Alternate Alt. Title: This post is absurdly long and contains too many questions.
One of my absolute favorite things to do is rummage around in thrift and vintage stores
because I’m an insufferable hipster.
because I like useless old crap that may or may not contain mites.
Because I like history and storytelling.
I’ve been doing the vintage clothing, toys, and creepy tchotzkes thing for a while now. Recently though, I’ve found a new love to be on the look out for amidst the rows of ceramic knickknacks and old fishing lures: photos and letters.
Perhaps I’m just dreadfully boring, but a little window into the life of a person from a time gone by is utterly fascinating to me. In letters, for example, you learn about both the writer and the recipient from what’s on that page. How are these people related? Did the writer ramble on for pages in friendly, loopy letters? Or were they frugal, and only write in small print that fills every corner of the page? Were they funny? Opinionated? You get the idea.
The first time I ever bought a letter, I read through a few different ones at my favorite vintage haunt looking for that special one that would strike my fancy. And there it was.
A small tattered envelope addressed to Mrs. J. J. Mercer in Austin, Texas sent from Port Arthur, Texas in early September 1931. Marked “Special Delivery” and unopened. Seriously, folks, how could I resist?
I fantasized about it’s contents. A letter with exiting news? Or very, very bad news? Would it contain a gift? Money, perhaps? Would I be tempted to spend said money? Is money from 1931 worth anything in the collector’s market? What if it doesn’t contain money? How disappointing would that be? But what if it doesn’t contain money because it actually contains treasure? What if this thing is loaded full of doubloons? Why would somebody get a letter containing doubloons and then not open it?
I realize that all sounds insane, but I went through that exact thought process before getting home to open it. When I went to get my mother’s badass letter opener, I realized what a big noodle I am because the letter had already been opened from the side. Logically, looters must have already come for the doubloons.
Pushing my disappointment of not finding pirate treasure inside of a envelope sent within Texas in the 30s, I looked inside and to find a letter. (Shocking, I know.) You can click the thumbnails below to see it for yourself. Otherwise, I’ve rewritten the contents below the best I can.
Sept. 5, 1931
Dearest Mother & Florence:
It’s so hot here I can hardly stand it. Worked up at school yesterday and this a.m. and almost passed out. My office was like a steam sweat* box.
I got another teacher, which means (unless something else happens that I’ll get an extra $100.00 or rather will get what I was supposed to get. Praise God. Providence surely is good to me. Things are sort of up in the air – waiting on the enrollment to see how many children we will have.
I want to wash out some under clothes after I get back from the P. O. – I worked up at the school too late to get a [can’t make out this word] off yesterday.
Florence, you didn’t give me those jokes & stories to copy & I want want ’em. any good ones you’ve got. – I’ll copy them & send them back if you’ll let me have them.
The fruit was fine – just finished up the last when I came in from school today. – twas* still good. Met some of the girls in Houston so I had company the rest of the way home.
Called Miss Score*, but she didn’t have time to get to the depot* – she wanted to come, but, I was only ther about 45 minutes. Less than that for waiting time.
The flowers look fine. Didn’t have time to get the dirt in the window bed – so have put them out here temporarily. The [something] that [something] [something] back have surely grown*.
Have to finish my speech & [something] up my copy of my requisitions. It’s so hot I haven’t pep for anything. – Hope it’s cooler in austin.
lot’s of love
*Words I’m not entirely sure of.
A few things of the things I love about this letter:
– I’m much too amused that Helen spends a large portion of the letter complaining about the heat, and that it was the first thing she wrote about.
– The little errors, such as forgetting the closing parentheses or that the handwriting seems to get sloppier or rushed towards the end.
– “or rather will get what I was supposed to get”
– I’m completely obsessed with the idea that she wants to copy Florence’s jokes and stories.
– “I haven’t the pep for anything”
– The fact that there really isn’t anything worthy of the “special delivery” written on the envelope.
So why do I love this some much? Doesn’t everyone complain about weather and their jobs? Why is this any different? To that I say…I don’t know why. I have yet to hide my insanity here, I see no reason to start now.
So anyway, back when I first got this letter, I got it in my head that I’d try find out more about these people using the magic of the interwebs. I honestly thought I’d just punch the names into Ancestry and it’d be done, but I couldn’t find any information on the Mercers anywhere at all. Ever since, the letter has been staring at me, balanced on top of the bulletin board near the computer.
BUT WAIT, this post gets even longer.
Today, I visited the same store that I found the original Mercer letter and I went to rummage around for a new letter to see inside someone else’s world. To my surprise, I almost immediately found a letter addressed to Florence Mercer. I was over the moon. If I couldn’t find our more about them online, I could add another piece to the puzzle with a second letter. But the then I found a third. And a fourth. It became quite clear that the seller had likely picked up a whole collection from an estate sale or some such. I had a momentary outburst of madness and dug around until I collected a whole mess of letters addressed to one Mercer or another. I bought everything that might contain more solid bits of information, leaving behind a few impersonal cards and countless empty envelopes. I’m sure I left even more letters behind, and that will keep me up at night.
I realize that I’m a nutcase. If by any chance there are Mercer descendants reading this, I’m sure they’re completely horrified and want to arrest me for being a creeper. There’s very likely nothing in these letters that is anything more than the one above, which is just a little slice of life from someone I will never meet.
But I really don’t care. I’m beyond eager to go through this stack of old mail. I mean, the postmarks range from 1919 to 1963. Doesn’t that excite you? No, just me? Regardless, I intend to document the letters here over the next however-long-it-takes-my-lazy-butt-to-do-it. And I’d also like to throw out into the great void that is the internet, if anyone has any information about the Mercers to let me know.
And if you think this is odd, just wait until I start posting about my old photos of strangers collection.