72 years ago: Thanksgiving from Denver

I’ve dipped into the letters to my grandmother again. Here are excerpts from a letter postmarked November 26, 1936. It was written Thankgiving night, during the Great Depression. My great Grandmother just arrived in Denver on a bus, and wrote her daughter. Background: Sometime before this, my great Grandmother divvied up the bills with her husband, said, “Here’s your half,” took hers and wandered to other places, supporting herself by teaching school. This letter is on Taos stationery, but it was sent from Denver, Colorado. The long paragraph about half-way through is a snapshot of economical eateries, free Thanksgiving dinners and oh, the crowds! So, for a Thanksgiving in an economic downturn, here’s a little Depression-era color for you.

… . .

Dover Hotel, 1744 Glenarm
Denver, Colorado
Thanksgiving evening.

Dear Flossie,

And now are you surprised I resigned my job in Taos last Friday, at the close of my month, went to Albuquerque that night on the bus and the next night took the bus up here.

The in-laws returned for the winter and three women were just one too many, and I was the one. They wanted me to stay but it was too hard on my ego. And I decided I could earn anywhere as much as I was getting there. For some time this city has been drawing me. So in Albuquerque I got a manicure, my eyebrows shaped, and subtracted three more years. That makes you a co-ed, but don’t complain as long as I do not put you back into diapers.

I really was put up to making that final subtraction. The Kays came to Denver, (that was before the elders returned) leaving a relative by marriage from the Santa Fe store in charge at Taos. He staid at the house with me. He asked me how old I am. Of course I did not tell him but I had told him of having lived in the East about twenty-five years ago. So he figured from that I am fifty, to which I said “Yes”, so fifty I am.

Well, all week I have been job hunting with some success. Registering at the Rocky Mountain and Fiske Agencies, I have applied for a school in Pinedale, Wyoming, and have contact a Colorado County Superintendent who thinks there may be vacancies after Thanksgiving, perhaps to-morrow. I have put in applications at the various other Agencies including the Colorado State. Today I have spent the time reading Dorothea Brande’s Wake Up and Live. Read it? Its theme is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail.

I have discovered most thrify places to eat—McVittie’s. Ever hear of him? One of the dining rooms is less than a block from here, and I have been getting my meals there. Today it has been given over to free feeding, not registering in that class, I went to one of the others that is more elaborately furnished, has a nice velvet carpet, Etc. My Thanksgiving dinner consisted of chicken coquettes, with cream gravy, peas, potato and three big hard rolls. The sum of 20¢ paid for it and besides I get a chance on a $10 daily drawing. Pie is 10¢ there so I planned to get my pie and a glass of milk for a late lunch at our corner but the bums and poor were still in there as thick as flies, waiting to be served and a group were waiting on the sidewalk. When I went out at 11 A.M., a double line stretched the whole block. I never saw the like. They did not look especially poor, just the ordinary laborers one sees on the stret. One family, sitting by the window eating, did look pale and emaciated. The woman’s arms were thin and white, the father and boy also looked ill nourished. As I came in the elevator with a man I asked him if he believed those people were all needy. His reply was “I was a Republican.”

[…]

I enjoyed my ride up from Albuquerque on the bus over Raton Pass. its high point is 8735 feet and not one of the those curves and switchbacks has a protecting wall. our driver was a very nice person. it costs $2 less by busd than by rail and is just as comfortable. Billings is $12 by bus from here. From A- the fare is $7.55. We came up by night, about 12 or 13 hours.

After finishing my book, which I borrowed from the May Co.‘s rental Library, the next interesting thing to do to complete the day was to write to you. I sent the family post cards telling them of my flight. I will let you know as soon as I settle. I have the Billings address as a forwarding addresss from Taos.

[handwritten signature] Your devoted “Parent”

… . .

And now I have an idea what I will ask my Mother when I take part in the National Day of Listening.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 26, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
5 CommentsPermalink

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Comments

What a treasure to find and read and comprehend - this is your maternal line having a struggle in her life. 

I hope that your mother can add more to the story for you.  Did she ever meet her great-grandmother?  What happened to Flossie’s devoted “parent?”

Randy Seaver  on 11/26  at  09:06 PM

Randy, I’ve inadvertantly misled you, and have since corrected my mistake in the post. The woman who wrote this letter is not my great-great grandmother, but my great-grandmother. (Is this a mortal or venial sin for genealogists, this mis-attribution of mine?)  I think I had Isaias Hellman on the brain, and since he’s the author’s great-great grandfather, I typed great-great rather than great.

So yes, the writer of that letter is my mother’s grandmother, and yes, my Mom had lots of personal experiences with grandma. In fact, the elided [...] portions of the letter mentions her granddaughter, my mom.

So, to further untangle. Flossie got a letter from her mom (Fannie), i.e., her “parent.” I’ve been jumping around in reading, but I’ve seen both Flossie (in a letter to her husband, my grandfather) and Doris, her sister (in a letter to Flossie) refer to their mother by her first name. Not Mom. But Fannie this and Fannie that. As in, “Dear Sister, news blah blah blah. Fannie says that…. and so on.” It’s quite modern. Or seems that way to me.

But it also explains the part in her letter about this flexibility with her age, and how the letter writer and recipient’s ages are interrelated. “If I’m 50, that makes you a co-ed”

I like what you say about “my maternal line having a struggle” because I have said to friends (in jest) that “I have matrilineal issues”—since this is a straight daughter->mother->mother->mother line.

And finally (my aren’t we writing a little novel here in the comments!), my brother found this post online before I arrived at our Thanksgiving destination. Mom did add a detail or two to this account. But it was mostly about how Fannie left her husband, taught in various places, and got a bachelor’s degree in 1936 (hm!) that year from the University of New Mexico—in anthropology. Despite saying “So fifty I am”, her real age was 60-something.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 12/01  at  08:01 PM

Great stuff! Did you give up on the idea of podcasting? I think oral history is so much fun and listening to the tips, ideas, and some of the oral history projects themselves are so much fun. Hope you reconsider and give it another shot!

Mike Donovan  on 12/07  at  10:42 PM

I stumbled on this site quite by accident, searching for information about my Great Uncle, Albert “Mac” McVittie. He owned the McVittie’s dining rooms around Denver. The free Thanksgiving Day meals became a tradition starting in the Depression. Francis Mellrose, who wrote for the Rocky Mountain News once called him the “Daddy Bruce of the Depression” refering to a later Denver restauranture, Bruce Randolf, who also served free meals at Thanksgiving.
Very wonderfull to read about your Great-great Grandmother’s experience at McVittie’s

Michael Littrell  on 01/30  at  08:04 AM

Michael, this is excellent. I’m glad you stopped by and commented.

Have you found any other references to Great Uncle “Mac” McVittie on the web besides here? What prompted your search for info in the first place (family history local history? genealogy? impromptu curiosity? other?)

I gotta say, I think that google/search is grand. I recently received a similar inquiry from someone related to a wonderful photo album I’ve written about on the site—Great Grandma’s other daughter, Doris, sister to the Flossie to whom this letter was addressed. She went to an art institute that closed down, but the building is a set of artist studios—and current-day people don’t have any pictures of the old school—except for what I put here.

I love making these kinds of connections! You—and the other searcher/correspondent—give me additional incentive to get back into the letters, reading, transcribing, and (where interesting), posting them on the web.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 01/30  at  11:09 AM

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