Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sam's Life in Letters

How will you be remembered when you are gone? Would you want your loved ones to honor your memory with a song, a poem, or a story? My maternal Great Grandfather, Samuel B. Nelson was an alumni from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He began writing letters to the college in 1934, and the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine began publishing these letters. I have copies of a series of 6 such letters, that you will find below.
In this first letter, written by Sam, which was published in the May 1934 issue, he reports that he has 5 sons, and 13 grandchildren. At this point in time, the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Act), had ordered him to reduce his milk production, but the writer of this magazine doubts that Sam had done so.
The 2nd letter was also written by Sam, and it was in the June 1934 issue. He spoke of plenty of snow on the slopes for skiing. He had a recent visit from his son, Forrest and his wife, and all 5 granddaughters. Sam now has 18 grandchildren to brighten his days.
Letter number 3 was again written by Sam, and either there was a very lengthy period of time between letters, or possibly there are missing letters, as this one was published in January 1940. Sam had just added another grandchild making the count 19 to date. He is back to walking with a cane, just like he did in his senior year at college. His letter was dated December 1, and based on the statements made in the latter part of the article, there were concerns that possibly Sam would have difficulties making it through the holidays.
Sam's 4th letter, published in the June 1940 issue, would prove to be his last. This time, he spoke of having his "full quota of grandchildren", and was still keeping up hope for his last 2 sons and 1 daughter to be married and start having children. Sam's kids are scattered to the 4 winds, so for the first time ever in 50 years of marriage, Sam & Flora are alone.
There was no letter in this issue, because Samuel Boody Nelson had died. In place of a letter, the Alumni Magazine published the complete obituary for Sam. The obituary was sent by Mrs. Nelson along with a short note to the class secretary. In it, she wrote that he had passed away after a slight shock, followed by a heart attack. Since timing is very important when determining the course of events in your ancestor's past, it would be good to know exactly how much time had passed between "a slight shock" and the "heart failure". Also good to know, is why Mrs. Nelson referred to the event as a "slight shock". Would a "slight shock" cause a heart attack? I doubt it very much. Logic tells us, that it would take a pretty major shock, unless there was evidence of a prior heart condition. That evidence has not, thus far, manifested itself. It is possible that Mrs. Nelson was being polite in writing about her husband's demise.
Ever since I have been researching the lives and deaths of my Sam Nelson and family, I have now uncovered the biggest family secret so far. Sam & Flora had 2 children who never married, son, Floyd, and daughter, Kathleen. That was because they decided that they were in love with each other, and were going to live together as husband and wife. Now, Floyd was 14 years older than Kathleen. I have confirmed that in 1940, both Floyd and Kathleen left the family home, and even moved from the state of Vermont. I have not yet found evidence to support a theory of both of them leaving together. However; I did locate Floyd in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census, renting a room in the large home of Donald Keller, and Floyd was working at the local hospital as an orderly. Kathleen's obituary states that she left Vermont in 1940. There is no mention of exactly where she moved to. When they made the decision to live together as such, they also decided to have children. I can imagine the shame and horror that Sam & Flora felt. There were 2 children from this union. First a son, Larry born in 1948, then a daughter, Flora born in 1952.
After all that had transpired within the family, it was another 5 years before a final letter was received. My Great Grandma Flora wrote this one. Nothing earth shattering was reported; only an update on all the kids and their families. At the end of the letter, Flora writes about the pleasure that Sam received from all the countless cards over the years from his college classmates at Dartmouth. I believe it was this in the end that gave Sam a small sense of relief, to help him mentally escape the stressed caused by the fraction of his family!