Letter writing is a lost art. It is so easy to slam out a text or write that “quick email” that our penmanship is failing, and our ability to put together a proper complete sentence is suffering.
This past week I have been busy transcribing my mother’s travel journal. The summer after she graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, she and two of her sorority sisters left to spend the summer traveling around Europe. They rented a 4-door Renault in Paris, a car so small that only one suitcase and the coats fit in the trunk, the other suitcases were strapped to the roof of the car. Leaving Paris, they would drive 2900 miles over the next 31 days, traveling through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, before returning the car, and boarding a train to spend another week between London and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Mom was diligent about recording the Date, Place, and Weather for each day, along with a short synopsis of how they had spent their day, and what they had seen. I thought that this small journal was giving me a great insight into her trip, and all of the wonders she had seen. That is until I read her letters home. My grandparents had saved each letter and postcard that she had sent home, mom had saved all the letters that she received at American Express offices throughout Europe, and neighbors had “returned” to her the postcards that she had sent to them.
After I had finished the journal, I started to transcribe the letters, inserting the transcription of the letter following the date of the journal entry. Suddenly the trip came alive! From her journal entry I learn: “… ate a wonderful meal of snails, wine (Claret) & ice cream & raspberries…” From her letter home I discover that “… That evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal of snails & claret & ice cream & raspberries. They are served in their shells on trays, which look something like tiny, shallow muffin tins. Each snail is covered with melted butter, garlic, and parsley. You are given a small fork and tong like things (to hold the shell) with which you eat them. After you eat the snail you soak tiny bits of your bread in the garlic butter. It is really very tasty — of course you leave reeking of garlic, but happy.” As my grandma said in her August 7th letter to mom “You will never know how much your wonderful letters & cards mean to us. Am saving all of them & just to read about what you are seeing and such thrills us to death. Your letters are almost like a travelogue. Gosh but it sure sounds wonderful and we are so pleased that you are having such a wonderful time.”
Speaking of grandma. In the summer of 1955, Verna Amelia Gray Tapper was 44 years old. My grandfather, Roland John Tapper, Sr. was 45, turning 46 on August 1st. That summer, on August 6th, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They were so young!! And grandma was just full of news to share. Mom’s trip spanned ten weeks, and grandma wrote seven letters during that time, and mom sent 12 letters home, plus several postcards. For grandma and grandpa, they received a travelogue, and for mom, she kept up with all the news from home. And me? Well, I can sit down and “see” into the past. I can enjoy mom’s trip along with grandma and grandpa, and I can feel the heat of the 100° days, the happiness that grandma felt when “Dad had my diamond reset & got me a new wedding ring. So — for the first time I have matched rings…The settings are simple but dainty & beautiful & he is so proud of them he could just burst.”
Now I am scanning and organizing the letters, the postcards, the travel journal, and the book that mom put together at my request. In 2011 I had asked her to document her trip, which she did in the form of a photo journal, as she organized and captioned the photos that she had from the trip. I am working on putting this together in book format so that the whole summer can be savored in one bite, “The Summer of 1955.”