Thursday, July 21, 2011


A letter written by my Aunt Ethel to her mother, Ina, on July 19, 1933, provides even more information about the “Hard Times Summer.” All the Dobsons were personable and chatty and as Aunt Ethel observes, “I suppose you are resting your eardrums after the terrific din they must have been subjected to for the last two weeks. It will be very quiet around home just now, I know.”

If you’ve been following, you doubtless remember that besides granddaughter Shirley Jean’s visit, Ina’s daughter Pearl, her husband Albert and son Stanley also visited at the Gilbert homestead during the summer of ‘33. Ina hints that Stanley’s behavior left something to be desired. “Stan has improved tho there is still room for lots more,” she observes. Ethel rounds out the picture more fully: “I was so very glad and relieved when your letter came telling of Stanley and Shirley Jean getting on much better than they did in ’31. I had dreaded the constant friction I feared their being together would make for you all, on top of all the confusion you were bound to have with so many extra people there. Am glad Pearl told Stanley what would be expected of him before they ever came; glad for his sake too, for it was too bad the way he acted when there before. He is a bright boy but needs much training, and Pearl is too much of a blunderbuss to give it to him in the right way. Some of your own quiet, politely freezing manner is the medicine for that young man; I mean freezing when one has offended, Mamma!” [Good save!]
Ha! I might be embarrassed to write this were it not that I have been on the freezing end of that stare (and more than once) myself. However, now that I’m a grandmother myself, I have come to see that freezing stares are an ineffective means of discipline.

Stanley, my cousin, 30 years my senior, passed away in 1996 at the age of 76. I’d say he didn’t really overcome the challenges his disability brought to him. Perhaps he indulged in self-pity, I don’t know. But I became the beneficiary of a very nice gesture he made toward my mother. 

One year in the ‘70s he came unannounced to the door of our house in Orofino. Handing a shirt box to my mother, he said, “Dorothy, I want you to have my mother’s collection of family photographs. I have no one to care about them and when I’m gone they will be tossed out unless I give them to someone. I have no one,” he said again. “I would like you to have them.”
Why did he give them to my mother? Because Mother and Stanley were Sanders cousins but also, Mother and Stanley were linked through the Dobsons by her marriage to his mother’s brother. Stan knew she would care not only about the Sanders photos but also about the Dobsons and see to it that both were preserved. Mother accepted the photographs with appreciation. She looked through them, removed a few from the box, then handed the box to me. She knew that not many Dobson photographs had come my way. Stan’s thoughtful gift rounded out my collection wonderfully. 

[The first picture is of Pearl Dobson Sanders with her son, Stanley, 1921. Stan is just a toddler. The second is of Pearl and Albert Sanders with Stanley at their farm near Foreman, Alberta. And the last was taken Christmas 1951 here at the farmhouse -- Ina Dobson with granddaughter Kathy and great-granddaughter Patty (Shirley Jean's daughter).] KW


Leah said...

Oh, don't you love old letters. We have a time traveller's experience when reading them. People spoke their minds, like Ethel to her mother, Ina. When cell phones came in, the family letters went out.

Were Stanley & Shirley Jean only children? If so, I'm sure it was hard to "give up" their status when put together with another child in the house. And I'm sure it was equally hard for adults to put up with "only children" thrown together.

Ethel's description of her mother's "politely freezing manner" was only phrased that way for her mother's ears, don't you think? I'm sure her children, spouses of her children & grandchildren had other ways to describe it. Ina was raised in an era when women didn't scream & yell to get their point across. In some ways that's good (silent treatment). Women in later generations felt free to say whatever they chose and often said way too much. An angry explosion leaves hurtful words hanging in the air for a long time. Maybe Ina felt that a frozen stare was better than stinging words to get her point across.

So glad that Stanley gave your family the photos, Kathy.

Chris said...

Politely freezing. Hmmmm... Is that like "the look?" :-)

Kathy said...

Chris -- LOL. "The look" -- exactly!

Cell phones, email -- I don't need to tell anyone that changing technology is taking its toll on the way we communicate and what we save for posterity.

Yes, Stanley and Shirley Jean were both "only children" and you could well be correct in your assessment. Shirley had two daughters, and I am my dad's only child. Julian and Ina had six children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Actually, the letter referring to Ina's "politely freezing manner" was addressed to everyone. A second letter was to be read only by Ina and Shirley, but Ina sent it to Vance with a note saying she didn't see anything in it that Ethel wouldn't tell him.

And yes, I agree that the way women communicate has changed.