Old letters window on the times, family life

by Linda Emley

After reading Isabella Russell’s letters, I tried to remember when was the last time I wrote a letter. I send e-mails all the time, but that doesn’t count. I wrote thank-you notes, but that is not the same either. Letter writing is a dying art that will soon be lost forever because no one has the time or need for them anymore.
My grandmother Schooler wrote letters in the Tabor family chain letter. This family tradition was started by her mother’s family many years ago. Lura Meliva Tabor was born in Alton, Ill. in 1877. She was one of nine children and her family moved to Ray County in 1890. They got off the train at Hardin and made their way to Hickory Grove. Some of the older children stayed in Alton because they were already married.
After the Tabors lived in Ray County for a few years, they moved to Texas and took some of the younger children with them. My great-grandmother was married, so she stayed here in Missouri. Somewhere along the way, the Tabor children formed the chain letter because you could write one letter and all your brothers and sisters could read it.
When the envelope arrived in the mail, you would take out your previous letter, read everyone’s new letter and then add your new letter to the bundle. Then you would drop it in the mail and wait for it to come back around to you again.
The next generation took over when the original brother sand sisters died, so my grandmother carried on the tradition.
Some of the old letters were saved and reading them is like reliving the day-to-day events of my family. It is interesting to see what they thought was important enough to share.
The following is one of my favorites from my grandmother’s letters: “My Dear Folks: Glad to hear from one and all. We are OK here at present. We received a Valentine from the Lord all trimmed in white lace on February 14th. A beautiful snow, my evergreen trees looked lovely. Three inches of snow is still here. We are having a Valentine dinner at Hickory Grove Church. I baked a heart shaped cake with pink icing and cocoanut on top.”
My grandmother later used her heart shaped cake pan as her favorite cat’s dish. I have it now and it is one of those treasures that has no money value but is priceless to me.
Lura Melvina Tabor Kell was known as “Lou,” and since  I am Linda Lou, I  have often wondered about what kind of person Lou Kell was. These old letters provide a small glimpse at how hometown folks felt about important issues in our world. I was rather surprised to see how my great-grandmother felt about the war that was raging in 1942.
“Richmond, Mo. April 22, 1942. Dear Folks: Received the letters today. Glad to hear from all of you and that all were well.”
After some small talk, she got down to the national news on page two.
“I too hope this war comes to a close soon. I think there has been enough killed on both sides. If there has been so many killed as they report, I don’t see how there could be many left. I wish they could just blow Japan from the face of the earth. They don’t like it cause they got bombed the other day.”
The next sentence was totally shocking.  “I don’t have any new hat for Easter. Think I’ll wear my old one.”
So my dear great-grandmother was back to important things that really mattered in Richmond. I was embarrassed by her bold statement, but then I remembered that she had a son, Gordon Kell, that was checking the mail everyday for his letter from Uncle Sam to see when he was going to be called to duty.
Gordon was trying to run a farm, but he had to be ready when it was his turn to go. He did get called, but he was one of the lucky ones that lived to see another day.
Hitler was also on Lou Kell’s bad-boy list. She mentioned him several times. May 31, 1942: “Gordon took his questionnaire in and they told him he would probably be called in August or September. I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping he will not have to go. Norma Sue says, ‘Just wait until Gordon and Daddy get over there. They will kill old Hitler.’ Poor little thing, she doesn’t know the horrors of war. Al, come see us this summer. Hope this finds all of you well and lots of love to everyone. Lou M. Kell.”
Her Aug. 5, 1942 letter said, “Gordon is going on just the same with the farm work but the boys are all upset. I feel sorry for them. They are expecting to be called and don’t know when. This war situation looks bad. Those poor Russians stopped Hitler before.”
On Nov. 12, 1942, her letter shows how the war was hitting close to home. “Gordon tried to get some coffee in town Saturday and couldn’t. I can do without lots of things though if it helps win the war. My paper is full. Love to all, Lou.”
There was a little note added down the side of her letter the next morning. “Fri. morn., just been listening to the news over the radio. It sounds good this morn. The U.S. boys in North Africa raising cane over there. There is big talk of France joining the Allies. Hurrah! Hurrah! I hope they get old Hitler soon. They ought bring him over here and let us all spit on him.”
Once again I was shocked by Lou’s statement because for a Southern Baptist lady, that statement was pretty harsh. I am proud that she listened to the news and stayed up to date on the current events of her day. I can see her listening to the radio as she goes about her daily duties in her home.
Lou Kell died long before I was born, but I think I inherited more than her name and her watch. I’d like to think I inherited some of her spunk and her ability to “tell it like you see it.” Both of my older boys did time in the service. I did  not have to worry about either one of them fighting in a war, but I know I would have felt the same as Lou Kell if my boys were waiting for that letter from Uncle Sam telling them it was their turn to go fight for our country.
One thing I didn’t inherit from my great-grandmother was the love of a good cup of coffee. But her letter reminds us that everyone sacrified during the war. Some gave their lives and some only gave up coffee, sugar, and a new pair of tires for their car. Lou Kell was right; many of us do not know the horrors of war.
I have written many e-mail while sitting at a computer and often wonder if they are being stored somewhere and will come back to haunt me someday. I try not to put anything in writing that I wouldn’t want my great-granddaughter to read down the road, but that is not always an easy thing to do.
The next time there is nothing good on TV, pick up an ink pen and write an old-fashioned  letter to a family member or friend. Who knows maybe 100 years from now someone will read it and marvel at how simple our lives were in 2012.
An e-mail just does not give you that same feeling you get when you actually hold in your hand a piece of paper that your great-grandmother touched.

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