Letters from Mom – Dealing with David

This letter is nine 1/4 months before I was born.  Dad is away teaching; Mom is raising six kids in a farmhouse. The incident with David, my oldest brother who was ten at the time, illustrates Mom’s refusal to let things “slide” by her.  More letters here.



Monday’s wash is done and the noon news is on so I should have time to dash off a note before the mailman comes.

You are probably wondering about David’s note.  He begged me for a pencil when down at the Gospel Book Store and I refused him, because he has several now, and I had already bought him a new Sugar Creek story.  Mrs. Gage gave him a liquid lead pencil [??]  to try out and he just kept it.  I didn’t know anything about it until somehow it came out on Saturday.  One of the other youngsters mentioned it and he finally admitted that he had one and first told me that he thought she meant for him to keep it.  But after awhile he told me he knew better and had just kept it.  So I asked him to write Mrs. Gage and tell her and send the money for it and also to write you and tell you what he had done.  He really hated to do that.  But after they were in the mail box and he sat on my lap and talked to me about it, he was so happy to have it out in the open and taken care care of.  Several times during the day he told me he was glad about that.  I do believe he gets his love from pencils from you. [not love of, but love from – interesting] It always amazed [him] how many different kinds you kept around and ready for use.  He said he was really tempted to take an eversharp that he saw down there but he didn’t and now is glad that he didn’t.

We have been having a siege of diarrhea [what a colorful phrase!]  around here. Dorothy was seized with it last night just before time for church so we didn’t go. […] Danny took sick with diarrhea during the night and doesn’t feel good now.  Funny how it hits all at once – the stuff just poured out of him for about two hours.  Just kept changing him.  He didn’t complain or cry, but Dorothy was in pain last night. […]

Well, I will close and get my boys down for a nap.  Danny really needs one after last night.  Much love from all of us – pray for us and we have to decide about the Bollman house [a new living situation] right away.

                                All my love,



Letters from Mom – Not Enough Time, Too Many Pounds

Unwanted mice (our farmhouse was next door to a working farm), unwanted pounds (yeah – I have always envied my friends who lose weight breastfeeding), not excited about Thanksgiving and prayers.  But Danny remains the comic relief!  I know nothing what the reference to Hyde. Previous letters here.  And can anyone else appreciate being the only one who notices the improvement?


Thursday a.m.

Dearest John,

I certainly am tardy in getting a letter off to you – something is always getting neglected.  I’ve been trying to get the housework in better shape than it has been in the past months, but in doing that I haven’t written a letter in weeks.  And while some of the work is done, no one but me can see any improvement.

[…] Monday morning the mouse trap was gone – and we haven’t been able to locate it.  I hope the mouse got away from it.  So I set the other trap that I had and we have been getting a mouse a day.  It is getting disgusting to have so many of the animals around the place.  And flies too.  Having these pigs eating (and they are feeding them grain right on the cement by the house) right out here must be part of the reason.

[…]  We told Danny that you were going on the toll road when you left on Sunday night.  So now when something is to be told he goes to the window and looks toward the toll road and we hear, “Daddy, Daddy, you on toll road.  Jimmy hit me, or Here’s some dessert for you, or today he decided Marvin was wearing your red winter hat.” […] This morning he was playing with clay – fixed up a cake of it and put it in the skillet in the oven and told me he had a ‘burger in the oven!

Carol should be waking up and it is time to fix some lunch for Jimmy.  So far this morning I haven’t earned my salt, but have eaten much more than that.  Unless I quit nursing the baby you folks are going to be way ahead of me in this losing weight business.  I have gained several pounds in spite of my efforts not to do so.  Hate to think what I’d weigh if I let myself go on eating now. […]

We’ll miss you this weekend, but it won’t be too long until Thanksgiving vacation.  I guess that we’ll be staying home here, although that doesn’t sound very exciting to me.  Sounds more like work, unless everyone would be satisfied with wieners.  But I suppose when the time comes we’ll get more enthusiastic.  We all do love you and are glad we can look forward to you coming home.  We’ll be praying for you this week end, but after reading about Hyde, I wonder if our prayers do much.  But we’ll keep on in our feeble way.

Always yours,


Letters From Mom – Father Hunger

Previous letters here.  Seven children, aged eleven to newborn, with her husband away teaching college.  Sick kids, washing machine still causing trouble, rats, mice, wind…and she finds time to read.  That’s my mom! 

Thursday evening, 10-??-57

Dear John,

Tonight when Danny [3 years old] was going to bed he was sobbing on the bed in the living room – I’ve never heard him sound so broken hearted.  I gathered him up and he told me, “I want my Daddy” over and over again.  He is feeling so punk and has been my little shadow for a couple of days, but tonight it was just too much.  I would have spent the money on phone call if I was sure it would have helped just to let him hear you.  With some loving from me and Carol [3 weeks] he settled off to sleep.  He is not so sick, but enough to be miserable.  […]

Carol has been good but wanting to eat about every three hours and hardly staying awake long enough to eat; on a chance that perhaps she wasn’t getting enough I tried giving her some formula tonight – but she would hardly take any.  She may have a light case of the flu now. […]

We have had another rat and two mice die since you left — and by the noises around we still have some more.

A lot of wind last night.  I’d forgotten how drafty the house is.

Been reading A. Whyte.  Also some of E. Stanley Jones.  Must say that I find Whyte much the more stimulating.  “Mastery” may be good — but I don’t always get the point.  His magazine just came – you’ll enjoy it this month.  Article about Ken Pike and two articles about non-professional missionaries that I enjoyed.

Must close for now.  I do love you and like Danny I often would like to give up because “I want you”.  But because of you I take heart and strive to do a good job here.  Take care of yourself and hurry home next week-end. 

All my love,


Letters from Mom – Broken Washing Machine and the Flu

Here are some excerpts from another letter. (Previous letters here.) I was about three weeks old when this was written.  Seven children in a country home, husband away teaching college, the washing machine is broken, the part came in the mail and she is thinking about fixing it herself.  Bills and budgets are an ever present dilemma.  The last paragraph is a rare admission of discouragement.

Friday, 10-18-57


It was good to get your letter yesterday – I should have had one in the mail to you, but I didn’t.  Listening to Paul Harvey ruins my letter writing time.  [..] The radio has been on the fritz today.  I managed to hear most of Tozer’s message* by staying right there to punch the buttons or do otherwise to get the contortion out of it – not on the line, but in the radio.  Danny [3 years old] is good at tuning it in.  He has also been a good dish wiper this week.  His cold isn’t any better – just gets some improvement when he plays in the water or runs outside without a jacket. […]

I’ll pay the telephone bill today – that is nearly $8 – several long distance calls on it.  And then the rest will get some gas, baby food, eggs, and groc.  Sorta hard to figure out just what is the most imp. things on the list. […]

Game [football] is canceled for tonight because of flu.  It is on the increase in the school here.  Each day more out, and our youngsters have all been exposed now with someone in their room coming down with it during school and being sent home with a temp of 103 or so.  I refuse to worry – I could get sick just thinking about what would happen if we all got it.  I have been trying to see that we all get the necessary rest and been using plenty of orange juice and vitamins to keep their resistance up.  It is in the Lord’s hands and He gives strength when needed.  You cause me more concern by your irregular living, if you should get it.

Now I must close – surely do miss you.  Guess I didn’t write partly because I was just too lonesome and didn’t want to sound too sad.  Those spells come when I feel as though I just have to see you, and anticipating a week end without you seems too much.  I just must not think ahead to weekends but take each day as it comes.  And the thought of you using so much time and energy and losing out on your studies just to come home doesn’t cheer me any either.  All in all it is not the most satisfactory situation, but it is the best one for us now or else the Lord would change it, of that I’m sure.  I love you honey, we all do, and we are praying for you daily.



* The next day she wrote:  Very interested in Tozer’s message yesterday – some questions to ask you when you get home.  Wonder where women without husbands get their questions answered?  I could get along without that, but I couldn’t get along without you and your love.  I still marvel that you love me, but so very glad that you do.

Letters from Mom – Sick Kids

A lovely sentence from my early morning reading of WWI novel by Anne Perry No Graves As Yet:

He knew they had written every week, long letters full of thoughts and feelings, trivial details of domestic life, more a matter of affection than of news.

This letter from Nellie to John was written the day after the first letter I posted.  Seven children and the flu!

Tuesday 10-08-57

My Dearest John,

It is such a beautiful day that I feel like working in the yard – but not really as my back is not yet strong enough for that.

David [my oldest brother] is feeling better this morning and wants to go to school this afternoon – their room has a football game this afternoon.  But this morning they were fixing shredded wheat [odd family custom of fixing shredded wheat by pouring boiling water over it, draining the water, adding a pat of butter, no milk] and a bowl of hot water tipped on him – his stomach – and really blistered it, a large patch just above the navel.  So he won’t play – he had hoped to, even tho’ I said that it was too soon for that after being sick.

Dorothy [my oldest sister] went to a 4-H meeting last night to see what it was about.  Hesper took her and Norma – for cooking and sewing.  They would enjoy it, but I was disappointed when she came home smelling like smoke.  She said the leader smoked right during the meeting. […]

They [older children] have been helping out very well, and I have been getting my rest.  Little jobs are piling up, but I hope to soon be able to do more and get at them.

I made some home-made noodles last night.  The children really went for them with some boiling beef.  I’ll have to do that from now on – very simple and good. […]

Now I must get lunch ready.  Scrambled eggs for my invalids.  Danny, the clown, holds his stomach and groans, so that he can crawl up on the davenport with David!  That was yesterday as David has been up today doing school work.

Je t’aime beaucoup, beaucoup – that will fool David.  He has been looking over my shoulder.



Letters from Mom

This letter, dated 10-07-57, was written a week (ish) after the birth of Nellie’s seventh child (that’s me!) from her home in Michigan.  Her husband, John, is in Illinois teaching college.  I’ve lightly edited the letter, snipping details about others that wouldn’t hold up to public interest.  Evidently my dad had been sick on his last visit home.  What strikes me with this letter is how “other oriented” she is. 

My Dearest,

Though there is not much in the way of news, I do want to get a note to you, so that you will know that all is going well – and that we are wondering how you are making out.  I did hate to see you leave when you weren’t feeling a bit good, but I felt that you wouldn’t get much better around here – so hard to keep down.

The baby continues to eat and sleep – imagine, not one crying period yet.  She even slept through the night feeding on Saturday night.  Her cold is a little worse, but really not bad.

David [my oldest brother] is home today with whatever you had.  No temp, just a sore stomach.  He was fine when he got up, was helping me with breakfast, when all of a sudden he turned white and said he didn’t feel good.  He was on the davenport, but when the bus came he said he felt O.K. then and went to school. But at 9:30 he called me up and I had to go after him.  I asked the Lord to make the gas last for that trip as I had no money with me and it registered zero yesterday when I took the children to S.S. I don’t know how long it has been there.  David is sleeping now. 

Danny [my youngest brother] came in from seeing Jimmy [next brother up from Danny] off on the bus and grinning said that the driver said he was cute!  He sits for periods of time on the footstool by the baby’s bed and watches and waits for her to wake up.

Don’t feel that you have to leave the homecoming to get home this weekend.  I would love to have you here, but I feel that I have had more than my share of your time so far this school year.  And I have certainly appreciated having you home and helping out – but if you can stay and get a little done on your classes for Monday you had better do that, as preaching here will make you a very short night’s sleep.

Going to sign off now, don’t want to miss the mail carrier.  I miss you here – really seems lonesome without you – just a few weeks like we had in Sept. spoils me.  But since I love you so much I know that it will always be that way – I don’t get used to you being away, I just wait for you to come home.
                                                              All my love,


The Diminished Art of Letter Writing

Technology always offers trade-offs.  It is wondrous, still awesomely amazing that we can hear daily from loved ones on the other side of the globe.  Long-distance grand-parenting is palatable with a telephone and an online connection.  Mamas of soldiers are relieved each time the inbox holds a letter from their child. 


We miss the archives, those bundles of letters wrapped in a ribbon, letters which have been read and re-read,  kissed and kept.  I have a dozen books of collections of letters on my shelf.  More precious yet, thanks to my brother Jim (the doctor, artist, travel expert, gentleman farmer, and the dear one who taught me how to tie my shoelaces-Happy Birthday, btw) who made copies of every letter, I have the correspondence of my mom to my dad during the three years they were separated by work circumstances. 

Now that I have just signed up for the 100-Species-Challenge, after I have been re-juiced about Fine Art Friday, am gaining some regularity in walking, in addition to adding a 40 hour work schedule for the next two weeks, and remembering my vow to finish my ironing pile, a most wonderful blogging idea has struck me brain:

Re-read my mom’s letters and quote excerpts on the blog.

I will fall in love all over again with the most marvelous woman I ever knew.

A mother of seven, functioning as a single mom, scraping the bottom of the barrel with a laugh on her lips, while her husband teaches at a college two hours away.  Some stuff simply amazes me:  I believe they owned about five junker cars with never more than two working at one time.  The letters report which car my dad would need to repair on his next trip home.  She was articulate and full of grace, and the anecdotes about the kids’ shenanigans are always related with wry humor.

Will it translate to today?  Will her words build up?  Will it make me cry?  Will it inspire me–to trust God more, to work harder, to laugh louder?  Will it be a gift to my grandchildren?  Will it make me thankful?

A thousand times yes…