Monday, March 12, 2012

What I Left Out of Those Letters…

If you’ve been following this story with me—the story of Frank Stevens of Chicago and his family—you and I have been journeying together along this line for nearly six months. After what I told you about Frank at the end, yesterday when I revealed his weakness, think about this: would you have embarked on this story journey at the first if I told you, up front, that this was going to be a tragedy about an alcoholic? I know I wouldn’t stick with it!

I have never met Frank, myself, but from what I knew of him from the hurts I read in his surviving children’s hearts, I confess I wouldn’t have had much interest in following his life’s story—not even the snippets I have since been able to find through his letters and photos. Setting that aside though, when I did get to read those letters—let Frank tell his life’s experiences from his own point of view—I saw a young person very different from the father I learned of through others’ eyes. And honestly, I found myself falling in love with a very charming, very fun guy—after which it breaks my heart to think that all this befell someone as lovable as that.

When it is all said and done, though, I need to remember some of the sage observations others in the family made about that life once it was no longer being lived—comments in letters from his oldest brother John, and even from his own wife.

Remember the letter I told you about, the one Frank’s brother John wrote home to his mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, who was unable to make the trip from Chicago to Albuquerque to attend her son’s funeral? What I left out of that letter in my previous post was John’s observation about Frank’s condition:

Frank loved Norma + the kids but he was definitely an alcoholic and we must face this fact.
Fr. Baca said he was to be pitied as he couldn’t help it.
Two weeks ago our pastor told us from the altar that while the Church didn’t condone uncontrolled drinking by anyone that alcoholism was a disease not a sin.
Norma was crazy about him but he did give her a lot of grief and almost drove the poor girl insane with worry because she never knew what he would do or what would happen to him when he was drinking. He lost lots of money gambling.

When Norma wrote her letter to her mother-in-law, Agnes, after Frank’s passing, in the midst of the notes I had already shown you, she had also mentioned,

he was a good man, just very ill… I know he’s no longer miserable, but peaceful and happy, it helps me bear the heartache. No matter what I went through I loved him so very much… We try to remember the good times, as much as we can, we had with Steve.

To look back in time and survey that history through the eyes of the cold diagnosis of alcoholism may be realistic, but it also strips the man of the multi-faceted essences of life. Perhaps it was the war that did this to him before any such diagnosis could box him in with that rigid stereotype. Whatever it ended up being that portrayed him in such a tragic cast, I prefer to remember the full picture of who he was before life hemmed him in: that young man, full of life, full of hope, full of good-will and wishes to do good for others—and always ready for an adventure.

In my heart, I believe that there are so many more people who mean to do well than can make it so in the end.

In my heart, I want to remember that big picture.

In my heart, I want to appreciate those good beginnings, and continue to seek whatever slightest thread may weave itself through to the end.


  1. I still would love to have done lunch with him. Having been taught to "judge ye not," not knowing the "sordid" details until later, did make it easier to read about him and share his love for his family - one a horrible illness prevented him from passing along to his own family.

    He was, perhaps, forced to grow up too soon, and perhaps regreted not being able to share the remaining years of his father's life - pulled away by the war ... and his being late getting home for Christmas after the war, all the more woe.

    I'm sure he didn't intend for his own sons to lose their father the same way he did lost his, far too soon - and from his letters, it seems he would have wanted more than anything to have his dad see his kids...

    His story should be told in full - his failings make him fully human...

    Thank you for sharing him with me.

  2. In the end we all write our own stories..some are this one. Alchoholism is a disease..a dreadful one. My Mother's side of the family was riddled with the stories are not tragic like yours..they died early from liver problems..just the same kids and grandkids were left in the wake.
    I think it is great that you did the research and wrote the matter what:)

  3. Dear Jacqi,

    Although it may have been difficult for you to share it, thank you for sharing Frank's story over these last six months. I am glad that in your heart you want to remember the big picture, and recognize all dimensions of his history.

    Cheers to you,


  4. Jacqi,
    I've never read your blog before. I saw it linked to a post from Susan Clark. You are certainly a powerful writer. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Yeaahhh! Too late to be articulate. But thank you - especially for these last few posts.

    In that shadow world where our family histories keep echoing one another's, you've hit a note I have yet to achieve. I cannot see the full person yet. But he is there. I've never been able to write about him but you've shown me it is possible. Bless you for that, Jacqi.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for recognizing why it's important to tell a story - despite privations. Life is emotional & we gravitate to it for more icing on the cake. We want to hear the stories encapsulated in music, poetry, books & movies; which all contain elements of human emotion. We have all had our own share and we're never bored. We continue to enjoy the highs and lows because we hope to learn from someone else, even if it's a fictional character. So, thank you, for sharing the story of a family member that added the dark, murky colors to his family's portrait. Somewhere in their landscape, there will be a bright beam of light to contrast against the dark shadows, much like a beautiful oil painting of a landscape.


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