Tag Archives: california

THE Letter, Part Two

No envelope.  No postmark or date, just the heading gives the clue that it was written on a Wednesday night.  August 7 and 14 were Wednesdays in 1929. Mary pens the letter from the train on railroad stationary.  As the Scenic Limited rolls along the tracks through the Rockies toward Missouri, Mary writes that she is on her way home.  Indeed.

Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad

En Route Through the Rockies

Wednesday Night

Dear Jim:
I am on my way home from California.  We left Long Beach Sunday and went to San Francisco by boat.  I started a letter to you last night and wrote for a long time, but the train was so “rocking” I couldn’t even read it well, and it was so crazy I thought I will try and do better tonight.

You will be surprised to hear from me, but really Jim I have wanted to write you sooner but didn’t have the nerve.  You will be glad I am sure though to hear that I have decided not to ever marry Willis.  He is still sick and when if ever he does get well, I couldn’t think of ever marrying him.  I guess it is all for the best and I’m trying to feel that life isn’t all bad just because I have had hard luck.  I haven’t been able to be myself for a long time and I hope you understand.  I haven’t aimed to treat you wrong Jim.  Perhaps I have been cold and distant but I couldn’t be otherwise.  I have worried and worried over things but now after being away from things this summer and getting my mind off things about Willis I have decided to teach this Fall again and go to the university a year from this Fall.  Perhaps we can graduate together. Willis is at present in the state institution’s care.  He is working there and also being treated.  I haven’t written to him for when I left for the West, I told him goodbye.  He said he didn’t want the ring back but I’ll put it in the bank I think until he is able to take it back.  I really hardly know what is the best thing to do.

I am writing you this because even though I am sure you are not worried as to what I might do, you have always been so true and have understood me so well.  I just wanted to tell you that.  I have never known a boy that had higher ideals than you and in my mind you are surely placed the highest.

I am not writing you this to begin courting or fall in love.  I have had all I want of that for years to come but at least we can be good friends.  I really feel that you got angry at me the last time you were in Jefferson City.  I tried to call you that Sunday to have dinner but couldn’t find you.  I really decided you had gone until I saw you later that week.  I then decided you were off me for life but I am going to send this letter and try and square myself.  If I made you angry I am sorry Jim.  I didn’t want to do that at all.  I just couldn’t get myself together until now.  (This train is awful.)  

Jim, Mother thinks I’m asleep and so does Helen.  We each have a berth so I can stay up a long time.  It was so hot yesterday coming through the desert and this morning the salt beds.  However, it is cool tonight.  I am in my berth with my beach coat on to keep warm.  If you could see me-my face all covered with cold cream and my hair pinned back, I’m a real old mail.

When you come back to school come over and see me or write me some time.

I’ll be coming over to Columbia real often to football games.  Dad always gets season tickets. 

I hope you are not angry with this letter but please forget how I acted in the past year.  I couldn’t be myself.

It is late and I must stop.  Write me when you can and be sure and come over some time this fall.

I have had a grand trip but will be glad to get home and see Dad.  He just returned from England. 

Good night and Good Bye for this time.

Sincerely,

Mary

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THE Letter, Part One

All of my life I have known the significance of THE letter.  This special correspondence is pivotal in my family history.  A single piece of mail is the catalyst that brought my grandparents together and is the true genesis of their relationship, a relationship that endured more than 70 years.

My grandfather, Jim, relished in telling the story of THE letter.

Mary and Jim met sometime during 1927 while they were both students at the University of Missouri in Columbia.  The details of their meeting and their first date were never highlighted.  These particulars were never all that important, at least in Jim’s mind.  All that mattered to him was THE letter.

They dated, briefly, but then, as Jim puts it, “Mary quit me for another boy.”  Mary dated and, in fact, became engaged to someone else.  She also quit school, which I find interesting because dropping out of school would have been forbidden to me.  The idea of quitting school would have been forbidden.  Thinking about the idea of quitting school would have been forbidden.  Still, she dropped out of the university and began planning a wedding.

As it happened, the love affair between my grandmother and this other unknown man had a really unhappy ending.  It was so traumatic that her father, who was an attorney for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, sent Mary, her mother and her best friend on a trip to the Pacific Coast.  He put them on a train in Jefferson City, Missouri bound for California in the summer of 1929.  Her father figured that the distance and the sunshine and fresh air of California would help to heal her hurting heart.  He was right.

Somewhere  along the way home, Mary wrote a letter, THE letter to Jim from the train.  She was writing to inform him that the engagement was off and that she had told the other boy goodbye.  She wanted to know if they could be friends again.  We all understood this to mean more than just friends, but boyfriend and girlfriend.  Jim liked to tell it that “she wanted to know if I was still interested in her and would take her back.”  Which he did, of course.

My grandfather would always get a little teary eyed recounting the story.  (Turns out real men do cry.)  He would also always point out that this piece of private correspondence arriving in his mailbox forever changed his life and was the origin of our family.

Somewhere in the stacks of bundles is THE letter.  I sort through the envelopes, searching postmarks and addresses for clues.  Most of them are stamped 1930 or later.

It is exciting and wondrous to think that somewhere amid the hundreds of envelopes in the letter box is one that holds the most important family communication of all.  What is really in that letter?  What exactly did she say?  What were the words that melted his heart?  What other secrets might she reveal?  I suddenly realize this is very personal, to them and to me.

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