t say you didn’t study from now on.  He just used his imagination too much along some lines.  He took a girl to a dance Tuesday night.  She is just an infant and I have always thought her rather fast at least she has that name however she is cute looking.  Henry is sure hard for me to figure out in some ways.

Mother and I are going to be busy tonight getting linens and spoons and things ready.  I’m glad we only have this once a year.

The little boy that was hurt is getting along fine.  He will be back Monday.

I am having my club next week on Wednesday night.  I am going to a party Thursday night, I think, so I’ll be real busy.  This week has been rather quiet.  It is almost five minutes past my recess.  I must quit for now.  I’ll add some to this after I get your letter this afternoon.  I. Miller sent me some grand shoes but the heels didn’t match.  I can’t imagine why.  I had to send them back.  They were real pretty.

5:00 PM

It will be alright to come over Saturday night Jim.  You can call me about six.  I think the folks will all be gone by then.  You could stay at Henry’s until then, couldn’t you?  We won’t have dinner at home I’m sure but you understand why.  So it is alright to call me and if they have gone soon enough maybe you can eat dinner over here but I doubt we can get through in time.



This letter is full of big news.

Big visit from the school board.

Big ride.  A 1930 Packard Sedan…

Big honor for Jim.

Big date for Henry!  Although, it sounds like the girl has a pretty big reputation.

Big party to prepare for.

Big mistake with the shoes.  Mismatched heels might lead to a big trip up.

Big weekend coming up!

Even bigger Spring ahead…

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Lucky Girl

Postmark Jefferson City, MO

March 3, 1930   10 PM

Monday Night

Dear Jim:
I hope you didn’t freeze going back last night.  It seemed so cold for you to ride in an open car so far.  I surely hope you didn’t catch cold.  Dad and Mother thought it was so bad, they just knew you would be sick from it.

I went out to see Frances Millspaugh, the girl that writes to George.  She was so thrilled over you knowing him.  She said when George comes we can get together.  Frances is a lovely girl and from all accounts George hasn’t always been as good as he might be, however he says he is acting better now for a few years he was in a “don’t care state,” and I guess was really wild.  Frances has known him for five or six years.  She has been sick with an attack of appendicitis and is still in bed.  She will have to be operated on but is waiting until George makes his visit.

It has been so cold today.  My room wasn’t warm all day.  Just about 64 this afternoon and about 50 this morning.  

I sure hope you got along alright with your quiz today.  I will be to blame if you didn’t.

Jim, I had such a good time in Columbia Friday night and I enjoyed having you here so much-really I’m getting spoiled with so much attention.



Mary had many friends.  One her good girlfriends while she lived in Jefferson City was Frances Millspaugh.  They both taught at Broadway Elementary School.  Frances was the daughter of Missouri Congressman Frank Millspaugh.  Mary writes Jim and Frances writes George, who apparently was a wild and crazy guy.

Who is George? Why is she waiting on him to have her appendix taken out?  Where is he coming from?  How does Jim know George?

Jim knows George Furtney from engineering school.  George graduated and went to work as an engineer for Wired Wireless Radio Corporation in Cleveland.  He is getting his act together.  George is going to ask Frances to marry him.  How do I know?  Time and more letters will tell.

Today is Friday the 13th.  I’m not one for superstition.  I’m not around ladders enough to walk under one.  We crossed paths with our black cat, Minnie, for 13 years.  Double trouble?  Actually no real trouble.  She caught a mouse once and brought it to the back porch.  Unlucky for the mouse…and for me who had to dispose of the deceased rodent.  Lucky for her, though.  I’ve broken plenty of mirrors so I can’t even begin to count how many years of bad luck.  Mental math isn’t my thing.  Plus, I figure if I don’t know it doesn’t really matter.

There is one superstition I can’t help wondering about today.  In 1903 University of Missouri engineering students decided Saint Patrick should be their patron saint.  The shamrock became a symbol and emblem for the school.  A stone with the three leaf clover is embedded in the sidewalk in front of the classroom building.  Tradition says that if you walk across the shamrock stone, you’ll marry an engineer.  Did Mary walk across the shamrock stone?

Mary is being spoiled with so much attention from  Jim.  Lucky girl.  But it sounds like Jim is going to need good luck on his quiz.

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An Upsetting and Surprising Letter

Postmark Jefferson City, MO

February 25, 1930 10 PM SPECIAL DELIVERY


Dear Jim:
I am really sorry you took such a stand in regard to not hearing from me.  You surprised me Jim and I am sorry it happened.  Please don’t get so worked up next time.

I have had all I could do and more this week.  I just got home from the funeral.  It certainly was sad.  I took two daughters and a son in my car.  I just got so nervous I thought if I didn’t get home I would just die myself.  I surely feel sorry for them.

Mother has been doing a lot of cooking for them and we have been so upset.

I was glad you called me last night.  I sure couldn’t understand not hearing from you either.  Well it is over.  I hope it doesn’t happen again.

Jim, you seem to be rather easily made angry lately.  I think you are tired and nervous.  You may laugh at me but you haven’t seemed yourself for a week.  If anything is worrying you please forget it.

I think of you so often and I am sure you must be mistaken if you think I don’t like you, cause I surely do.  Please don’t get angry at me again.




What in the world has been going on the past seven days? No letters for one week.

Jim is unhappy and upset about this.  Angry, in fact.  It seems that they’ve been giving each other the silent treatment.

This letter is upsetting.

Mary is upset, too.   Upset enough to send this letter special delivery during the middle of the week.  Upset that someone died.  Could it be the boy who had the shoulder operation recently?  Upset enough to think she might die herself. Upset that Jim is so worked up.  She thinks he’s easily angered because he’s tired and nervous.  When I am exhausted and anxious, I can fly off the handle, too.  Just ask my family.  That’s not so surprising.

This letter, however, is surprising.  The tone of her writing is totally unexpected…argumentative and defensive but also apologetic.  What is perhaps most astonishing to me is how she tells Jim that he should just forget about whatever he is worrying about.  Mary was an accomplished worrier.  She worried about the weather, health, what to wear, her family, other people’s families, how many knives and forks to set at each place setting, animals, the state of affairs in the world, keeping your hair out of your eyes (remember the bobby pins?) and driving too fast.  That’s the abbreviated short list of the abbreviated short list. Maybe she suggests that he put the worry out of his mind because she knows the emotions it stirs up and the problems it creates, real and otherwise.  Yet her worry shows her concern for others and for him.  She is not going to let him forget that…”I think of you often and I am sure you must be mistaken if you think I don’t like you, cause I surely do.”

Well it is over.  Thank goodness.  I hope it doesn’t happen again either.

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Meet the Parents

Since the last letter suggests that Mary and Jim are spending part of their weekend together visiting her parents and Jim’s parents in Clinton, I figure it’s time to meet the parents.  Or, in the modern generation vernacular, the ‘rents.


Ira and Ethel Kunkler.  Jim’s folks.

Ira Stuart Kunkler was a contractor in Clinton.   In fact, Jim worked some construction sites with him.  I don’t remember too much about him.  What I do recall were his great, big bear hugs.  I also remember hiding behind his chair when my Uncle Joe came over to their house.  Uncle Joe lost two of his fingers in farming machinery and to my small child mind that was kind of scary.  My great-grandfather was my protector.  Unfortunately, he died when I was only three. The night after Christmas he sat on the bed, leaned over to untie his shoes and passed away peacefully.


Ethel Josephine Turk was his wife.  She was a teacher in a one room school house when they met.  I have lots of great memories of Jim’s mother.  She lived until she was 98.  What I remember most was her cooking. She could kill, pluck and gut a chicken and then fry it to perfection.  She made biscuits that were a mile high.  Her cinnamon rolls were life changing.  She baked cakes from scratch.  In fact, she made everything from scratch.  A pinch of this and a dash of that.  I think I only saw her use a recipe once.  She clipped one from a magazine for Baked Alaska.  It was a two day endeavor.  I have a motto for my kitchen, “love people, cook them tasty food.”  She shared a lot of love from her kitchen.  I also remember that she was skilled at playing Bridge.  She played in tournaments.  And won.  Bridge is a card game that I never learned to play.  I think I will add this to the list of things I want to try.


Jim and Mena Potter.  Mary’s parents.

Mena Maughs Proctor is Mary’s mother.  She was the youngest daughter of an influential businessman and politician. Sadly, I never knew Mena, who my mother called Mayme.  She died of ovarian cancer.  What I have been told, though, is that she was a wonderful hostess who entertained frequently.  She was civic minded and a caring and compassionate woman.  From her pictures, she was also quite fashionable.  I think I would have enjoyed shopping with her.


Mary’s father, also Jim, was a prominent lawyer.  James Arthur Potter began his practice in Aurora, Missouri before moving the family to Jefferson City, the state capital. He was appointed the state’s assistant Attorney General to Robert Otto with whom he later formed a law partnership.  He also lived until he was 98 so I remember him well.  He visited us often and every summer my mother and I visited him on our yearly trip to Missouri.  He was my best “patient” when I got a toy nurse’s kit for Christmas one year. Every afternoon he would take me on his daily “constitutional,” which was a walk around the block.  He liked to smoke cigars, or rather chew on the ends of them, which I don’t remember smelling bad because of the strong odor of menthol camphor ointment he wore on his hands.  Actually that didn’t smell so great, but better the memory of that than a stinky stogie.


Here is Mary’s letter to Jim the Tuesday after they spent the weekend together and visiting with the ‘rents.


Postmark Jefferson City, MO

February 18, 1930 6:30 PM



Dear Jim:
I am afraid you will not have much of a letter tonight.  I just got in and it is six now.

The P.T.A. met this afternoon and I had to stay until they all left.  I have to talk to all of them about their child and it gets so tiresome.

I went down to try on my dress and it was not like I want it.  If I ever get forgiveness for having this made-I’ll be satisfied.

It is hard for you to be away over the weekend and not get any studying in but maybe you won’t be busy after awhile.  I hope your hard course gets easier.  

Your folks are not going to disown you and I’m sure I won’t so why worry?

Dad is feeling better and left tonight for St. Louis.  He can’t eat very much but said he guessed he wouldn’t starve if he could get some milk to drink.  He was sorry not to seen more of you too.

This weather is grand just like spring.  I would like to get out and walk about a mile.  If it keeps this up I think I’ll get the spring fever.

Jim, I surely did enjoy the weekend with you.  It seems hard to settle down and just work without doing anything else.  I was tired but the trip didn’t make me because I was about worn out when we started.
Well don’t work too hard and write soon.



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The Enigmatic Mr. Litchfield

Postmark Jefferson City, MO

February 12, 1930  10:30 PM


Dear Jim:
Say, I’m sorry you didn’t get my letter written Sunday until Tuesday.  I gave it to Dad to mail and I guess he forgot until too late for it to go out Sunday evening.

I had a big surprise this afternoon when I got home.  A nice long letter from a girlfriend of mine in Aurora.  She has a six month old baby, so the letter was mostly about the wonderful boy.  She sent me the cutest picture of him.  I guess he is really quite fine.

The boy is going to be operated on next week.  He has been in Columbia.  I think I told you.  He is so thrilled over it all.  I guess he will have a cleaner bed and better food than he has ever had at home.

Jim, do you think Henry will be angry over not having a date maybe Friday night-really we shouldn’t stay out late because we want to start early Saturday-I’m afraid I’m going to be rather tired anyway.  This has been a bad week-more work and so many things to do.

Well don’t work too hard.  I’ll see you Friday night.



An enigma.  A person, thing or situation that is mysterious, puzzling or ambiguous.

Henry is an enigma.

It is Wednesday and Friday is Valentine’s Day.  In two days, Jim is coming to Jefferson City to spend the weekend with his sweetheart.  Henry, however, doesn’t have a date.  Mary is concerned Henry will be angry that he doesn’t.

Who is Henry?  Why is Mary responsible for getting him a date?

Meet Henry.  Mr. Henry Litchfield to be precise.

While I’ve been sorting and reading through the letterbox, Mother has been sorting and scanning old photos.  Lots and lots of faces and places and poses. Mary saved every photo she took, which should come as no huge surprise given the letters.  I’m guessing that Mother has probably located a few long lost bare bottom baby shots of me…nothing enigmatic about those.

Amid all of that Kodak and Polaroid paper (another thing of the almost past thanks to digital cameras and sharing), Mother found this picture of Jim and Henry.  Jim is on the left.  Isn’t he tall, dark and handsome?  Swoon.

Henry is on the right.  Nice looking fellow.  Kind face.   At this point that’s about all I know.  Oh yeah…he doesn’t have a date for Valentine’s Day and somehow Mary feels bad about it.

Like I said, Henry is an enigma.

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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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