I’ve got a book in the works which family members speak to each other 150 or even 175 years ago. Yes, their voices are heard. No, I’m not talking about the Ouija board conversations or time travel. I’m talking about letters which place, personality,, the times, joys and sorrows are transmitted through pen and paper and carefully preserved by a mother and daughter, my great grandmother and grandmother. The first voices letters from a loving parent in the 1850s.
We can follow that child as she grows up, is wound married, has that daughter, travels with her husband’s by train and steamship and speaks to us about what she and her husband are doing seeing as of her love for her daughter and grandchildren from the last third of the 19th century to the first third of the 20th.
Back to when I was a child in the 1930s and 1940s – yes, that ages me. It’s our house a quick run along a driveway to grandmother’s. Of course when I was that young I took it as a matter of course that she lived in a big house and later it’s learned that it had been built in a time of great prosperity in the factory town, and perched along with other fantastic-seeming houses on the hill overlooking the center of the town.
On the Saturday morning without school had run down, go through the kitchen, say hello to Sarah would be snapping beans or stirring the soup. I’d go up the long flight of stairs to a landing and call out if grandmother was up and about she always was. I find her coming her hair, perhaps, on the dressing table she faced were framed photographs. Who is the kindly looking lady sitting on the bench with a collie dog by her side and what looked like a park?
That was your grandmother who died just three years before you were born. Who is the handsome man with a silvery hair? Was your grandfather; he too is gone before you were born. And then on a chest of drawers for two of my favorite photographs. One showed a man with a mustache and an old-fashioned look seated with two identical men.
That was my father, your great-grandfather, and the photographers studio in Atlantic City with viewers creating the illusion of three instead of one. Since the old-fashioned man mustache was in the next picture appearing out of an opening in a basket supposedly being held in the air by strings from a great blue. He had a hand gesture to an old-fashioned woman in half: great-grandfather and great-grandmother in and Atlantic City studio.
Six that is how I learned to recognize who I later learned were Julia and George and handsome Robert. There was another treasure upstairs beneath a window seat that I had seen and was told not to touch. I like this look out the window see the tops of trees the city in the distance. When once I lifted up the window seat cover I saw boxes holding bundles of old -looking envelopes tied up with Ruben.
But I collected stamps I asked grandmother that I could take them from the envelopes; she allowed me to do some, by town bench, Italian, German English seemingly ancient American penny stamps. Some of the envelopes had illustrations of a hotel, with the name of an ocean liner. These were family letters, grandmother told me, and I was careful to bundle them up again. The first time I opened up some letters was years later when I had a job nearby and once a week visited grandmother after work for a cup of tea.
One day I went up and brought down a bundle of letters and started reading out loud. Sometimes grandmother would know all about who it was, the times she’d be mystified. I had to shout because of her hearing, so after a few times we gave it up, but I was alert what they might contain. When it came time to empty Grandmother’s great house, I was the only one who was interested in the bundles beneath that window seat. I loaded them into my car stored them in a garden house next to my house the woods. I resolved to get to the letters, read them, but more years passed, and I was moving to New York City but I was not of course to leave the bundles behind.
Retirement from daily office work got me going. That and then the new successor to the typewriter with Microsoft Word which allowed to see what you are typing as you went and preserve any number of pages. I recruited a couple of people help because once the project started it had to transcribe every one of the letters in those bundles.
This is where the voices come in: scroll the script running on for page after page becomes great-grandmother Julia; the neat, highly legible script running in even lines across the page was great-grandfather George speaking. The later advising style was their daughter Carrie. And there other voices: great grandmothers and Kate consoling her after the death of her father, then of her mother, a redoubtable voice from a house in Brooklyn Heights. Another bundle affectionate words growing into love and on successful but later he distinguished Dr. in New York City.
There are stories a young woman of orphaned at 17 W. 14th St. in Manhattan, given a grand tour of Europe by her grandfather, escorted by one of his sons. The 16-year-old with a dangerously weak lung from Waterbury Connecticut whose father sent him to Minneapolis ports clear air and business opportunities. There are places: the prosperous factory town of Waterbury, regular visits to New York City, wintertime stays at resorts in Florida, Georgia; Canada and the thousand Islands the summer, and almost yearly ocean liners across the Atlantic and stays in Britain, France, Germany.
There are insights into the times the Gilded Age with its luxurious steamers and hotels, the last years of the great European peace is to end in 1914. There are “cures,” taking the waters in southern US resorts and in Carlsbad in Austro-hungry. Personal relations there are reports of “nerves,” it’s and restlessness. Home what is going on with children and grandchildren is always a preoccupation of the travelers. We learn a bit about luxurious ocean travel, and some friendships made the course of troubles. It’s technology changes, the house that great-grandfather built in the 1890s is noted because there is electricity throughout; resists giving up his horses, but by 1909 the car in the garage – pioneering 1906 Great Grandparents Dr. in the car shipped from the US to friends Belgium and Germany from Munich and Bayreuth Berlin. In that same year there’s the first long distance phone call from New York to Waterbury.
Preserved this treasure trove of letters? It certainly began with great-grandmother Julia who saved the letters from her parents her aunt, and admirers and then from her daughter, Carrie at her coming-of-age. It’s it was Carrie who took them over and placed her mother had saved window seat and kept adding.
Affection – named for the love between mother and daughter – is a book of these letters. Once transcribed I decided to put them all together, provide notes give context, often using that occur and other travel guides, and identifying references.
It’s at the time I was working on the letters, I was also researching further back which resulted in two prize-winning books based on genealogical and historical research I welcome the change of pace with the extensive voices in the letters. Any reader will find much and situation and places readily emerge. But there also the accidental discoveries from letters dashed off before a meal before departure. It wouldn’t be many years before telephone calls would replace this, and of course now their emails and Instagram’s which take place and videos. The result is a family novel covering three generations with real life dialogue..