Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Longer Way

Instead of heading north in the dead of night as I often do, I rambled up by daylight through Central California’s wine country, under the clouds of a clearing storm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is There a Support Group for This?

Hi. My name is MrJumbo, and I have a cycling problem.

I run down the checklist of questions designed to help me decide whether I’m a social cyclist or a problem cyclist, and my heart sinks. Have I ever wanted to go on a bike ride again the next morning? Yes. Do I frequently cycle alone? Yes. Have I ever been to a hospital as a result of my cycling? Yes.

Does cycling affect my family relations?

Have I ever spent more on cycling than I did on groceries in a month?

On rent/mortgage?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

But how can you turn down a companion with such a perfect fleck in its red paint? Not a flashy, showy, bragging flake, but no demure wallflower either.

I may be the one here with the cyling problem, but I’ll tell you this too: Those hills had better watch out this summer. Because MrJumbo’s not gonna be kidding around.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Before Twitter (V)

By mid-1933, my grandmother and grandfather had settled into a life of domestic bliss in Los Angeles. At some point he left Certainteed and after a few false starts fired up the company I work for today. Domestic bliss? I’m sure I’m oversimplifying. Times were hard; the Depression was on. But I was there for their 50th anniversary, so clearly something went right.

It’s interesting to see this telegram from my grandfather to my grandmother around that time. It’s sent from Yermo at 5:35 a.m., and he says his bus will be in at 11:45 that morning. That tells me he’s traveling on a bus, but it tells me a little more about what travel must have been like. On today’s road, that’s about a two-hour drive. Grandfather expected it to take six.

I have more notes, letters, telegrams and cards, not to mention pictures. Every one tells a story. This is just one box. Today I peeked at about a half-dozen items that were near the top of the box.

We have lots of boxes.

Before Twitter (IV)

By December 1926, my grandfather was clearly smitten with the woman who would become my grandmother. The air was thick with wedding plans. He traveled from Laramie, where they had met, back home to New Jersey for Christmas with his family. (His sister Mary had returned from India, and one of his aunts was in the hospital.) Grandmother and her mother traveled to Indiana.

Grandmother’s mother was from New Bedford, Indiana. Grandmother and her sister had gone to college at St. Mary’s, in South Bend, Indiana. I don’t know why my great-grandmother was in the hospital, and I don’t know why she decided to have an operation in Indiana instead of Laramie, where she lived and had raised her daughters. But as Christmas drew near, there they were, at a hotel across the street from what is now Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

The plan was for Grandfather to join Grandmother and her mother in Indianapolis right after Christmas, and for them to be married there. They were making plans as the day drew near. Grandmother was far from all her Laramie friends and family, but her mother’s family would have been close by. Grandfather was sending note after note to Grandmother, answering (or not answering) her questions about wedding preparations, encouraging her plans. Here’s one he sent shortly before Christmas, undated—maybe on December 22?

Helen dearest,

Mother just reminded me of another thing that of name—and Father’s name is Reverend John Ten Eyck DeWitt and not just John T.E.D.

Thought perhaps you would like to know this so in haste I am dropping this note at once.

Have been wrapping Christmas gifts and doing things around home all day. Tonight dear, we all trim the tree and it will be a very pleasant evening at home.

In a few minutes now I am going to the Hospital to see Auntie who is much better. Mary is also better and is home. It was so nice of you dear to think of them and wish them well. Mary has told me how nice it was and Auntie soon will tell me.

Even though dearest our Christmas together will be a little late it will be such fun, won’t it dearest, and we will be so very happy, but then dear think of next Christmas at our home dear and so many more to come. Our happy days together will soon be here.

I love you very awfully much dear and soon will be with my precious Helen

Your Douglas

Helen, dearest I was just talking to Mother about what might be said about me as to family and there is so very much, but we here at home have clear records of our family on both sides back to 1656 in this country and record on Mother’s side back in Holland to William the 4th, family. Dearest, perhaps you will want copies of these records and I shall see about getting them if you wish. Both Mother’s and Father’s folks were all very much straight Holland Dutch. I tell you this dear as you might wish it.

I love you so much my sweetheart


On the afternoon before Christmas, Grandfather sent this final handwritten note before the holiday:

Oradell Fri Dec 24 1926, addressed to Miss Helen E. Holliday, Hotel Wesley 16th & Capitol, Indianapolis, Indiana (Google shows this near Methodist Hospital, but no obvious Hotel Wesley standing there today). Postmark shows received Indianapolis Dec. 25.

Dearest dear Helen,

Your two precious letters of Wednesday are here this morning and I am very happy to have them, and dear it is so hard to be away from you at this time, when there is such much to do and talk over. But dearest Helen your plans are my plans and that is the reason I [warned? worried?] as I did before just saying when I would be with you, which will be on Monday Morning [the 27th]. So far away and not knowing how all is with you and your Mother and what are your plans, it is hard to say anything definitely. If we could be married on Monday it would be so wonderful, but then if not as we would have so much to do, it would be Tuesday and dearest, you will know how it seems to you and the date on the announcements will be the one you pick, and I would like very much to pick them with you, but time is so short and it takes time to have them made up, that you will go right ahead dearest. There are so many things, not as we could wish, but dearest it is just that I would always feel that I had not helped Mother any, if I were not here for Christmas, as I am here so near it. But precious Helen, I will be thinking only of you dearest and want you and wish I were with you. And dearest we will have our Christmas together on Monday, dearest Helen my dear, and I will have two rings for you, one you will wear immediately, and the other as soon as we are married and dear the engraving is not done as we don’t yet know the date. I have had the two rings for days and each night and also many other times I look at them and wish I was seeing them on my dearest Helen’s finger. And dearest, I hope so that you will like them, but really dear, I am not worrying for I got them just for my sweet Helen and when I picked them out all my thoughts were of how you would like them. Dearest it will be very wonderful when you are wearing my rings to you my sweetheart and my dear wife. And this will [?] mean that you love me dearly and that I love my sweet Helen with all the love there is. Precious I love you always.

Helen it is so nice of you to ask me about myself for Mr. Burrage, but dear you know all don’t you and my precious, you are the important person and all should be about you, but dearest anything that you and your Mother say will of course be all fine with me. If there was anything special to tell you, I would dear, but always I have told you all about myself that has come to me, but please dearest your Mother should remember that my sweet Helen is the important person.

Honey dear about the number of announcements, it will be about 150 for my old friends, but dear that is lots so perhaps it will be less, but then it could be so many more, but it won't be. Dearest about where we will be married, it is hard for me to say not knowing your plans and your Mother’s plans, and then dearest I will like whatever you plan. As things are it will be impossible for me to have anyone with me that is an old friend of mine, for having nothing planned definitely ourselves, I can’t very well make plans for anyone else. But dearest I think you understand just as well and it just seems that it will have to be that way. As soon as I am with you, we can talk of so many things and you will tell me your thoughts and your plans, which of course are our plans. We will first get our license, which, you will know where to get, and then soon my sweet Helen will be my wonderful wife.

It is so terrible not to be with you my dear tomorrow on Christmas Day, and all day my thoughts will be especially of my sweet Helen.

Last night I had such a pleasant evening at the home of Charles Livingston Bull, the artist of whom so often I have spoken. His new studio, which I had not seen before is wonderful and soon I can be telling you all about our evening. Mr. & Mrs. Bull are both so extremely pleasant and exceptionally kind people, that you would love to know them, I am sure. This summer they are going to try to get out to Laramie to see us, and then we will be entertaining celebrities as, there is no doubt but what Mr. Bull is the best artist today, who draws of the wild animal life. So much have I to tell you of my pleasant evening with them, and also so much of all things here, that it is hard to write about.

Lately dearest I have been wondering very much what you have been doing yourself. From last Thursday to this Tuesday, there were no letters, and only your dear [voice?] of Monday. But you will tell me all when I am with you, won’t you dearest, for so much do I always want to know what you are doing. Each of those days with no letter are lost for me until you tell me all.

You are so good to tell me all the news dearest and we will have much to talk about. Especially good news was the oil well, and even though it does not amount to much, for I did not have much faith in Mike Lund, and I am glad I was mistaken. I happened to know quite a little about the Theater situation, when I was in Laramie, but of course I did not say anything, so your news did not at all surprise me.

Honey dear this letter may not reach you until Sunday morning, but I am hoping you will get it Christmas night, but mails are so funny. And dearest I love you, and love you and soon we will both be most very happy. My sweet precious, I will mail this at once and tonight I shall write you again. There is so very much to tell you I can't half do it in a letter.

Your Douglas who loves most dearly his Helen.

Finally Christmas was over, and Douglas could rush to the side of his fair Helen, no doubt by fast train. By Wednesday the 29th they were man and wife.

I remember, 50 years later, driving a few hundred miles with my family to help celebrate the golden anniversary of that happy day.

Before Twitter (III)

By 1925, my grandfather, working in Laramie, was courting the young lady who became my grandmother. In April 1925, while she was off on a trip through the Southwest and he stayed home working, he wrote her this note:

Laramie postmark (Thu) Apr 30 1925, ? PM
on letterhead & envelope from Certain-Teed Products Corporation, Laramie, Wyo.
Addressed to Miss Helen E. Holliday, % DeVargas Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a Please Forward note; forwarded to Albuquerque, 119 N. Walter St., with new (Santa Fe) postmark May 2, 1925

(Google shows 119 Walter St. NE today as vacant lot at corner of Historic Route 66 [Central Ave], near downtown)

Thursday afternoon

To My own little Helen,

Your card from Las Vegas is here telling me that you have just passed thru. Of course that is Wednesday afternoon and this is one day later so I know that now you are at Santa Fe all safe and sound. When I look along the map each day I know just where you might be. Such towns as [?], Las Vegas, [?] etc mean so much when I know that you have been thru them. Suppose that you will be so sunburned that we all back here will be just ‘plain’ pale faces. Helen, dear it will be so fine when you get back.

Rather amusing affair happened yesterday afternoon. Sometime ago I wrote a letter to a man (business) and then answer is here. He gives me all I asked for because there was no way out I guess, but he ends up by saying that “he considers my letter an insult but will be able to bear it.” The affair doesn’t amount to a row of pins, but as my letter to him was extremely courteous, his answer is most amusing. Can quite stop laughing about it, for really I don’t care whether he can bear it or not.

Meant to go to the show last night but instead [?] returned early and am glad I did for this morning found myself feeling pretty fit.

Today is beautiful with neither wind, snow or rain, and also it is very warm. Just a wonderful day as far as weather is concerned.

Had a letter from Mother last night, which is always so welcome. Someday dear Helen you will know my Mother and I know you will like her as Mother will like you—which will be just lots. Just think of introducing Mother to my wife, but someday soon dearest, you will be my own dear wife and of course Mother should know you.

I hope dear Helen that you are taking lots of pictures so that we can see the places together when you get back, for that will be so much fun. It will be better than seeing them [also?] to have you dear sit on my lap and tell me all about the different places and what you did at each place and then Helen my sweetheart it will be so wonderful when you are back that, that day when it will be has been set for a day of real celebration.

Helen dear you know I love you, but I love you so much I just must keep telling you, for my own little Helen I do love you so dearly.

Your own Douglas

Before Twitter (II)

My mother’s Aunt Mary, born four years before my grandfather, became the family’s historian. Before that, though, she spent time in India. In September 1925, she wrote this note to my grandfather, who was still in Laramie:

Envelope printed Girls’ High School, Dehra Dun, U.P., with handwriting “M. DeWitt” above and “India” below, addressed to Mr. Douglas H. De Witt, Certain-Teed Products Corporation, Laramie, Wyoming U.S.A.

Girls’ High School
Dehra Dun, U.P., India

Sept. 1, 1925

Dear Dud,

Hold your breath, remember you’re an uncle now and must be able to rise to most any occasion and stand most any shock, and may be you won’t have to send for the smelling salts when you realize this is a letter from the worst correspondent you have! Nowadays all my friends have given me up as hopeless and stopped writing to me so I’m making a grand splurge and getting all my letters answered. But, honest Injun, Dud, I’ve thought of you a lot, and besides I rather like writing letters, but I’ve been so horribly busy and my eyes have been the limit so I’ve really not been able to write for I had to use my eyes for school work and [that] was enough of a strain and too much most of the time. I happen to have a very easy schedule this term (for the first time in the history of India) so I’m getting some Urdu books read for an exam and also am writing letters.

How do you like the mountains? It must be fairly cool in Laramie at this time of year. Lansdowne, the hill-station a few miles from Dehra, is about the altitude of your town but is not quite as cold, I imagine. The highest I’ve ever been was something over 12,000 feet. That was this June when Shirin and I went over the snow mts. from Pahalgam in the Lid[d]ar Valley of Kashmir to Sonamarg in the Sindh Valley. Plenty of thrills on that trip. It surely was glorious, though, that day up in the snow peaks—dazzling whiteness as far as one could see, breathtaking heights—blinding sunshine. We saw the shepherd folk with their large hers of sheep and goats crossing seemingly impossible heights over trackless wastes of snow. We took off our hats to that brave crowd. I like mountain climbing, especially in Kashmir where one takes risks, rather, but sees such wonderful places.

Dehra is a little valley shut in by the Himalayas and the S[i]waliks. At this time of year it is green and luxurious as to vegetation but frightfully hot and steamy as to weather. It rains continually and in such torrents that umbrellas and raincoats are useless and one just has to stay indoors. Of course it doesn’t rain every minute but it seems as thought it always rains at recreation hour. Last night, wonder of wonders, was a perfect moonlight night. Someone had been optimist enough to plan a moonlight drive for the whole staff and we surely enjoyed it. We went in “fituns” (phaetons) and drove out to cantonments where there are few houses and the air is cooler than in the city.

Will you be home next year? I don’t know when I’ll be coming—sometime within a year. I can hardly wait to see the small namesake of yours in Oradell. Do you feel the same way?

Please don’t take as long to answer as I did, Dud. At this rate we’ll be strangers. I’d awfully much like to know about life in Laramie and the Oradell folks write so little about you as of course I suppose they think we have a wireless or something. Thanks for the checque that came with your letter for my 1924 birthday. You must have thought I didn’t appreciate it but I surely did and am ashamed of myself for not writing to thank you. I care more for the thought than the gift anyway. That silly Albany bank wouldn’t cash it, I don’t know why. I forgot to write you about it.

Well, the breakfast bell rang about five minutes ago so I’d better present myself at the table. We have tea or milk and toast at six and breakfast at eleven. Isn’t that a hilarious plan? I’m usually starved by eleven o’clock.

Lots of love to you,


Before Twitter (I)

My mother’s father was born in Oradell, New Jersey, July 1, 1899. He had a twin sister, Dot. After my grandfather finished school at Rutgers, he headed west to Laramie, Wyoming, in the employ of the Certainteed Corporation, which is still around. Dot stayed home and was courted by a fellow named Gwynne Lewis, whom she eventually married.

In December 1924, Gwynne wrote this letter to my grandfather in Laramie:

Postmarked “Hud Term. Sta. N.Y. 7 Dec 6 4 PM 1924”
Addressed to Mr. Douglas H. De Witt % Certainteed Products Corp., Laramie Wyoming Box 614
On letterhead: Gwynne T. Lewis, 99 John Street, New York City

December 6 1924

Dear Doug,

The rush continues. Judge Hooker got hooked for jury duty last Monday and yours truly has been doing double duty ever since. I won his department for the time he’s gone as well as my own, so it leaves me up to my ears.

Hope the set goes good. Have had no news, so take it that no news is good news. Finished up the set for home last week and it goes pretty good. Used most of the stuff that John had and while it hasn't got the kick I like, it’s because the transformers are both low ratio and can be remedied by putting a high ratio in the first stage. I used the coil I had originally planned to put in your set. Never could figure out why it didn’t work in there, but it wouldn’t. Still you have a much better coil in the Bruno, so I’m just as well satisfied it didn’t work for your set. Don Day made a set for Brown using the Globe coil and one for himself using a Bruno coil and the Bruno set is way ahead of Brown’s. Still he wants to make a four tube set now and is willing to part with it for just what it cost him. He’s a great guy. Wants me to go fishing up in Walton Lake with him tomorrow. And there was skating in Oradell yesterday. None today—it rained. I don’t mind mosquitos but I do draw the line on freezing to death. I’m no eskimo.

We sort of got a hunch you’ll be drifting along this way soon. Hope you do make it Xmas, it’ld be good to see you again.

Suppose you have the cross-word puzzle game out there. It’s raging terribly here. Here’s one for you. Give me a six-letter word meaning “Ball bearing mouse trap” The answer will be published at the end of this letter. Try this on Ben and see if he gets it. Oh, yes, I’ve been looking for more Red Pepper for him but so far haven’t run across any. Guess they are getting too hot for the press or else all grabbed as soon as they come out. I’ll do my best to send him one for Christmas though. It should be something extra hot for Christmas if they run true to form.

I’ve been dubbing around trying to get some hot advice on your set but so far there isn’t a thought. It’s been an hour and twenty minutes since I started this and the few intervals when I’ve been let alone have been devoted to writing like hell. Just a thought. Try various B battery voltages on your detector tube, say from 16 1/2 up to 45. You will probably choke her up with 45, but then again your tube may take it without a murmur. Lots of them do.

12:30 I got yanked out again, so will put on the lid. Below is the answer. Ponder well before trying it out on your landlady. Regards to Mrs. Ross when you see her.


Answer to X word puzzle—Tomcat.