|Trail, BC. Red dot on the international border.|
The opening on his next letter, dated May 3, 1920, surprises us. ". . . I will try and wright [sic] a few lines this evening setting [sic] around the camp fire in the rocky mountains some where in Washington but I don't know where I will mail this letter to-morrow - in the first town we come to. Sweetheart this reminds me of days gone by when I used to write my own dear little girl when I was in the army . . ." In Northport, Washington, a few days earlier, he and Gus had stabled the horses and while he watered the mules a horse kicked him above an ankle. "Geewhize but it did hurt some and it is still awful sore now I can't hardly walk." They'd slept in a barn the previous night. The next evening, camped out again, he writes that they are about 45 miles from Spokane, but "can't make much headway on account of the roads being so ruff [sic]." He mailed the letter in Tumtum. Once more at the Everyman's Club, he writes on May 8th ". . . Gusta left town to day. I don't know what he intends doing . . ." [Gus found a man to pasture his horses and mules.] After telling Mary how much he misses her, he adds a postscript to his children. "Hello kiddies how are you? I hope you are all well. Papa misses you awful much. Now be good boys and mind mamma and help her with the work and take good care of sweet little sister. [B]less her little heart how papa does miss her. Well goodby children from your loveing [sic] papa to James, Paul, Dennis and little Sister."
May 9, 1920, ". . . I went to mass this morning. [M]y but it was some crowd there and such a big church. I bet there were a thousand people there. [T]here was two priests at the alter [sic] and oh how fine and beautiful inside you never saw anything like it . . ." He must have been referring to Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral, completed in 1908.
"I have to go about five miles [to work]. I take the car [trolley] to go out and back. It cost[s] me twelve cents a day for car fare. I make five dollars and thirty-six cents a day and Sundays off . . . Sweetheart I don't know how I am going to stand it here without you my love . . . You know dear my balls hurt me so bad I can't hardly sit down. Gee kid I wish you were here so I could ease them . . . Well sweetest girl I hope you don't want a piece as bad as I do for if you do I pity you my dear . . ." Grandma told Mom he was "an every night man" until his prostate problems when he was 80 - it was when he gave up on life she added.
Mary writes on May 10 that she misses him, especially his keeping her warm because it's been raining and her feet get cold in bed. She was having second thoughts about moving to Spokane. She and the children went to her parents every Sunday for dinner and stayed for supper, and her mother would cry, missing Gus and already missing Mary and her grandchildren. She was in a dilemma whether to plant a garden. Her mother's garden was already coming up. The next day she writes, ". . . Is house rent high? . . . James he wants to stay and Paul he wants to go . . ." She tells him being apart is making her crazy and whatever decision he makes about where they live will be fine with her. And then, "Sweetheart when you write to me you must be careful what you write for the folks love to read your letters [especially] Laura . . ."
Her admonition failed to temper Whitman's writing. Having an audience encouraged him. " . . . Now dear I don't think it will hurt sister to read such letters because she knows if it hadn't been for that we would of never got married and besides if she ever gets married she will get used to such letters as that and she will know also what it will mean to be without all that good stuff if her old man should go away. My dear girl you don't know how much I am suffering without some - they are getting so big I can't hardly sit down any more without hurting them. And your toy is getting so it is hard all the time. I don't know what I am going to do with it . . ."
In another letter he reminds her that their anniversary is coming up on June 14, ". . . and sweetheart I can't stand the thought of being away from my dearest little wife on that beautiful day. I wonder dear girl if we can't arange [sic] some way for you to come down here for that day. I think we can. You could leave all the kids with the folks and come and stay two or three days with me. I will have another pay day on the fifteenth of June and you could borrow ten dollars from the folks and then pay them back when you go back and that would give you time to see the town and see if you would like to live here or not . . ."
Mary worried about finances. She had no money and here was a dunning letter for $14.80 from Straus & Schram of Chicago.
Straus & Schram was a mail order catalog company; they must have purchased a living room stove (or something similar).
"My dearest I dont [sic] see what I will do [with] no money. My wood pile is going fast and I just save as much as I can dear. I sure dont [sic] cook very much but when I bake bread and wash it takes so much [wood] . . . and things are going up higher . . . potatoes are $8 now [per 100 pounds]. We have a few left. I havent [sic] bought any since you left and syrup . . . is up [to] $1.60 for 10 lb. . . " She was sorry he was in such a misery. And she'd run out of writing paper. He wrote every day and expected her to, also. She replied to the letter in which he told her to sell all the furniture and come down on May 14, " . . .I think it best if you come back. I am afraid that we wont [sic] get very much for our furniture, not half enough to pay what we owe to the store and it will cost some to send the rest of the stuff . . . [I]t will be hard to find a place with these kids . . . [Y]ou would have a nicer place to work here this winter . . . inside out of the cold . . . [I]t is an awful job to move. I hate to be all broke up again and no money you know. The childrens [sic] clothes are looking plenty bad to go there. Of course things are cheaper but it will take some time to catch up again. . . Laura said for you to come back and we would celebrate our wedding day. She would shoot firecrackers . . ." After telling him how much she misses and loves him, adds a P.S. "Now Dearest you do just as you like about comming [sic] back. If you would rather live there than here then it will be all right with me. Its you[r] work and [you] make the living. [B]ut I guess it [would] be a bad town for our boys . . . a lot of dirt goes on I guess."
Whitman writes on May 14: ". . .[I]f you could only see this place you would never want to go back to Trail to live. The longer I stay here the more I like Spokane. And things are so cheap out here . . . Gusta likes it fine here . . . driving a team for someone and gets five dollars a day and it doesn't cost him any thing for a room. He sleeps in the office at the Barn. . ." He asks, "Are you getting fat and stout like . . . before you had those measles . . ."
They both were relieved that she menstruated in May. She writes "I had cramps and you know what that means." He replies, ". . I am just awfully glad to hear you are unwell. I was just afraid that last piece we had I had fixed you up again . . . " She writes that she didn't want to wash clothes at the beginning of the week while "unwell." A common folkways belief was that women shouldn't touch water while menstruating, difficult to adhere to if a woman was rearing a family. " . . I wish you were here so I could stick [my cold feet] against your back to make you jump." Then turns serious. " . . I wish you would write to the mercantile store [in Trail] and tell [them] you will send them some money when you can. I havent [sic] bought very much . . . a pair of shoes [for Louise] . . . a pair of slippers that cost $2.25 . . . her old shoes were wore out and the[y] look awful bad. I guess I will have to buy some flour next week we are about out of something to eat. I guess I will have to borrow . . . from the folks to buy some wood. I havent [sic] got very much. I don't make fire for supper sometimes so I can save the wood . . ."
She sent him the 2nd dunning letter, which threatened to go to court to attach their furniture and goods, on which they still owed money, and sell it at auction.
Whether Whitman believed the contents of this letter is uncertain, but it was an excuse to pressure Mary to move. On May 19th, he writes, ". . I see you are in a notion of coming to Spokane to live. Gee kid I am so glad of that. Dearest I think I will get a house and buy a few pieces of furniture to start on like we did there. Yes you may sell everything. You can have the second hand man come out and ask him what he will give you for everything and ask him what he will give you for the phonograph . . . It might be that those people in Chicago might have that stuff sold and it might be a good idea to sell the stuff and stay up to the folks till I send for you . . . I don't know when I will be able to send them [Straus & Schwam] any money but when I do I will send it all so we will be through with them." On May 20th she writes ". . . papa came over and cut me some wood . . . he will buy me some tomorrow . . . Father [a priest] came and told me he would like for James to come ever[y] evening after school for instruction and he said Paul could go to[o]. [T]hat will keep them out of mischief . . . I dont [sic] know what we will do without money to pay my lights and rent and stamps . . . ." She told him she wouldn't come to Spokane for their June 14th anniversary, claiming she wouldn't want to leave him once there.
On May 21st, he writes, ". . . I am afraid you will run out of things to eat before I will be able to send you any money. Dear sweet wife you mustn't go hungry that will never do . . ." He'd decided to quit his job and go back to Trail, but didn't have enough money "to square up with" all the bills they owed. "Yes dear, I will write the people there in the store and tell them to let you have any thing you want as I will pay them just as soon as I can . . . Just order what you please and we will make it all right when I get back." Mostly, he wants her to tell him her dreams about him and to call him "baddy boy."
On May 22, she writes that she lay awake worrying about moving and coming down by train with four children (would they have trouble crossing the border?) and selling everything (the second-hand man offered less than what they owed on their furniture) and had a "spell with my old head." Her father gave her $10.00 and she bought $5.00 worth of wood. She begs him to borrow $5.00 from Gus to send to Straus & Schram in Chicago. ". . .[D]ont [sic] let them write here no moor [sic]. Dearest if you only know how it worryes [sic] me. I am afraid that the[y] will [cause] us some trouble yet . . ." When she became upset, her spelling suffered. A serious problem was her growing deafness caused by mastoiditis. When a missionary priest gave a talk one evening, "he talked so loud I heard a few words," but she had to leave because "Sister start[ed] messing her pants and she began to cry and Dennes [sic] he was bad . . . he wanted a drink, he would not sit still."
Changing his mind about returning, on May 23 Whitman touts the wonders of Spokane to a woman not getting enough to eat. Butter 61 cents; eggs 40 cents; corn 18 cents; tomatoes 18 cents; the best brands of bacon 32 cents; hams 27 cents a lb. "Fresh meats are very cheap." Pot roast 10 cents a lb; rib roast 18 cents a pound; round steak from 17 1/2 cents to 22 cents a pound, but potatoes are $6.00 a hundred [weight]. "I think if we was to move here it wouldn't be long before we could have an Auto. You can get some fine looking Autos here pretty cheap . . . [Stores] have cut prices [to] just half of what they were. [F]or instance they had a suit here for a lady that was marked $150.00 last week and last night the same suit was marked $75.00 . . . I have just about made up my mind to stay here for good, so if you want to come to Spokane to live just say so and Spokane it will be . . ." At the end of the letter, "If you want to stay in Trail I will come back . . . anything to please my little lady." The letters cross one another between Spokane and Trail, Whitman and Mary changing their minds again and again, Mary expressing her reservations in each letter, and then telling him she'll do whatever he wants. She never did put in a garden.
One month to the day after he left, she wrote that she'd spent only $6.50 on groceries during those four weeks, but was going to have to buy flour, telling him they won't starve as long as they have bread. She did have to spend 15 cents each on rosaries for James and Paul because the priest wanted them to have them and to attend mass every morning. And now I know what happened to our grandmother's satin wedding gown (a swatch of which I possess) - she made a coat for Louise out of it.
On May 31, he writes, ". . Gusta and I went out to one of the parks to-day. It is shure [sic] a beautiful place and all kinds of amusements there and some wild animals . . . gee what a crowd of people was there. I wish you could have been with us." They must have gone on the streetcar to Natatorium Park and probably watched children ride the Loof carousel.
Mary writes him on June 1, 1920, that they owe the [grocery] store in Trail $98.68. "I haven't bought much eather [sic]. I haven't bought a[n] egg, no meat, not butter and no potatoes since you left." She asks him how much he wants her to pay on the grocery bill if she sells the furniture. "I will half [sic] to keep enough to pay our way [and for freight] and have some left . . . The folks sure hate to see us go. Mama said ever time we are close together we run off. I sure hate to leave them but I guess it cant [sic] be [helped]." Whitman is paying $3.75 a week for his room at his "club" in Spokane; he's been paid at least once - maybe twice - but he hasn't sent her any money . . . and she doesn't appear to expect any.
He decides again to come back to Trail, writing not to sell the furniture. She hadn't gotten around to it, anyway, hoping he'd change his mind. He told her all the things he'd do to her when he saw her, "but it will be just my luck when I come home the monkey will be sick." [An aphorism new to me.] The last week he's in Spokane, Mary writes loving letters to him everyday. He tells her not to write after she gets his letter of June 10. Her last letter is dated June 11, in which she tells him how dearly she loves him and how she hardly can wait to hug and kiss him. "I sure will be glad when you come back. Maby [sic] we can have more. The potatoes are so high now that we cant [sic] afford to buy them. I got a quarter's worth . . .7 potatoes. I cook[ed] them all in one mass . . . Well, dear I guess this will be the last letter I write to you for . . . you come back next week. . ."
On June 14, 1920, he wrote the last of the letters I have. ". . Well my dearest sweet loveing [sic] wife what is the matter I didn't get a sweet letter to-day from my baby doll? . . . I am awfully much disappointed . . . and on our wedding anniversary to[o] sweetheart. I don't think you treat me wright [sic]. Well sweetheart if you hadn't been so selfish you would be here in Spokane with your boy to night to spend the night of all nights with the one who loves you dearly and honestly with all his heart and soul. I don't believe you care as much for your boy as you say you do or you would have come down for this special occasion. Ten years ago to-day dearest I was the happiest boy on earth and to-night I am sad and discouraged and no body knows how lonesome . . . I feel . . . I hear we got a pretty good raise and if we did I don't think I will come back to Trail for we could do better here than there so if I am not there Thursday evening you may not look for me for chances are I won't come . . . so good by my own dearest wife with all my love and a million sweet kisses from your loving husband and papa."
They were in Trail at least through October, 1920. On October 26 Frank Raney (he used that name) received an invoice from Virtue & Co. of Toronto, representatives of Harper & Bros of New York for one set each of Arthur B. Reeve, 12 volumes, and Edgar Allan Poe, 10 volumes, with cloth bindings, price $29.00. A dollar down and $2.00 per month. I read "The Tell-tale Heart" from one of those Poe volumes when I was a child.
Their daughter, Mary Agnes Raney, was born on June 12, 1921, in Spokane, Washington.