Thursday, August 19, 2010

March 3, 1914

Alpha, Mich
March 3, 1914

Dear Cecil-

I recevied your letter today and surely was glad to get it. Say Cecil it was all right that you couldent fined a card so that you could write [page torn] latter because I [page torn] get a letter britter any old time. Wouldint you?

When I got back here Monday morning never-thing was O.K. and never-body very nice. They ask me what was the matter. And I told that I mis the train. The Boss told me that I wouldent louse any time Monday or Saturday either. So I tought that was pretty good. It was about [page torn] when I got out here [page torn]. I had 4 miles to walk after I got off the train. I can till you dear I felt pretty lonesome Monday afternoon. And a little bit sleepie just a little tho but I had a good sleep Sunday night. I didint get out of bed not on till 7 oclock.

Well Dearie I feel very sorry. When I saw on your letter that you were so tried from washing and run up and down them steps. Them steps are bad for carring water up and down. I know that.

Dear I suppose the fue of line that is out the Roger for me from your Mother is in answer to the card that I send her. Or maybe she is give me a balling out. What do you think about it.

We started to get ready to move today. But it will take 2 or 3 days to move now I suppose. Canent tell within a day or to. But the sooner we get out of here the better. Their is a big kid in the other room balling with the tooth ake you would think he was going to die. A fellow canent hear or see.

I was over to see Tim More[?] last night and spent a couple of my lonesome hours. Dear I dont think I will be able to come in on till Saturday because I dont know just what day we will get trough. If I should come befor you will see me or what if left of me and their an't much left to me these days. But I am going to try hard to get in Thursday night if I can dearie. If I can't I will be in Saturday night.

Well I will close darling with all my love and all kind of kisses to you Dear. I remain as B/4 your Sweet-heart, Al. Hope to see you in a fue of days.

Iron County Michigan

Another portion of this love story takes place in Iron County, Michigan.

By today's standards, it's a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from Ontonagon County, as it's about a 45-50 minute drive in the car. But back in the early 20th century, it was considered a big deal to take the train to a location that far away.

Iron River, Crystal Falls, and Stambaugh are all locations in Iron County. If Cecilia was from Ontongaon County, why are so many letters sent to her in Iron County? The best guess is because her sister and brother-in-law were living there, and she likely went to visit them from time-to-time, whether for social reasons or to help them out.

Fun fact: Caroline (Cecilia's sister) and Josiah/Sy (Albert's brother) were married! What that means is that two sisters from the same family married two brothers from the same family!

March 2, 1914

Iron River, Mich.
March 2, 1914
(Envelope sealed with red sealing wax)

My Dear Al -

I thought I would send you a card as I promosed you I would but when I got to it I did not have any cards so I thought I wouldent dissipoint you so I am sending you a letter instead.

Well how did the people use you out there If they handled you rough let me know and I will take a trip out there and see them. I saw the train going out this morning. I suppose you was on it.

It is ten to four now and I can tell you I am first about all in. I did not sleep very much last night as I just got nicely to sleep when Caroline called me she wanted a drink. And I just got nicely settled again when Sy called me to get a hot drink for her she was sick most of the night. After I got up the second time I couldent go to sleep any more. I was up at a quarter to five. I saw the new train go out.

I was so tired I thought I wouldent wash today. But Caroline said for me to wash today as she wanted me to sew tomorrow so I had to obey the Boss. I washed all the carpets just got through empting the water so I am tired of running up and down the steps. I am going to try and do all the ironing after supper and I must write to Ma and Emma Stickel so I cant tell you when I get to bed. I mays well make a good days work while I at it and then and I wont have that to do tomorrow.

I got a letter from Ma. I went up to the post office about one oclock. She said she sent a few lines to you out to the Roger . So if you come in that way Thursday call at the office. I suppose it will still be there.

Well Dear I don't know of any more to write about as a person dont hear about much news in a day. But it seem longer then a day scence I have seen you. I am beginning to count the days untill I see you again.

Well my darling I hope they give you something to eat this week so you wont be starved out. If you havent much work to do write me a letter I would be overjoyed to hear from you. Well I will have to close now Dearie and go to the post office with this so I will be back in time to get supper.

Will close with all my love and kisses to you dear I remain for ever your Sweetheart Cecil.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

February 25, 1914

Alpha, Mich.
Feb. 25, 1914

Iron River, Mich
Miss Cecil Armstrong

Dear Cecil.

Just a few of line. Hope that they will reach you in the best of health.

Well Cecil I got here all right and waiting for the time to come to get back all right. Might get through out here this week. We won't be any longer tham next week anyway. I won't be a bit sorry when we are through either. Their is a quite a bit of driffrent in this place now than when I was out here a year ago. It is a pretty good size town here now.

Cecil to night is the night that I feel lonesome more so than any other night. Because I was all way used to comeing in to see you. But I will have to write instead. I'm going to try to come in Saturday afternoon if I can. If I do I will have to walk about 3 miles to catch the train. But the walk won't be anything. Their is train come in here twice a day. But it just go...far as Crystall Fall. I think to morrow night I will go over to see [Jim More? Tim Mare?].

I like my work good. But I don't care much about the boarding house.

Well Cecil I half to come to a close because I want to mail this tonight and I will half to hurry be for the post office close. I should of starded befor. But I was over to the mine.

It is very near my bed time now Cecil. So going up and see if I can find the post office now. I am very near scared to go out I might get lost. I got to quite write now because the lead is wore out of pencil.

So good night Cecil XXX. Good night dearie XXXX. I remain as B/4 your sweet hard Al.

How is Caroline and Saih?

Cecil excuse poor writing because the lead in my pencil is no good and their a'nt a knife around the place to sharp it.

The Rest of 1913?

I suspect there are many more letters between Albert and Cecilia from 1913.

My Mom isn't done cleaning out my Grandmother's house, so who knows? We may find more!

March 11, 1913

North Lake
March 11, 1913

Dear Cecil

In answer to your most kind and welcome letter what I recevied last Wesday. All so delight to get. And two here that you were still alive and kicking. I was meaning two answer before. But their was all way something that I had two do frist But the frist thing I should of done, Dear I should of answer your letter I suppose.

Cecil I got that box of candy all right. And it certenly was fine. It did go good I enjoy it very much. Candy go good out here in the woods like this. It kind of sweeten a fellow up a little bit. And I dident half two eat it with a spoon either I just finesh the last of it saturday. Thank you Cecil for the candy. I will half two thank Caroline [Cecilia's sister] when I see her I half two thank the both of you because you said that you both had your hands in it.

I took a work up two the Lake last night two see my brother Bill. He was telling me that he was over home. And that Saih [Josiah, Albert's brother] was home two. And that he went back again Sunday night. I didn't think that he was coming up not on till next Saturday. I don't suppose he will be this Saturday now.

I will have to come two a close with best withes to you. I remain your friend Al.

February 27, 1913

Feb. 27, 1913

Dear Cecil,

Just a fue of lines in answer two your post cards. What I got today and was delighted two get tham. And two here that you are still alive and kicking. I was going two send a fast card but can't get any down here. So I thought I would write a short letter.

Cecil you ask how I got back I can't tell you we were just four hours on the train. We got down here about 9 oclock. Of course I don't care so long as I got down here because I like it so well here like fun.

Don't know if I am coming over for six months or not because it take two long on the road. But I suppose it will be different the next time I come over. I don't suppose it will be so stromy. I hope not any way. Or I might change my mind and work over Saturday night. It if don't storm-

Two day I quit work early I had a job ware I had only two work eight hours so it gave me a little more time. I suppose you will be surpprised two get this letter. But I suppose if some of your other fellow know it will be a greater surpprised two me. Oh. Oh, oh. What do you think about it? An't that right? Like if Jack or that Saroye get a hole of it I suppose there will be something doing. But I don't suppose Jack care so much because it is all in the same family. Maybe that will make a different.

But Cecil don't take notic two ever thing that I said on this letter because I was only joking. Well Cecil I will haft to two come two a close.

With very best withes two you, I remain your friend Al.

The bell is ringing for supper so I had two quit writing. A'nt that two bad.

The Setting for the Story - Ontonagon County Michigan

The general setting for Cecilia and Albert's story is Ontonagon County, in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan. It's located in the upper northwest corner of the U.P., right on Lake Superior.

Basically, one of the primary reasons the U.P. was settled (other than for lumber) was for it's large copper deposits. Ontonagon County was one of the many counties where numerous copper mines were operated. Both Cecilia and Albert's families settled in the U.P. after emigrating from England. (Both families of origin were from the Cornwall section of England, where there was a long history of tin mining activity. But when the tin mines there started to "dry up," many workers came to Michigan in the 1800's to the get the new, but already familiar jobs available at the new copper mines.)

Albert grew up within a mining family and started working in the mines when he was still a child.

While Cecilia's father was not a miner, her grandfather was. Thus, she grew up in Ontonagon County, surrounded by a culture that was completely dependent upon the success of the mines.

Ontonagon County is a beautiful area, but it's rugged and cold, even by today's standards. It's also very sparsely populated; an area that has many "ghost towns" from mining days long gone.

The Simplest of Love Stories

This summer, as my mother was cleaning out my grandmother's home, a surprising discovery was made: A box of letters exchanged between my great-grandparents (Cecilia and Albert), neatly bound up with the letters filed in date order. The dates on the letters range between 1913 and 1918, which makes them nearly 100 years old.

For whatever reason (I'm the family sentimentalist?), the box was given to me to explore and to decide what to do with it.

The top of the old candy box these letters were stored in was labeled in my great-grandmother's handwriting as "love letters," and they were obviously saved because someone cherished them. Yet just because they've survived this long (both my great-grandparents died in the 1960's), does that automatically mean it's OK to read them? What if they contain secrets of the heart that were never meant to be seen or heard by another person other than the beloved to whom they were intended? In some real way, I believe there is an ethical consideration that should accompany the written leftovers of a person's life.

But curiosity got the best of me, and so I did read them. Heavy sigh of relief - no scary family secrets were revealed and no steamy, overtly sexual representations of early 20th century love were recounted.

However, what was revealed by these letters was amazing, albeit in the most mundane sense of that word. What I discovered was the base simplicity of very common people during a simpler era. The words on the pages (which include unsophisticated sentences, expressions, and a plethora of misspelled words) began to paint a picture in my mind of a life characterized and highlighted by things we take for granted in our modern era: food, boredom, music, and the weather, etc. Something as basic as what time the train was rolling into town and who was coming or going on that train was of the utmost importance to these people on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes even on an hour-to-hour basis.

Even more amazing: Despite the fact that this stash of love letters was exchanged between two people who were engaged to be married, hardly a word was spoken of a wedding or a new home. Or sex, for that matter. Can any of us imagine an engaged relationship today where these kinds of subjects would not be a huge portion of the primary conversation? And yet these two souls were able to conduct and appreciate their lives (and each other) without an obsession for the material accouterments of a wedding, and they likely felt shy about signing a letter with "hugs and kisses."

So, does it follow that these letters are one big yawn-fest? In some ways, yes. They're not exciting and they certainly don't tell the story of two sparkling personalities doing really interesting things together, or alone as individuals. Rather, they speak of the reality of hard physical work that characterized life during those times, as well as an intense longing for companionship and company during the evenings and on the weekends. (My great-grandparents were physically separated from one another during their engagement - and after they were married - by virtue of the fact that my great-grandfather worked in various iron mines throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.) Today we have cell phones, Facebook, and email. Back then, all they had was the mailman to keep them connected and entertained.

What follows on this blog is really just a tribute to the simple man and the simple woman of a by-gone era. Neither Cecilia or Albert became famous; neither wrote any great book or play, ran a successful business, or did anything in their life that is overtly memorable for any reason. Still, is not the history of the world made up of millions upon millions of similar common men and women? Is not even the simplest of love stories worthy of pause?