The Letter: Stories From Higley Hill

The letter


I found another letter in our house. This one was handwritten. In the upper right corner of the first page was the number three. No salutation, no date, and the letter ends at page 6 with no Yours Truly. It starts with a laundry list of health concerns. The writer is clearly a woman.

“Also went to the doctor for a complete physical. Just having a period too often and far too many days at a time.” I can only imagine she is writing to another woman because I don’t know many guys who want to hear this information.

“The blood pressure is right on the button, heart fine, blood count good, no sugar or infection showed in the urine. Never the less my legs and feet swell so badly at times I can’t get on my shoes.” She goes on to explain a biopsy and mentions how the doctor doesn’t think it’s anything serious, just “a chemical and body change due to my age.” Then she’s on to her teeth, and mentions dental exams back in 1958 and 1960. She has only one filling, a gold inlay, and says “it just seems so wonderful to have my teeth stay in such good condition.”

She’s boring me to tears but at least I now have a time frame of the 1960’s. She finishes up the first page of the medical chronicles with a full report on her mother’s health. Apparently her and her husband, Gene, live with her mother. I wish I had something better to work with here, like an illicit love letter, but unfortunately this, along with the bank notes, is all I found.

I flip to Page Two. She writes her letter this way: not turning the page over but flipping it upside down, starting at the bottom of the next page. Gene is a handy guy and has put jalousie windows in the sleeping porch and made it into a bedroom for his mother-in-law. It’s been a hot, humid summer – which may be contributing to those swollen legs and feet.

Things get a little more interesting when she moves on to current events. “I am still studying and making contacts and calls. I certainly started during a poor time as far as the stock market goes. Kennedy has done a wonderful job of upsetting ‘Big Business’ plus the general public. No one knows what he’ll do or suggest next.”

Just imagine what she’d think of Donald Trump.

“The retail sales are down, showing people are hesitant about spending or going further in debt. With taxes being cut and the government still spending, and wanting to spend more and asking for more and more, what else can follow but more inflation? More and more people better put some of their dollars into variable dollar assets or in years to come they won’t even have enough dollars to buy groceries. It isn’t easy, however, to convince people that investing in securities at this time is the best hedge against inflation especially people who have never put dollars in American Industry before.”

I’m guessing from this information it is 1961 or ’62, and the letter writer is most like likely a Republican. Clearly she is not a fan of JFK. She goes on to talk about teaching Vacation Bible School in July and then mentions a letter she received from some friends in Eastern Pennsylvania. “They haven’t had rain in ten weeks and the heat has broken all records. It’s dairy country and the farmers are in a fix. It’s been declared a disaster area and there goes more money.”

There are also water problems in her neighborhood. A lot of wells have gone dry and she may have to connect to city water at the cost of $150 so she “sure hopes we don’t have to do that.” I can’t help but wonder how she would feel if her neighborhood was declared a disaster area and needed financial assistance. Five new houses have been built on her side of the street and she is also not happy about that. I am getting the sense this woman wouldn’t be a friend of mine. She likes to complain but the parallels are interesting – the hot summer, the droughts, the money concerns, the bitching about taxes and government spending.

By the end of the third page I am able to pinpoint her location. “Since Barbara works at the Florida Theater she gets passes. Mother, Gene, and I saw The West Side Story last week. It’s strictly teenage amusement. The music is pleasant and it was an outing without spending cash.”

I find her take on West Side Story amusing as my parents were big fans of Broadway musicals and this was one of my Dad’s favorites. I remember playing the album on the stereo in our family room, singing along to “I feel pretty, oh so pretty.” The music was Leonard Bernstein, the lyrics Steven Sondheim and this play was his Broadway debut. And the story was inspired by Shakespeare! Nevertheless my letter writer is saving her other free pass for Advise and Consent. She enjoyed the novel and hopes it will be a better night out at the theater.

“We have only been to the beach four times all summer. Just haven’t taken the time and don’t like to use gasoline for pleasure. Gene can just hardly contain himself, he wants to go to the beach so badly. The salt water bathing seems to make him feel better.”

Poor Gene. This woman and her frugality and complaints are starting to wear on me. Life is short lady, use a tank of gas and take your husband to the beach. It’s summer in Florida!

Finally, she shows her kinder side in the last paragraph. “We continue to watch over our elderly neighbor, 84 years. All her kin are out of state for the summer. I do her laundry with mine and we take her to the doctor weekly and church and groceries and what not. She’s quite a person. We enjoy doing for her. Her nephew has one of the largest funeral businesses in town. They have one daughter and six adopted children. Two pairs of the children are blond brothers and sisters. The children including their only child are under sixteen. They are a wonderful family. The old lady’s well gave out last week. Never a dull moment. Gene hooked our garden hose to her neighbor’s city faucet and ran…” And that’s all she wrote.

I have no idea how this letter from Florida ended up in my house along with Mr. Van Ness’ bank letters. I have since found out that Mr. Van Ness did live in a large home around the corner on Upper Dover Road. I found some old Christmas cards he had made up with a photo of the house he called Chez Nous and my friend recognized the property.

Chez Nous

Chez Nous – Christmas Greetings from the Van Ness Family

I wish I had found a more interesting letter to share.  I can only imagine what she thought in the coming years leading up to 1968. I think this might be another reminder during the hot, crazy summer of 2016 that the more things change the more they stay the same.

2 thoughts on “The Letter: Stories From Higley Hill

  1. I found her flipping the page up and writing from the bottom amusing. I am stunned by how clear and clean her hand-writing is and how evenly the lines are on unlined writing paper.
    She’d probably need a lavender scented handkerchief and a fainting couch if she were alive today.

    I wonder: Is “Chez Nous” the name of their home or merely an indication that it is home. That’s what we called being home when I was little, we were “Chez Nous.” At home. Great old photo.

    Liked by 1 person

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