Monday, September 2, 2013

May 5, 1942 - Feeling the Effects

I've gotten my hands on some new (to me) pictures of my grandparents from around 1942-1945. I will be sprinkling them into new blog updates as I post them!

In this letter, Jim is in full pining mode, since Ruth has just gone home again after visiting Jim.

Gettysburg, So. Dak
Mon. May 5, 1942

Dearest Ruthie,

I’ll bet you are going to be quite supprised, hearing from me so soon, but honey, I’m in a rut already, - you’ve been gone exactly 3 hours and I’m telling you, I’m really feeling the effects.

It seems kinda funny, I used to feel bad when I would leave Faith for a week or so, but you leaving today, is altogether different.

I went into the café after you left, and ordered a big dinner (you know what kind of an appetite I have) but so help me, I had to get up and leave most of it – Have you ever tried to eat, when you have a big lump in your throat? I’ve found out you just can’t do it.

I think your folks are swell Ruthie, and hope, someday to get to know them a lot better, I hope that I have made a favorable impression on them. – When I heard you were in town I didn’t even take time to wash my face or change clothes. Ruthie you surely must know by now that I love you and I love you an awful lot, in fact they haven’t made figures high enough for me to use to tell you.

After leaving the café I went up to the office to post gravel tickets. Art Himrich handed me the note you had written to me, and said “you sure have a nice looking girl Jim – and her folks are surely nice people.” He seemed to enjoy talking to your Dad, - Art is another swell guy Ruthie, I worked with him last summer in Mabridge – He lost the sight, completely in his left eye while testing the rack quantity in the gravel, last fall. He feels pretty bad about it. – wears dark glasses most of the time so no-one will notice it. The State paid him $1500.00 and promised him a job as long as he wants to work for them.

I finished posting about 4 o’clock and came right down to my room, I’ve just been sitting here by the bed, thinking, and honey, I have to be in a pretty serious mood, when I do that. In fact I feel kinda like I did in Faith Easter Monday nite.

I hope this letter isn’t to disgusting, Ruthie, I don’t believe I have ever written like this before, but then I know for sure, I have never felt this way before so that gives me an “out” doesn’t it?

Did you get home O.K? Or did you have to fix any flat tires? How is your mother’s throat? O.K. I hope – Oh yes, and “How’s your ankle, Ruthie?” Remember your little brother asking you that?

The girl at the restaurant, saw Maynard with his wife & little boy. I guess she thought he wasn’t married, and when she asked me, I told her that he was. – She said “Well of all things!” Then she turned to me and said “When are you going to bring your family down? And I said Violet, my dear, she was here today, and she said “Oh! That’s why she was showing Gene the diamond, well I’ll get to know this outfit yet, if I find out things like I have today.” I presume Maynard took her to the dance while his wife was away last week – Anyway I haven’t found out all the details, but I’m not very interested either.

The only thing I’m interested in is hearing from you real soon, and more that that to hear you say “I promise to come up June 1.”


Say hello to your folks for me - !

Monday, May 27, 2013

April 23, 1942 - Moms, Proms, and a "Bonfire of Love"

This letter centers around the progression of Jim and Ruth's courtship. Based on the contents, it seems like they are still testing the waters a bit. Jim, at the very least, is pretty sure and vocal about his feelings, and there's no reason to indicate that Ruth wasn't invested either. All the same, this letter brings up conversations about past beaus, future plans, and negotiating the "next stage" of the relationship.

As one of the grandkids of these two, it's a bit strange to witness a time when things weren't completely set in stone. I find myself urging them on as I read: "Yes, get married! I want to exist!" But I'll let them speak for themselves.

                                                        Gettysburg, S. Dak.                                                         Thursday, April 23, 1942

Dearest Ruthie;

My Gosh! The mail Train service from here to Faith must be practically at a stand-still –This is the third letter I have written this week and according to the one I got from you tonight – you haven’t heard from me – I’ll see Bushfield about it right away.

It is now 7:10 p.m. – 6:10 at Faith and it is 15 minutes past my time. I have been in bed before seven the past three nights – Haven’t been feeling too well, and then I’ve had to get up at 3: a.m. every morning to go to work. (That’s 2 a.m. out there)[.] I told Travie the other day – that’s when most good people I know, think about going to bed, instead of getting up.

We have to drive 20 miles to work – down near Onida, - we get off at 12:30 come in and have dinner and then post tickets until about 4: p.m. then we have the rest of the day off – 4 to 7, in my case.

The wind has been terrible here, blows all the time – my face is so burned and chapped that you’ll be ashamed to be seen with me.

I saw a good show the other night (Sun.) “Louisiana Purchase” – I don’t remember whether I told you about it in my last letter or not. If you ever have a chance to see it – don’t fail – it’s a wow! Bob Hope and Victor Moore are the main characters, - I thought Ken would split a rib, laughing.

So Jack treated you O.K. eh? -Well good for him! I’m glad you told him about you & I, it really makes me feel like it’s a sure thin when you tell me things like that. Of course, I don’t believe I ever did know how serious things were between you & Jack, and I didn’t believe I should be sticking my neck out – trying to find out.

I love you Ruthie, and I hope any little spark of love you may have for someone else, will eventually mold into the big “Bon Fire” of love that I have for you.

That’s rather a curde way of putting it, but if you can interpret it like I mean it, everything will be O.K.

I got a letter from Mom, awhile back and – just like I told you Ruthie, she thinks you are O.K. Of course she said I believe I really should see more of her to know her better (How do you like that?). She must know I’m pretty serious cuz she went on and on and out of the Blue sky – she said – “Oh! I’l like to me a gran-ma![“] Gee! I don’t know if I should be telling you all this or not Ruthie – it sounds kinda funny when I read it over.

She also said “of course you don’t intend to get married while this war is raging, or do you? I don’t think I would, but that is entirely up to you, my dear Boy.” My mom is swell that way – anything I do is OK with her – cuz she knows I have very good taste – so there too!

I won’t be able to get to Faith until Sat. afternoon, as I have to work from 3 am until non Sat. But I’ll be there Honey – in fact I’d like to see you keep me away. I hope you get this tomorrow evening – Tell Bezz that I’ll make out my application, Sunday or some time. I haven’t had time to get any cloths or anything for the Prom[,] would it be permissible for me to wear my suit? if not I’ll have to stay home, I guess?

                                                                     I love you, Ruthie.

Travie got my mail tonight – and after I read the card & letter from you, he said “Did she ask about me?” and I replied in the negative – and he said, “well she better start asking about me or I’ll send those letters back when I get them.” – He sounds tough don’t he?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Letters to Ruthie... Read Aloud!

Alright, I know I've made a mockery of all my earlier promises.

I don't know what sort of delusional, optimistic haze I was living in when I so glibly promised "a letter a week!" but it was apparently a world in which I didn't go to grad school.  I've been receiving a number of subtle and not-so-subtle hints about my timeline for the last month or so, so I figured it was time to put something up, before I stop getting invited to family events.

To tide you over, I am doing something a little different this week.  I was approached by fellow University of Wisconsin School of Library and Information Science student Dana Gerber, who, along with Laura Farley and Prairie Hady, puts out a monthly archives podcast called "Sound of the Archives."  Every month, there is a discussion on some interesting archives topic, meant to educate archivists and bring in non-archivists.  For February, they were looking to do something cute and lovey, in conjunction with Valentine's Day.  As they were looking, it just so happened that I was in the midst of posting my (actually regularly occurring) blog posts to Facebook.  The Letters to Ruthie happen to be cute and lovey, so I was approached about merging our two projects.  I happily accepted.

So, with a few letters in hand, I went to Dana's house, met her kittens (and fellow SLIS student and "voice actor" Jake Ineichen) and we read a few of Jim's letters.

I believe all of the letters included in the podcast are ones that haven't been published here yet - so you all get a sneak preview!  I even managed to squeak my way though the only one of grandma Ruth's letters that I have in my possession, so that was kind of a special treat.

The letters read aloud span a couple of years of letter-writing, and culminate in the one Ruth wrote to Jim directly after receiving a letter from him that basically said "I'm coming home for ten days.  Shall we get hitched?"*

Here is the link to the podcast blog entry: http://soundofthearchives.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/07-ruthie-and-jims-lovely-letters/

You will be able to listen to our readings right from your computer, by clicking where it says "listen HERE" and then clicking the "pod" symbol right to the left of the title "Jim and Ruthie's Lovely Letters."  You can also click around and explore the rest of their site, or subscribe through iTunes. 

Spring break comes up next week, so who knows... maybe I'll post an actual letter next time.  I hope you enjoy hearing the podcast!  I think it's rather fun to hear the letters spoken aloud.

For now, though, I need to go study for a Preservation quiz, which I've been actively avoiding by doing this instead.  ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, MOM?

; )

*This is an imaginary paraphrase, as I haven't read the actual letter yet.  I expect his was slightly more romantic.

Friday, February 1, 2013

March 29, 1942 - "It's the Berries"

I didn't do a very good job of getting this up within the week, but I started back to school, so I feel like I have some semi-legitimate excuse.  Also, I was typing up letters... just not posting them.

You see, some other folks in my library program are running an archives podcast, and wondered if they could use some of these letters for their "Valentine's" episode, on account of Grandpa Flahaven's endearing sentimentality ; ).  As a result, I've been sifting through letters looking for some piquant examples of love-lorn cuteness, and I think I found some that will be worth sharing.  I'll post up information about how to listen to the podcast as soon as it happens.  They've wrangled someone into reading 5 of Grandpa's letters out loud, and I'll even be reading one of written by his sweetheart.  Stay tuned for that!

The letter for today contains a cute, labeled comic from a magazine that Jim sent alongside his note.  I will try my best to figure out the scanner tonight, so that that's in context.

                                                             Eagle Butte, S. Dak
                                                             Sun. March 29, 1942
                                                             8:30 P.M.

Dearest Ruthie;

I don’t imagine you have received my other letter as yet, but it really won’t hurt to get two at a time will it?

I am sending you a cartoon I clipped out of the last Esquire, I think it is kinda cute, don’t you?  It reminds me of the first few times I saw you, and wanted to be introduced to you.  

Well I believe our blizzard is over, it really messed things up. didn’t it?  I sure wanted to get to Faith this week-end but you couldn’t hardly get out of the city limits – until this P.M. 

Hanson was over after dinner, he said he came through Faith and the roads weren’t bad at all. – He said he saw you in Dupree St. Patricks nite – The girl that was with him said “oh! was that her? – she sure seemed to be enjoying herself.”  and I said “So what!”  It kinda burned me up – the way she said it.

I sure wish the West Hotel, with some of its modern convenienves had been moved over here during the storm – you know its sure the berries to have to go to an outside “biffy” when the wind and snow is coming in about 60 per. – of course you wouldn’t know – would you?

I went to church at 8, this morning and slept from 2:30 until 6 P.M – outside of that there really hasn’t been anything very exciting.

Ken and Gene didn’t get home this week either, they are both down to the restaurant now – kidding the Hasher, I guess.

The radio in Gene’s room is on – they are playing “Two in Love” – you know, I’m really and truly in love with you – do you mind?

Do you figure on going to Aberdeen next week-end?  My Gosh!  what am I going to do? – We do have a date for Easter Monday, do we not?

How is Phyl and Bev? say hello to them for me, ah yes, and Mrs Tinker too!

Sat. morning we couldn’t get the office door open, so we didn’t work – went up to the school house and played basketball instead.

Well, my Dear, it is almost  - (my bed-time you know) so better I had close,

                                                            Write real soon Ruthie,
                                                                        I love you –

I hear the stealthy stalk of two wolves:  Gene and Ken just came in, and said they would do a little dictating if I would write it – so here goes –

Gene said he would put a stamp on upside down – if we had a stamp – (we haven’t got paid yet)

Ken said:  Send our love to Beverly, Ruth and Phyliss – So, love to you all from Gene & Ken.

Gene said to tell you, he wished you were here so you could beat up on him a little, -but he bet you wouldn’t do dat again – Boy!

He also said we would send this – if we ever got a train.

Gene also says to tell you we (he says) have our eye on another blonde – a near blonde this time. – I have different ideas tho’

This week, I'm commiserating with Jim's blizzard complaints.  We got snow dumped on us earlier in the week, but now it's turned into the infamous "too cold to snow."  I'm thinking of investing in a full-body sweater.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

March 22, 1942 - "You are a Very Game Girl..."

I should probably be preparing for my return to school, but I couldn’t fight the urge to upload just one short letter.  This one, like the one before it, is sent between Eagle Butte, where Jim was working, and Faith, where Ruth was teaching.  Based on the contents of this letter, Ruth had just been to visit Jim, and had a good time – despite a sprained ankle.  

Note:  I haven't figured out the scanner in my apartment yet.  I'll add actual letters when I do! 

Eagle Butte, So. Dak
Sun. March 22, 1942
10:50 P.M.

Dearest Ruthie,

Art Castle is playing “Give me one dozen Roses” – it reminds me very much of you.  – I got back to the “Dump” at 7:30 – no casualties, - good car, I’m beginning to believe.

I ate a sandwich when I got back, then found Gene, he had enuf in a pint to mix two cokes, so we went down to the restaurant, and drank them and talked about you for about an hour.  – then rode around in his car and listened to the radio.  they played a new piece, "I said a prayer last night" – anyway I recalled, saying one for you last night – or this morning rather when I went to bed, I believed it was answered cuz when Phil & I came down to Fisher’s you were doing O.K with the sprained ankle.

Ruthie, I really enjoyed myself this week-end – no kidding – Sheep Camp, Dance and everything were swell – especially you.  I just can’t get over how darn nice you are.  – I told Gene about the accident last night and even he agreed you are a very game girl.

We, Gene & I, were about ready to come home about 9 o’ clock, when Shannon O’Neill (sounds Irish doesn’t it?), another Irish friend of ours, asked us if we wanted to ride around with him for awhile, so we did, it was really nice out.  We all cussed the misfortune of being stuck in Eagle Butte – alone – when we could just as well be in Faith, – – with someone I love very much.

I just read this over and am wondering if you will be able to understand it.  I’m so darn tired – I’m kinda writing like I talk sometimes – in circles.

Gene asked me if I was writing to you already and I said “yes” – so he said to ask you when he could have a date so – “when can Gene have a date, huh?”

I intended to write this tomorrow noon, but found out tonight that I have to go out with Sandstrom and Warne to look over a gravel pit, so better I do do’od it to-nite – no?

I’m sleepy – Good-nite – I Love you very much, say hello to Phyl. & Beverly, write real soon,

P.S. I Love you more than you love me, so there too!

As I read these letters, I have been realizing how young my grandparents were at this stage – possibly younger than me, even.  It makes me wonder how they two would have communicated if they were in their twenties today.  We romanticize letter-writing (and, to be fair, it is pretty romantic) but that was also one of the only communication forms available to them.  Based on the frequency of these exchanges I have a sneaking suspicion that a young Jim and Ruth would not have balked at the use of social media. 

People of their generation might have been less interested in sharing their every move and thought with an immense audience, but I feel like they would have appreciated sending each other lovey late-night texts, Skyping on an evening apart, or even (gasp!) sending each other Instagrammed photos of their dinner at the local bar.  As a gal who is currently far away from her fellow, I can understand the desire to share even the most mundane details of my day, in an attempt to feel closer.

Here’s to modern technology!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

March 18, 1942 - "Another One For the Blonde."

According to the family story I'm familiar with, Jim and Ruth's courtship started off like a typical romantic comedy.  They met at a town dance in (probably) Timber Lake, and she thought he was rather cocky.

Of course, like most romantic comedies, we can see how this was bound to turn out.  He must have worn her down eventually (maybe it was that mythical gift of blarney), because after a few months of acquaintance they were engaged, and by March 1942 at the latest they were exchanging letters and seem on quite good terms.

The following letter was written from Eagle Butte, S.D., where Jim was plotting cross-sections for what seems to be (based on the stationary) the State Highway Commission.


Wednesday March 18, 1942

Dearest Ruthie,

Received your letter at 11: a.m., it is now 12:25[.]  I'll bet you are starting back to school, are you not?  Was really glad to hear from you, I think I've read your letter over about 4 times already.

Last night after supper, I wanted to see you or hear you so darn bad, I decided to call you.  So I looked in my pocket, found 62 cents - asked the operator how much the call would be, she said 56 cents so I told her not to waste any time getting you.  You said you wondered if I miss you as much as you miss me, well honey, I think of you all the time, - yesterday for instance Gene and I were plotting cross-sections, and I read the same one to him three times, it took us 20 minutes to correct it.  Gene said "there's another one for the Blonde" and he was right, cuz I was thinking of you.

Monday nite, [Travie], Gene, Ken & I were invited over to  [Warne's] (he is the 5th one of our crew) to help eat his birthday cake, we sure did a good job of it, - we played cards until about 12, then came home to bed.

I almost came to Dupree last night, after talking to you.  I came up stairs, shaved etc. then went over to Gene's room and listened to Red Skeltons - (did you?)  I almost fell asleep on his bed, so he and Ken went down town and I came over to my room and went to bed - at 9:05 P.M - and slept until 7:30 this morning.

I really hope you had a good time Ruthie, I'll feel much better if you always enjoy yourself, so there too!  Did Phyl. dance last night?   Or did she ride in a pick-up all night? -slam! slam! - tell her I don't mean a thing by it.

Well Gene and Ken have just left for work, so suppose I'd better write finis, to this.

I'm expecting to be called away anytime, I got a letter from mother this morning, saying my aunt was in the hospital - heart attack, -  Dr. said there was very little chance. - so if you don't hear from me for a couple days, you'll know what's wrong.

Well Beautiful, must close for now, but write to me real soon will ya?  Cuz- 

I love you - very much,


[Postscript] What do you think of the writing material Bushfield gave me?  


It looks like I've inherited my grandpa's fondness for a heavy use of the hyphen.

A note on these transcripts:  I am trying to remain as faithful as I can to the form of the letters.  I will reproduce his use of punctuation, spelling, and spacing as much as I can.  If I ever add or change anything for the sake of clarity, I'll put it in brackets [like this.]  I'll also be using brackets if there is a name or word that I can't figure out, as with a couple of names above.  I'll be posting scans of the actual letters, so if anyone can decipher those words, let me know and I'll edit them in.

On another note, I'm not very experienced with blogging, and would like to know if it's possible to do things like footnotes, or change fonts within the post text.  If you are more blog savvy than me, help me out!

Also, I've had a couple of people wonder how they can stay updated with these posts.  There should now be a couple of options for subscribing to the blog, either through an RSS feed like Google Reader, or through email.  You'll find those along the left side of the page.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Old Letters, New Life

I never got a chance to meet my maternal grandfather.  He passed away at a fairly young age, years before I was born.  However, his spirit still seems to be very present in our family - in the efficiency of my aunts and uncles, the wry humor of my cousins, the lines of our noses and the pride we take in our Irish heritage.

On the other hand, I did get to know my grandma for a while.  I can remember her as a card-player and a good hugger, but details are fuzzy.  I often catch myself wondering what it would have been like to know her, now, as "a real person." I wish I could talk to her and listen to her and ask her questions, rather than just beg for one of her famous cookies.

Through my conversations with older relatives, these two start to take shape.  James (Jim): the smart, capable Irishman, with a witty humor and a loathing for messy automobiles.  And Ruth: the beauty, the clever, charismatic favorite, who was sure to light up a room.

And, finally, there is a box of letters.  It's been resting in the cedar chest, and brought out occasionally for school projects, family lore, and general reminiscence.  The letters range in date from March 18, 1942 to September 10, 1945.  The first letter was sent within South Dakota, but over the years they start coming in from Kentucky, New York, France, Belgium...  These letters cover the length of my grandparents' courtship, marriage, and young family, set against the background of World War II, where James was a Lieutenant.

My goal is to transcribe and post these letters at the rate of one per week.  I would also like to scan digital copies of the originals, so readers can get a feel for the handwriting and layout, and possibly help to decipher any words that I can't figure out.

Partially, my interest in this project is professional.  I am currently going to school for a Masters of Library and Information Science, and I have a special interest in historical archives.  I feel these letters provide interesting snapshots of what American life was like during mid-century wartime.  They are interesting, comprehensive, and otherwise worthy of being kept.  I would like to type them up and scan them so that they can be preserved for the future.

But, really, my greater interest is personal.  This is a way for me to learn more about a side of my family, and feel a deeper connection to my own history.  Additionally, this will be a way to share the letters with family scattered all over the US.  I feel somewhat ill-equipped for this project, since there are many people who knew Jim and Ruth much better than I did, and I'm a little afraid of getting things wrong.  But I hope this will be an opportunity for other relatives to offer input, corrections, and their own anecdotes.  I think there is a lot of room to add to their story, and the story of the family.  While the archival side of things is interesting to me, I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't moved by the relationship of my grandparents, and interested in sharing the experience with others who knew and loved them.

So!  In the next post, we will be starting off in March of 1942, in the town of Eagle Butte, South Dakota, where James Flahaven wrote to Miss Ruth Schmidt to brighten her day and send her his love.