Vivian W. Newkirk
I was well into adulthood before I learned my parents had a short, but unusual romance that led to their marriage. Daddy, who was never outwardly affectionate, was the most dateable young man in town. He could wield words to melt a young woman’s heart.
In June 1931, Hubert worked at the Postal Telegraph Company, located west of the downtown railroad viaduct. Directly across the street was Outlet Sales, where Annie worked as a clerk. She was fresh out of business school upstate and moved to the “big city.” Someone had said there she’d find the cutest, eligible boys.
Mornings Annie left Outlet Sales to deposit the previous day’s sales at the bank. On one of her walks, Hubert stood outside the telegraph office having a “smoke.” He was a people-watcher. He noticed the young, slim brunette walk uptown and return a short time later. He had to solve his curiosity about her. Maybe another pretty one to add to his dating list. During afternoon break, Hubert scooted across to the store and with the brunette out of sight, asked the boss for her name and telephone number. That evening he placed his first call to Annie at the YWCA where she roomed. Annie refused to return the call. She was dating an old boyfriend from her business school days. She didn’t consider Hubert’s call important.
Hubert persisted with more calls. Annie didn’t return them. Since he spent his days typing and receiving telegrams, he decided to use what he knew best. Telegrams coupled with a few telephone calls he knew was a winning combination. He wrote his love ‘grams’ without his boss’s knowledge. Then the available messenger boy took the envelope, jumped on his bike, and delivered it. Hubert waited all day and into the evening for the telephone to ring.
When Annie read the first telegram, at first sent to the Y, she was the popular girl of the moment. No other roomers had ever received one. At the bottom of this message she scribbled in pencil, “First wire I ever got from H.”
“This seems the only available means of communicating with you. Called you but you “were out” (as usual). Will call you tomorrow at seven bells sharp. Be ready to answer or there might be another shoot’n in town.” (There had been a killing in front of the Y a few days earlier.) Several messages later, Annie admitted to her roommate she liked Hubert’s aggressiveness. He was cute, slim, a snappy dresser, and wore a big smile. His humor, she discovered after a few dates, was infectious.
Succeeding posts showed his poetic side. On one occasion Annie played “hard to get” and received a telegram which stated, “Same place – un huh—You didn’t call me –Is I blue?” (A popular song of the early 1930s was “Am I Blue?”)
As Hubert’s affection grew, so did the frequency of his messages. Many telegrams later the most serious one arrived on July 4.
"It’s 10:30 now and I close at 11:00, but this day has seemed weeks to me, for I’ve missed you honey. I told Mother I’m going to marry you if you will have me. We can be married next Sunday. I have given “them” up, for no one has made me feel as good as you.”
The majority of messages arrived daily at Outlet Sales at 8:00 A. M. After six weeks Annie’s boss told her, “Either marry the guy or tell him to quit sending daily messages. You aren’t doing your job, mooning all the time.”
One last telegram arrived at the Y the day before Annie quit her job. Tomorrow, July 12, was their wedding day. She was twenty years old, he twenty-three.
“Golly, I’d like to see my sugar, but that grumpy ole boss might want to fuss. Am thinking of you and looking forward to tomorrow and the days to come when I can be with my sugar all day”.
When Mother was eighty-five years old and living with me, I plied her with questions any mother would of her daughter: Did you meet his family? Did you like his mother? What were his sisters like? What did he like to eat? Where did you live the first year? Her answers clearly told me long courtships between young people with rural upbringing in the early twentieth century weren’t the norm. Mother replied with a smile, “I moved to the city to find a boyfriend who’d ask me to marry him!´
Telegram deliveries continued during marriage. There were ‘grams for holidays, birthdays, new jobs, marriages, graduations, awards, and new births. The messages stopped when the teletype machines became outmoded in 1957. Daddy enjoyed leaving poem-messages, whatever the reason. He taped them to the refrigerator, the mirrors, the front door. He signed them “ Love, Jailhouse Dad,” or another witty term. They were written on notebook paper, scraps torn from a magazine, or throw-away mail. The telegrams of yesterday disappeared. I forgot about them, when I began living away from home.
Mother left at her death in 2004 a heavy cedar chest. She had moved it from one place to another in her life. I knew my grandmother had given it to Mother as a teen. It remained at the foot of their bed. Mother often opened it and fingered the items inside. I never asked questions about the contents. This time when I opened the lid of the aging chest, now flaking its outer coat of varnish, I began a tour of Mother’s youth. Among her keepsakes were her mother’s carnival glass wrapped in tissue, a baby ring, her high school boyfriend smiling through a filigreed frame, her 1920s diary written in pencil, embroidered pillow cases, and a scrapbook full of newspaper articles and pictures.
The real prize lay on the bottom of the chest: a stack of Postal Telegraph telegrams dating from Daddy’s first sighting of his future wife. Perfectly preserved, the messages remain legible. Humorous and poetic, they reveal what a love-struck young man my daddy was.