Honey that cake you sent me surely is fine. I have been taking a hunk of it with me for lunch the last two days.
The typing is faded and the paper stiff with age, though the simple signature looks as if it could have been scrawled yesterday, if people still used pencils. Roy Osee Frantz typed the letter on the evening of August 9 in some unknowable year. The postmark is obscured, but the envelope’s first-class postage — then three cents, composed of green one-cent and red two-cent stamps commemorating the bicentennial of Washington’s birth — suggests it was 1932. A Tuesday, then.
Dear Sweetheart: I surely appreciated the fine letter I got this morning even though you told me all that news Sunday. You see I don’t get home early enough in the evenings to get the mail.
I found the letter among poultry ephemera I purchased at an antique show years ago, being inordinately fond of history and hens — I keep a small flock — and also being — I think this is the word I’m grasping for — weird. The envelope bears a bright, cheery logo for Frantz Poultry Farms in Rocky Ford, Colorado: Sunshine chicks. High altitude stamina. Mountain bred.
It is addressed simply to Mrs. Roy O. Frantz in Rocky Ford. No street address; ZIP codes had not been invented.
Sweetheart was Ethel May Frantz, née Metsker, who would have just turned 27. Maybe that explains the cake. Or maybe it was just an everyday yellow cake she made in a well-worn kitchen, using rich eggs from the hens she tended and butter, or maybe less expensive margarine, what my grandmother called “oleo.” And then sent 110 miles due west to Roy on the farm where he was working. Hard.
Boyee it was eleven when I got to bed last night and I was so tired that I could sleep hardly a bit. Got up at 6 and worked till 8 then ate supper and didn’t feel like working any more this evening.
You can find a lot online these days, so I can tell you that Roy and Ethel May had three sons — John “Jackie”, Don and Bob — who as boys worked at the feed store the family later owned in Pueblo. At some point, Ethel May taught home ec. I know that Roy died of a heart attack in 1974, though I can’t tell you when he was born. And that Ethel May had outlived him by 28 years when she died at 97.
Before all that, though, there was the time of the letter and of the poultry farm — the early ’30s, the trough of the Great Depression. Maybe that’s why Roy was away from home working long days in the summer sun, shipping out some fine cauliflower, so sweet and good. Maybe he had to. I couldn’t say for sure, any more than I could tell you what Roy and Ethel May said to each other in the middle of the endless nights after their young son Jackie died.
“Fell into grain elevator. Smothered?” reads the online genealogical record. And, under occupation: “Child.” Died in 1943, or thereabouts.
In every life, sorrows; some unthinkable.
Yet I want to imagine that Roy and Ethel May were mostly happy, that — at least on this night, the night Roy typed the letter that decades later ended up in a packet of poultry ephemera — they were young and healthy, separated but dreaming together of better times, perhaps of children not yet born, or born and not yet dead. Conjuring by force of love a shared and mysterious life unfolding through all the unknowable days to come, full of hope and something they were too modest to call courage.
So I hold gently this artifact of their long-ago lives, a few words that passed between two people who cared for each other, either of whom might have been me — or you — given a slight dislocation of time or space or circumstance.
On Aug. 9, 1932, though, it was Roy Osee Frantz, weary after another day’s work in the fields, but not too tired, never too tired, to write his sweetheart, Ethel May.
I am going to take a bath and go to bed — wish my little wife was here to wash my back and then to go to bed with me.
Good night dear, love to you,
Oh wow, this gave me chills and caused me to tear up. You see, “Uncle Roy”, was my grandfather’s brother, and he and I had a very special bond. We shared a deep love for nature and hiking, and we shared the same birthday. I didn’t spend much time with him growing up, as I lived in CA and he in CO, but my grandfather had a guest ranch in CO which we would get to visit every summer, and sometimes I would see “Uncle Roy” then. I also visited him in Pueblo, where he lived, and died, when I was in college.
Their father, my greatgrandfather, Osee Frantz, also raised poultry and grew Rocky Ford melons. And, his mother, Blanche Frantz, was quite the letter writer and journal writer, hence it doesn’t surprise me that Roy wrote so sweetly to his dear Ethel May. Roy had 6 brothers and 1 sister, only the latter who is still with us.
Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your story and this snippet of his. I will cherish it
I look forward to reading more of your blog posts, as I very much enjoy your writing.
P.S. My Aunt Joan, Ralph’s third daughter, of six, was the one who found your blog/story and shared this with me.
P.S.S. Should you ever think of disposing of, or passing along the memorabilia you found at the antique store, I would be interested in it.
Well, this is just amazing. Thanks so much for writing! I want to respond in greater depth, but am on deadline for a freelance article now. Can you send me your e-mail address so I can follow up when I’m out from under the gun? I’m delighted to hear from you, Laura. Reach me at email@example.com I’d feel good mailing you that letter, knowing it’s back with family.
Boyee, now there’s one for the new lexicon. I’ll try inserting it into the next exciting story I tell.
Like you need more colloquialisms.
The current technology of mails and messages can never give the feeling of love as much as the old-age letters do!
So true, and as Roy’s letter illustrates, the power does not originate with fancy prose, but a sort of heartfelt simplicity that travels best on paper. Thank you for reading and commenting!
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oh my.. you told this so well and it reminded me of a letter I found last year at an estate sale. I had to have it and got it with a bunch of maps and stuff.
It was a letter to a son from a father who works nights. It was never mailed but rather made to look like a real letter. The delivery was an envelope left at the breakfast table.
Email will never be left behind like these two treasures. How do we revive the art of letter writing? Take care Cate
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I so agree with you
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Thank you for sharing your own ephemera story and for commenting. An appreciation of the form may be largely generational, but I think also temperamental; occasionally, I encounter a young person who understands and participates beautifully in old-fashioned letter- and card-writing. Gladdens my heart. The kind of letters you and I appreciate remind me that form as well as content create meaning; I am glad we were born in a time when letters were common, even if we die in a time when they are not.
I love, love, love this. Beautifully told, and what a sweet message – Roy’s, and yours.
Thanks, Jane, my former-farm-girl friend.
It’s incredibly touching to see someone sharing a letter my great grandpa sent to my great grandma the year before their first son (my grandpa) was born. Jackie, the youngest, passed away first when he was very young. Don, the youngest, passed away in 2017. The eldest, Bob, still lives in Pueblo. Most of the of their descendants still live in Pueblo. I too found out about this Blog through my Aunt Joan, Grandpa Bob’s cousin. I’m one of the few people I know that loves writing and receiving letters in their late 20s. I hope to keep the practice going for years to come. I hope the letter reached out family again, thanks to you. Have a great day, stay safe!!
You’re so welcome. It’s been a surprise and delight to hear from your family, to see the love and connection so evident in that long-ago letter echoed down through the generations. Keep up the letter writing!
lovely. cauliflower instead of cantaloupe in rocky ford.
Indeed! Most Coloradans have heard of Rocky Ford cantaloupe, but not Westcliffe cauliflower!