A letter from Daddy
My niece died recently, of ALS. Going through things she had saved, I found a scrapbook my mother (her maternal grandmother) had started in the mid-1920’s, with lovely cards given to her by her first husband, my sister’s father. My niece would have said, “My grandfather wasn’t your father,” but this was my mother’s scrapbook, so, I brought it home, saving it from a dumpster.
After I had been through all the cards and other mementos my mother had saved from the early days of her first marriage, I decided to put the book in our dining room curio cabinet, which is full of other vintage memorabilia. I stood it up behind a decorated metal box that had also been my mother’s. I couldn’t recall what was in the box, having not looked in it for decades.
Upon removing it to the dining room table and opening it, I discovered a treasure trove of documents: my father’s birth announcement from 1914, my parents’ wedding license, the deed to their house along with the amazingly low price they paid for it in 1952. And lots of letters. Here is one from my dad, written to me from the little town of Willows, California, southwest of Chico and northwest of Yuba City, when I was in the hospital with polio at age three in southern California. My dad, an entrepreneurial milkman, was looking for a milk route to buy so we could move north.
Postmarked April 19, 1951
R D Allen
c/o Capital Dairy
Miss Carol Francine Allen
c/o Nursery, Kabat-Kaiser Inst.
1815 Ocean Front
Santa Monica, Calif.
Dearest Little One,
I hope you are coming along fine and hope your leg is getting stronger. Keep working hard so it will be well soon.
Don’t forget to write me a “yetter” and tell Mommie I still love her, even though she seems to have writers cramp. Also tell Mommie to write to your Grandmother for me, please.
I had an uneventful, sleepy trip back up here and was glad when it was over.
We have had very nice cool weather this week and hope it stays that way.
I hope you get a pass so that you can go home with Mommie this week end. I won’t be able to come to see you this week end, but will be down the next one.
Be a good girl and give my love to Mommie.
Lots of love,
When I first was diagnosed, in January, 1951, they told my parents I would never walk again; I’d be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. At some point, they decided I might regain enough strength in the most-affected leg to walk with a brace and crutches (which years later I was able to put away, and of course needed assistive devices again in middle age). I had always wondered how far into my six-month stay they had started giving me physical therapy and teaching me to walk again. Now I know that I had at least begun physical therapy halfway through my stay, although it must have been earlier than that if I was already “working hard” three months in.
I could not pronounce L’s when I was little, and said, “I yike that” rather than “I like that.” Thus the “yetter” reference.
My parents had moved out of our rented house in Los Angeles into a two bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, not far from where I was in rehabilitation. My mother came to see me daily, but I believe was only there for an hour or so a day; this is my recollection, among many clear memories of that time; I believe I remember her later telling me she came for an hour each day. She was not working, and was only cooking for one while my dad was travelling, and, as my sister later told me, only occasionally saw her siblings who lived in southern California. Whereas I would have been delighted with having so much free unscheduled time on my own, she wrote in one letter that she was “going nuts” with nothing to do. She did write to my dad, several times a week, as he did to her, but it sounds as if he was lonely on his scouting trip, and craved even more word from her.
There are more letters in that box, so I’ll see what else the two of them had to say…
(Edited and revised, Sept. 24, 2021)
Thanks for sharing this gem from your childhood. We can learn so much at times from so little
Thank you, Sande, for reading, and for commenting. I think I may have read this letter long ago, but this time around I saw between the lines, too.
Looking back at early years can often bring about mixed feelings. I have a kaleidescope of feelings about some early memories also. Realizing over the years that our parents were only human and were struggling with life in their own ways colors the years and our perceptions. Bob Dylan added some depth with his observation that “I was so much older then, I’m younger then that now.” I’m glad you made it through your early trials with so much grace and determination …
Hi, Sam– In looking through that box, I saw that my mom did write to my dad frequently! So I slightly revised this post. He was just hungry for her attention while he was off on his own, but I gather that she really was not spending her time very creatively. She was a “Hera” kind of wife, one who was completely devoted to her husband and centered her life around him. I’m more Artemis; I can always find something to do!
How special to read about you “treasure find” with a clear picture of where you were & that family visited. I have no info. on my years spent in hosp. ( Fordham /NYC) & a 2yr. rehab.on Long Is. from ages 2-5 yrs. There is hearsay about infrequent visits from my Mom ( with 3 more children in NYC under 5yrs.of age ); a rare pix. of my pretty Aunt Peg visiting from San Francisco, which is lost. I can just imagine a pix.like yours of a little girl with brace & crutches , of myself-but none available. Sr. Kenny tx. saved my mobility ! JanJohnson,S,Rosa.,Ca.
Jan, thank you for sharing all that! I only remember my mother visiting daily, for about an hour, at the rehab facility where I lived. My dad was working during visiting hours. My sister told me she had come to visit once or twice, but I don’t think anyone else did. I didn’t recall getting out and going to see others, but one of my mother’s letters to my dad says we went to a birthday party (I assumed “we” meant she and I) and that we went to visit her sister, my aunt Marie. So on the weekends I must have gotten a little fun. I only remember going to my parents’ apartment and being in a crib with my dad leaning over it. I had a cross bite and my lower jaw and teeth stuck out a bit like a little bulldog. My dad would stick out his chin to imitate me, it would make me mad, and I can hear my mom calling from the other room, “Don’t tease her!”