Wedding cake, in the dining room of the Pink House. The kitchen is visible through the door.
In her letter a couple of weeks ago, Grace mentioned that there was an “old-fashioned” refrigerator in the Pink House when they moved in. This week, while writing about her wedding to Louie, refrigerators come up again. That juxtaposition illustrates something about Grace’s character that she learned from her mother. It’s a character trait that she passed on to me. My brothers are afflicted with the same fault: practicality.
Jim and Lucy taught me about love and kindness. Grace was all into making life functional. Some use joy to ease the pains of life, some figure out how to work through the difficulties to make the joy possible. Grace found joy in knowing that her family would be happier if she smoothed out some of the rough edges of life. Smoothed out with new slip covers on the couch.
Grace’s practicality paid off for me. She and Louie invested a lot of time and energy in putting together a wedding photo album and keeping mementos of the day. Being able to flip through the pictures and cards today lets me touch the joy and anticipation they must have felt on those summer days in 1949. The abandon they felt while running around Itasca Park in northern Minnesota reflected on Judy and me as we enjoyed our honeymoon on exactly the same ground.
Grace at the Headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca Park
We had a small wedding cake with real yellow roses around it. Afterwards had pictures taken at King Studio.
Itasca Park and Minneapolis made up our honeymoon. I wore a yellow pinwale corduroy outfit I had made. Had a jacket, skirt + slacks with white shirts.
Jim opens this letter by telling us about the photos he had sent to his mother, and how his step-father had been sending pictures for years. There must have been at least a dozen or more of those pictures, but none of them made it to me. Jim’s photo albums have only a handful of pictures of Jim as a child.
In this letter Jim describes his change from a lost and lonely WWII veteran to the family member who finally came home. Now he belonged. The farm was the root of Jim’s life. His love of the farm and his parents was clear to me, even when I was a rambunctious teenager. This letter cements that feeling.
I wish there were photos of those reunions.
The attached photo is from the pages of Jim’s album that focuses on the middle fifties, at least six years after the homecoming. Jim (partially obscured) and his mother are in the back row, far right. Einar is in the back row, framed by the window. I can only guess at who the others are, but the “matriarch” in the center, wearing a black dress, is probably Grandma Cora. I’d love to hear stories from each of those people. The young people look happy and playful; the old men look like their stories are a little more serious.
(Click on the photo for a closer view.)
After the third day of my arrival at the Steads, Mother and Einar returned from Inkster. They didn’t stop at their farm but drove straight here. During the past few years we had been writing to each other and enclosing pictures. Not only that, long before I knew I was adopted Dad had been sending pictures from my earliest years so she was somewhat prepared for this meeting as was I. Nervousness overtook me when their pickup truck drove in to the yard amidst barking dogs and suddenly …
Jim driving Bob Stead’s pontoon on Lake Metigoshe- about 1971
In a later letter Jim will describe the cabin Bob Stead had at Lake Metigoshe. That’s the place Jim and I went many times to celebrate the coming of summer, the height of summer, and the end of summer. Bob was rarely there, he was always off on a business deal. Every now and then he’d be at the lake for the same weekend as Jim and me. When that happened, he would take us on a pontoon boat ride around the late. Metigoshe is an incredibly complicated lake, much like the family Jim was getting introduced to.
Bob and Vivian Stead were very successful in their farming and ranching ventures … they had a large herd of white faced Hereford cattle … over two hundred head of sheep. They also raised grain crops wheat, barley, oats, millet, and some flax. I found out later that Bob also had interests in oils wells and a gold mine!
Einar, Eleanor, Jim in 1953
Trepidation. That’s the only word that comes to mind when I read this story. In 1949 as a young man, Jim drove halfway across the country to meet a mother he didn’t know, gather with a family he may have known the names of, and maybe even start life anew in a strange part of the country. Maybe I’m projecting my emotions his way, but I get really nervous just reading this letter. There are too many unknowns here. Is it the image of pulling into a farm driveway only to be greeted by a herd of barking dogs? Or is it the strange feeling of seeing someone part the kitchen curtains, furtively glance out, and then send out the man of the house?
As a young man barely twenty-one years old, he had already spent years at war in the South Pacific. Could that have prepared him for meeting his mother, aunts and uncles, and who knows how many cousins? How raw could his emotions have been, so soon after losing his step father?
Jim never was one for much drama, but this comes across as high drama. Maybe you can feel the emotions between the lines as he tells the story.
Westhope (ND) was the closet town to my mother’s and Einars farm so I went there to ask directions. I mispronounced “Einars” first name and that branded me as a stranger in their midst! But I was given directions to drive west out of town (gravel) 8 miles then two miles south and I would discover the farm. All sorts of thoughts were whirling thru my head along with the exciting prospects of meeting my mother and her husband for the first time!
Jim and Franklin Corser
How many things are there in life that we just don’t talk about? Is it the pain that keeps us from talking about love or death? In this case it’s obvious that the memories are clear, but it’s only in these letters that Jim allows us a look into his heart to see the love and respect he had for his step-father. Jim always gave me the impression that life with Franklin Corser was difficult and not a place to go in general discussion. Talk about cars, camping, or a Guard weekend was much more important. Anything but stories about Dad.
Jim revealed many more emotions to his typewriter than he ever did directly to me. Even after writing these letters, we never really talked about what he had written. We shared how important and memorable they were, but discussing things like his love for his father just didn’t enter into the conversation. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels easier to expose my own emotions to this blog, just as Jim did in this letter.
It was September 1949 and I was working nights at the Millers Falls Paper Mill. I was staying at the lake cottage with Dad and Flora. This wasn’t an ideal arrangement, the cabin was small, the walls were thin and it is always difficult to adjust to a routine of working nights and trying to sleep days. For some time my mother and I had been … Continue reading
Jim and his mother c. 1927
What is clear from this letter is that life on the farm was a challenge for Jim, just like it was for Grace and Lucy. Jim had the extra hurdle of being adopted into the Corser family, something neither Grace nor Lucy had to deal with. In the photo at right, it’s clear that something is amiss in the relationship with his adoptive mother.
The part of the story that hits home for me is the influence of religion while on the farm. My religious beliefs have always been a little out of the ordinary, perhaps unconsciously influenced by Jim? Maybe some of my future posts will go a little deeper into religion, one of my favorite reading topics.
The year was 1949 … I was 25 years old and it was to be the first time I would meet and speak with my natural or birth mother … but that is a story for another time.
In 1926, at the age of two, I was “put up” (as they called it then) for adoption. In those days it was unthinkable for a young, unwed mother to keep her child. Bias and prejudice compounded by pressure from …