*1963 – September 3 – Dad’s Letter to Mother While the Rest of Us Are In New Mexico

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Here is a copy of first page to this letter showing Dad’s handwriting:

1963 - September 3 Letter from Dad to mother - Dad was left handed
1963 - September 3 Letter from Dad to mother - Dad was left handed

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letter from Dad to mother – he’s in Alaska while mom and kids had just arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tuesday Evening, September 3, 1963

(Don’t read this to kids, it’s just for you and I – and save it till you have plenty of time.  B.)

My darling Mildred,

When I sit down to write to you I have so much to say –it’s frustrating that my pen moves so slow.  I think I’ll first tell you about my weekend, then go on from there.

Friday after work Eklund picked me up here and took me out to their place.  She had dinner ready and he wanted to eat before he took me up to our place – so I had supper with them.  Mrs. Erickson was there, staying at their cabin – she’s living with her relatives in town this year.  Then they all brought me up to the homestead.

Oh Mil – I’d wondered how it would be there alone without you, but it was different than I’d ever imagined.  So familiar, so lonely, so empty, so full of memories.  I worked around the place, did what I could without any materials, planned what I could do to fix it up.  And thought – so many things to think about!  What should we {“I” crossed out} do now?  How did we let ourselves get into this situation, separated by so many miles?  What does the future hold? – – – – –  You keep saying you’ll leave it up to me to decide – but so much depends on you, too.  The letter I got today, written last Thursday, talks about how you want a red barn and cows and horses.  That’s what I want, too.  And we could have it there, that’s what we’ve worked so hard for these past years.  But we’ve got to face up to all that would be involved – the things we’ve skimmed over before, about isolating ourselves up there, the kids getting to school, no baby sitters, what you would do after David starts school.

I figured everything out as far as fixing up the place, and now I can make some sketches and material lists and arrive at just how much it would cost to finish the Jamesway.  The only trouble is, I’m not sure yet that’s what we ought to do.  DAMN!!  What I really want is to be with you – anything else is no good.  This school business, (he wrote between the lines: mine, I mean) for instance.  You’ve written several times about how you might like to stay out there for several months, and then when I talked to your Mother she sounded as though you were real happy with Santa Fe and might want to spend the whole winter there and put the kids in school.  If that was so, I could work on the homestead ‘till the middle of October, then go to Chicago to school until the middle of December, and then meet you for X-mas, and bring you home.  But in the letters I’ve gotten since then you don’t sound any happier about being away than I am – talking about moving on again, and so on.  I know what a strain this trip has been on you, my sweet, and I can’t think of you turning right around and coming back to the same thing you left.  What I’m thinking about now is using the money from the loan on the homestead for a down payment on a house, probably in Eagle River.

Before you left, we both thought that if my raise didn’t come through you’d settle somewhere “out there” until I’d gotten a job overseas or elsewhere.  I was so disgusted with waiting for it that I didn’t much care whether I stayed or went, and I guess neither of us gave much thought to what we’d do if I did get the raise.  Now I have it – and the homestead patent too – and I’m so blue without you that I’m that I’m not even happy a little bit about it – just more disgusted than ever that it didn’t come sooner!  I looked around that Jamesway and I wondered how you stood living there with things the way they were; and I couldn’t bear the though of you coming back to it the way it is – not until I fixed it up the way it should be – and should have been long ago.  I haven’t figured it out yet, but I know I could do all the work that needs doing, with the possible exception of the well, before winter.  But after all the wondering, worrying, fretting, back-and-forthing, this is it!  Either that’s our home or it isn’t, and now’s the time to decide.  I know from your letters that you aren’t sure – about whether we should make it our full time home or not, winter-and-summer, etc.

Since this letter is so mixed up already, let me take time out to tell you about this school I mentioned, then we can maybe get back on the track.  The office of the Corps of Engineers in the Midwestern area arranged with the University of Illinois to present a graduate-level course in what they call “Water Resource Planning,” or words to that effect.  From their description it will cover the whole field of what’s called “Basin Planning,” which is a fast-growing field, and one with a lot of future.  Anyhow, they have room for 50 people, and only 30 qualified candidates from that area – so they invited the western divisions and districts to supply the other 20.  As so often happens up here we got word of this on the very day the replies had to be in Chicago.  So they scurried around to find someone who could fill the bill.  Of the few in the District who had the necessary background, I was the only one who couldn’t come up with a good reason why I couldn’t go – this at the time when I thought you might stay there all winter.  So they made a phone call to Chicago, and turned me in.  As I said Friday, this would last for 10 weeks from the middle of October to the week before X-mas.  From the sound of it, it would be 10 weeks of hard work for someone who’s been out of school for 17 years, but it would be about half the requirements for a Masters degree.  The District would pay the tuition plus transportation and living expenses.  It would be good background on my record, and a good boot towards a [GS] 13 in the next two or three years when this “Basin Planning” business begins to pick up steam in Alaska, as it shows signs of doing in the near future.  BUT – – – after waiting all this time for a [GS] 12 – a grade where a great many men are content to live out their time until retirement, I’ll be double damned if I [sic] going to sacrifice anything of our personal life for another promotion in the future!

So there!  What I’m getting at is that so it sounds like an opportunity – so what?  If I was going to be here alone anyhow, I’d rather be in Chicago doing something different.  But if you want to come home now, or next month, that’s worth one hell of a lot more to me.  I know this won’t sound to you the way it does to me.  When I’m writing to you I feel as close to you as I ever could when we’re apart, but I know when you read it two or three days from now it will hit you cold, and you’ll wonder what ‘he’ means.  Don’t try to read between the lines, Darling, I just mean that I take kind of a cynical view of this thing, and I’m not about to build our plans around it.  If it worked out it would be interesting, but It isn’t important to me.

Now – to get back to where I started – what I ought to do is start in and make a list of all the pros and cons and reasons and not-reasons – but all I know is I’m miserable and you’re miserable, and I guess the kids are miserable too.  [Linda note:  I loved Santa Fe.  I was in 7th grade, the school was beautiful, the children accepted and liked me, the sky was blue, the sun shone every day.  I felt like I was at a party – for the first time in my life.]  So what do we do about it?  I could leave any time, and meet you somewhere and drive back with you.  But what do we come back to?  The homestead is just like we left it, and will be until I can get some money, get a pickup or Jeep [Linda note:  They had just sold the perfectly fine jeep mother had demanded she get just before that!], and go up there and do some work.  We could rent a place, or we could by one, and logically that’s what we should do.  But since when does logic have anything much to do with that homestead on the mountain?  If it did we never would have done what we did.  It’s fine to say it’s up to me to decide, but we both know that won’t stick – it has to be both of us.  So I’ll figure out just how much it would cost to fix up the Jamesway, and try to guess how long it would take me.  I’ll try to figure out just how far $3000 would go in paying off our debts – or at least in reducing our payments – and see how we could make out financially.  We’ll both try to decide this question of whether or not we want to live on the homestead permanently.  You’ve said over and over in the past that you want to – and it’s only me that hesitates.  But is that really true?  I’ve always felt that if it was only me I had to consider I wouldn’t hesitate a minute about living there, but that it always seemed like a “man-ish” kind of place and that it wasn’t right to isolate my family there.  The only thing I can be sure of is that we can never be happy anywhere else unless we can give up any idea of living there at all.  It either has to be our home, or something we’ve “had” and gotten over.

If you’ve decided to stay in Santa Fe for awhile, or if by now you’ve moved on to someplace else – where I wouldn’t know – then tell me where and how I can callyou.  Then next payday I’ll call and we can, I hope, make a plan together.

To begin with I was going to tell you the details of my “daily life,” but after writing this long I just don’t feel like it.  Enough to know that I get enough to eat, boring but filling; I’m about to have to learn how to iron a shirt, since the ones you left are about gone.  The first two weeks after you left I was real busy, which was lucky, but since then the evenings are growing longer.  I’ve sometimes had to read until one or two A.M. to get to sleep, and then I don’t sleep well here.  The nights I slept “up there” were the best I’ve had yet – but each night I woke up and reached for you, it seemed so real that you were there beside me, Mil!

Yesterday I went moose hunting – across the creek to Bish’s, up the mountain into the valley above Easterly’s..  As I was coming down I met the Wolfe’s going berry-picking, and they had Little Bear with them.  He’s adjusted wonderfully to them, and he’s really their dog now it was plain to see.  So I told them he was theirs to keep, and I know he will have a good home.  Then a little later I met the Rumseys too, and with them was the woman who runs the kennel where Smokey is.  She said that Smokey’s getting along fine, sits up and begs for her dinner, and has even gotten over barking at strangers.  She’s happy there, but somehow I know that when we go to get her – as we will – she’ll still be our Smokey.  When I came down the road towards our place, the yard and the lawn made it look so homey.  So after I’d had dinner – beans and weenies, ugh – I went out and mowed the grass.  And just as I finished, I saw Wolfe’s car come down, and then Bear came through the grass.  He came over to be patted, ran around and sniffed at everything, then trotted off down the road to meet them!  Didn’t even look back!  [sad face drawn here]

Oh well, I guess it’s better that way.  This morning I was supposed to walk down to Eklund’s and ride in with him, but my damned watch was an hour slow.  So I just barely caught John Wolfe, and got to work late.  I had thought that old folding alarm clock was up there, but I couldn’t find it.  I woke up early enough by my watch, but that darn thing doesn’t know how to tell time for more than one day at a time.

This letter seems to ramble on and on, but I hate to stop – the only reason I will is that my hand’s getting tired.

I’ve tried several times to get in touch with that female (?) photographer, but I didn’t have her number and couldn’t remember her name to look it up.  So finally, Friday, when Eklund stopped at Safeway in Mt. View, I got to her shop.  She wasn’t open, but there was a phone number on the door.  So tonite I called and talked to her.  She says she bay-sits during the day, and is only open after six.  So – maybe next week, payday, I can get a ride over there and see her about the pictures.

That reminds me about the money.  While you were still in Canada you wrote “send money to Denver, I’ll wait for it there.”  So I did, damn it.  If I’d waited I could have sent it to Santa Fe, and you’d have had it Friday.  As it is, I wonder if you got it today.  If I’d had any more I would have wired you some more, but I just don’t.  I sure hope we can make better arrangements next week.

I feel silly, starting on page nine, when you’ve hardly had more than a note from me in weeks.  I’ve got a whole big manila envelope full of letters and cards from you, and how dear they’ve been to my heart, these lonely past weeks!  I wish I could have written more to you, but how?  Today I got back a letter I’d sent to Great Falls, Montana.  I’ll enclose it with this so you’ll at least get to read it.  I think it’s one of the ones I made 3 copies of, so maybe you got one of the others.  J

Let me know if you want me to send the newspapers I’ve saved, along with some magazines for the kids, and I’ll bundle them up and send them off.

I enjoy the notes and post cards the kids have sent.  I love them all (the kids, I mean), and not just as a group but each one for himself and herself.  It all seems so familiar, writing something like that, only difference is there’s one more now.

Oh Mildred – why did we do this to ourselves?  I miss you too, more than ever before!  I love you, and I need you near me – but we both need things different than they have been lately.  Good resolutions aren’t going to help much either – we’ve got to change our way of livin’.  I’ve just read your Thursday’s letter over again, and I know what you mean, about going to Church, and living a good life.  Maybe we had to be apart a little while to clear our heads – but I know I want you with me, for always.

I’ll read this letter over again before I seal it, but I won’t change anything.  It’s taken me most of the evening to write it, with pauses to think, and dream a little, and look at some of your letters, and I’ve forgotten what all I’ve said.  If I think of anything else, I’ll add it later.

I love you Mildred, I hope you can feel it the way I do, now and always between us, no matter the distance.  I love you with all my heart, Bill

P.S. Yep, I did:

1.  Maybe you didn’t see any other women travelling [sic] alone with children, but they’re aren’t many who could do what you did.  You’re wonderful, and brave, and a real good driver.  I don’t think you’ll ever again be afraid to drive with me.  If you’ve had the light fixed, or when you do, send me the bill and I’ll send it to the insurance company – I think it’s covered.  The power steering should only need checking when you get a grease job – which you were supposed to get at Dawson creek, remember?

2.  About Holbrook [town where Dad grew up in Arizona], if you go there.  No street names when I lived there.  We lived in “Leopold’s house” on the hill across the river from town, an old flat-roofed adobe house with a windmill, if it’s still there.  Didn’t live in Flagstaff, only went to College one semester there.  Love, Bill

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This letter can be read in context here:  *September 1963 – Mother’s Letters

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5 thoughts on “*1963 – September 3 – Dad’s Letter to Mother While the Rest of Us Are In New Mexico

  1. Near the end of the letter, Bill writes “Good resolutions aren’t going to help much either – we’ve got to change our way of livin’.” I don’t think Dad’s use of the contraction for “living” was accidental; he was too careful a speaker and writer, and I almost never heard him use anything but careful English. He was also a country music fan, and probably spent those long drives back and forth to the Homestead listening to the car radio. Then it dawned on me–The lyric *You’re gonna change your way of livin’* is a compilation from two classic Hank Williams songs, “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)” and “I just Don’t Like This Kind of Livin'”.

    These are classic country tunes, which Hank sings in an almost comical twang, dropping consonants and practically yodeling the vowels.

    In the first sing he sings:

    You wore out a brand new trunk
    Packin’ and unpackin’ your junk
    Your daddy’s mad; he’s done got pee-eeved.
    You’re gonna change or I’m a-gonna leave.

    In the second he sings:

    Why do we stay together?
    We always fuss and fight
    You ain’t never known to be wrong
    And I ain’t never been right

    Tell me where you think we’re going
    ‘Cos I ain’t got no way of knowing
    When things go wrong, you go your way
    You leave me here to pay and pay
    And I just don’t like this kind of living

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