a love affair in telegrams

by marjorieingall on July 12, 2013

11monthsThe Christian Science Monitor recently reported, incorrectly, that the last telegram in the world would be sent on July 14. (A single telegram service is shutting down in India; the CSM somehow got the idea that this meant all services were ending everywhere. Telegram services will continue to serve India and over 200 other countries.) But something good came out of this mistake: There was a lovely story in Tablet magazine today about the one telegram a woman received in her life, in 1985. You should read it.

It made me think about the telegrams my grandfather sent my grandmother. I am the keeper of the telegrams. They’re in a faded, floral-printed tin box, the same one that held them in my grandmother Olla’s home in Sharon, MA. Olla died in 1982. My grandfather Harry died in 1957, long before I was born; he worked with heavy metals in the Watertown Arsenal during WWII and the family suspects that was the cause of the kidney cancer that killed him.

My grandfather was by all accounts funny and witty and utterly smitten by my grandmother. But I don’t think I knew the woman he adored. By the time I was a sentient being, my grandmother was a pinched, unhappy woman. She’d been widowed young and left poor, with three kids; she had Cushing’s Disease; she was clearly in pain a lot of the time. So it was lovely to read these mementos of a time when she was young, happy and in love. And Harry expressed himself so well in this abbreviated form of communication! (The telegram: the Twitter of its day.)

Every month on their anniversary (May 10, the same as my husband’s and mine), for the first year of their marriage (which began in 1936), Harry sent Olla a telegram. He sent some to her office at The Department of Public Works.

 

3rdmonth

5months

6mo

8month

8months2

9months

(Charry = chary, which means wary. Which wouldn’t rhyme as well.)

11months

1year

And soon it was three years…

3years

And…babytime! When my mom was born, in the early 1940s, Harry sent a telegram. I wonder if he was at a nearby bar, like Don Draper.

carolbirth

Her first Mother’s Day as a mom:

mothersday1940

Pretty envelope.

mothersday1940env

Fourth anniversary…

4thanniv

Olla’s first birthday, post-baby…

birthdaywcarol

He sent this when she was still in labor with their 2nd child. I bet she found it real funny.

bellebirth

My Aunt Belleruth arrived soon afterward. I hope it was soon, anyway.

And then it was their 10th…

10thanniv

That’s the last telegram. There are love letters, but I won’t share those.

Harry died in 1959.

Western Union stopped sending telegrams in 2006.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

tanita July 12, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Sobbing.
Just… sobbing.

This is MILES ahead of Twitter, baby.

marjorieingall July 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm

thank you, tanita. xo

Gavin July 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

Just wonderful, Marjorie. What a treasure trove.

Amali July 28, 2013 at 6:41 am

What a gift. These are just amazing. Thank you so much for letting us read them. It’s reading things like this that remind me how important it is to hold on to what the people we love think and feel and write down. Makes you wonder what our children will think of all of our emails, etc., someday, eh?

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