(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Mariposa and she wants to know about our collections. What do we collect? What are the reasons that we collect a particular thing? This may have been a challenge for me until just recently because I don't collect except for books, writing supplies, music, photos and--in past years--garden plants. Recently, however, my older sister gave me a precious collection, a box of letters, that I'd like to tell you about.)
Fortunately every family has at least one person who is the collector of family mementos. In my family my older sister, Margaret, keeps the old photographs, newspaper clippings, documents, and memorabilia that tells our family story.
My sister is nine years older than I and lives in the eastern part of Kentucky, about a four hour drive from me. Except for a brother who lives in another state, Margaret is the only immediate family member still living. She never married and lives alone. And, at 72 years old, is beginning to need some care giving assistance. I am happy to make the trip east on a regular basis to help her.
On my most recent trip to see her she gave me an old blue box filled with letters that I had written her. And, what a gift this turned out to be. The letters were written, quite regularly, from 1964-66, and captured a significant period in my life. In the fall of 1964 I left my family home in the Appalachian Mountains to earn a college degree at Morehead State University, about 120 miles from home. I was the first in my family to go after a college education. These letters gave me a precious glimpse into my freshman and sophomore years on a college campus--descriptions of new interests, friends, challenges, and still close ties to home. Reading through the letters, I was surprised with how much I confided in my older sister because our family had the true mountain reserve about showing any emotion or even talking about anything more serious than day to day living.
I have written about this in recent posts, but for any new readers I'll do a quick background of my college days because it explains the content of these letters. During my freshman year I met, and began living with, a young family as a mother's helper to help pay for college expenses. Steve Hamilton was the baseball coach at Morehead State during off season, but for most of the year he was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. He and his wife Shirley had three small children. I lived with the Hamiltons all the time--I went to my college classes, the children attended the university elementary school. Steve left home in March for spring training, followed by the baseball season play. In the summer Steve rented a house for us near Yankee Stadium and Shirl and I packed up the station wagon and kids and drove to New Jersey for the summer.
Many of the letters I wrote my sister described the unique experiences of living with a professional baseball family. This was an incredible leap for a young person whose previous life had been one of isolation on a mountain farm in eastern Kentucky. And now I had tales to tell of life in New York City:
--Steve and Shirl take me to first Broadway play July '66 "Last night we went to Broadway in New York and saw Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. It was great and I enjoyed every minute of it. We had great seats--first row center. Sure were some cute guys in the orchestra. On the way to the play we saw some ships on the river as big as that field below Wanda and Bill's. I don't think I'd care to live in New York. It's impossible to count the kids who play on the streets because apartments are too small. . ."
--Date with Gil Blanco, NY Yankee rookie player August '65 "Had a very nice time with Gil last Saturday night. When he came he had on a tie and coat even though it was awfully hot. . .he was very polite--you know, opened the car door--drives a red and black 1965 Grand Prix, if that's important--and a lot of other things boys back home don't do. We couldn't figure out how to get on the right road to get to the theater in the shopping center. . .first showing half over so we went shopping 'til the movie started again! Guess what we looked at? Yep! Gil Blanco's clothes. Sure was glad I knew something about men's clothes from being around Steve who has really good taste because he (Gil) kept asking me whether I liked this or that. . ."
--First time to see an ocean, August '65 "This afternoon. . .we're going to Southhampton, Long Island for the weekend. Dave Swanson and his wife invited us to their summer house which sits right on the Atlantic Ocean. He runs or rather owns a bread business (Thomas English Muffins) and is supposedly quite wealthy. Must be because they keep a maid, housekeeper, cook, and lifeguard just at this summer place. . ."
--Ballgames at Yankee Stadium July '65 "Friday night when Shirl and I went to the ballgame we went over the great big George Washington Bridge that crosses the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York City. All those tall, tall twenty story apartment buildings are really something. . .Shirl says, 'Fades, how would you like to live on the top of one of those buildings?' I said 'Sure would.' She says, "Fades, Fades, . . .what if you go shopping and forget your pop bottles on the top floor!'. . ."
--Shirl and I study the New York Times fashion pages. I become a fashionista. August and September '66 "I got a real sharp haircut yesterday in Teaneck. It's very, very short in the back but hangs well below my ears in front. that sounds tough doesn't it?. . ." "Today I went over to Alexander's and picked up my new winter coat. . .it's dull green, fitted, double-breasted with plaid lining. . .I figure it's a pretty good coat for what I gave for it--$35.00. . ." "The other day I almost paid five dollars for a yard of wool. It was blue and grey and would make the sharpest looking A line skirt. In the upper part of Teaneck there's a fabric shop that is a hole in the wall--looks about like the second hand stores in Pikeville--but they have tables and tables of very expensive fabrics if you want to hunt for them. . ." "Guess what I'm getting? New glasses. . .square frames, color black. . .they have slightly pink tinted lenses. . .Dr. Wentz said that they would make all those rings in mine I have now less noticeable. . ."
The remaining letters were written during the school year. I shared everything with my sister--boy friend troubles, accounts of family life with the Hamiltons, school activities, my school friends and their activities, plans for visiting home. In her letters she told me about her work and life at home. I am still amazed that she kept these letters from the '60s. And what a great gift to share them with me after all these years.
Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday collections at Mariposa's place .
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