Henrietta’s letter to her daughter-in-law Gretchen

Note to the reader: Henrietta called her sons by their middle names. Therefore, in this letter, George is called “Kellogg” and Robert is called “Larry”.

June 27, 1966

Dear Gretchen;

Two days ago — June 25th – I had my 45th wedding anniversary. I have been doing a whole lot of thinking about the past. I have thought about my youth, how I met my husband in the Epworth League of the Austin Methodist Church, our marriage, our early years together,the first child we longed for so much, etc.

I thought that I should write to you about a lot of things that you know nothing of whatsoever, for, you and I have had very, very few visits together.

1 was born in the city of Chicago. I started my schooling in that city, but, since father was a member of the New York Stock Exchange as well as the go Stock Exchange, we moved to New York City. Shortly before I met my husband, we returned to Chicago and lived first in Austin and then later on in Oak Park. These were a far cry from the country where I lived when first I met you. So you see, Gretchen, I am truly not a country woman.

Now, let me say a word about our elder child. He was the most difficult person to raise that was ever born. He yelled and screamed from morning until night and, alas, also during the night as well, He brought down upon my head the condemnation of people who lived in our apartment building, which, by the way, was a very big and fancy apartment building. The people reported me to the Child Welfare Department, to the Police Department and all the agencies they could think of and stated that I neglected him. Each time a representative came, they found our Doctor, who lived next door to us, working on the proposition of quieting his screaming. The Doctor Dr. Gifford sent them all away, saying that he had personally called on the child each and every day of the child’s life but to that time had not able to quiet him for some reason. I walked the streets with him screaming bloody murder in his carriage and people stopped me and tried to tell me what to do for him. But— all agreed, he did not look unhealthy nor neglected. Finally, we tried to get the famous L. Emmet Holt to take him on but the nurse said he could not do so because Dr. Holt was leaving that very day for Europe. We finally got to New Jersey’s famous baby dietitian Dr. H. B. Harris — the man who delivered Larry. Well — Gretchen, we had a tough problem! As the years went on, he was no less a problem, but, the problem was of a different sort.

I would like to leave the problem of Kellogg for a while and go to the problem of Larry. —— Larry’s youth, accidents, etc.

When Larry was a very small child, we lived in Oak Park and it was at the Oak Park school that we met head-on with one of the most dreadful pronouncements from our Doctor. Larry took sick and by the time Dr. Keane arrived, Larry was unconscious. George had to work that night so he was not home when Dr. Keane said – “I will carry him out to the car for you while you pack a little handbag for Kellogg, give him note and drop him off at his grandmother’s house” . Mother lived down the street just a few blocks. So – I put a note on the front door for George to the effect that Larry was unconscious and Dr. Keane had said that if we hurried, we might be able to save his life. Gretchen, that was the most harrowing drive I ever made. The Dr. rushed to the phone and contacted one of Chicago’s most noted surgeons a J. J.Meany – Then, Dr. Keane rushed to the hospital. When I neared the Hospital, there was a policeman who told me that the child was to be driven down the last two blocks on the sidewalk instead of the street because, he had been informed that if he was shaken up by being driven on the rough city street, it would be certain death.

When we got to the Emergency Door, an orderly was there and Larry was gently eased onto a stretcher and hurried up for surgery. Dr. Meany had a hurried blood test made, Larry came to for just a second or so and said “Dr•– you fix me”. The doctor was not a man to go to pieces easily but Gretchen, they had me hold Larry’s hand while they gave him the anesthetic. While they were doing that, Dr. Meany had every one in the operating room pray most of them praying right out loud and not a bit ashamed of so doing. Larry was in very, very bad way, Gretchen. You see the appendix had burst.

Well when he was opened, things were so violently full of pus, they could not do anything but insert a tube and let the appendix rot and drain away. Things went from bad to worse, Gretchen. In a day or so, they had a big consultation over him. They came to us and told us that they were to bring a whole lot of equipment into his room and they were going to perform a whole lot of vital tests. One thing they said -” if there is at this time any active TB germs in him, he is through.” They then placed a second tube in him to make drainage better. They found no active TB so they had a fighting chance but not to hope for too much. We sat there day and night. George said “Mother, we may go broke over this, but, if we get him out alive, we can take it.”

Finally, Larry got home a very week and poorly lad. Somehow, he got a germ of the nature of a flu germ, so they said. Anyway — all of a sudden, his eardrum just exploded. There was no pus or drainage from it. George worked at the Commonwealth Edison Company and they loaned us the very finest Violet Ray machine that was manufactured. We used it faithfully as directed but, Gretchen, he got no better whatsoever. They tried cod liver oil but soon found he had an allergy for that so it was promptly abandoned.

Dr. Meany was a man whose office calls, were a minimum of $50 for he was a big and expensive man. He admired all of us a great deal and got into his car and drove over to Benton Harbor and had our hired man, Albert Keeler, show him our house. It was a nice, modern house, etc. Dr. Meany had a consultation with a blood specialist and Dr. Keane and another doctor whom I don’t know, but they gave it to us straight from the shoulder – I was to take Larry to the country immediately or he would not live the summer out. George had a very fine position and he had to go with us for there were things that no woman could do all alone such as building an enclosure in which Larry could be sun bathed a certain amount of time each day etc. Then, we were directed to get a Jersey cow and give Larry the cow’s milk before the gases had escaped from it — give him fresh milked milk. Since he had an allergy for cod liver oil, they gave him irradiated Viosterol and had me put a quart of cod liver oil In each bag of chicken feed so he would benefit from the chicken’s enriched eggs, etc. , etc.

Gretchen, George worked his way through the University of Michigan all alone. He had gotten on top of the heap and had a very, very fine job. This he gave up in order to save the life of Larry. To be sure, Larry, seems to have no appreciation of what It meant to give up our whole way of life in order to save his. I was stranger in a strange country for as I explained before, I was NOT  country woman. Neither, for that matter, was George a country man. True, he was born right there in our house, but, he went away from home to Chicago to work and earn enough to put himself through the University of Michigan. Truly, Gretchen, I personally think that Larry’s father deserves a great deal of kindly affection for the love he poured out on Larry, giving up, as he did, all that he had struggled so hard to attain. 

Now, Gretchen, there are a few things that I do not think you know about our life on the farm. When we first went to the farm, I was frightened to death for I had never had anyone in my whole family who had farmed. I used to  look at the trees and wonder how, oh how, could they produce enough money for us to live on. Trees gave one crop a year! I was used to money each and every month. My fears, Gretchen, were very, very real and ever present .

Let’s take another section of Larry’s life. He is so very proud of his children. I sometimes wonder if that is really because he thinks his children are the eleventh wonders of the world, or, whether he realizes in the back of his mind how nearly he came to being an eunuch! Let me tell you all about this.

When we went to the farm there were horses. We got rid of horses and bought a tractor. So we sold all of the hay that was in the barn so we could get something fresh to feed the Jersey cows we had bought to get the proper milk for Larry. The hay-mow was devoid of hay except for the wee bit of chaff that clung to the ground. We were picking apples that fateful day and the boys were going to help us when the men came up from the orchard with the apples and helped us grade and pack them . While we were waiting, Kellogg and Larry went into the hay section of the barn and climbed up on top of the high platform. I heard Kellogg say: “One for the money, two for the show” I dashed in just in time to prevent him from jumping from the high platform down to the basement of the barn onto the hard ground for there was NO HAY there to cushion fall. I shouted: “You get down from there P. D.Q.” Now Larry was climbing up to do his jumping too. He thought I didn’t see him and he slid down a pole. Gretchen there was a big, rusty nail sticking out from that pole. Larry snagged himself on it and his testicles came right out into the open. I rushed to George In the apple barn and told him. We lost no time contacting the finest child specialist in Benton Harbor a Dr. Rosenberry. He said for heaven’s sake rush him right down to his place that he had an emergency operating room and he would take care of him. George . George put Larry in the car and he and I got in in our farm work clothes and rushed Larry downtown. Dr. Rosenberry took one look and trembled with fear. Benton Harbor had a very fine surgeon who operated everywhere in our county. He was Dr. Frank King, Sr. He came in took one look rushed out and got his personal nurse. He had the desk clerk phone to the drug store for tetanus shots. They couldn’t deliver it right away so he had me take it on the run for the tetanus shot stuff while he had George sort of hold Larry on the operating table while they gave him a local anesthetic. It was . really quite an operation and it probably would have been better to have had him in the Mercy Hospital but time was the essence. They operated, sterilized the wound, pushed the testicles back in, sewed the bag up, administered the tetanus shot and as I remember it gave us something to relieve the agonizing pain he was to have,

He was bound up — bandaged, I guess I should say. He was put on George ‘s outstretched arms on a sort of slab so he would not have a strain on the injured place. We took him home and put him gently on his bed all stretched out like a “stiff” . That is the way it had to be we had to carry him each day to the Doctor in that manner on outstretched arms on something stiff so the doctors could watch how things went. Gretchen, I am making the least of this that I can for I don’t want to stretch the affair out too much for there is more to come about Larry. A boy in the country is not like a little girl in the city, or, for that matter, like a little boy in the city. But for the skill of the two surgeons and the promptness with which George got Larry down to them, Larry would truly have been barren man – no children to be proud of or anything. A eunuch.

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

The boys had done quite a bit of stuff around the house so we thought that they could go do some playing for all work and no play makes a dull boy, so they say.

They had quite a bit of lumber around the barn and we said, surely, they could use it, and go out to the pond and build themselves a raft. The pond was not deep and dangerous but wet!

They put the boards on the truck, gathered some nails and couple of hammers and went merrily on their way to build a raft and be Robinson Crusoes. Not long afterward, they came home and both went into the bathroom. Larry said he hurt his hand a little. Kellogg got out the mercurochrome etc. , and they fixed it up. Finally, Larry came to us and said “you’ve got to do something for this hand, – it hurts like everything.” Well, it was on a day when I could not raise a doctor anywhere. Certain days, the medics in Benton Harbor took day off and that was the day!

George felt of the hand and said, he thought that perhaps if I could make some splints, he could hold the hand while I put the splints on and bound it up. This we did. The next day we saw Dr. Burrell. He looked at things and said believed we should let it alone for a time for it seemed to be fixed as good as could fix it. Then at a later date, Dr. Burrell looked at the hand and and gave it the OK.

Well, we went through quite a time with Dr. Burrell’s help but finally the hand was out in the open and according to the Doctor, as good as new. Larry went to school. It was the custom of our boys, the Miller children and the little boy at the Semperts (Buddy) to walk home what we called cross -lots. That is they would walk catercornered across Frank Richdale’s farm and ours. Well, Fred Sempert had raised what he called “banana melons” just for fun and he brought one over to us. We were standing out in front of the barn talking and laughing about the queer fruit when the Sam Braudo farm truck came along with all of the kids on the truck. Larry went to the rear of the truck expecting Braudo’s hired man to stop and let him off. No siree the man put on the brakes, then put on the and hit a big bump in the road and Larry went down like a ton of rocks. Fred, George and I rushed out to him as he laid there in the roadway. He was bleeding at the mouth and was also unconscious.

We sent for Dr. Burrell. He came out and thought that perhaps Larry had had some internal injury, or a concussion. Blood just gushed out of his mouth. Dr. Burrell, George, Fred, and I watched over him for hours. Finally Fred had to go home so it was Dr. Burrell, George and I who did the watching. For two days and two nights, Gretchen, Larry was as one dead. We didn’t know what to make of it. Finally, however, he began to show some signs of life. Dr. Burrell was mindful of the recently broken hand and so he looked at it, got the material and the hand was again set – another break but set professionally. After Larry got married he tried to tell me that he had a splinter of wood in his hand for years. But — Gretchen, that was contrary to Dr. Burrell’s findings .

Gretchen, I could recount a great many things like this that are all a part of Larry’s present make-up. I sometimes wonder that a boy can actually grow to maturity!

Now I am going to ask you a question that I do not expect you to answer to me but rather answer in your own mind: Do you actually think that George and I would be guilty of taking a son out to the barn to shoot him?

We have a completely underground bomb shelter. People told us lots of things about shelters. For one thing, we have been told it is necessary to have a “peep-hole” in the steel door so we can stick the end of our “dosometer” out to see if it is safe to come out of the shelter after a raid. Folks tell us that they have been told that others would come to the shelter, demand to be let in and, failing admittance, put some sort of gas into the shelter by means of ventilators and drive us out of the shelter. Well we have this peep—hold in the door and we laughingly tell them that we would put a rifle to it and shoot the fellow outside if he got too bad, etc. We have talked about this with others who have bomb shelters and the defense head. We, of course, have a nice air conditioner in it and a 1ight plant and a 500 gallon drum of LP gas at a good distance from the shelter so the shooting deal is rather a joke. However, could it be that from such a thing as this Kellogg fabricated the idea that we would shoot him in the face if he came to our house? We wonder, We puzzle . (Our shelter has a well, a toilet and plumbing to a septic tank. ) But, Gretchen, we are still puzzling about the shooting in the face, etc. It is more than we can fathom but Paul said, he saw dimly but would understand later. Perhaps that will be true in our case. Please believe me Gretchen, we plan shooting no one.

I am sorry If I have troubled you about things of the past but, really and truly, the things of the past are the things that affect the present. I understand that, Larry hears the girls lessons each day. Did you know that I never let Larry go to grammar school without hearing his spelling, reading, geography, history and arithmetic? I watched over his studies even as I hear he watches over the studies of his girls. I used to check his algebra, Latin, etc. So, Gretchen, I say the things of the past are the things that affect the present in quite a measure.

Sincerely,

 

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