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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 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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