A few weeks ago I sent a letter containing three letters written in World War I to the son of the man who wrote them. These letters were stashed away in my grandma Beulah's (whose picture, taken around 1921, is to the right) cedar chest for years and from the first time I read them about ten years ago, I was curious about the letter writer. I'd wondered to myself if I'd ever be able to find any of his descendants.
I have to admit I also wondered about the reasons my grandma kept them. When I began looking at all the letters I noticed that other than the ones written by direct family members and dear girlfriends, the others appeared to be from boys she was sweet on! She had a number of letters from the early 20's from her first love and beau, Cecil Buchanan, and many, many letters written from my grandfather, Virgil Browning.
She had cause to have many of their letters. My grandparents weren't common for the times. Instead of marrying early as so many others did, they were an 'older' couple; they didn't begin dating until 1927 (when Grandma was 26) and didn't marry until 1934. The Depression began and my grandfather was the sole means of support for his grandma and great auntie. Times were tough all over. They decided to "wait it out." Wait it out they did, though by 1933 Grandpa's idea of waiting was apparently much different than Grandma's! Grandma told me she said to Grandpa one evening, "Virgil, I reckon if I let you, you'll wait forever, and I don't aim to wait much longer. I'm not a young woman and if we don't get on and get married, I'll have to be moving along."
They got married a few months later!
That sort of scene was typical of my grandparent's relationship and typical of grandma all the way around. She didn't really enter into my permanent memory until she was already well into her 70's. She was a soft-spoken lady who didn't even stand 5 feet tall. Her patience was long and her disposition was welcoming and loving. She never raised her voice and she pretty much let my grandpa run the day to day doings of their lives. She believed in the biblical idea that the man was the head of the family. I know that Grandpa appreciated this about her and valued her wisdom, though, because on the rare occasions that she would put her foot down -- like the way she said he needed to marry her, or the time they moved to Texas in their 80s and five years later Grandpa wanted to go back home to IL and Grandma said he could feel free to do so but she wouldn't be coming along! -- well, Grandpa always let her have her way. He knew when she meant it.
We all say our grandma is the best cook in the world but I know that mine really was! I'd pester her for her Lemon Cake Pie recipe and she'd write it down for me -- I'd try it and it wouldn't come out right. She'd chuckle and say, "Oh well, that's because you left out the zest!" or "Oops, there is some salt in there, too," when nothing of the sort was written on the card she'd given me! She and I bantered back and forth about her pie. Sly devil. I suspect she enjoyed watching me squirm and I know I enjoyed trying to squeeze her secrets out of her. When she died I found the real recipe in the cedar chest she left me. I tried it and it's like I remember Grandma made it. Every time I take a bite she's there in the taste of it for me. She taught me the only way to eat oatmeal was to put it in the center like an island and float the milk on top of it, not stir it all together into a gushy lump like these silly Texans do. Grandma could make the best gravy in the world and when Grandpa and I would go fishing for bluegill and bass, we'd come in and give her the fish. She'd always fry up my favorite part -- the fish eggs, dipped in cornmeal batter. Oh, and her fried morel mushrooms picked from the woods next door -- heaven. And her sassafras tea was to die for!
But back to her letters. Cecil was her first love and she kept letters from him. The second set of letters I have, from Sgt. Thomas Malone, seem to have a slight air of flirtiness about them from his side. She kept Grandpa's. And then there were Arthur's. Was she sweet on him, possibly? He was a friend of her older brother Raymond, an older boy. She was only 18. It was war time. She kept them because they meant something to her. It could have been a young girl's unrequited crush.
Whatever it was, I'm fairly certain Arthur didn't reciprocate. I have corresponded briefly with Harold, Arthur's son. Harold told me that Arthur's 'Annie' was Millie Anna Shimer, the daughter of John Shimer and Alice Neal. They married very soon after returning home and I doubt that would have happened had he been interested in my grandmother. Harold also informed me that the man in the picture with my great-uncle Raymond in this post is not his father. Rats! Win some, lose some. But on the bright side, he did fill in some more details about Arthur's life. Arthur's mother, Rilla B., was a Bratton. His father was James Wilson (Wilson J.) Creswell.
I recently found a picture of my grandma at 18 wearing her brother's World War I uniform stashed into a gaggle of other photographs. The picture was taken in 1919. I thought it would be apropos to post it here.
We'll never know whether my grandma was sweet on Arthur. I'm just glad that for whatever reason, she kept his letters and I was able to send them to his descendants. I like to think she was. My grandma was an amazing person and thinking about her life being filled with adventures and loves as well as trials and tribulations gives me great peace.
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