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Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Bag of Letters Tells A Personal Story

I recently found myself thinking back to this bag of letters I found awhile back, and since It's Throwback Thursday I thought it deserved a re-post. Grab a Kleenex.
While rummaging through items at a recent estate sale, looking for treasures, I ran across a zipped plastic bag full of old letters. A quick look revealed dates from 1917-20, and some beautiful handwriting, so I decided to purchase them in hopes that an ephemera collector might want them.
When I got home, I began to look through the letters. Many were simply correspondence with tidbits of information about someone's chicken and how many eggs they got. Or who was getting married, who was sick (lots of people were sick). Then I began to see that many were sympathy notes.
I began to read through them and found myself piecing together the details of a family's life and loss in 1920.
Many began with "The news of Luther's untimely death came as a great shock to us." "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of the loss of a son."
Some would go on to recount events they had shared with Luther, even stories of war battles and triumphs. "I have known him to shoulder a rifle and stand guard for some poor fellow who was tired or sick when he was off duty."

Through reading the letters I learned that Luther had sisters, that he was a soldier, a lineman, and that he died in an accident. Although there were no details of the accident, I gathered it was related to his work. Luther was engaged to be married. I found a photo among the letters of his headstone that indicated he was 26 years old. I found some photos that might be of him. I read on and on... words of encouragement and condolence that touched my heart. Of a death almost 100 years ago.

But it was this letter in particular that brought tears to my eyes:

"From my own experience I know every letter no matter how kind and sympathetic just opens up the wounds afresh. I know how you feel even as I write this my eyes are full of tears as you read this I know yours will fill with tears. Our thoughts will mingle together.
" Little did you and I think when we lived side by side we would both be called to give up our only boy after we had raised them to manhood, our little buds, just offered to full bloom of youth and so fitted for a beautiful life."

The letter goes on to spell out the grief of a mother so complete and sorrowful, so soul- wrenching that it is difficult to read. "Of course I know how you feel, if we were together I know just what (unreadable) first we would each want to talk and sympathize with each other and mingle our tears together."
It continues, "This to you is not a cheerful letter. I am writing you as I feel and the tears are filling my eyes and dropping all the while I write for a heart broken mother is writing to a heart broken mother."
I began to know of a man and a family that lived almost a hundred years ago, in a small town in Oklahoma and I felt just a hint of the grief and the sorrow they felt.

I'm glad I read through so many of the letters before offering them up for sale. As of now, my genealogist husband is contacting the family researcher for this particular family (found on ancestry.com) to hand these letters over to someone who cold benefit from the information therein. (update, no family members found)

I wonder how a family could simply offer something like this up at an estate sale in a plastic bag?
It was probably in the possession of the child of the child of the child of the mother who was grieving. They probably had no idea the content of the letters was so personal, and so full of family historical information. Or maybe they just did not care. Whatever the reason, I'm glad the letters landed in my hands, and that I bothered to read them. They touched me in a way I will never forget. And I'm glad I am able to share that with you.

Margo

Reprinted from Flea Market Style Blog June 2012

3 comments:

vintage girl at heart said...

I now live in Oklahoma. Would you mind sharing what town they are from? I hope you get them back to the family but just knowing that you appreciate them and the history is a good thing.

d smith kaich jones said...

a friend once found an old, old, old family bible for sale in a yard sale. a big one, with recordings of births and deaths going way back. of course, he bought it. but we could never understand how someone could let that go.

and when i buy postcards at flea markets, i always buy them for the message on the back. always. it's the best.

Cynthia of Cynful Creations said...

Although it's sad to think these items have been passed on because no one wants them, I like to think that they will find a new life with those of us who will read and appreciate them and/or perhaps repurpose them in an art piece. I recently reunited a vintage photo album with the family's descendants after picking it up at an antique sale and posting about it on my blog. I was very glad to have it go back to where it belonged, to someone who would cherish having that piece of their family's history.

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