In search of Betty Peabody, Part II

With her horseAbout five months ago, just days before my sister died, I found a box of letters my dad saved his whole life. Letters from Betty Peabody, a girl he first met in California when he was in high school. She was a couple of years younger, and when she moved back to Michigan, he visited and corresponded for quite a few years. Actually, they kept in touch through her college years, and he attended her graduation in 1937.

I think Bonnie had taken the box, and many other of my dad’s personal items, to keep our mother from throwing them out when he was moved to a nursing home.

Bonnie once mentioned her belief that our dad had hoped Betty would follow him to Hawaii when he moved here in 1939. That didn’t happen.

My question back in October was simple: “Is it okay to read a parent’s intimate correspondence that they never shared while alive?”

Well, I have read a number of the letters, and they aren’t what I would have called “intimate.” They obviously represented something my dad felt was important enough to keep them close at hand for over 70 years, but to me they’re really just chatty letters from a friend. Little vignettes from her school, news of her siblings and other relatives, descriptions of trips made, updates on the fate of her school’s athletic teams.

Here’s a link to one of her letters. In one place she refers to his visit to see her in Michigan, which helps to date the letter. I believe his visit was in the summer of 1933, when he and a friend hitchhiked to the Chicago Worlds Fair that opened earlier that year. So this letter was written sometime after that.

I felt a bit let down after reading it. I was obviously hoping I would learn something more about my dad from the letters from this youthful romance. Maybe that will still happen as additional letters turn up. We’ll see.

5 responses to “In search of Betty Peabody, Part II

  1. Well, you did find out that your dad was a faithful friend. Even if it wasn’t romantic, there was a connection between him and this woman. Most of us just let those former friendships go by as we move on, but he did not really let her go.

  2. This kind of stuff brings history to life. We pursued a mystery letter, and it eventually opened up a whole new world for us (and a whole new wonderful family branch).

  3. I agree. I try to put the time of Ian’s father — a gentle man — in perspective with my mother, a little girl during the war and on another island — Oahu she referred to as “Honolulu.”

  4. So you did decide to read them!

  5. I know of what you speak. I found my dad’s 5 year dairy (he passed away at a 100 years and 6 months) which he wrote in faithfully every day in the late 1920’s and early ’30’s, as he finished high school and attended college in Ogden, Utah on a football scholarship (he was 145# and 5’2″). But anyway he had written about some girl friends there while my mom (still his girlfriend) waited for him to return home. They later eloped. I glossed over the social relationships but got really fascinated by his recording of his adventures hopping trains with the hobos from Ogden to the Pac. Northwest and down the West Coast before returning to Ogden for school. The point being that there are so much we never knew about our parents and it’s better to learn about them now then never. I would read all that is available. That’s if one ever ponders his roots. I think now that I got my traveling bug from him. Except that I never came home for over 10 years.

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