Monday, January 6, 2014

Reading Between the Family Lines

Well, if it isn’t to be a Kodak moment that reveals what my grand-aunt Lummie Davis Moore was like, I can’t very well rely on “the next best thing to being there.” Long distance telephone calls—at least in Lummie’s time—were reserved strictly for important business or family emergencies.

Besides, when it comes to preserving family history, phone calls are almost as ephemeral as emails or texting—the next generation’s challenge in piecing together their family stories.

Back in Lummie’s day, however, something better was there to gift future generations with a way to snoop around and read between the lines of their ancestors’ lives: letters.

In the cache of Davis family stuff I’ve recently inherited from my aunt, I was fortunate to find a couple letters from Lummie. Granted, they date from the far end of her life—long past the adventures of her earlier adult years when, as a teacher, she traveled to Honduras.

One particular letter to my grandfather, Lummie’s baby brother, during his brief attempt at retirement in Roanoke, Virginia, was written during a hospital stay. Filled with the mundane details of surgery and recuperation, the letter still managed to reveal quite a bit about Lummie’s personality, expectations, and manner of life.

And, for one brief but shining sentence, the letter revealed a snippet of clues about Lummie's daughter, Sarah Martha Moore McKinnon, my mother’s mystery cousin whom I’m currently seeking.

Since the letter runs long—people had a lot to say back then, but had to save it for the next installment of a serial correspondence—I’ll break it into daily sections, starting with this brief introduction. Lummie, now widowed for the past decade, was at this point living alone in Phoenix, Arizona. The letter was written sometime in May, 1962, although she simply dates it, “Thursday.”


Dear Jack + Ruth—I am certainly laid low this time—I was at Desert Hills Hotel to a Bridge luncheon + just when I was leaving I slipped on some water left on asphalt floor by swimmers from pool near by—I fractured my right hip and wrenched the joint. The hotel people were wonderful. Called an ambulance. Some of my friends called Dr. McWilliams, my Dr. I was taken to St. Joseph Hospital. Dr. McWilliams was waiting with a bone surgeon, nurses and a whole slew of Drs. My private room reserved. I [was] placed right on operation table…


  1. Water on asphalt is a lawsuit waiting to happen. That had to be one painful accident, operation, and recovery.

    1. Speaking of lawsuit-in-the-making, that seems to be what was brewing. I'm undecided yet as to whether I want to wade through legal files to find out the results. No matter what Lummie's attorney decided to do on her behalf, you are right: it was a long, painful challenge awaiting her.

  2. Ugh, another broken hip... a letter is actually far better than even a photo sometimes.

    1. I've always had a hunch I'd better take note of all these broken bones in my family history...

  3. Replies
    1. It's been a long time since I've had a family letter to work with. This part of the family didn't seem to save many of them. Sometimes, wondering what went into the choice of saving one grabs my attention more than the details the letter itself reveals.


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