The Second Group

comments: 40

Typedletter2Monday afternoon. Perfect weather here. Seventy degrees and sunny. I have Ivonne's Cherry Coffeecake in the oven and a sleeping corgi at my feet. Life here at the Paulsons' in the summer of 2006, my friends, is good.

Nevertheless, all the letter reading of the past few days has left me pensive and a bit melancholy. It has been hard to stay detached from this story, I must say. I have found myself distracted from my other things and drawn repeatedly back to the pile of envelopes until this afternoon, as I try and summarize things, just for my own peace of mind, I guess. Many people who commented seemed surprised to hear that I was not going to keep the letters; I don't think you'd be surprised if you'd read them. They are quite intense. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do, but I have done a bit of research and have found a couple of people in the family and will contact them directly first, to see if they are interested in having the letters returned. If not, and with their permission, I will donate them to a historical society. But, not just yet.

The second group of letters are written mostly from around 1950 through 1961 between a mother, Hazel, and her son, Roy, with several from Roy's sister (the aforementioned Clara, though she is only referred to as "Sis" or "Sister," and signs her own name this way consistently). These letters are related to the first group by the vaguest of connections — Hazel is Ray's (of Mary-and-Ray, from yesterday's post) aunt, though that is never specifically mentioned, and I only figured it out when I could see that Ray's mother Muree was writing to Hazel and talking about "Ma," — the mother they both share. Ree (Mu-ree) is also mentioned several times in Hazel's letters, and one time Clara says something like "Mother paid Ree the money she owed her so at least that's over with." Not a huge ton of affection between these two sisters, Hazel and Muree, from what I can tell. How all the letters wound up together I'm not sure. Of course, I could easily be wrong about all of it.

But let's just say I got it right. This second group of letters, then, is to Hazel's son Roy, not Ray (and not Ree). Roy sailed for at least these ten years with the States Steamship Co., a fleet of lumber vessels based out of Portland and traveling mostly to the Philippines. It's hard to tell how old Roy is from his letters, but his handwriting is so formal and childlike it's hard to imagine that he is much out of school when they begin; nevertheless, it hardly changes over the five years he writes, so I guess that's no clue. There are dozens of letters, mostly from his mother to him, with many from his sister, and many written by both of them together. (One is dictated by Hazel and typed by Sis while Hazel waits for her perm to set.) Sis/Clara is married with two little girls; she and her mother spend a lot of time together, as evidenced by their repeated references to each other throughout the letters. They are a hardworking, very kind pair, and are quite close. All three seem very close; there is never any mention of a father, and Hazel and Roy have different last names, so I'm not sure what that's about. The letters are interesting in their one-sidedness — they are made up almost entirely of the details of Hazel and Sis/Clara's (and the little girls' — rarely is Sis's husband Harry mentioned, but when he is it with regard to him working the night shift, or working around the house) daily lives. Often letters will be interrupted by things happening while they're trying to write — children needing to be put to bed, someone having to run to catch a bus, a visitor dropping by. They so clearly attempt to keep Roy involved in the prosaic happenings of their lives that it is hard to imagine what they must have thought life was like for him, at sea for weeks at a time. His letters are so empty of personal detail, anecdote, or emotion; consistently they appear much like this:

"Dear Mother and All,
     "Will arrive at Yokohama this afternoon about two o'clock to take on bunkers for about 6 hours will leave around 8 o'clock tonight for Singapore another week or so before we will arrive there.
     "How is everyone find I hope.
     "We had pretty good wether coming over. Suppose to be three months maybe longer.
     "Right now is raining to beat heck.

"Your Loving Son Roy"

Always, though, they are signed "Your Loving Son Roy" or, sometimes, "Always Your Loving Son Roy."

Hazel's letters are, by contrast, full of affection and conversation and a total lack of affectation. It often sounds exactly like she is talking to him in real life. There is almost no sort of formalized, letter-ish voice about them. Many of them are typed on a manual typewriter, and it is clear that she and her daughter share it, and take it back and forth between their houses, a couple of miles apart. In October of 1956, Hazel has all her lower teeth pulled out in preparation for having dentures made. She writes in great detail about the procedure, and the diet of mushy food she must eat, Sis's little girl's birthday party the weekend before:

"Will try and finish this now I was getting so hungry I went a fixed me a big bowl of chickednoodle soup and some graha m crax. as I was out of bread and will get sometonite when I goout to mail you letter. Well the sun went down clear hope she comes out in the A.M. the same way. I think I told you in the last L. Evy had her Party 2 wks ago Sat. She had 10 girls and her and Sally made 12 at the table. She called me then and said G. Ma I set the table and put all the cards and all the trimings on it sure looks Pretty. Sister make cupcakes and frosted them with pink and white. and put a candle on each one and they were lit and each on took theres home AS there was to much other things to eat at the table. She made red punch 1 gal. and those girls drank it nearly all she said. . . ."

She closes almost every letter similarly:

     ". . . Everything thing is all ok. here. so dont worry about me Ill be all right soon. Justtake care of your self and eat plenty. An The Good Lord is always with us Son and every thing will work out all rite, when you carry that thought in mind at all times the same as I do. Well I don't have anymore news I can think of now. and I dont here it raining so I will put on my big coat and run over on 49th. and put this in the mail box and it will go out 9pm.
     "Ree said to tell you she sends her best. just called. and Aunt Fanny . said the same. and Of course Sister and H. and then Evy. and Sally both send U. Roy there love.
     "I will close for now and hope to hear from you soon. Be sure and rite me Son. God Bless You And Keep You Always

     "All My Love.

I had such affection for Hazel (or "Fern" as she is often called, just to complicate things) by the time I'd read everything she'd written to Roy — her gentle, reassuring manner was so devoid of worry, or loneliness, or any kind of obvious longing that would upset him. It is obvious, too, that her letters are very important to her  — toward the end of them I started to realize that she probably really enjoyed writing the litany of her daily routines as much as she enjoyed keeping him informed. She has several addresses over the years, all around my neighborhood; for several years she works as a caretaker for a wealthier family to whose house she must ride two buses. Several times she mentions ships coming and going, and often there are newspaper articles cut out of the Oregonian and tucked into the envelopes about other ships in the fleet leaving and coming into port — she is knowledgeable about the company and Roy's constantly changing ports of call. Often she signs off with "Be seeing you Son," and always "All my love, Mother" or some variation. On every letter, even sometimes after the signature, she writes, "God Bless You And Keep You Always."

The last letter from her is dated in November of 1961, to Roy at port in Vietnam. I believe that Roy came home to live in Portland with his mother until her death, sometime in the late '70s, I think. Sis/Clara lived in the house where the estate sale took place until recently, I guess — I don't know. There is one letter from her on vacation, written to Roy in 1987 at the same address at which he lived with Hazel, and it's one of those fill-in-the-blanks "Lazy Lettergrams": Dear Ray, I am writing to you from Victoria. I arrived here on Wednesday and I wish I was staying longer / richer."


I'm piling all the letters back together — separated and organized — and putting them in a box. I'm not ready to let them go yet, but I will do it soon, and get on with my own life. It's been an enormous adventure and privilege to have read them. I drive around my usual routes so differently now, somehow — "Hazel lived there, she mailed the letter there" — I can't explain it, but I'm sure you know. I'm going to take some of Andy's love letters to me and tuck them away somewhere in this house, for someone to find, just in case, someday, someone might be wondering. . . .


I love the way you have told this family's story. And that's some pretty good detective work there, too!

I hope someone in their family wants the letters. What a treasure for them (and us)!

Thanks for sharing it!

It has been lovely of you to share these letters with us. I can understand I suppose why you have to let go of the letters and the stories they hold.

And it's a magical thought to hide away your letters from Andy. Imagine someone reading over them one day like you are doing with these, and wondering what your life was like.

Take care.

These are just gems, I love them! I mean anyone could have got them, but you did and are sharing them, I love that! I go to estate sales nearly every Friday think it so odd that family photos and the like go on sale. To think you found these, I just can't get over it.

I have so enjoyed your entries about these letters. I think you have shared them in a respectful manner, and that any family members who are left should be thrilled to get these letters. What a slice of history and a peek into the lives of "ordinary" people.

your retelling of their lives in such a lovely way reminds me that the everydayness of living is something to be treasured. thanks, again, for being you.

I know what you mean about getting sucked into the world of those letters. This is why I don't read fiction. The story world becomes so compelling and real, that I can't get my daily work done! Too powerful.

It's amazing how warmly-detailed Hazel's writing seems to be, esp in face of Roy's colourless communication. As you say, though, she must've enjoyed the process of sharing her we are with our blogs. It's an exercise in seeing our lives with a different perspective. As we describe things to our sympathetic audience, we see ourselves differently.

I often daydream about what my city was like at the turn of the century, or in the few decades after. As I walk around the neighbourhood, I try to imagine what it looked like several decades ago. There are some things that help, like the dated cornerstone on the sidewalk, or the huge oak tree that must be almost 100 yrs old, or the house that still has a stable around the back.

It seems like it wasn't really that long ago :)

Chris Howard says: July 10, 2006 at 09:46 PM

It makes you wonder, what will be left of us when we are all gone? Emails do not keep in dusty boxes in the attic....

oh wonderful..

and such a beautiful idea, alicia.

I am so touched by these letters and your eloquent writing. I couldn't wait to get home today hoping you'd write more about Ray, Mary, and Clara. Thank you so much for sharing. How did you even pull yourself away to make coffee cake?

Also, I was so excited to see the name Ree. I know of no other person with that name except for my great aunt Lu Ree. Proudly, I was given Ree for my middle name. It's so old-fashioned and I love it now (not so much as a young girl).

Thank you Alicia... this is a beautiful post.

How wonderful that you will hide some letters for someone to find in the future! I nearly cried when I read that (probably would have if I hadn't cried all day yesterday about my friends and I all facing futures going different directions.)

Alicia, I can't help thinking that these letters would make such a lovely novel. I have enjoyed these a lot.
I can't imagine getting rid of those if I were the family! They seem to tell so much!

This was really nice again. It reminded me of visitng the Tenament Museum in lower eastside in NYC with my hub in April. They pieced together the stories of generations living in the tenements by artifacts they found, sometimes letters, and geneology studies. It was fascinating to hear about ordinary people's lives. I'm glad you treasured it and will do something honorable with these letters. I'm sure no one ever guessed that they would be read by so many of us years later.

Thanks for sharing the rest of the letters again. It must be so interesting to find out the history of people in your area like that.

I hope you will let us know what happens with the letters - whether the family members take them back or not.

I hope you included a photo with your hidden letters...

...does coffeecake not have any coffee in it in Amerikee? Is it just a sort of cake to have with coffee?

Also - Hazel does sound lovely. I'm glad she has you to take care of her letters.

A lovely story -- from your chance
finding of the letters to your sharing them with us -- thank you.

I'm glad that you have found some members of the family. I hope they want them, it seems the right place for them to be.

Thank you so very much for allowing the rest of us to take this emotionally wonderful adventure with you. I absolutely LOVE my daily visits to your blog, and just for this very reason! I just hope that someone within the family will lovingly embrace those long lost letters from family! I personally, would find it a treasure!

It never ceases to amaze me how some families hold onto these treasures while others think nothing of them. What a blessing that the letters "found" you--someone who can appreciate their true value. I find it to be so fascinating that you have had this experience in light of all that talk about Anthropologie, etc...

alicia - this is such, SUCH a bittersweet story. the straight-from-the-heart letters of hazel, unedited, to roy - and roy's blunt, spare letters in return. i see that roy obviously chose not to keep them for himself. how sad. i, too, have a son named roy. we are quite close, and his letters (he is only 18, soon to be 19) have always been tender. a postcard written to me when he was away for six weeks in the summer at his dad's once, at the age of 8, said "dear mom, when i sleep, i dream of you". i save every.single.thing. that boy writes down, and i'm hoping he'll do the same.
my father owns a demolition company. when interstate 85 was being built through montgomery, alabama, daddy won the bids to tear down many, many, many old homes through the downtown area (as well as, sadly, the first governor's house of alabama). contrary to what you'd think, daddy was saddened by the loss of these old structures, and saved the treasures he found within and without - architectural relics from the houses, and snippets of past lives left behind within the walls: locks of hair, historical documents, ancient letters from the middle of LAST century. the way these papers smell, the feel of the folds in the envelopes, the curliques of older handwriting, all signs of times gone by. i'm touched by your efforts to share these letters with all of us, and can completely understand the spell they cast over your past days. you'll not ever forget the effect they've had on you, ever, ever. and as someone mentioned in an earlier comment, emails do not get stored in attics, do they? xo

Hazel is my most favorite name for a girl.


I agree with what many have said: You have shared this story is such a lovely and respectful way. It does seem like the letters have been a very, very intense thing for you. I think you're right to pass them on when you are ready.

wow, alicia. you've stolen our hearts. or maybe it's roy and hazel who have.

Amazing. Your detective work is very impressive. I wonder if from now on I'll sign my letters properly and consistently, just in case someone finds them in the future.

Thank you again for sharing this story.

Alicia ~
Thank you for sharing the rest of "your" story with us. It makes me want to take out those old letters from my Grandma and Grandpa again.
One of the big things I save and so does my mom is cards -- I can't tell you how many bins full of them we have. Not only do you get a feel for that decade but most have sentiments inside which are just so precious. I hope my daughter will treasure them the way I do when she gets older...

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at