A few days ago, I had the immense privilege of discovering some letters written in the 1930’s (!!!) and I couldn’t help but share them with you.
The writer of several letters that we unearthed was a young woman by the rather extraordinary name of Mary Catherine Grimsley. Just looking at her name stamped across the top of the stationary it already seemed like a character out of a novel, but the truly remarkable part is that it was as ordinary as could be and these letters were merely her daily life.
From her letters, I felt like I was meeting a vivacious headstrong girl who was not at all coy about sharing her opinion, but had the civilized manners passed down from her rather more down-to-earth mother. I truly wish I could hand you the paper so you could see how even her writing seemed to personify someone with a whole lot to say and a pressing desire to say it. Her pen strokes were dark and bold. They formed a neat but obviously enthusiastic school teacher slant as though her mind were always getting ahead of her pen. My cousin held the letters and decided that reading them was like eavesdropping but better.
I couldn’t agree more.
So, without further ado: dig in!
(The first two letters are from Mary Catherine’s mother. They had too much fascinating information about the Depression to leave them out. Also, they lack punctuation in most places, but I wanted to give you the most realistic experience reading them as possible.)
December 19, 1931
Just a line to say hello Hope you are well and happy Have you work now?
Suppose you have heard from Catherine She is teaching in Russell Kentucky Seems to be getting along nicely is having a wonderful time
Well times seem to get worse all the time instead of better or at least that is true here. There is simply no business even for Christmas but suppose God will take care of us in some way.
With all the joy possible for your Christmas and a happy and prosperous 1932
January 26, 1932
Was surely glad to get your letter. Also glad you were writing to Mary Catherine as she surely likes to get letters. Lucille is write her about 4 or 5 days apart so that she is hearing from us pretty regularly and if we happen to not get to write just about on time she surely thinks we are neglecting her.
I’m sorry you have been out of work so much of the time, but you can’t tell us anything about how hard it is to collect. Money just cannot be had. But what can you expect when men have no work they cannot pay
Wish I could send you the $15 we owe you but it seems impossible to get anything paid until times change. Don’t mention this $15 when you answer.
You are right surely about Prest. Hoover he has done all he can to help conditions but Congress has not worked with him as they should I really think he is a wonderfully good man and doing all he can. Wonder if he will be our new Prest?
Well I think Lucille is going to get married next June soon after Catherine gets home. She is engaged to a young man named Ernest Perry and they are terribly in love or at least they think they are. But that is 5 months yet. We will see. But they have been going together for almost 2 years it will be two years in May. So suppose that is long enough he is 22 and Lucille is 19, young enough. And yet they should be old enough to know their own mind.
When are you going to get married? I’m just wondering if you are going to stay an old bachelor?
Mary Catherine may be coming home in May instead of June as the state of Kentucky is short of money and may have to cut school down to eight months instead of 9
Now Paul write real soon again If you can collect some of your money come out and see us We would sure be glad to see you
Have not seen your uncle Louis but the one time. But we hear from him once in a great while. He sent us a Christmas card and we have not heard from him since
Well I have exhausted my knowledge which I think would interest you so will close with best wishes from us all
(From here on out is all the words of Mary Catherine. Our illustrious heroine of a sort.)
February 28, 1932
Don’t die of shock, I pray you. I feel in the mood for writing a letter so I thought I’d choose you as my first victim! Poor you.
First of all where in the state is Gilead? I’ve nearly worn the map out trying to find it, and so far it remains a complete mystery. Do keep us out?
How are things “out west” in Nebraska? Are they improving any since the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and various other such organizations have begun to function. One of the banks up in Ashland Kentucky receive some aid and everyone around here nearly died of the shock of it hitting so near home. It looks as though Hoover may pull the country out yet, eh?
I’ve received a card from your uncle, Louis Decker yesterday. He has been up in Berkeley visiting the folks and guess was quite shocked to find me missing from the family group. Some people forget the children do grow up! Yes, I’ll confess that I certainly don’t feel “grown up”.
You know I’ve always heard that it snowed here during the winter, but this California maiden is still waiting for it to fall. Really, I expected to freeze to death and we’ve really had very little cold weather. It is quite cool today and the “natives” say it looks like snow but I’m still waiting to see some!
I certainly have done more visiting since I came back here in that I’ve ever done in my life. I really didn’t know I had “connections” with so many people both relatives and friends!
I’m planning a bridge party at my cousins house sometime the last of March. That’s about all I can do here to entertain. Just wish they could all come out to Berkeley and see me.
Well, guess I’ll have a brother (in law) after this summer. Lucille hasn’t set the date yet but they’re to be married as soon as possible after I get back, according to the latest reports. I expect one of my cousins and her little girl are going home with me for a visit and the wedding too.
I can’t say that I’m really crazy about teaching at least not here. About half of my children are in school only because they have to be. Consequently they won’t study, won’t pay attention, or even keep quiet. So, you can see that discipline is my worst problem. I’m going to apply for a position next year, I guess, but I am not the least confident that I’ll get it. I know I’m not excellent, by any means, and there are so many local people wanting positions.
I don’t hear as often as I’d like to from home. Lucille is lazy and mother is too busy. The folks still go to Richmond everyday, though, but business is absolutely on the rocks. A friend wrote me that his father was almost a nervous wreck because the Depression was over and the panic was on. That explains it pretty well, I think.
I must stop now as dinner is ready and I’m really hungry. I’d love to hear from you whenever you find time to write. For, even if I haven’t seen you for ages, I’ll never forget the good times we had when you were at our house. Hope you’re feeling just fine and dandy as busy enough to be happy! Swell philosophy, eh?
You knew Lucile was married this summer, didn’t you?
How’s everything out in Nebraska? I saw a very small part of your state this summer on my way back here. We had a two-hour stop-over and ate lunch in Alliance, Nebraska! Just where is Gilead, so far I’ve not been able to locate it on a map.
What are you doing these days? Still single, or living in marital bliss? The folks see Mr Decker quite often.
March 17, 1933
Guess I’ll celebrate Good Old St Pat’s birthday and send you a few cheerful lines. You know it is really so funny when I think of what an infant I was when I last saw you and yet I still think of you as a sort of pal or big brother. Wonder what we really would say to each other should our paths cross once again- you, an agricultural authority (that should make you puff with pride), and me a high school teacher! You see, I can think! And, I have a grand sense of humor!
How’s every little thing out in Nebraska these days since, I trust, the banks have opened up once again. Hard as it may have been for some people I really believed that bank holiday did a great deal of good. When they couldn’t get their money they begin to see how much value it really hadn’t figured out better ways to spend.
However, I missed one of the greatest thrills of my life due to the banks closing. I had made plans even to getting Friday off from school and reserving a sleeper to go to the inauguration in Washington and had to cancel every one of them Wednesday, March 1st. Guess it will be for the best, though, so I’ve quit worrying about it by now. But I surely was blue at first.
Are you planning to go to Chicago this summer? Everyone seems to be doing a lot of talking about going and I for one, am going sure!
In her last letter mother said Mr Decker had been up home for a good few days and he he sword of hope to also go to Chicago this summer. She said he looked well and seem to have plenty to do to keep him busy.
My, what a pessimist you must be! Or, perhaps you’re just sensible- at any rate you have found no one “she” upon whom to center your affections, I take it. Like you, I too am enjoying single blessedness but, I don’t hope to continue such an existence indefinitely.
Believe it or not, I finally found Fairbury on the map but no Gilead. But, if they’re only 14 miles apart that wouldn’t be any space on a map. So now you see I know just where you are located.
Even though this is a small town I surely do manage to keep busy. First of all come to my school work and I absolutely despise to correct papers. But, I love to go to basketball games, play bridge, go to shows, see the high school plays, etc. So, I manage to find some amusement. But, I much prefer a large city to a small town. And, I’m looking forward to a trip home next summer. The family still lives in the same place, although you would hardly know the neighborhood. Incidentally, do you ever expect to go west again? Gosh I hope so. When I wrote mother that I heard from you right after new years she replied that she wished you could be out in California again!
If all my ranting hasn’t bored you to tears, drop me a line once in awhile. Good luck!
How about that, huh? We all decided that Miss Mary Catherine Grimsley was rather in love with Paul and then they all started to seem cheeky and just the slightest bit coquettish to me. I love her spirit and her vivacity.
Let me know what you make of it in the comments, and maybe you’ll feel inspired to start writing a few extraordinarily ordinary letters of your own.