A Letter

My aunt died this morning. I’m happy that she only suffered the terrible pain she was in for a short time. I’m happy my cousins did not have to contend with it for weeks or months on end, unable to do anything about it. My grandma said that death was merciful sometimes, and this is one of those times.

I found the actual letter my grandfather wrote his brother’s sons, and I sent it to my cousins. It’s a pretty amazing piece of literature in its way. It’s written in pencil on manila paper. I don’t know if that exists any more.

My grandfather was born in 1870 and grew up on a farm in Eastern Iowa. He was a brilliant man, self-taught, they say, but I have his 3rd grade math book and it has trigonometry in it, so that bit about, “He only went to third grade” is kind of bogus. It’s not how far you go in school, but what you learn while you’re there. He thought of himself as a philosopher which isn’t a very useful calling when you’re sharecropping a farm on the high plains of Montana in the 30s. I never knew him, really. I was 5 when he died.

The letter is a precious family artifact. It was written in 1941 when my aunt would have been 16. Β It was kept by my grandfather’s nephew, passed to his son, and then given to my mom when she went to “find her roots” in Iowa. That’s how I happened to have it. It was one of the rewards of the “great garage purge of 2017.”

This is something my cousins might want to pass along to their kids. I hope so.


14 thoughts on “A Letter

  1. Its so true and I can certainly relate. My mother only had a grade 6 education, still, what she learned went beyond the grade 12 when I got there. Each year more and more is cut from the curriculum as it’s supposedly “too much” for students to handle. I wonder if it’s a design to keep us ignorant or pay for more schooling. As a “professional student” I loved learning, the more I learned the better I felt. Today, it seems many only want to learn what is relevant to their daily lives, missing out on the understanding of humanity they can avail themselves of by actually learning about history, decisions made in the past and how that is reflected or not, in today’s society. Sigh.

    • I think back in 1878, when my grandfather stopped going to school, life was lived at a different pace and everything in his arithmetic book had a direct application to his life on the farm. Trig and triangulation helped them measure haystacks and build barns. I know he read all the time. I think there was the idea about school, too, that you went there to learn what you needed for the rest of your life during which you’d teach yourself based on the skills you’d gotten in school. And, in a community like his, everyone knew the kids had to work on the farm as soon as they were big enough.

      I think that No Child Left Behind etc. all the test-based curricula we’ve had in the last 20 years has destroyed that philosophy of education and taught students to learn the answers to test questions. I don’t think that’s nearly as interesting as teaching a kid triangulation and then telling them go home and try it. It’s sad because one of human’s most evolutionary important traits is curiosity and the ability to learn. 😦

      • I so agree, Martha. No Child Left Behind has debased the idea of education, so that a child that will never “get it” passes along side a child that worked their asses off to pass. If there is no reason to try (as in it’s gone you are going to pass anyway) what the hell’s the purpose of school? I see it with my grandkids. Little Harry has “whatever” that means he’ll never pass grade 2 or 3 yet he’s passed alongside my grandkid that does homework and works hard every night to get the work done. Where’s the incentive to be better than, reach for the stars, that what you do matters???

  2. I thought MY curriculum was insipid, but it was a Ph.D. compared to what they are teaching now. My mother only completed 7th grade, but she was better educated than most college grads. What she might have missed in school, she made up by reading everything. Unless she was doing something physical, she was reading, sometimes out loud. Amazing how much I learned because my mother turned off the TV and read us a chapter of whatever she was reading.

    It’s wonderful that you have family history that far back. I don’t know anything that far back. On the positive side, I can make things up … and they COULD be true, right?

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