A scrapbook love letter

My mother’s letter

I grew up in a normal home with two parents, one older brother, various dogs, cats (house and barn varieties), and a one-time parakeet. Like most people with that background, I thought I knew my parents and their individual backgrounds well, especially because my mother was careful to instill in me an appreciation of both lines of the family history.

In the early-mid 1930s, my mother was teaching and boarding with the principal of her school where My Father The Milkman delivered the semi-weekly bottles. It was a bottle of milk that began my parents’ relationship and a 1938 marriage lasting for more than 57 years, until my father’s death in 1995.

I suspect their courtship must have been fun and at times long-distance, but I really have no idea about what it was like, or even the exact year it began. My brother and I remember only one other story about their courtship. During the historic flood of 1936, the only bridge across the Kennebec at Augusta was being pummeled by ice floes and flood waters. The bridge was closed to vehicles, but pedestrians could cross at their own risk. Dad, on the west side of the river and lacking a vehicle of any kind of horsepower, wanted to visit my mother on the east side, so he crossed the approximately four hundred foot long bridge at a dead run. It was a three-mile walk from his house to the bridge, and, after crossing the bridge, another mile and a half uphill to her house. I wonder what shape he was in when he got there, or following the return trip!


Other than a few photos with affectionate notes written on the back, no courtship correspondence survives other than one letter that my mother sent to my father before their marriage. While I was digging into my various bins of family materials, I pulled out an old scrapbook. Leafing through the pages, I realized that it was my father’s 1931 high school scrapbook. He had carefully and thoroughly glued onto its pages his sports awards, scholastic awards, snapshots, and dance cards from the Chizzle Wizzle Ball (the high school’s annual vaudeville show, now in its one-hundred-twenty-fifth year).

But at the back of the album, several blank pages behind the rest of the memorabilia, was a faded white envelope about 5”x7” postmarked “Houlton, Maine, Feb. 27, 1935,” which contained a four-page, cut-and-pasted letter: a rebus of sorts. (Read the following letter from top, left to right, then from bottom, left to right.)

The rebus — a novel sort of love letter, you’ll have to admit — shows a puckishness in my mother’s sense of humor that I hadn’t fully appreciated. My father was not overtly sentimental, but the fact that he kept the letter in its envelope safely glued in place speaks clearly to that aspect of his character.

I’ve attached it above; may you have fun reading it! And if anyone can translate the “opinion” at the end, please let me know!

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.

4 thoughts on “A scrapbook love letter

  1. It looks like Russian. I don’t know that language, but if I type “SARA’KA Oтлично! но мне зто не надо” into Google Translate, I get this English translation: “SARA’KA Excellent! But I do not need this”

    (I wonder if your mother’s name was Sara, perhaps “SARA’KA” is a term of endearment for her.)

  2. My mother’s aunt, an unmarried lady who took fond interest in her niece, made a scrapbook of my mother’s life, made entirely of cut outs from magazines… and made sometime before Mom was married so tho undated I am presuming it was made in the early to mid ’30s. It showed attractive dark haired girls (to match Mom, no blondes), doing adventurous and romantic things, and among the couples pictures-a young woman dating a naval officer, and a darling blonde curly haired baby that looked like me ( I peaked early!) which made it somewhat prophetic. Mom kept it and so have I tho of course it doesn’t have any real family photos. I have always wondered about the lonely lady who made it,the “fad” perhaps of making things using magazine and newspaper sources. It took a lot of time to collect just the right pieces and speaks to the connection between the giftor and the giftee. Your love letter reminded me of that – I can just imagine her smiling to herself as she pieced together all the parts. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming story a reminder that our ancestors were more than a list of names and dates.

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