Monday, October 26, 2009

The Players

My great-grandmother is on the right. I'm not sure who is on the left. Her sister perhaps?

The letters you are about to read mostly were written from 1918 to 1920. My great-grandmother Mamie had two twitterpated suitors at the time. One was Ernest, who wrote to her incessantly, professing his love and giving her day-to-day updates from March Field in Riverside, CA.

The other one was her fiance Clarence, who is merely discussed, as we never actually hear from him directly. One of these men is my great-grandfather; the other one had to settle for family picnics. (My grandma said the jilted and his future wife were around when she was a child and thereafter, which makes her wonder.)

I won't tell you which man ultimately wins her hand in marriage. That would ruin the surprise, since both seem to have a hold on her heart. She is, after all, a Gemini, just like me.

Mamie was born May 30, 1899 in Valton, Wisconsin. She grew up in Ontario, California, where these letters were written. She is 19 when they begin, while the hopelessly-in-love Ernest is ten years her senior, but who can tell by the way he talks?

After reading the letters in their entirety, I realize how much language and "social networking" has changed in such a short period of time. I am both thankful I live in a more modern era, and jealous of a simpler, more formal time. What I find interesting is that the people involved lived in California, where I live, not in some distant, foreign land. What I also find interesting is that the street addresses on the envelopes often didn't include numbers; that's how few people were in Southern California at the time.

Of course, it's important to note this love story takes place in front of the backdrop that is the end of World War I, which is mentioned throughout the correspondence.

Also, be warned: The letters drip with sap more than the trees outside my house. They are both sweet and ridiculous. Times really have changed. Once again, you'll see.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Letter number one is from a woman named Grace. I read most of the Ernest/Mamie letters before I got to Grace, and I was floored another woman was in the mix. My grandma nonchalantly said, "Oh, I think that was his girlfriend at the time."


So, here goes (Being the Grammar Nazi I am, I cleaned up many of the errors, but left some in for effect.):

Los Angeles, Cal.
April 9, 1918

Dear Ernest:

I am very sorry to have made you unhappy when you were up.

I have finished your sweater at last and am sending it to you. I hope you enjoy wearing it as much as I have enjoyed making it.

Each stitch is a wish for your happiness and success.

I received your cute little note after you were here.

Brad and Irvie are up in Oakland just now. You can imagine how we miss Brother.

Let us hear from you, Ernest, and whenever you are in Los Angeles, come and see us. Kindest regards from all.

With love,

Ontario, Calif.
July 17, 1918

My dear Soldier Boy:

Please don’t think I am rushing things. I mean our friendship, by writing so quickly, but I want to thank you so much for the nice box of candy and the lovely letter. I received the candy yesterday and I sure was tickled over it because it showed that you cared a little bit at least and I appreciate that oh! so much. And I love this little picture of yourself that you enclosed in the letter. I’m so glad you are smiling. It always makes me feel good when I see a soldier smile. Now, just laugh at me. Who can write any better letter than yourself? I sure enjoyed it. It sounded just exactly like the way you talk and that’s the way I like for a letter to be. It was short but sweet, just like our first day together.

But we are only about 25 miles apart and are liable to spend another day together sometime, let’s hope soon! I ask you now to please come over sometime. You don’t necessarily have to come with Jim Mac, do you? Just come some Sunday morning and call or telephone 14470 and ask for me and I’ll drive up to get you, etc. I’d love to have you come.

I am going to San Diego Friday morning on the 6:30 bus and staying until Monday, so you hadn’t better come this week you see.

I won’t say what I am going for because it wouldn’t interest you (ha!ha!) but I’ll say this much. I’m not going to get married. Oh! gee!

Your letter makes me laugh. It is so full of expression and it seems as though I were really conversing with you! I’d like to know you better, boy dear, because I like you much, only don’t call me dear sweet little girlie. It isn’t like you to say it. I like it but – don’t dear friend. You said you were rather upset yourself. What about? Don’t get upset about me. I’m not big enough to upset you. I shan’t forget the goodbye between you and I, dear “E.D.” (I don’t like to say Ernest either.) Let me call you Edie (E.D.) just between you and I. Please?


Comments to come,

The Grammar Nazi


  1. My family (MORTIMER)is from Valton, and I am a genealogist. Just wondering if you would share her name with me. We may be related.
    Jeanne Wallendal Jessie

  2. That's fascinating, Jeanne. I will send you an email.