What would you give to have a written letter from your mother, father, or grandparent drafted personally to you? A note that addresses your unique circumstance at a specific point in time and discloses a moment of insight, gives a word of counsel, or shares an expression of joy for an accomplishment?
I would give up any material possession to have such a document from my dad, who died eleven years ago. He constantly and reassuringly expressed his love for me, but now that he’s gone, I don’t have anything tangible to hold, read or reflect upon. This is a hole that cannot be filled.
As I sort through my mother-in-law’s photos and documents to create her personal history see http://www.meridianmagazine.com/article/6236?ac=1, I have found several letters written to her by her father, Walter Mercer.
A man of strength and integrity, Walter wrote refreshingly honest letters to guide his daughter when she sought his counsel at any stage of her life. But my favorite pieces are the spontaneous congratulatory notes that he penned upon her graduation from college and her marriage.
In 1937, it was atypical for a young woman from a small Midwest farming community to finish college. It was especially unusual for her to obtain some financial assistance through part-time work and scholarships. But Mabel Mercer did. Her father proudly recognized her accomplishment with this sweet note:
I love how Walter expressed that he supported Mabel by “helping you financially and otherwise,” thus underscoring that it was her decision to make the needed sacrifice and that his role as a parent was to do what he could to help her. He also revealed his personal reward in this effort by writing, “I feel well repaid for all I have done for you” and “your education is worth many times more than it has cost all of us.”
I wonder how many parents today, who are struggling to teach their children to accept personal responsibility for their lives, would gain some insight from Walter’s attitude and perspective?
And then there is marriage — undeniably our biggest decision. Walter’s 1941 note “To the Newly Weds” provides timeless and realistic counsel. Marriage is a “long tough road” but “you are dependable, efficient and well trained” so “let nothing stop you on your road to success when the days are darkest.” With World War II looming on the horizon, his patriotism spills forth with, “America needs you now more than ever before, your ideas, help and loyalty.”
I can only imagine Mabel’s thoughts as she read this letter from her beloved Pop, and especially his concluding words, “I am mighty proud of you and feel sure the community in which you reside will be the same.” How can anyone not try to do and be their very best when a parent expresses such unconditional confidence and support?
What a joy it is “to have and to hold” such treasures from those who brought us into mortality! These, and other letters from Walter, will continue to inspire and bless his posterity for generations. What will our children and grandchildren have from us?
Carol Kostakos Petranek is one of the Directors of the Washington DC Family History Center and a Volunteer at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.