Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘old letters’


By Marylin Schultz




My Father In Front Of The Family Ford — Earl Russell Biggs II, vintage family postcard, circa early 1900’s, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Images from long ago—letters, photographs, postcards, communicate family history, like ribbons tying up bundles of memories. I look into the sweet innocence of children’s faces and reflect on what I do know of their lives. Little Earl Russell Biggs, II, my father, placed in front of his family’s first automobile by a proud papa. There would eventually be four generations of men in the family, given that name. Family tradition had each generation alternating the names they were “known as.” My grandfather was called Earl, my father went by Russell. My brother was called Earl and his son was known as Russ, or the nick-name,” Rusty.”

The baby, Frances Louise Oliver, my mother, was as fair in complexion as E. Russell was dark. Their childhoods would also be in stark contrast. He was born in 1910, and she was three years younger. Frances was the adored, pampered baby of her family, with three brothers and a sister, much older than she. Frances always got what she wanted, I’m told, and became a woman who maintained that expectation from life.


My Mother — Frances Louise Oliver, family photo scan
© 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Russell’s life probably began happily enough. His father and mother, Mary Dickens Biggs, lived in Childress, Texas, where he was a successful businessman in banking, and insurance, as well as owning a cattle ranch, where the family lived. Russell was big brother to Emma Ruth, five years younger than he was. In 1920, tragedy struck the young family. Mary Dickens Biggs, who was expecting their third child, died from the dreaded Influenza that took over 20 million lives in Europe and America.

The parents of E. R. Biggs, Sr. were no longer living, and Mary’s parents offered to care for the children, so the devastated father agreed. Russell and Emmy spent the next two years with the Dickens family, who were living on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, where Felix Dickens, Mary’s brother, was the BIA Agent.

E. R. Biggs married his second wife, Lillian, and the two children were moved back to their Texas home. Very soon, however, Russell, at the age of twelve, was sent off to a Military Academy, and spent the rest of his school years there, only home for the summers and holidays. E.R. and Lillian had another son and daughter. It was one of those cases of a step-mother, whose “own” children could do no wrong, and the older children felt deeply, the deprivation of approval and affection. Emma, while still a teenager, had a baby, who was immediately placed for adoption, never experiencing even one embrace of the young mother who so desperately wanted to love and be loved.




(L to R) Paul, Harriet, Eloise, Mildred, & Grace Dickens, Russell Biggs (My Father) on right, Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I always wondered what it must have been like to grow up on Indian reservations, which the five Dickens children experienced. As we know from the postcard, they were in Oklahoma, then Minnesota and later in Washington State. As a child, I remember my father’s Uncle Felix visiting us a few times at our home in California. I have a few letters that he wrote to my Aunt Emma, which were from a reservation in South Dakota. These were at a much later date, when Emma was an adult.


Side B: Back of the Postcard of Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I finally met some of my Dickens relatives in an unusual way. After the deaths of my mother and father, I received all the family documents. In going through the papers I learned that Mary Dickens was born in McGregor, Iowa. My husband and I were scheduled to drive from our home in Bismarck, No. Dakota to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a convention, the very next day. I looked at a map and saw that McGregor was only a few miles south, and across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien. I decided to see if I could find a trace of the Dickens family in the small, riverside town of McGregor.

It was a cold, gray November Saturday. The trees along the river were bare, but the drive along the river was peaceful and I was feeling hopeful. When I entered the town, I saw a building marked “Museum,” and I parked. The sign on the Museum door said something like “Closed. See you next Spring.” The only place open was the Hardware Store, so I went in. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm welcome. I told her of my quest for family members and asked if she knew of any Dickens who were still living in the area.

“Harvey Dickens lives about five miles west of town,” she replied. “Would you like to call him from here?” I answered in the affirmative just as the phone rang. She spoke to the person for a few minutes, and then I heard her say, “There’s someone here who wants to speak to you,” and handing the phone to me, with a big smile, she said, “It’s Harvey Dickens.” I gasped in amazement at the coincidence, and took the phone. I gave a very brief explanation of who I was. He invited me to come to his home, and I scribbled down the directions he gave, handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her. She smiled and wished me good luck, and I hurried to my car.


Harvey had given good directions to his farm, and I found it with no problem. The plain, two story home, painted a soft yellow, with dark green shutters at the windows, was well cared for. There was a row of pine trees to the west of the house, offering a buffer from the prevailing prairie winds, and a hedge of Lilac bushes between house and out-buildings. The tires of my car made a crunching sound on the neatly graveled driveway. Harvey opened the door of the house before I started up the steps. His smile was wide.

“Come on in, little lady, it’s cold out there!” He introduced me to his wife, Louise, and immediately I felt the genuine warmth of their welcome. They already had a box of old papers and photographs for me to look at. Harvey was a slightly built man, about 70 years old. Louise, looking comfortable in sweater and jeans, offered me coffee, as we sat down around the kitchen table.

“We have four children, but they’ve all moved away,” Louise said, filling my cup.

With a sigh, Harvey added, “Not much to keep them in a small town in Iowa, and none of ‘em was interested in farming.” Harvey took photos out of the box, pointing out each individual by name. “Better write down those names on the back,” Louise gently chided. “No one but you can identify them anymore.” I listened carefully, not recognizing any names until he said, “And this is Uncle Felix.”

“Yes,” I said, now excited, as he handed it to me. “Did he have three daughters, who lived in Washington?” He smiled broadly, and replied, giving me their names. We had made a connection, as it turned out that his grandfather was my great-grandfather. We looked at more photographs and he gave me the names and addresses of other cousins that had done more research into the family history.

We were engrossed in each others’ family anecdotes, laughing at the funny little quirks that all families have, and the morning flew quickly by. I turned down an offer of a noon meal, and told them I needed to get back to La Crosse.

“Now, if you can come back, I’ll take you to the cemetery; quite a few Dickens there,” Harvey said.

“You keep in touch,” Louise whispered in my ear, as we exchanged a hug.

“I promise I will, and thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to meet you. I feel like I’ve been with old friends,” I replied.

“Nope, better than friends, we’re family!” Those were Harvey’s last words to me as I got into my car. That brief visit opened up a whole new chapter in my family history, and as I drove across the bridge over the wide Mississippi, I felt truly blessed.




Editor’s Note: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional photographers offered customers the choice of placing photographs on postcards, like the “packages” they sell today. Some were taken in a studio and others at different locations. The photo of Frances was taken in a studio, and the other two at the homes of their clients. Images From The Past was partly inspired by conversation on the postcard piece Joshua Trees & Desert Sands — Jan 25 1947.




_________________________




About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy and a Writing Practice, Kindness.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


Read Full Post »

An Open Letter To My Father

An Open Letter To My Father, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I haven’t seen my father since I was six years old. He reached out to me that day for the first time since I was a toddler. But I was scared and didn’t want to come out of my room. I was only a child; he had become a stranger. I never saw him again.

I keep a pack of letters tied with red string in a shoebox on the top shelf of my closet. What is important comes in small packages. Snippets of correspondence become family heirlooms; letters are reminders of people whose memories and handwriting I want to remember.

One letter is from my mother, dated August of 2000. I had a hard time that year and (in an extroverted moment) reached out to 7 people in my inner circle. I asked if they would write a letter and tell me what my good qualities were; at the time, I just couldn’t remember. My mother wrote a beautiful letter to me from Pennsylvania, a story about the day I was born.

In the same shoebox is a letter from my father’s two sisters. Several years ago, by an act of grace, I reconnected with my aunts after 50 years, and stood with my mother and Aunt Annette under the Georgia pine over my Grandmother Estelle’s grave (the back story and photographs in Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave.) It was a few months later, New Year’s Day 2009, when my aunts sent the letter from South Carolina, and something more:


I feel so badly our family never got to see or know you before now. I know Mother would be so pleased about our reunion. Mother left this ring to me and I would very much like you to have it. She had it a long time and wore it as a pinky ring. This is not much, but I never want you to be left out of our lives. I hope you feel the same about us. Maybe you could try to come for Christmas one year while Annette and I are still here. We are all very much family oriented and want our kids to know you. I’m proud to pass your grandmother’s ring to you, her granddaughter.


It’s as if all that time between us never happened. My trips to the South with Mom to research and explore family history have paid off in unexpected and miraculous ways. During our brief visit, my aunts showed me old family photographs and filled me in on the paternal side of my family. They told me my father had been estranged for 10 years; a dispute had erupted after my grandmother died. I don’t take serendipitous events lightly. I believe we are reunited with the past for reasons beyond our understanding.


Letter From My Mother

A Letter From My Mother, BlackBerry Shots,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo
© 2009-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


That’s why when I called my aunts on Christmas Day 2010, they told me my father had called them out of the blue; he has cancer. He found out in September 2009, a few months before they mailed the letter with my grandmother’s ring. He didn’t contact them until a year later. During their visit, they told him they had seen me and my mother on a recent trip to Georgia. He did not jump at the chance to reconnect. Maybe for him, the past is the past.

My father was 17 years old when I was born, my mother 16. They divorced two years later—still teenagers. My mother went to work and provided for us. She eventually remarried a wonderful man who became my step-father.  After the age of 6, I never saw my blood father again. And now I find I may never get another chance. Should I write him a letter? What would I say?


Dear ______,

A few years ago on a visit to Georgia, I reconnected with your sisters, my aunts, after 50 years apart. They briefly filled me in on the family history; it made me think of you. I live in Minnesota now, have lived in the West and Midwest for most of my adult life. I try to get home once a year to visit family — for me, home is both Pennsylvania and Georgia. I may be visiting the South again this year and thought it might be a chance to touch base. Maybe we could meet for coffee or dinner.

Your daughter,

__________


I start the letter, I stop the letter. The drafts seem to fall short. What would you say? Should the salutation use his proper name? Or Father. Would you ask him to meet for dinner? Or talk on the phone. What if he doesn’t want to have contact with me? Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation where you haven’t talked to a close family member in many years. In reconnecting with my father’s sisters, it’s as if we were never apart. With parents, no matter how old you are, they are still your parents. Should I send a letter to my father?


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 6th, 2010

-related to posts: The Dying Art Of Letter Writing (Postcards From The Edge), You Can’t Go Back, WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS

Read Full Post »


From Dad, excerpt from a two-page letter that my dad sent to me when I was 17, November 22, 1978, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





From my Writing Practice on “Be Impeccable with your Word,” the first agreement of don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements:

Dad was impeccable with his word. Words were important to him. They still are. He still wants to be heard. When I was a teenager and unwilling to listen, he wrote his words down in two or three letters he then slipped under the closed door of my bedroom or left on the kitchen table for me to open after he left for work. He was like Felix Unger in some ways, a tidy man with small and precise handwriting. His handwriting is shaky now, but then his writing looked like a professional cursive font.

The letters he wrote on yellow legal pads, and so he fit a lot of words on them. He told me the things he had tried to say to me but that I would shut down. What was important to him, the things he wanted to pass on, the wisdom he wanted to impart. He worried about me, the friends I had chosen, my boyfriend. He acknowledged that even though I had many bad habits, I was still keeping up my grades, and for that he was grateful.

He did pass something on to me, didn’t he? His honesty with words. That’s a powerful gift.





Thanks, Dad. I listen to you now.



-Related to posts PRACTICE: Be Impeccable With Your Word – 15min and WRITING TOPIC — THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

Read Full Post »

I’ve been preoccupied the last few weeks. By the time my head hits the flannel sheets, I am out like a light. It’s near Thanksgiving, the time of year when I should be giving thanks. Yet it seems like there is so much wrong with the world. Bad things happening to good people. Why?

I’m thinking about the flannel blankets we had growing up, how Mom used to swaddle my two younger brothers in rectangles of blue flannel. It wasn’t plain blue though, there were little pictures of pacifiers or teddy bears or rainbows on those blankets. Think of the word swaddle, swaddling babes.

I recently ran into a letter I had written my family back in 1968. Or was it 1969? I was with 3 of my siblings in South Carolina visiting my step-dad and his wife. I must have been 13 or 14, a brooding teenager. Yet the letter was so tender.

I described a typical day in the sweltering Southern summer, then talked about how much I missed my two younger brothers, only babies at the time. I was entering junior high when they were born. I felt very nurturing toward them and the love I felt was obvious in the letter. I really missed my new family life in Pennsylvania.

Flannel — it reminds me of how quickly things can change. From summer cotton, to winter flannels. The jeans I used to love with the flannel lining. Warm, soft to the touch, against dry winter skin.

Last night, we were watching a documentary on Ernest Thompson Seton, a New Mexico naturalist who waged war on wolves in New Mexico in the late 1800’s. The head of the wolf pack and King of the Currumpaw, Lobo, was too smart for him and evaded his poison and steel traps. Finally, in desperation, Seton shot and killed Blanca, Lobo’s life mate, in order to catch Lobo. Liz and I cried.

Later, Seton would have a change of heart and let Lobo go. But it was too late. Lobo died of a broken heart. It broke Seton’s heart, too, and from that moment on, he never hunted another wolf. He went on to write Lobo’s story in the book, Wild Animals I Have Known, spearheaded the environmental movement, and helped found the Boy Scouts.

At the rolling credits, eyes red, peering over the top of the down comforter, Liz asked if I was a romantic. I smiled and nodded. It was a rhetorical question. I knew she knew the truth.

“What about you?” I asked. “Are you a romantic?” “Hmmm, sometimes,” she said, taking another bite of her sub. I smiled. “Yeah, you’re half and half.” She laughed. By the time my head hit the flannel sheets, I was already dreaming.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – FLANNEL SHEETS

Read Full Post »

Peanuts letter


Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
You.
You who?
You who, take a look at what a dork you were as a teenager!



Have you ever received a Box of Life from your parents? You know, the box they’ve been storing in their garage for the past two or three decades.

I got mine two weeks ago. It’s Box #3. Boxes 1 and 2, which I got ages ago, contained early childhood to elementary school: report cards, spelling bee awards, the story I wrote about Grandma and the one Bucky Mulvaney wrote about his horses. Box #3 holds within its dusty, greasy cardboard walls my inner life from ages 13 to 18.

It has Peanuts and those big-headed doll-kids from Betsy Clark and Hallmark. Loopy handwriting. Endless talk of which boys are cute and who likes who and how we weren’t invited to the prom (again). Sorry so sloppy and Always a friend.

Betsy Clark image from a letter, 1975You see, my Box of Life was filled with letters I received in junior high and high school. Not two or three or even ten letters. Inside the box, there were (to use an over-used term from that time in my life) really a lotta letters!

Letters from cousins Suzanne and Kathy in Long Beach, from Lisa who moved to (yuck) Lubbock, from Andrea and Thecla, both of whom moved less than 20 miles away. Even my two best friends, Lori and Laurie, mailed me letters from down the street!

Right now I’m trying to figure out what to do with all these letters. I could donate them to a library, the way presidents and other important people do. Decades from now, some graduate student will come across this piece of Americana that Laurie wrote me from Social Studies class:

Are you going to dress up on Friday in your peddle pushers? They’re very, very foxy! Pinhead will find them amusing! (noy) I wonder if Pinhead will dress up? He doesn’t have any hair to slick back but he does have high water pants. Haaaaa! (like a crow) Oh Boy! Mr. Cook is soooo foxy! Boy, his wife must be madly in love with his cowboy boots and high waters.

I’ve also considered writing a screenplay. In one scene, I am sitting on my pink-and-white bedspread with Laurie, reading to her this snippet from Thecla, who recently moved one town over. Our hands fly to our mouths over how loose and fast Thecla has become, and we walk out of the room whispering that we really need to start testing out new methods for getting the guys:

The problem is most of the foxes are older guys who hang out in the bars. I’m only 16 and don’t look 21 so we just stand in front of the door and every time someone comes out or goes in we take a look in with our tongues hanging out. Not really! But the foxes are really in the bars.

Scentables letterSo far my most plausible idea is to use the letters as material — quotable quotes — for red Ravine. You know, for those days when I have nothing more interesting to post; no salient information for writers or artists, not even some fascinating tidbit about the turkeys or Baby.

Excerpts from the letters might become quasi-writing prompts in and of themselves. Or maybe, like this gem from Lisa, recollections of a time when letter-writing was what teenage girls did instead of email or texting, when we used P.S. and P.S.S. as if they were going out of style (they were), and when we really didn’t have much to talk about except the weather:

I bought $20 of clothes. Pants and 2 shirts. I wore shorts and short sleeves all day, and its in the middle of Jan. Do ya’ll still have snow? If so send me some O.K.



          Sorry So Sloppy

Read Full Post »