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A Letter From the Past

by Laura W. Haywood

 

This isn't a ghost story, though the event has haunted me for thirty-five years.

To understand the event, you have to know a bit about my husband's family. Bill's father, Walter May, died of pneumonia in the early 1940's, leaving his widow, Dorothea, with three small children (Bill, who was six; his brother, Dale, who was four; and his sister, Elizabeth, who was two). Elizabeth had been named for Dorothea's best friend in high school, Elizabeth Haywood, who had died in her late twenties.

Alvin Haywood, Elizabeth's father, was a widower and he tried to help Dorothea, who was left with very few financial resources. Alvin owned the town bank, which made him the wealthiest man in Arcadia, Nebraska, though that does not mean he was wealthy by non-Arcadia standards moderately comfortable is probably more accurate. One thing led to another, and Alvin and Dorothea married a few years later. Dorothea and her three children moved into Alvin's house, an eight room Victorian with a veranda in front. Alvin adopted Bill, Dale, and Elizabeth. In 1949, Dorothea died of cancer, leaving Alvin to raise the three children.

Alvin had died before I came on the scene, and the first few years of Bill's and my married life featured vacations spent in Arcadia, where Bill was working to settle Alvin's estate. The final vacation of that period involved cleaning out Alvin's house, leading to an estate sale and the listing of the house for sale.

That vacation was a nightmare. Three generations of the family had lived in the house, and it was filled with things that had to be sorted. There were things that, had I been able to get them back to New York, where Bill and I lived, would have had some real value to an antique dealer; instead they were sold at the estate sale. I remember a lady's desk that I loved that went for five dollars.

Finally, I went up to the finished attic, where Bill had already packed the model trains, and I began sorting through old trunks. In one of them, I found two "memory books," mini scrapbooks girls used to put together during high school. One, a blue cardboard book, belonged to Dorothea. The other, a wine-colored suede book had belonged to her friend, Elizabeth.

I was supposed to be working, but I sat down to read the books. I started with Dorothea's, but she hadn't been as faithful about keeping it as Elizabeth, so I switched to her book.

It was filled with dance cards, pressed flowers, programs, and records of parties she'd attended and gifts she'd received.

And tucked in between two pages was an envelope addressed to "Miss Elizabeth Haywood. To be opened 15 years from today, Oct. 26, 1924. Or October 26, 1939. Not until." The envelope flap was held in place by silver sealing wax. I opened the it and read:

Dear me:

I wonder what I shall be doing when I open this letter fifteen years from now? Will I be happy? What is my work? Did I get into a sorority in college? Did I graduate from there? Am I married? These questions interest me a great deal.

Today is Sunday and I have finished studying and writing to Aunt Ruby. I am fourteen and a Sophomore in H.S. I get an allowance of $1.50 a week. The Sophomores are going to give the seniors a ghost party next Thursday, Oct. 30, 1924.

Where will the original gang be? Claudia, Sara, Dorothea S. and Dorothea H.? Where will I be living? Just to think that in 15 yrs. these questions will probably be answered.

Well, goodbye letter for 15 years.

Lots of love, Lib [crossed out]
Beth

P.S. I have been to California this last summer 1926. I am now living in Arcadia.

I wonder how many young girls have written that kind of letter? I think I wrote one myself, though whatever became of it I can't say.

But what a strange feeling it was (and is) to realize that I knew the most of the answers to her questions. She could never have imagined that Dorothea S.'s daughter-in-law would be the one to read that letter.

Nor could she have ever guessed that a woman and from New York at that she never imagined would spend so many years thinking about her.

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