Friday, March 29, 2013

Decoding Catherine's Letter on Marriage

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

This past Tuesday I posted a letter from Catherine to her parents written in 1936.  It was a lovely and interesting letter, but unless you have special knowledge of "All Things Catherine" many of you may be wondering about some of the topics she included in her note, so I thought I would fill in some of the blanks and let everyone know at least some of the "rest of the story."

By the time mother got her "place" at Alcoa Middle School (teaching jobs were called "places" back then, at least by them), James Neville was making noises about getting married sooner than "next Spring."  As previously mentioned we had 99 letters written by James Neville, but none by Catherine to him during this time period.  However, we could put together a pretty good picture that the idea of an early marriage was not his alone.  It was interesting to read his letters where he was trying to convince her that they should wait til Spring, only to have the next week's letters find him making a case for a December event.  Obviously they both waffled on what was the right and best thing to do.

Even after spending Thanksgiving together in Tiptonville they had not reached a final decision.  In Catherine's letter she tells us that it was not until after she had returned to Alcoa did she write immediately to 'Duke to let him know that she had made up her mind for sure.  As those letters were read by Amanda and I in 2007 it was interesting that his first two letters to Catherine after that holiday trip only discussed how much he enjoyed being with her and how hard it was to get back into his teaching routine.  Then his third letter was obviously written in response to her "first" after holiday letter that he must have just received giving him the good news that he was about to have a "roommate for life."

Catherine's first request of her parents was to write up an announcement for the two Memphis Newspapers.  The posting shows a copy of the paper's notice, but I am not sure exactly what date it ran.  Interestingly it incorrectly used Catherine's middle name, Frazier, as if it was her last name.  The notice should have read "Patty-LeDuke."

The "thing" as Catherine referred to it several times, took place on a Wednesday night.  There was actually a good deal of logic in that decision.  Mother did not want a large fancy wedding, but she did want to have many of her church friends to attend.  As it happened the Chelsea Avenue Presbyterian Church held a Wednesday Night service each week as is the custom even today in many churches. 
Chelsea Ave. Pres. was in the center of this old map
The weekday sermon ended at 8:00 and Mrs. Patty prearranged with the pastor to have all the available flowers and ferns gathered up and placed around the altar for the Patty-LeDuke wedding which followed at about 8:30.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catherine Bought Herself A Husband

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

We have decided to take a short break from the "War Years Book" chapter postings and let everyone have a chance to digest those first two chapters.  If you get really thirsty for more of WWII, just let us know and we'll turn back the clock.  For right now I thought I'd share some interesting correspondence from the days when mother signed her name Catherine Patty.

When James Neville and Catherine left STC (State Teacher's College; it later became Memphis State and is now called University of Memphis) in 1936, they devised a plan to teach school for a year, get rich, and then become husband and wife in the late Spring of 1937.  Along the way the reality of life happened.

Catherine and Duke at the Memphis library
James Neville's position at Spencer, Tennessee's Burritt College left him moderately pleased with his teaching role, but penniless and lonesome.  Catherine's "place" at Alcoa Middle School was much less rewarding for her teaching confidence, was equally as lonesome as her Spencer soul-mate, and also left her penniless.  "Rich" was simply not in the cards for this pair. 

Through letters written only by James Neville in the fall of 1936, that were the basis for the first of our books ("James Neville and Catherine, A Love Story"), we got glimpses of the mindset of these two as they planned for their Thanksgiving Trip to Tiptonville.  Following that trip we learned from James Neville that they had talked about not waiting until the Spring to get married.  We would quickly find out that a December wedding was likely. 

Just a few months ago, long after our first writing adventure, I discovered a real "gem" during one of my many nosy, foraging escapades through Mother's house; it may well have been the one where I discovered her "Lincoln Essay."  This little treasure is what I am sharing with you today; a letter written on November 30, 1936 to Catherine's mother and father; Mr. and Mrs. C. R. Patty.  The letter speaks for itself and needs no further introduction.

For those of you with impulsive 20 year-old children or grandchildren you may want to click the "parental control" button.


Monday night    
November 30, 1936

Dear folks,
Yes, I suppose you think I’m a fine one – to come within a mere hundred and fifteen miles of you people and not come home.  Mr. LeDuke started to come down Saturday on business – but didn’t have to.  I was a little bit disappointed.  It won’t be but three weeks now until I’ll be there – though, again, not for long.
Yes – I’ll get down to the point in a minute – I am preparing to face the wrath of the whole money-grabbing – penny minded world and please those dear old souls who believe in love.  ‘Duke and I discussed the problem pro and con and decided we could live on what he was making and would be a darn sight happier if we did.  On the other hand I had a job making money and it would be foolish – as the whole world would think – for me to quit it and live on bread and water with nothing but love for dessert and the wolf at the door, and the window open and all that.  On the way home last night though I changed my mind and wrote to the dear boy and told him I didn’t think it mattered nearly as much to the rest of the world as it does to me how much I would make here – and since they wouldn’t get much of it anyway, why, it shouldn’t matter how I spent it – so I’m going to “spend” that $200 I would have above bare living expenses here – and buy me a husband.  See, there is only one month of “this hyar leap year” left and I don’t want to have to wait 4 years for another chance – They may even get the calendar changed by then – and then I’d have to be an old maid all my life and get rich teaching school – & I’d just hate to be rich – I just wouldn’t know how to act.
Well, all this foolishness is quite beside the point.  After worrying myself crazy wondering what to do I did quite suddenly know that so long as we have enough to live on and save a little bit for the summer – and so long as we know we have each other and are not going to be satisfied one bit apart, and I’ll never make a very good school teacher anyway – well – why mess around with all this worry any longer – We’ll get married first and worry later – we’d have to do that anyway.  I know I’ll meet opposition and talk on all sides – but it doesn’t matter.  Now that I’ve made up my mind I feel as I used to when I opened the window and stuck my head out and shouted “I don’t care what Mrs. Ellis, and Mrs……….etc……thinks………….etc.”  So long as I know I’m right – or at least think I am then I believe the people that really matter will be glad.  I don’t know where I ever got this “teaching a year” notion anyway.
Engagement announcement with typo (should have read "Patty - LeDuke")
Well, what I want you to do is this:  Send to the papers the Friday Press and Sunday Commercial a notice that “Mr. and Mrs. C. R. Patty announce the engagement of their daughter……, the marriage to take place on Dec.___”.  I think Tuesday the 22nd but I haven’t heard from ‘Duke any opinion about the date.  He only gets one week’s holiday – Dec. 18 or 19 – Dec. 26.  Please do not make this announcement public until Fri. Jan 8 and Sun. Jan 10 because I think I should write and tell personally Dr. Smith, Evelyn, Juanita, Grandmother LeDuke, Miss Richardson and the rest of my family – If you know of anyone else please tell me  - ok, yes – The Malone’s - & Albert if you’ll send his address.  Well, anyway I can’t get those letters written before the weekend and I must do it first.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The War Years -- Chapter Two-A

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

I thought I would offer a bit of explanation as to how the team of "Amanda and Dad" went about writing the James Neville and Catherine books that has led us to be providing our readers with a "Chapter 2-A" today.

When we finally started on the war letter stash the letters were spread out on the dining room table in my house in Cumming, Georgia.  I've previously mentioned that the letters were sorted by date and letter writer before the reading process began.  Notes were taken on every letter on a blank over sized desk type calendar; one calendar sheet for his letters and one for hers.

After a couple of months worth of letters were read I actually started the writing process and quickly realized that the chapters would be defined by where James Neville was stationed; what "Camp" he was in.  I often called Amanda and read interesting letters to her over the phone and we shared the early misery felt by James Neville and the loneliness and fatigue of Catherine.  I finished writing Chapter One in about two weeks since it only contained about three or four weeks of letters. and then e-mailed it to Amanda so that she could see the form and style I was using.

Chapter Two took longer as he was in Abilene for over three months.  Writing was becoming more challenging as decisions about what to include became more difficult.  As basic training in Texas drew to a close and he boarded a train to begin his "Tech School" training I was able to put a period on Chapter Two and send it off to Amanda for her editing.  At the same time I was able to give Amanda a box containing all the letters through August 10, 1944 along with the daily notes I had made.

Catherine and Duke in college
While I proceeded to read letters written during the latter half of August and continuing into December that would become Chapter Three of our Saga, Amanda was enjoying her first actual encounter with the 1944 version of her Grandmother and a Grandfather she really had no memory of.  She became hooked immediately.  Soon we talked and Amanda convinced me that we needed to include more of Catherine's letters or at least more excerpts of Catherine's letters to provide people with a clearer appreciation of mother's "poetic" writing style.

After making several changes to "my" Chapters One and Two, Amanda introduced the idea that several letters that were exchanged in July deserved special treatment.  So, Amanda put together what became known as Chapter Two-A.  We include it at this time for your reading pleasure.

James Neville and Catherine,
The War Years – 1944-1946

Chapter Two – A
“Should I not come home…”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Nameless Love

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Amanda here. We're taking a break today from the posting of the War Letters book chapters, but we'll be back Friday with more beautiful letters from Catherine and Duke.  (And if you're behind in you're reading, you can catch up here with the Intro and Foreword, Chapter One, and Chapter Two.)

The essay below is from a creative writing class I took in 2012.  My grandmother's love of poetry is well-known, and her ability to quote it still is well-documented, yet it is still a magical thing to bear witness to.  (Another reading assignment: check out this excellent article from the New Yorker on "Why We Should Memorize Poetry.")  If you plan to visit Miss Catherine, you'd do well to stop by the library first and pick up a book of poems.  Perhaps we'll put together a booklet of her favorites to leave at her house to make it even easier. 


A Nameless Love

Sometimes there is darkness, sometimes there are glimmers of light, and sometimes there is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I recently spent the weekend with my 96 year-old grandmother, Catherine LeDuke.  She doesn’t know where she is or who I am, but she is still delightful and she can still quote poetry.  She was an English teacher for over 40 years, and the musty and brittle and worn books on her bookshelves confirm a lifelong love of verse.  But that doesn’t fully explain the medical mystery that allows her to quote a John Milton poem word for word while not knowing the names of her children.  She began losing her memory about five years ago, and not long after,  during a brief hospital stay some nurses discovered that, even in her confusion, she was repeatedly reciting Emily Dickinson.  Suddenly she was the unwitting participant in a pretty neat party trick.

During my visit, we did all the usual things one does when visiting this small Tennessee town:  crane your neck out the window for a glimpse of a bald eagle near the lake, get a Baskin Robbins ice cream cone, and drive across the levee to look at the Mississippi River.  It was when we were parked by the river watching a barge go by that she started quoting Longfellow's  poem "A Psalm of Life":

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

She repeated that stanza over and over again and you got the sense that it was almost out of her control, you could hear in her voice that she didn’t know why she knew those words.  I felt the now-familiar sadness creep in, the feeling that there is something unjust in this amazing woman enduring this, where her only lucid moments, if she ever has them, happen inside her head. There is almost no way that she could understand the meaning of that poem anymore, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the English teacher in her has pulled together an anthology of poems in her mind that give her comfort.  It’s worth noting that the John Milton sonnet is “On His Blindness”:

 When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

Just before I left I sat with her on the sun porch and read poems to her.  The light was waning and I thought of all the holidays I’d spent in that house, the games of hide and seek, the Thanksgiving dinners.  We read more Longfellow, some Emily Dickinson, William Blake, the Milton poem.  With almost every poem she’d chime in at some point with a few words or an entire stanza.  After each one she’d say, "Well that's a really nice poem, can you write that down so I can read it again later?"  Her vision is so poor, she could barely see me beside her. But she heard me flipping through the pages and she asked why I was skipping so many good poems. 

January 2012

Amanda LeDuke (Dad would love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send us an e-mail.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The War Years, Chapter Two

*Look for a new posting each Tuesday and Friday*

Earlier this week, we posted Chapter One of the book my daughter and I have put together of Catherine and James Neville's letters to each other during World War II.   As promised, here's Chapter Two.  If you're a few posts behind, you can see the Foreword and Introduction here.  We'll be publishing select chapters in the coming weeks.  If you're interested in a copy of the book once it comes out, let us know. 


James Neville's two day journey west from Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Camp Barkley in Abilene, Texas provided us with the first example of his "troop-train travelogues".  With nothing else to do but look out the window and record the names of each small-town train depot, Catherine was able to accompany him on most of his trips from Post to Post for 26 long months. 

These letters were written on a variety of types of papers, with an even wider variety of pens and pencils.  Since you cannot hold in your hands the actual envelopes containing these epistles, this picture will just have to suffice.  All the letters shown here were written on the train trip and mailed once he arrived at Camp Barkley.  One of the letters is an "unfolded" blank envelope, used as paper, then refolded and placed into another envelope. 

This is actually not our first "Train Letter" from James Neville.  Detailed in Chapter Seven of the James Neville and Catherine: A Love Story book is a letter written on the long trek made from Tiptonville to Spencer and Burritt College in 1936; a truly hilarious 16 page tome written in part on the "torn out" inside title pages of a book he had brought with him on the trip.  Daddy's "train letters" were eagerly anticipated by Amanda and I as we "rode along" with him during our time-travelling adventure.

Three days and two nights to make a journey that today would take 12 hours across Interstate 20 today.


James Neville and Catherine,

The War Years – 1944-1946

Chapter Two.

Camp Barkeley, Texas: “I would gladly go

overseas to get away from here.”

            James Neville and 75 other soldiers in the group from Camp Shelby arrived in Abilene, Texas around 7 pm Friday, May 5, 1944.  They have been assigned to the Medical Corp and are moved to Camp Barkeley to begin their basic training.  They have been assigned to a quarantined area of the Camp which is standard procedure and they will remain in a quarantined status for three weeks.
            Pvt. LeDuke is assigned to Hut 11 and finds himself among quite a mixed group of men.  There are, in his words, “9 Mexicans, 1 Russian (American, but born in Russia), 1 half-breed, 3 Americans (myself one), and 1 of Chinese extraction.”  He says, about the “Americans,” “One is 18 years old and out on a lark, the other is as miserable as I am.” All of these men though are of course United States Army soldiers.  In later letters he begins to describe in detail more information about each of these men, mentioning them by name.  By the end of his time there he will have become particularly fond of the Chinese man, James Yen Lee.
            The men in his group become the 3rd Platoon of Company C Medical Corp.  They are a part of the 61st Battalion MTB-ASFTC, part of the 13th Regiment, which also contains the 59th and 60th Battalion.  Any evidence that he has landed in some sort of “Limited Service” section of the U.S. Army is quickly dispelled as the group begin to get their first taste of Camp Barkeley and the Officers and Sergeants of Company C.  He writes: “Last nite we had the first of our orientation lectures.  The 1st Sgt is young man. In fact all noncoms here are. Told us what we would, could, and would not do in no uncertain terms.  We would learn willingly or unwillingly.  He can cuss better or worse than anyone I ever heard. It really was a little unnecessary, but I believe he is a good noncom.”
            Immediately after arriving, the group learns that their schedule will include a half day of “drilling” and a half day of classes.  They will be exposed to all normal phases of basic training which include rifle training, hand to hand combat, and physical conditioning that includes running obstacle courses (the kind where one is crawling under barbed wire while machine gun bullets fly over head).  Their drilling still needs some work, as James Neville relays in this funny story that shows he still has a sense of humor, even in his misery: “If I felt a little better and had some mail I think I could laugh at lots of things. I’m clumsy enough, but there is a fellow in front of me who is never in step. I step on his heels and of course that throws the man behind me out of step. About two hours after we started drilling he was put at end of line. The sergeant said, “God damn, Plumleigh, get back there at the end of this formation. And you better at least be with us when we get so and so.”
            In addition to the drilling and the classes, they can expect the normal Army pleasantries such as KP duty, guard duty, barracks inspections, and lots of five and ten mile hikes carrying full packs of gear.  By Wednesday James Neville is checking the Army manuals to find out what the maximum punishment is for going AWOL.  Fortunately he has second thoughts, writing, “I learned this morning the 3 types of court martial and decided to be a good little boy.”  Misery has followed him from Camp Shelby and brought friends.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The War Year - Chapter One

*Look for a new posting each Tuesday and Friday*

Last week we gave you the Foreword and Introduction of the book my daughter and I have put together of Catherine and James Neville's letters to each other during World War II.   As promised, here's Chapter One.  While the final edition is still being worked on, we'll be publishing select chapters in the coming weeks.  If you're interested in a copy of the book once it comes out, let us know.  In the meantime, enjoy Chapter One. 

James Neville and Catherine, The War Years – 1944-1946

Chapter One.

Camp Shelby: “Dearest, well your husband is now in the army.”

Dearest, I love you.                                                                       April 7, 1944

We are in Memphis at the bus depot.  It’s about 9:30. I called your mother a few minutes ago.  Didn’t go past there. Didn’t feel up to it.  So far so good.       
Started to call you, but decided it would only make bad matters worse.  Just start me crying and I couldn’t do it with these boys in public.  So far they have behaved nicely.
I thought we managed the leave taking as well as we could.  I love you so much.  I haven’t realized yet what being apart means yet. 
Hope you make out Saturday on route okay. Tell Cathie and Jimmy hello for me.

All my love forever,


P.S.  I’ll think of you every hour. Can’t write more now.  I love you.

            On Friday, April 7, 1944 James Neville LeDuke of Tiptonville, Tennessee boarded a bus along with several other inductees all bound for Camp Shelby, Mississippi to be inducted into the United States Army.  Camp Shelby is one of many reception centers across the United States used to receive new recruits and evaluate their skills and make decisions as to where they should be placed in the Army.
            James Neville, probably because of his age (29), is assigned the role of group leader for this long trek by bus and train.  As a former teacher and dormitory head master he jumps right into this role, telling Catherine, “John L. West unintentionally did me the biggest favor when he made me group leader. I was so worried about the responsibility that my other senses were numbed.” 
            The bus leaves from Dyersburg, Tennessee and goes south to the Memphis train depot, where he manages to mail the above letter, the first of hundreds that he’ll send during his time in the service.  From Memphis they head south to Jackson, Mississippi and eventually arrive at Hattiesburg and Camp Shelby sometime Saturday morning.  In one of his first letters, James Neville writes of one of their first experiences: “Dearest, well your husband is now in the army. We were sworn in about 2:30.  Got a chain hung around my neck. James N. LeDuke, 34987226. I’ll never be able to express my mingled emotions.”

Go here for the rest of Chapter One. 


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

The War Years Book - A Preview

*Look for a new posting each Tuesday and Friday*

This past Tuesday's post discussed the latest book project my daughter Amanda and I are putting the finishing touches on.  We indicated that we would begin to provide some "teasers" about the book if there seemed to be some interest.  Well we have indeed received some interest for hard copies when they are available, so I thought I would dangle a few more "crumbs" to our audience.

What follows is the entire "Foreword" of the book written by Amanda and an abbreviated version of my "Introduction" to James Neville and Catherine: The War Years.  Beginning next week we will begin posting excerpts of the first two or three chapters so that the readers can get an idea of the start of the adventure of our title characters. 
[You can find Chapters One, Two, and Two-A here.]

Foreword, by Amanda LeDuke

This is not just a book of love letters, though every letter is full of love.  It is a story of a private in the army who is proud to be serving, but unsure of what his true contribution is.  It is a tale of his wife, left behind in small-town Tennessee, charged with raising their two children, taking over his job, dealing with sugar and butter rations, and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy.  It is one man’s account of the foibles of Army life and the insane bureaucracy he sees in its every existence.  It is a testament to the importance of friends old and new, the family and support systems in their community, and the faith that strengthened both of them as they learned to live without one another for 26 long months.  And yes, it is a chronicle of the great love of James Neville and Catherine, a love that is not the least bit dimmed eight years after their life together began.

It is almost impossible to tell just one of these stories, and equally hard to do justice to them all.  They are all intertwined.  James Neville’s battles with his feet after every 10 mile hike allow him to have something in common with Catherine’s constant wrangling with flat tires.  The hours (and pages) spent wondering where James Neville would be shipped off to next is balanced with the constancy of Catherine writing a daily letter to her soldier as the sun sets on the front porch and her writing starts to slant as the light wanes.  The “pop culture” of the day, the now-familiar movies, songs, books, and radio soap operas they discuss are juxtaposed with strange things like the inability to find a pen that works for longer than one letter, stamps that are only three cents, and lots of talk about “getting a line out” to make a telephone call.  They are patriotic and proud.  They are lonely and full of animus for the War.  Through all of it they maintain an unbelievable relationship, built on communication and mutual respect, full of passion and love, sustained with their letters, which are sometimes stilted because of the delay in sending and receiving and sometimes read like they’re having a conversation in real time.

There may be thousands of stories like this one, for many men who enlisted in the service during those War years were married, and many of them had a deep love for their families.  Some of them were probably ambivalent about their being in the Army and wanted nothing more than to come home to their wives.  Many of those women took over their husbands jobs at home, began to wear pants, struggled with child care, and listened eagerly for news of peace on their radios.  If that is the case, that this story is not unique, then perhaps it is just good luck that we have over a thousand letters from these two people, so well-written and preserved to tell the stories of many.

Introduction, by James N. LeDuke, Jr.

Deciphering the two distinct sets of handwriting was one of the first real challenges, but like learning a foreign language their writing styles soon began familiar.  Making decisions about what information to pick from each letter was difficult at first but soon it became obvious that at least half of either writer’s letters would be made up of the same theme; repeated in an exciting variety of ways.  “I love you, I love you, I love you” became a catch phrase for the authors of this book; so much so that to this day those words stream across the computer in Cumming, Georgia as the “screen saver” for the monitor.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Love Letter To A Love Letter Writer

*Look for a new posting each Tuesday and Friday*

Blogger Jimmy in earlier days
I’ve been writing all my life; but only in bits and spurts.  Most of my writing has been related to some specific need at the time: a business report, a lengthy card to a friend, a written “lecture” to one of my daughters, an occasional personal letter, and many, many essays that ended up unrecorded on the wasted pages of my mind.

Only in the last few years have I come to realized that I have allowed far too many years to pass without serious effort being made to a more prolific approach to a so-so talent that I inherited from my parents; the gift of writing.  It is an art form that is quickly becoming extinct.  The written word should be put down on real paper and made available to whomever happens to stumble across it.

I know that I have some bit of talent because I choose to believe the occasional praise I get from a variety of people who have the good fortune to read my words in whatever form I have used.  Modesty, fortunately, is not a required trait for a writer; in truth it could actually be a hindrance unless one is only interested in being read by the heir to his filing cabinets.

While I have always been aware of my parents writing abilities I only recently was introduced to just how extensive their skills were.  While rummaging through the attic in my 97 year-old mother’s house fifteen or so years ago, I came across a metal box filled with letters.  The letters were all written by my father to my mother during a six-month period before they were married in December of 1936; 99 love letters written by a man I only knew as “Daddy.” Obviously a new image for my father was created rather quickly as I began reading.

My youngest daughter, Amanda, and I took his letters and with a small amount of research put together a 200 page book, printed by Kinko’s, and distributed only to family members.   The book contained about one-third of the letters reprinted exactly as written.  The remainder of the book was our re-creation of events as drawn from all the letters available.  Only a few letters found were written by my mother during their courtship and all were written prior to the time period of our book.

Before we finished our effort I undertook a thorough search of my mother’s house in hopes of finding her letters of this period.  What I found instead was an unbelievable treasure; a large trunk filled with over 1500 letters all written and postmarked between April 1944 and June 1946.  These letters were written by both my parents to each other, while many more letters included in the cache were written by family members and fellow soldiers.

As important as this find was it was not germane to the project we were working on at that time.  With no letters found written by my mother in 1936, we continued with our book writing but remained determined to write a sequel using the War Letters we had discovered. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Love Letter to the Post Office

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Amanda here.  Dad has let me take over the blog for a day to post an essay I wrote a year ago about  my fondness for the Postal Service.  Sadly, several of the proposed changes I discuss below have already been made.  In honor of Ben Neville and James Neville LeDuke and all the other postal workers out there, write a letter today.  You'll make someone smile 3-5 days from now.

A Love Letter to the Post Office

I love the post office.  I love their ability to get small, thin envelopes from A to B in such a short time.  I love the annual feel-good stories of what happens to all the letters mailed to the North Pole, and the not-frequent-enough-for-my-taste anecdotes of long-lost letters being delivered after getting stuck in a mail slot or under a rotting floorboard for 80 years.   I love that a few months ago I received a letter addressed to a misspelled version of my name, with the street name horribly butchered, and a wildly incorrect zip code.  Once, a boyfriend who was from the Chicago area told me horror stories of the post office there being run by the mafia, which is why his grandmother still sends him birthday checks in non-birthday-card-shaped envelopes. That seems like an anomaly though.  I choose to believe that the USPS is a national cultural institution worthy of respect, relevance, and protection in a world intent on turning everything into something that can be digitized, or worse, profit-ized.

Tiptonville, TN Post Office
As part full disclosure, part explanation regarding my fascination with the post office, both my grandfather, James Neville LeDuke, and my great-grandfather, Ben Neville LeDuke were postmen, and my grandmother, Catherine LeDuke, carried the mail on my grandfather’s route when he was in the Army during World War II.  My grandparents lived directly behind the tiny post office in Tiptonville, Tennessee, and I can still picture the blue and white mail trucks coming and going during childhood games of hide-and-seek, their fumes sometimes flushing us out from the bushes that separated their house from the post office. 

While I’d be hard pressed to describe many of the buildings that we regularly visited while growing up in suburban Atlanta, I can still picture the local post office, a much larger and more impressive structure than the squat, utilitarian one in Tiptonville.  I remember it the way I remember the local public library, a frequent destination on a free afternoon, where my sister and I were only allowed to check out a stack of books that was shorter than we were. Yet surely we didn’t visit the post office with the same regularity?  Pondering this mystery reminds me of what a prolific letter-writer my mother was, and to some extent still is. Given that letter-writing as a hobby very much predated internet postage, I assume we were usually there to buy stamps.