Love, 1930s style
My mom found an old photocopy of a letter her father wrote in early February, 1936 after meeting her mother. I never met my grandfather (Joe) as he died before I was born. This letter gave me a better picture of who he was as a person than any other picture or story has done.
Joe is writing to his sister, Freda, to tell her about the wonderful woman he has decided to marry after only knowing her for eight days. He was 29 years old. The first photo below features Joe after playing a game of handball (he is on the right). I chose this photo because mom tells me he was an athlete — he especially enjoyed skiing and sailing.
The second photo is of my grandmother (mama), Betty, who enjoyed playing cards, seeing friends for lunch, and later on in her life, playing golf. She was not an athlete (other than dancing) and was a very refined lady.
The final photo (L-R) is my mom (I was born two months later), Betty (my mama), Aunt Sharon and Aunt Marsha. Betty and Joe had three girls — each was five years apart. As you can see, they inherited their mother’s “marvelous figure and carriage.”
The final letter was five pages and took my mom and I more than an hour to transcribe. We captured most of it verbatim:
Tuesday All Hours of the day.
My dear Freda,
I am taking you into my confidence, Freda. I am going to get married. You heard it. I haven’t told anyone yet, but probably by Friday of this week I will tell the family.
Listen closely honey, and don’t get excited. I have never been so completely and devastatingly in love as I am now. This has all taken place within the last 8 days.
I don’t know whether you remember Jack — but in any case, his wife’s sister invited me to the home to spend an evening and meet a cousin of theirs from St. Catharines, Ont. I thought I’d come up and see another wench from the sticks. I looked at her and thought she was fair though with a marvelous figure and carriage.
I immediately thought she would be another thing for me to cuddle and neck and forget her. But the very next night I phoned her and took her out. I can’t seem to analyze my feelings that time. I knew I liked her but that’s all. I treated her pretty rough. Then I went skiing over the week-end and on Monday night, the night before the King’s funeral [King George V – Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1936].
I phoned and she came down with her cousin. I had an appointment with her for Wednesday to take her to dinner. I had made up my mind never to see her again, as I felt she was going for me and I felt I was as well. I didn’t want to have her feeling back about me at all. You know that I am not in any position to take up any girls time and be serious.
I tried to discourage her in every way, and meanwhile I was going harder every time. But I was determined to end it. I tried to stop thinking about her but when it came Thursday evening, I picked up the phone and spoke to her. The same thing happened on Friday night. Only this night was the worst and probably the happiest.
She was at her cousins apartment. The lady of the house was confined to the hospital in childbirth….Right then and there I told [her] I couldn’t go on because marriage was out of the question, but she waved it aside and said that her father would help us. Freda, I didn’t know what to say. You know I’ve always kidded about marrying any girl for money. Anyway I told her she was probably taking too much for granted from her father but she seemed positive that everything would be alright.
I felt very sheepish about it, but what could I do. I’m sincerely and wholeheartedly in love with her and would probably be very happy with her. Although I knew I could do well if only I had a start. Anyway she has written home and we both have our fingers crossed and hoping for the best. By the way, her name is Betty, the same as our mothers.
How you may think it strange, about me falling in love like that, after you knowing how I felt about Elsie. I have told Betty everything. I haven’t seen Elsie in 7 months. I have been under an illusion all this time. But I know now, that this girl means more to me. Elsie turned me away and I thought that I would never bother with any woman again.
I love this girl and if her family would give us a start all goes and well. If they don’t it would only take so much longer and make hardship on her. I have tried to make that clear to her, but she doesn’t care. I told her when she goes home she [may] realize it was only an infatuation and will probably get over it. But she says that it’s the real thing as she has had other love affairs.
For me it’s the genuine thing. After all I am pretty near 29, and living in a room no life. I have had my fling and I can’t see what I am missing by remaining single. But I assure you that last week if anyone had mentioned marriage to me, I would have laughed.
There it is Freda. I am going down to St. Catharines by the way, that is where she lives. It is only 70 miles from Toronto. I am going down around the 22nd of this month. I’ll be in Toronto as well and will tell you more.
She will be in Toronto on Monday Feb. 10 at 8:30 p.m. about that time I want you to meet your *almost new sister-in-law. She’s going right back [to St. Catharines] but she may have time to stop over for about 2 hours. Betty tells me that the bus terminal is only across the street from the Ford Hotel. Here is what I want you to do. You be at the Ford Hotel at 8 p.m. Wait there and listen to the page for your name. Betty will page you and I want you to meet.
If she desires to stay over, look after her. She knows Toronto well and has many friends. In case you should miss each other, she’ll get in touch with you at your house. So if about an hour you find out the bus has arrived and she hasn’t paged you, go home and wait there. Those are the tentative plans, of course happenings may occur and she will be unable to meet you. In any case follow these directions.
I know you’ll like her and she’ll like you. Anyways treat her nicely. I’ve told her about you. Mums the word meanwhile. Until we hear from her dad I won’t say anything to Pa.
Personally, I think Betty is nuts. What can she see in me? She has her privilege of changing. As for me, it’s honest to goodness the genuine thing. Go ahead and laugh at my romanticism and my foolishness. I am laughing at myself, because I never thought I could be this way. Immediately upon receipt of this letter write me, so I can [tell her] that you will meet her.
With best regards
Your loving brother