How different our times are from those of the prior century, when letter writing was the main form of long distance communication. I have to get my head around this fact time and time again, as I peruse the letters saved and passed along to us by my husband’s grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens. This was the main way of connecting with those not seen on a daily basis—as I tell myself again and again—and it may very well also be the main way each person remembered those who did “reach out and touch” friends and family through their letters. It certainly has been the means by which snippets of each subject’s personality have been preserved for me, observing it all from my century-removed perch.
Agnes seems to have followed a pattern exhibited by her own mother, as demonstrated by the letters saved in that previous generation. Catherine Malloy Tully connected with acquaintances from a number of different cities, and kept up an ongoing correspondence. Signs of sharing everyday matters and family news are evident in comments in those letters which made the cut and were deemed worthy of saving.
In this letter from New York City, below, I cannot even determine the surname owing to the angular handwriting. I presume it is Timen, but it could be Timew, or Timeu. Then again, I could be totally off. Whoever it was, the man himself was a self-proclaimed reluctant letter writer.
The letter is responding to some news—possibly sent by Catherine herself, possibly even received with a Christmas greeting card—about the Tully girls. At least, I’m presuming that “one of the girls” refers to one of Catherine’s daughters, and not to a circle of friends.
The letter indicates that “one of the girls” had undergone an operation for appendicitis. Judging from the date given as 1902, I wonder how such a patient might have fared in recuperation, considering this procedure pre-dated the advent of antibiotics and other protections from post-surgical infection.
I knew that Catherine and John Tully had lost a couple of their daughters, so I took a look at my database, wondering if either of those two might have been the unfortunate victim of a surgery-gone-awry.
The oldest Tully child, Margaret Anna, was born in 1871 and died in 1877, so that rules out the possibility that she was the victim of such a surgery in 1902. I’ve seen her headstone—marked simply with her nickname, Daisy, and showing signs of years of wear out in the elements—in the family plot at Calvary Catholic Cemetery north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois.
John and Catherine Tully’s second-born was their only son, William—obviously not the one referred to in the letter.
The third Tully child was Mary Monica, whom the family called May, who by the date of this letter would have been twenty three years of age—and less than six months away from her wedding day. While she could possibly have been the one referred to in this letter, I think I would have heard something about it in the midst of all the pre-wedding stories if she were the one so burdened. Considering that the Tully family doctor was the brother of her future husband, Austin McGonagle, surely that would also be a prompt for family storytellers to include such a scenario in the tales passed down through the generations. Silence in this area leads me to conclude that May was not the mystery patient.
Lily Angela, the next Tully child, had by 1900 graduated from high school. Lily never married and, from what I can tell from her nephew’s war-time letters home, remained in the family household until her passing in 1949. Perhaps an event in young adulthood such as this 1902 surgery might have stood in the way of a social life that would have led in a different direction. Perhaps it was Lily who was that “one of the girls” in the letter.
The next youngest daughter, Anna, was another of the Tully children who died at a young age. Her short life ended in 1889, precluding her inclusion in this letter as “one of the girls.”
Agnes, the baby of the Tully family, would have been thirteen years of age by the time of this letter. While I have never heard any mention of such a trauma occurring to her, it would have been within the realm of possibility.
Regardless of which daughter such misfortune had struck, you can be sure that Catherine would indeed have played the role of “anxious mother.”
219 East – 17th. St.
New. York. Jan 7th. – 1902
Dear Mrs. Tully.
A letter from Chicago conveys to me the unwelcome news that “one of the girls” has been operated on for appendicitis. While, at all times I have a great aversion to writing letters, still on hearing this I could not resist the inclination to “write you a line,” not only to enquire as to the progress of the patient but also to express to you and to her, my deep interest in all that concerns the welfare of your family.
My memory is still keen on the trails a patient must undergo and I can therefore offer my sympathy to the patient in a spirit of sincerity, which she alone can understand.
For you, the “anxious Mother”—having observed your fortitude “under fire” on several occasions,—I need only say I have every confidence in your ability to bravely meet this trying visitation. Kindly remember me to the sufferer and tell her for me to be patient and cheerful—and she will soon be well again. I hope to hear good news of her—and wishing you all the blessings of a Happy, Prosperous New Year.
Very truly Yours.
Richard J. Timen