Sunday, March 25, 2012

Choosing From Many Letters

A storyteller always has the advantage over his audience in that he knows how things are going to end up and where the story is going.

Unlike the proverbial storyteller, in this series of letters I am about to share with you, I do not know where this story is going. I struggled with waiting to share until I knew what the direction would be and in which order to take it. Hopefully, you’ll be glad to know I’ve decided to throw such caution to the March wind instead of waiting for April showers to make way for those May flowers I won’t be planting if I keep sitting here, mulling over which order to use in presenting some hundred-year-old letters. I’ll be adventurous and let the story unfold for me as well as for you.

With that decision behind me, I’m reaching my hand into the pile of letters from the personal papers of my husband’s paternal grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens, and pulling out what I hope will be a “plum.” Although I can see the name of the letter’s writer, I have no idea who this person is, or what significance he holds. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll stumble upon that information while I’m going through the process of posting these transcriptions.

Today, I’m starting with a letter from a gentleman who signed his name as “Dan E. Reilly.” He was writing Agnes Tully (at the time, she was not yet married) from his location in Tucson, Arizona, although I get the feeling that he either had previously lived in her home town of Chicago (most likely also attending the same church as she did), or that of her older sister’s family in Ohio.

Whether it is the jovial nature of the letter writer, himself, or the manner of written communication at the time, I am not sure, but Mr. Reilly certainly sounds quite friendly and familiar with Agnes, personally. The opening paragraphs of this letter make me want to know much more of the details of young Agnes’ life and that of her correspondent.

                                                          Tucson Ariz May 19 ’09
My Dear Agnes
            Well you old bummer you took a sneak [?] away from St. Anne’s down to beautiful hilly, inviting, home-like New Lexington where you will I hope spend your time in building up and getting strong and above all in forgetting – forgetting one that is not worthy of a pleasant look from my little Agnes.
            Remember honey that many a young woman who allowed herself to run down was beyond the life line before she knew it. So cast care and worry and seriousness to the winds and in the loveliness of your young and bright womanhood be cheerful and happy both for yourself and for those around you.
            Stay there just as long as you like and if any one complains just tell them that you’ll report them to me.


  1. I love old letters. Unfortunately, none were passed down from my grandparents or their parents -- whatever they might have saved was tossed away by my aunts and uncles.

    Isn't it odd to think that our own descendants won't have nearly the same opportunity to stumble upon our old correspondences, since so much of contemporary communication happens electronically now?

    -- Colleen @ Colleen & Jeff's Roots

    1. Colleen, I didn't have much passed down from my own family, either, and was quite jealous of those who had such a stash. As I've learned from my husband's grandmother, it takes a special person to resolve to hold on to things. Maybe those are the ones with the foresight...

      You have a good point about contemporary communication. Sometimes I try to print out significant e-mail messages because of that transient nature of electronic material. Every time I think of those fleeting emails, I remember the genealogy books I've read, filled with long quotes from long-ago letters...and sigh.

  2. Oh my, such a "saucy" letter!! The Irish are so glib and such smooth talkers!

  3. Charming. Clearly they knew one another well. I'm curious if he was her age, or (my guess) older and filling an avuncular role.

  4. Interesting:) I think you are correct in just letting it all play out by itself. See where it leads:)

  5. My mom's sister married a WWII solider and I loved hearing their love story from point of view. She was a teacher so you can only imagine how she told the story in detail. One Thanksgiving she kept us all in total silence as she related their courtship and marriage. He was wounded and sent to a Army hospital in West Virginia to recover. She was a Texas gal and living at home still. When he proposed she rushed to his bedside and they were married at the Army hospital. She told me how they wrote each other, she especially every day. My mom confirmed her older sister would write to her love every day. Sadly her letters to him were lost when his foot locker was lost after he was wounded. But, she saved his letters to her. I told her I wanted the letters some day. She would giggle and often said "I don't know if I want anyone to read them." When she passed I took passion of the letters, but had this nagging reminder of what she had said, "I don't know if I want anyone to read them." So, I put them away and haven't opened them as yet. Before my mom passed she encouraged me to read them, being very logical saying, "I'm sure there is not anything in them that would be, (in my mom's words) that juicy"......I laugh at how modern my mom could be at times, and how she changed with the times. But, I still don't know if I want to read them and intrude into their private lives. She saved them yes, and I know for a fact if I had not said she wanted me to have them another member of our family who is into genealogy and was there to get every other piece of genealogical data would have gotten them. In fact she had them until I told her that our aunt had promised them to me. So, I will continue to leave them unopened in the box my aunt stored them in, safely stored away in my closet. I think of them sometimes but resist the temptation to read them.


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