From a time long ago…

14 Aug

My paternal grandfather came over to the United States from Germany on the eve of WWII. He was a young man, 17, and his mother was Nazi resistance. I don’t know why we don’t have that story researched and written down, given that my dad, brother, and me all graduated with history degrees. Louise, my great-grandmother, was definitely a unique and strong woman. She married, had a kid, and divorced a man I know very little about — the story I’ve heard about them entails a fur coat gift that was later reclaimed by the store for lack of payment. She then distrusted and worked underground against the Nazi movement. When she realized what was happening, she sent her son to the United States by himself to stay with an uncle who had a deli in New York City. When my grandfather arrived, he was told by this uncle that he could stay the night but he was on his own after that. I can’t imagine facing a brand new country and language with nothing but the good wishes of my family members.

He married, joined the US Army, worked as intelligence (since he knew German), wrote diligently to his mother, kept a steady job, had children, never spoke German again, and died after many happy years within a year of his wife. And this is where our story begins. Things left behind can reveal such mysteries about people you know so well.

I was a curious 12 year old when I lost my grandparents. After they both passed away, it was up to my family to organize and pack up their house. In their closet, among my grandmother’s purses, on the top shelf — where else — was an old sewing box. Opening it revealed many letters from long ago. What treasure! I remember being at first amazed at how cheap postage used to be, and in awe over the age of the letters — they started in 1935. They were from several different authors and showed that before my grandmother became a wife, mother, and career woman — who at one point worked for the mayor of Atlanta — she lived an exciting life in New York City. Where else could such dramatic things happen? A particular set of letters from a Mr. Eugene Paige of Attleboro, Mass. caught my young eye.


December 31, 1935

Precious Bessy;

You shall never know how lonely I felt when I left you last Sunday night. My darling, little did I ever dream that I could ever love anyone as much as I do you. It was lovely of you to postpone those two engagements for me. I meant to thank you Sunday but after seeing you I forgot everything; but I want to do so now. I know now after it is too late that I should have let you know that I was going out.

I doubt that a minute has passed in the last two days that I have not been thinking and planning about the next six months. that will mean so much to us. My dear do you still feel the same? Will you marry me in six months if things are still the same with us and I have enough money along with a good job? My darling is there any doubt in your mind as to whether we shall be married or not? Now don’t be cruel and keep it from me. You know it is not a dream any longer. It is not something that may come true or may not. It seems my dear that God must have heard your prayers and is helping us out, because this morning my boss gave me a better job. This new job has opportunities along with it. That means that we have started our six months with a bang.

Now this is the truth my dear I really have a new job much better than my other.

How about it Bessy is it going to be Connie, John and Gene? My dear believe me when I say that I’ll love you as long as I live.

I saw my uncle to nite and told him about my trip to New York. He was very glad to hear that I had such a good time. He told me that he would like very much to have you come to Attleboro for a few days. What he really said was for you to come out and stay with he and his wife as long as you like. Will you please my darling come out as soon as you can. You won’t have to spend one cent out here and I’ll buy you your ticket, so in short it should not cost you anything. I know that you will have a good time, won’t you please come soon?

My darling your coming out may help us a lot. When my uncles see how lovely you are they will just have to help us to get married.

Little wife before I go to bed to night I’ll kneel by my bed and ask God to help us and thank him for all that he has done for you and I. He will not fail us my precious if in our hearts we really love each other and ask him to bring those two together and beat as one.

My dear you will write soon and tell me if you still feel as you did Sunday won’t you? Bessy you have the power to make my dream come true, so won’t you please say that you still love me and that in six months we may be married.

My darling it is almost an end to this old year and a beginning to a new and happier one for you and I. With the help of God and our love for each other we cannot fail in finding true happiness together for the rest of our lives.

Happy new year dear,

xxxxx I go on kissing you forever

Always Gene


I’m pretty sure I got my sense of poetry and deep love from him. Except if they had gotten married then I wouldn’t be here. And yet my Lino kept these close to her for 60 years. I love thinking about her as a woman like me with young loves and a sense of adventure.

Eugene NYC
Looks like my grandmother had a great view


3 Responses to “From a time long ago…”

  1. boblarkin August 14, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Katherine, this is great. I really liked your grandparents. Quite fascinating to think Lino kept this sweet letter all those years.

    • mamajohnston August 14, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      I forgot you knew them! I wonder what my grandchildren will find in my closet?

      • boblarkin August 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

        They will find a little technology nugget (size of a BB) that they insert in their personal chip, then enjoy full display of all your blog master pieces.

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