A Letter Written by My Great-Grandmother

My mom has been the unofficial family historian for my immediate and extended family for some time, and she recently handed over most of her records to me (genealogy papers, handwritten letters, old photographs, etc.) to keep and add to as time goes on. I was looking through some of it this morning and found the following undated letter from my great-grandmother, Florence Packard (nee Nelson). Letters fascinate me, partly because people don’t really write them anymore, and because you get a sense of who people are by how and what they write. Anyway, I thought I’d share it.

Dear Ele;

Have wanted to get at a letter to you for some time but too many upsets.

I imagine you have heard about the fires we are having here, is terrible.  Are practically on our doorstep.

Some small towns around us had had some houses burn and have been evacuated. The whole country is thick with smoke.

It all started last Sunday evening when we had an electrical storm which was long overdue. Usually if we have a few days of extra hot weather we have a storm. But I cant remember when we have had a day that wasn’t in the 90[s] or 100[s]. Our hottest was 105 some days in a row.

We are down in Crescent City now, just got here thru thick smoke three fourths of way. We had planned on coming here to spend the Labor Day week end anyway but kind of left ahead of time. That smoke was too much.

Seems funny one lightening storm can set about half the state on fire but it was terribly dry. I don’t know when we had a rain.

Bob [1] has been taking radiation treatments for cancer inside his nose for over a month & is thru now & is supposed to come back in six months for results. I sometimes wonder if it was in time.

Bobby, Evalyn & Steven [2] were here for about a week a couple weeks ago. Was so hot & couldn’t get anything done. Had so much canning to do.

The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen & have canned ten pints so far & brought a big sack of them down here.

Jill [3] wants some of them also so will give her the ripe ones when we get home. She gave me two big boxes of peaches last week & I canned thirty gls of them so wont have to buy any this year.

Have been canning different kinds of pickles & have got about all of them I need, but hate to see them go to waste…

Being on jury duty doesn’t help matters any. They excused me for this week so could be down here.

Was surprised to hear of your auction. How did it go? Are you still going to live there?

Is so nice down here but cant help thinking of them at home in all that smoke.

Dennis [4], his son & grandson are out fishing & will have Dennis take me to town to mail this letter when they get back.

The grandson lost a nice ling cod yesterday which made him sick as catching one of them is a prize.

Well will close this & mail it when Dennis gets back.



1. Her Husband, my great-grandfather
2. My grandfather (her son), grandmother and uncle (mother’s brother)
3. My great-aunt
4. My great-uncle

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  1. staccato, in this, that is comforting. others writing is always an opening. i remember years ago, i moved my family to PA, (wife and infant daughter), and was living with the in-laws and i rec’d a letter from my father. growing up, my mother wrote, and father spoke. i’d always assumed that my, inner, and its subsequent outer were mirroring my mother on the page. but the letter from my father sounded like me. i don’t think i’d seen a word on paper from him, memorably, until then. odd. comforting.

    1. I love that you found you write like your father, even though you’d never read a letter from him before. I guess we learn our rhythms from the people around us.

      I agree about the staccato in the letter above having an oddly comforting effect. Her voice is so unaffected, so natural, but she has these really beautiful, vivid lines scattered throughout (“The whole country is thick with smoke,” “Seems funny one lightening storm can set about half the state on fire but it was terribly dry. I don’t know when we had a rain,” etc.). It seems like something straight out of an Alice Munro story, or something similar.

      Anyway, thank you for reading this and leaving your comment. I appreciate your words, thoughts, and memories.

  2. Oh Heidi, this is so nice to read. It brings back memories of my grandma. 🙂 It was a letter written to her sister, Eleanor, and her other sister, Doris, sent it (and several other letters) to me several years ago when I wrote her a letter requesting information about our Nelson family history. As you know, when looking through these letters while preparing to hand them over to you, I noticed a note on the back of one of the letters that provided information on our family history. I hadn’t noticed this note before but it was incredibly helpful in finding information on our Nelson ancestors in Ancestry.com. For instance, it mentioned that her grandmother was named Maren and lived in Marinette, Wisconsin. It also gave the names of her father’s brothers (interestingly, it didn’t mention any sisters although, from my research, I know they had at least one sister and possibly two). This was helpful in my search because then I could confirm that I had the right Maren Nelson. Perhaps you could post that note here about what she wrote regarding her family. I thought it was very interesting. It contained such information as the fact that her father never spoke about his family and his children used to sing Norwegian songs with their cousins yet didn’t know Norwegian.

    1. Hey Mom, that’s a great idea. I haven’t read that note/letter yet, but I’ll look for it. Also, thanks for filling in some of the blanks for me; I had no idea who “Ele” was, for one. 🙂 I wonder why great-great-grandpa never talked about his family… Anyway, I’m glad reading this brought back memories for you! I loved reading it, too.

  3. Another interesting thing to note to other readers of this post: the handkerchief in the picture above was my grandmother’s sent to me by her daughter, my aunt Delores. Heidi used it at her wedding in November 2009 as her “something old.” 😀

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