It is 1966. My grandma, Lydia Harris DeLeeuw, lies semi-conscious in Glenhaven Nursing Home in Glencoe, Minnesota, the town in which she was born. She is eighty-nine years old and dying of colon cancer. My grandfather, Abram DeLeeuw, died three years earlier at age eighty-four. Grandma is talking to Grandpa; she claims to see him in heaven.
Abe and Lydia became a couple in 1896. Both were religious, loved music and came from families of nine children. Abe wanted to be a photographer, so in 1898, he apprenticed himself to a photographer named Miller in Minneapolis, sixty miles east of Glencoe.
While living in Minneapolis, Abe wrote to Lydia every Sunday and she wrote to him every Wednesday. She saved his letters, which I now have. He usually began his letters with "Dear Lydia," and "Your kind and most welcome letter was received Thursday and read with much pleasure." His salutation was usually, "Yours very respectfully, Abram DeLeeuw."
Following are excerpts:
I am only going to write you a few lines to let you know that I arrived here O.K. I found Miller the photographer, and can say so far so good. I have been all over the gallery and worked in the operating room, printing and toning rooms . . .
My boarding place is two blocks and a half from the gallery. I have not been homesick yet, but I wish now that I was not so far away from someone.
Lydia I wish you could come down and look at the stores. I tell you they are grand. S.E. Olson has music and a free show every night and there's a crowd outside that reaches across the street looking at the display in his windows . . .
When Abe came home for Christmas, he spent a good deal of time with Lydia and with his brother Charles, who was ill with tuberculosis.
I am again at the old place. I left Charles at the streetcar bound for my sister Annie's and haven't seen him since. I suppose by this time he is on his way south . . .
I am sorry to say that I have got a roommate, but he seems to be quite a nice young man. He is an agent for The Minneapolis Tribune . . .
Miller has got another young fellow from Hutchinson learning. He has made a contract with him to stay nine months. I think the fellow is a fool. I wouldn't make another contract with him to stay nine days.
Miller is a dirty, miserable, stinkin coon (excuse that expression Lydia) but that is what he is. I'm so fed up with his cussing and meanness and firing of people for no good reason, so what do you think I did? I went out and found me a new photographer. His name is Nye. He seems to be very pleasant.
I have not as yet received a letter from Charles, but Ma says that he was in Las Vegas, Nevada and was improving.
I found Mr. Nye at the gallery and also Mr. Morrison the operator, he is a big fat fellow. Mr. Nye is a very thin man, about five feet four inches tall, about fifty years of age, dark red curly hair and bright red beard. There is no swearing here Lydia and I am very thankful for that . . .
The gallery is not very large but I would just delight in having one of its size.
Yes I will think of you Lydia from 6:30 until I fall asleep. I always think of you every night. Just now I have that Kodak picture of you in front of me and almost feel like hugging it.
There is another man boarding in the same room with me now. He is not a young man but seems to be very nice. I sleep with this other boy and get my board for $3.25.
I think I shall be through here by the first of April. Then I will be home for good and will be glad of it though I would like to live in the city.
I suppose you got those pictures by this time. I suppose you will wonder where I got that collar. Well I had that when I went home but didn't want to wear it for fear the people would say I had the big head.
Last Wednesday I shook hands with Col. W. J. Bryan, Gov. Lind and Mayor Gray. Just think of me with that collar on, shaking hands with those great men. O! My! I come nearly turning a Populist.
Tell your ma that I don't know what cream is. I haven't seen any since I left home. I can have all the milk I want but that has got the blues so bad that it isn't much better than water.
Last night about half past ten I saw the fire department go by in a hurry. I looked out of the north window and could see a big blaze down town. So the boy and I pulled on our coats and hats and went down. It was the Tribune building and a wholesale liquor house in an awful blaze.
The firemen worked hard but it was some time before they got it under control . . .
I want two more love letters before I leave here so don't wait long. I expect to be home on a Saturday night, but would like to see Lydia before I meet her in church, if I don't I am afraid I would want to hug her there . . .
Abe returned to Glencoe on April 3, 1899 and soon opened his own photography studio. Charles came home in November of 1899. He died on November 26. It took seven years before Abe felt he could support a wife.
In January 1906, while Lydia was visiting her cousin in Minneapolis, she received the following letter:
My Dear Lydia,
Say what do you think I done this morning? I watched when Nash and Rob and Laura had gone to church and I struck out the track and I kept a-going and I went up the road. Now Lydia just stop and think of me. How I felt. Can't you feel me shake? Well I kept up my courage and kept on. Your mother met me at the door and asked me in. I knew they were wondering what I wanted there at that time of the day. Well I didn't keep them waiting long, I came out with it quick. "Pshaw" it is dead easy after it is started. I hadn't got through asking when your Pa said he had no objections and your Ma joined in the chorus.
Abe and Lydia were married July 18, 1906. On September 16, 1907, Abe became a rural mail carrier and, a few years later, gave up his photography studio. On March 25, 1913, at the age of thirty-five, Lydia gave birth to her only child, Beatrice Henrietta DeLeeuw, my mother. On June 15, 1940, Beatrice married John Hielsberg, my father. They had two children, my sister Ann and me.
On January 1, 19, at the age of seventy, Abe retired from the postal service. The "Glencoe Enterprise" and the "Minneapolis Star" had this to say on his retirement:
Mr. DeLeeuw has afforded the patrons along his route able and diligent service during the inclement weathers of the winter and summer these many years. In upholding the postal tradition that the mails must get through, DeLeeuw has employed nearly every means of locomotion known to man. By stages he progressed from walking to horseback, horse-and-buggy, motorcycle and automobile, serving under five postmasters.
When DeLeeuw started delivering the mails there were 30 mailboxes and 74 patrons on his 16 mile route. In recent years there have been 265 mailboxes and 1,200 patrons on his 65 mile route.
I think of my grandparents now in two ways: as a young couple in love and as an elderly couple who dearly loved and cared for their grandchildren. Although my grandfather's letters seem somewhat formal for a man in love, the underlying passion come through, I think, perhaps all the more intensely due to the restraints of that