Sunday Vintage Swoon: The Charm of Old Letters Part 2

This second letter is also to my grandmother, Henrietta. She was born in Dallas, but moved to Omaha when she was 12.

This letter is from someone back in Dallas, and is my favorite letter because it tells a lot about the time period and is very colorfully written.

2323 Jordan Street

Dallas, Texas

August 14, 1936.


Dear dear Henrietta:

                                    Do you know what I have been doing for the past year and a half? Well, I have been going around town, and out of town too, completely encased in an armour of battleship steel plates and dragging an extra suit of the same material along. To my fidus Achates on my walks I give instructions to warn me if Henrietta approaches so I can put on the other armour. And he would question me daily about this strange behaviour of mine until I finally explained to him the meaning of it all, or rather the reason for it all. I told him that Henrietta was not the Amazon he was led to believe she was from my armour. Instead, she was a very mild mannered evenly disposed person; but for that very reason her fury would be greater than one accustomed to puff and snort at the most trivial irritation. I told him that I was very cautious and feared that after eighteen months she might feel inclined to “do something.” Now, I will be able to take off this load and walk unencumbered in this infernal weather because I am writing you today. If by any chance you have left Omaha before receipt of this so-called letter and are still on revenge bent, please fall in a trance and assume your role of prophetess.

                                    Hucie was by here and told me he had seen you and talked with you and I rather envied him. I think it was Goethe who once said that if he had some magic wand which “bore the wearer at his will to distant lands” he would scorn the pomp of kings. I realized more than I ever did that after all old man Goethe had a little sense.  He was a bit generous too for he anticipated my emotions on hearing Hucie’s good fortune and expressing it so I partially describe it to you instead of saying a volume of meaningless words. Shortly after seeing you I had the good fortune of seeing Odessa and Helen neither of who I had seen in many moons. They were both looking well and feeling well and we talked of other days. Of course there could be no conversation about the good old days which did not include you as the main item. I haven’t seen them since, and I have seen Hucie only once; but I learn as I grow older that Fate has a way of separating us from the company we best like as if we would be too happy in a cruel world if we had them around us. I used to be bitter once but now I find it sensible to resign myself to what Fate does and find consolation in hope. Is this a sign of advancing old age? (Smile).

                                     Before I go any farther on this rambling road – are you coming to Dallas for our Centennial? I say “our” because I am a resident of Dallas. When they opened this show they were somewhat discourteous to Negroes. They did not say it in so many words, but they implied by acts that this is a white man’s affair and we are not very particular about the presence of the black brother here except on designated days when we ourselves may come and enjoy his antics as a sort of spectacle. I don’t know just what the reason is but there has been a radical change and, save in a minimum of places, one might enjoy the Centennial without being embarrassed. I am not in a position to compare it with Chicago or San Diego; but those who are able to say it is better than the show put on in those two places. But should you come to Dallas and not enjoy the Centennial we will put on a show for you at the address I have given above on first page and Mrs. Dove and I believe you would at least enjoy it. Something tells me that we would keep you so busy relating everything about yourself that you would have little time to enjoy yourself unless you remained as long as a year. Do you know when you will be able to visit Dallas this year? Let us know as soon as possible.

            And speaking of shows: I have an empty garage for the very obvious reason that we do not own an automobile. So we conceived the idea of turning it into a little theatre for the children. They have been having talking pictures at home at nights with a small moving picture outfit we have for them with records synchronized for the pictures. But they want a stage for acting. And now there is an unfinished stage which has been used more for playing than for the acting they wanted. I became carpenter and Mrs. Dove, interior decorator. A saw, a hatchet and hammer combined, and a rule constituted my tools. Some old lumber, covered beyond recognition with red and green lacquer paint, constituted the bulk of the materials. Some yellow pasteboard forms Mrs. Dove’s stage background, and this is liberally decorated with pictures of flowers, birds, and other animals. Now for the actors: Donald who wanted to act submitted without complaint to a short coaching in which he was required to say four lines. Then he asked if there was anything else he had to learn and seemed cheerful when told that was all he had to do then. But why did you ask the question? And the answer: Because I want to do something else on that stage.

            Donald is almost as tall as I am and Eleanor is a little above his shoulder in height. I am enclosing a picture of them together which was taken last winter and which we meant to send to you at that time. From it you will see more than I can tell. The last member of the family is a husky youngster. He is very sturdy and looks like a tiny giant. He is very much like his brother; but everyone seems to think he is better looking. We will send him (his picture) to you soon as well as ourselves.

            The school has grown in enrollment since you left. We now have about 1700 and we operate two shifts daily – a morning session for the upper classes and an afternoon session for the lower classes. Last June there were 235 graduates of whom 35 should have graduated. We are rather proud of our increasing enrollment – it is conclusive evidence that the school is getting bigger (and with bigger goes better of course). We have added some good stiff courses such as commercial arithmetic, negro history, journalism and World History, all of which provide avenues whereby the student can walk  on his way to graduation if the regular courses prove somewhat inconvenient. We now have 55 teachers but those you left are still here save Miss Emory who is teaching at one of the elementary schools in town. A teacher’s job nowadays is a lovely one. He starts out with the assumption that the child is perfect, that it has an ego to express, and that he must let the child express its ego in its own way and not in the way the teacher likes. It is rather difficult to see these egos at times for some of the children are imbeciles; but again you must remember that what call an imbecile is a person who does things unlike ourselves and may be a genius. And if he takes a chair and smashes your head and breaks up equipment and steals, after all he may be a great general in the making who defies, etc. etc. and builds an empire over broken bodies. So many of our egos express themselves by not doing anything at all in nine months. Well, be a pedagogue and learn all this.

            How do you like your present occupation? Really, I wish you could find profitable employment in Dallas – profitable enough to make you decide to take up residence and work here.

            How are the others of your family? You must give them our very best regards. I guess everybody is grown up now. It doesn’t seem that it is seven years since I came to Dallas. It doesn’t seem that Henrietta too must be a young lady by now – in fancy she still seems a child, admirable and lovable. Strange enough, I don’t want to return to the days of childhood pleasant though they were. I am enjoying manhood with its uncertainties, with its today of joy and tomorrow of grief. I am enjoying my children and seeing in them possibilities which may never never come to pass. I like to see them change as they do day by day. I like their careless laugh and wonder how could I have laughed like that once upon a time.

            Well, I am waiting to hear from you. If I don’t I am going to be a good correspondent from now on. But most of all I, we, want to hear that you will be coming to Dallas soon and that we will see you when you arrive. Mrs. Dove is with me as I write and this is from both us both.

                                                Believe me to be

                                                            Yours very sincerely,


                                                            Sebert C. Dove

I’d love to hear about any letters you have from the past!            



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