Consanguinity: (kŏn'săng-gwĭn'ĭtē) , relationship by blood, whether linear or collateral.

Primarily concentrating on my Browning family from Harrison County, Ohio (and their subsequent move to Crawford County, Illinois) but I've got Plymell, Crago, Eagleton, Garrard, McConnell, Nichols, Swan, Nevitt, Huls, Markee, Depperman, Papstein/Popstein and Hamilton in there too. And that's just the beginning......

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt. 3 -- In Letters

My grandmother and grandfather met in 1927. I've spoken in earlier blog posts about their courtship and I repeat the significant paragraph of that here for the sake of continuity:

"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 in 1929 and my grandfather was the sole means of support for his grandma (Eliza Ursula (Nichols) Swan) and great auntie (Ursula's sister, Missouri Ann Nichols, who never married.) Times were tough all over. Grandma and grandpa 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!"

The details of their courtship are largely gone with grandma now. I asked her a couple of things about her and grandpa but the one thing I never did ask was precisely how they met. I wish I had. Maybe they didn't 'meet' so much as just knew each other since both were from the same small rural community. I guess I'll never know now, unless my father does. What I can put together, though, is a snippet of the timeline for the progression of their courtship. I have a set of letters that grandma saved, letters that grandpa wrote to her during the years before they finally married in January of 1934. These letters definitely show how their relationship progressed.

The first letter was written by my grandfather Virgil Joseph Browning in July of 1928. Grandpa wrote it to grandma because she and her friends Hope and Elmer Rich had decided to go 'south.' Grandma told me of this trip a few times over the course of her talks with me and luckily during my recent searches I found a four-page 'trip diary' that she'd written during the trip on notebook paper. She and her friends traveled to Asher, Oklahoma from Robinson, IL -- a trip of about 700 miles. They left on 28 Jun 1928 and returned on 14 July 1928 and each leg of the trip took them almost three days by car each way. The car? - a 1926 Model T Tudor!

Grandpa wrote grandma the following letter:

Robinson, Ill 7/28 My Dear Beulah, I recieved your letter Thursday eve. Say Miss you are having a fine time I bet. Oh it is hot here to day too hot to go in the sun very near. I went to a party last night at Russelville had a pretty good time to Lots of girls ha ha Well how are you kid don't let the Indians get you, no danger what? I went to Gordon last Sund. night in stead of to your church. Frank told me you people had gone south Sat. night. I hope this letter gets ther before you leave Asher I think it will. We had some Ice cream yesterday here at home it sure was good cant you taste it, Banana flaver too. Well I hope you have a good time while there and good luck on the road back. I must close and go to work so I can go to town to night. Hoping to see you soon, write if you can. Your Friend Virgil

I find this first letter interesting. Grandpa meant enough to her at the time for her to save the letter but there isn't much in its tone to suggest how far their relationship had progressed from simply liking each other to going steady. I don't know how long they'd been seeing each other at this time....6 months? 8 months? But it was long enough for him to write her a letter and send it all the way to Oklahoma!

The second set of letters I have was written on the 27th and the 29th of September 1929. Grandpa was taking a trip down to Tulsa. He wrote from Joplin MO on the 27th and from Shawnee OK on the 29th. Grandpa mentions his uncle in the letter of the 29th and he is referring to Finley Duncan, who was married to Ida May Browning. Ida was my great-grandfather Frederick Leone Browning's sister. The Duncans lived in Tulsa from 1920-1930, at least.

Joplin Mo Friday 27 Dearest Beulah I will write you a few lines and tell you the trip I just got through fixing a tire had a tack in it fixed one yesterd cut on glass say there is some hills in around Rolla kid I wish you had been along I am writing from a camp haven't started yet on my way bout 150 miles to go yet There sure is some real places to hunt and fish down here I saw 3 squirrel just about 5 minutes ago I hope I don't have any more trouble. dear dont get sick or hurt and dont cry much for me, ha ha. I know you won't though well sweet heart I spec I better close and go on well be yourself and keep sweet for I love you. Virgil I will write you from Tulsa or where ever I am at.

---

Sept 29, 1929 Dearst Beulah Well dear girl I will write you a little letter. I am at Shawnee, Okla now it is time to go to bed but I am a night hawk you know Well I never had any more trouble but the two flat tires. I got in the city of Tulsa the night after I wrote you and to Roy Sat evening. did you thing I had forgot to write. Well how are you all by now I am kind of lonesome tonight for you dear but you are 700 miles away. We will start home this week some time it may be Sunday night or later or before I get home. I went to the show with my uncle in Tulsa a good show It was good. The folks are kiding me about my red head girl ha ha. Well red head you are my girl let them kid me I don't care sweetheart do you Well kid don't get lonesome. I don't like this red dirt ore this country very well part of it is prect good the rest is worse. Well sweet girl I must close I ges and go to bed I am sort of tired out. Look for me when you see me girl of mine I am lonsome for you. XXoo XXoo Virgil I may drop you a card on the way

It had now been about a year and a half since the two of them had begun dating. It was likely quite serious by this time and you can definitely tell this by the tone in grandpa's letters. He tells her in the first one that he loves her -- the first time he's said that in any of the letters so far.

I also love how he mentions that my grandmother was a redhead! I know that her uncle Finn Eagleton was a redhead, and my dad was, and my brother and I am, and now my own daughter. I never saw my grandmother with red hair because there aren't any existing color photos of her with it (though the one taken in 1927 at the top of this post is the closest I've seen, I can imagine a burnished copper or auburn!) and she was in her 70s before I can even remember her. By that time her hair was the most gorgeous fine-spun silver. I can only hope my hair goes the same way!

A month before the writing of this next letter, in May of 1930, my grandparents posed for a picture on the steps of a local house. You can see it to the left.

June of 1930 is the next letter that I have. Grandpa had been carted away by a few friends of his to Russellville to shuck corn and apparently hadn't had time to let grandma know. He made sure to send her a letter! The tone of this one is warm and loving and his pet names and loving thoughts for her are clear.

Vincennes or Russelville. June 23/30 Dear Sweetheart. Well are you peived at me for coming away so long or not I left on short notice {Paul?}and Roy Cohourn the man I have been shooking wheat for came after me. I told the folks to let you know did they I am going to stay till sat I ges Roy's brother wants me to shok for him to when I get through here I'll get throu tomorrow I ges. say it has been lonesome here for me I wanted to come home sat night but could not did not have any way I wanted to see you little woman the worst kind. was you lone some for me I bet you was. well if you see any of my people tell them when I think I will be there. It has been awful hot the last todays has it not. say dearest girl have you had your wenine [weinie] roast yet. I bet I will lose out on it say it is warm enough to get that new bathing suit wet isn't it the water is fine for it tried it the other day did not get any bathing suit wet either. ha ha. I went to Vincennes sat night with the folks here sure a big crows there. well do not cry or fret or sigh for you know I will be home some of these days to see you and hold your dear sweet self in my arms dear girl I love you. by Virgil

We are now smack dab in Depression times. I asked grandma many times about this era of her life and she would always tell me a story or two about it. I don't remember all of them -- to my deep chagrin -- but I do remember that grandma told me once that she remembered a fellow coming up her parent's driveway one evening around 1930 begging for the opportunity to do any labor there was to do for nothing more than a good meal. She said she went inside and fixed the man a supper of fried potatoes and eggs (the only thing she really had readily available) and that he did some work around the farm in return.

Grandma often said that although times were hard for she and her family she also felt lucky that in her rural farming community it didn't make as much of an impact upon her as it did in more urban areas. She still raised crops and canned and pickled and fed herself. It was harder to make money and to buy commodities. She made do and stretched foodstuffs, clothing and household products as far as she could. This sort of stretching made an impact on her for her entire life, though I don't think it was just a result of the Great Depression and more because she had been taught thrift since she was old enough to walk. I would smile to myself in my 20s when I saw her carefully wash and wipe aluminum foil clean and fold it up and tuck it into a paper bag reserved for the purpose. She'd do the same to plastic bags. Nothing was disposable to her the first time around. I smile thinking about that now but for a different reason than I did back then. Then it was because I marveled at what I thought was a time waster -- why do that when you could just throw them away and buy more, it's what they were made for! Now I smile because it reminds me of my own naivety and because I reflect on how wasteful I am myself.

At the time of the letters so far (1927-1930) my grandfather and his younger brother Emerson were living with and taking care of their grandmother Ursula and their Auntie Zura (Missouri.) Emerson was a carpenter and fixed things around town and grandpa worked hard to provide for them. He went wherever he could find work, which sometimes meant he'd hitch a ride with some friends and go shuck corn or bring in other crops as needed. He was a mechanic and a farmer his whole life. In 1930 he was 28 years old.

In February 1931 his grandmother Ursula died and that left him responsible for only his aunt Missouri. Now at some point between June of 1930 and the date of the next letter in December of 1932 my grandfather had finally proposed to my grandmother:

Brocton Ill Dec 7/32 Dearest Wife to be. I will drop you a few lines to let you know how I am I am all ok it Rained a big rain last night thunder and lightning a regular summer storm. we did not work yesterday or to day. We will in the morning. will be home sat night Frank said he thought so. We won't get done by then though well sweet I will see you then and get to take my sweet girl in my arms and look deep in your sweet eyes for you know that is the most wonderful thing, to know you are my one and only I love you kid and am proud of you. Well Frank is going to town so I will go and mail this By By dear Pal I'll see you. Virgil

This letter is postmarked Brocton, which is a small town in Edgar County, IL. It looks like grandpa was there doing some work with a man named Frank. I don't know who this man is. He might be a relative but if so I haven't narrowed it down yet.

Anyway, grandma told me that she was frustrated at grandpa for not marrying her sooner and said that he told her that he didn't want to marry her yet because it was too difficult for him to try to support her as well as his aged grandmother and auntie. By 1932, though, his grandmother had passed away and half of his excuse for not marrying had been laid aside. Grandma said she didn't really see the difficulty in having her around the house and said she would have been happy to help him provide and care for his aunt but that's not how things seemed to be working out. Grandpa, she said, was the sort of man to put things off as long as he could and that she would have to prod him at certain points during their many years together. I don't have any doubts about the truth of this statement! My grandpa was a man slow to do much anything and just went about life at his own pace for sure.

The last letter I have in my collection is dated June 1933 and addressed to her on S. Irving St., Chicago, IL. I did a doubletake at that for a while, trying to figure out why grandma would have been in Chicago (was she living there?) and then finally remembered! Grandma had mentioned a few times that she'd travelled to Chicago to visit the World's Fair and when I started doing some research I realized she'd attended the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, the one they called A Century of Progress International Exposition. I guess this letter was one grandpa sent her in reply to a letter she'd sent him upon her arrival in the Windy City. The World's Fair was an incredible thing for its time and I bet my grandma saw many wondrous things.

June/8/33 Robinson Ill. Dear Beulah. I received your letter and was surprised some. I'll say, I tould you I might not come wed nite soo I didn't and was going Thru. but the letter beat me to it. Well I hope you have a good time and see lots of sites while you are there. I have been plowing and planting corn when I could it is been so hot you could not hardly keep the horses going. Mr. Collins [william Collins, next door neighbor] killed one of his horses today some body said, got it to hot. Well I am tired to night honey so I ges I will close this scribble. Well have a good time and don't get hurt or run over cause you know I want to see you again. I would have liked to went along but I was broke. well by by I will see you Wed night maby. as ever yours lots of love and kisses xoox Virgil P.S. I love you

Three months later in September of 1933 grandpa would lose his Auntie Missouri. I suspect that it was about this time that grandma finally let grandpa know that she wasn't going to wait about much longer since she was almost 33 and had been his fiancee for about a year by this point. I know that she was serious -- she told me many times she made it clear she was -- and within a few months grandpa had taken her across the Indiana border to Vincennes on a cold 3rd of January 1934 and made her his bride.

Next time....their married lives and their family.

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