Thursday, June 18, 2009
'Grams of Love
Oftentimes we learn more about our parents when it is too late to ask questions. I recall when my mother was alive I quizzed her about her courtship with Daddy: How long did you and Daddy date? Why did you pick out each other? Did you meet his family, vice-versa? And in her 85 years of memory she gave me the answers. However, never understanding why she had such a short courtship I found the answer in a packet of telegrams sent to my mother by an ambitious, overeager, testosterone-driven, and most of all, poetic father.
In 1931 telephones were few, telegrams were many.Daddy was a telegrapher with the Postal Telegraph(later, Western Union) and sent his new girlfriend a telegram, many with the words that came out of a teletype machine on one long strip of paper 3/8” wide. Dad tore off the strips to fit the 8 ½” wide page, wet the pasty side by running the strip across a porcelain roller sitting in water and pressed the strips onto the paper.
At one time Mother worked across the street from Daddy’s office in a discount store. Deliveries of telegrams arrived frequently, and her boss was well-aware of a budding romance. Dad’s very first telegram, which Mother wrote in pencil at the bottom “the first wire I ever got from H. E.” began this courtship. If you notice the date, it is 1931 June 22. On July 12 they were married in the home of a Presbyterian minister. Dad worked fast and furious, didn't he? Mother was 18 years old; Dad 22. But for my dad, winning this pretty young lady was very important.
The first telegram, delivered by a messenger on a bike, reads, “This seems the only available means of communicating with you. Called you but you “were out”(as usual). Will call you tomorrow at seven bells sharp. Be there or there might be another shootin’ in town.” Fresh out of business school Mother had found a room at the local YWCA which housed young women on a month-to-month rental. The Y was located at one end of the main downtown street and Daddy’s office was at the other end. No other young woman ever received a telegram, making Mother a popular topic of conversation when one arrived.
Succeeding posts increased Daddy’s poetic side. Just before their planned wedding he wrote on July 3, 1931, “Your li’l voice sure sounded sweet over the phone this a.m. I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking of you. But I don’t regret the sleep as long as my thoughts are of the sweetest girl in all the world--you. All my love and here’s looking forward to the time when you will be all mine.”
Dad couldn’t voice his words as well as he wrote them, so he sent another telegram-- the words typed directly onto the paper--a special three-page love letter asking Mother to marry him. How could she have refused this love-sick young man?
Daddy's enjoyment for writing telegrams didn't cease when computers and fax machines replaced the old-fashioned teletype machines that spit out the ribbons of type. He switched to handwritten notes that were pinned on her pillow or on the fridge, and even on the living room floor so she'd see them when she arrived home from work. Notes when he didn't buy a gift; notes to remind her of his love; notes to wish her a happy trip or a welcome-home note. Many are lost, some were saved.
But nothing can compare with the telegrams. After her death I found a small number of them in her cedar chest. Glued together from moisture and heat, the messages remind my sister and me of the way our dad showed his creativity and love for his "sweet girl".
Happy Father's Day, Dad.