ZOLA CHANDLER’S LETTERS FROM 1958 TO 1991
I have just had occasion to review my Mom’s correspondence, beginning in 1958, nine months after my marriage to Mary. Mary saved all my Mom’s letters. They are voluminous, around two thousand, as she wrote on average at least weekly from 1958 through 1993, when she was too blind to really continue. This was less than a year before her death at almost 90 years. Because it was running as it happened (history as it was made), it reads much as a diary would. For me, it was very interesting to read for a week and have my life and Mom’s life pass before my eyes! Such letter writing was also prompted by Mary, who also wrote weekly. However, Mom did not save our letters. She was afraid that we did not communicate with my siblings, and so Mom would forward all our letters around the family circuit, and they were never returned.
Mom was one of those characters that people label as “one of a kind” – someone who had great influence on those around her, whether it was family, friends, or others with whom she came in contact.
Mom was an extreme harmonizer. She never met folks that she did not like or that didn’t love her. For example, at age 83, she fell, breaking her hip and wrist. Mom was simply not the type that could be confined to a bed. She’d never spent a whole day of her life in bed, no matter the problem. We were very concerned about how she would do in a hospital bed. But, not to worry. Mom quickly discovered a whole hospital of new friends. My sister wrote us saying that Mom was “on a roll,” with a constant stream of visitors to her room – so many that the relatives had a hard time visiting her! A whole hospital of new friends! She just knew that she would be miserable, but she actually loved her stay!
In later years when I would visit my hometown, after having been away for many years, almost everyone I met would volunteer how everyone loved my Mom – as though she “belonged” to the town as an institution or asset.
I am struck by how many folks who met Mom throughout her lifetime adored her. Virtually all of her letters, even when she was in her 70s and 80s, contain a list of old friends. Some she had not seen for 70 years would drive days and days, just to see her and visit. Sometimes three old friends would show up the same day! Mom would often meet folks by happenstance throughout her life, and they never forgot her! For example, when I first enrolled at BYU in 1951, a lady registering students saw my name and asked if I was related to Zola. “Sure. She’s my Mom!” This lady had been a good friend of Mom’s during their freshman year in high school in 1913, 38 years before! And she still corresponded with her!
People stopped by our house in Idaho who had known Mom in Pasadena and Hollywood, when she was staying with her half sisters and going to later years of high school (1914-1917).
Dorothy Bishop, my age, who was our closest neighbor when I started to school, got married as a freshman and moved to Washington State. She would stop by anytime that she was traveling through our area to see my Mom, even though 20, 30, or 40 years had passed. Many others would go way out of their way – say from Seattle to Phoenix – to come around through Idaho (the long way and a day’s extra travel) just to see my Mom.
When Mom first graduated from teaching college (1924), she was penniless, ending up in a little sheep-herding village in Wyoming with three cents in her pocket. She had to wait for the area’s school superintendent, who was away for a week, before he could sign her certificate in order for her to begin her teaching. She somehow talked a local boarding house into letting her work for a meal. Then she found a man who willingly agreed to drive her, no charge, 75 miles out to the sheep ranch, where she would teach her one student. By this time it was way past dark. The trip was on dirt/mud roads and took the man three hours each way in his “T”! It was after 2:00 a.m. when he finally got back home. She really loved the young mother whose daughter she taught that year. And, even though Mom only lived and taught with that family one year, she kept track of them down through the many years. This lady and husband finally ended up in Visalia, CA – the next little town to Tulare – when we lived there. Mom convinced Mary to visit her friend, now in her 70s-80s, and would send her flowers.
Mom loved to correspond. No one could get more excited anticipating the mailman’s delivery of our mail each day so that she could again read the letters of dear friends. With her friends, time stood still. When she was finally enabled, by means and the end to farm work, she would convince friends to drive with her to various states to see her friends from every era in her life. Her friends included her extended family, mostly in Utah and California. Mom’s mother was married three times, after having lost each husband through death, and Mom’s dad was from the last marriage. Mom had half brothers and sisters from the first two marriages. That they were all older than she did not matter. Mom’s mother made her living as a seamstress and was very poor. Mom’s Dad was in his 60s when she was born. Her dad was very elderly and unable to support the family in his later years, so Zola would be sent to live with her sisters and brothers in Salt Lake City, Nephi, and other towns for years at a time. She knew them all very well, and would always stop and see them in later years whenever she would go through Utah.
As a boy, it was very common to see Mom, every day, writing letters to someone on a six-by- nine-and-a-half pad. She used the very same type of pad most of her life. Mom wrote very fluidly, quickly, and legibly in the old “Palmer Method” handwriting which we all learned in school at that time – so all of our handwriting still looks virtually the same. Her handwriting was beautiful and very legible. Mom could dash off a 4-6 page letter lickety-split, which was Mom’s habit in doing most things. Mom’s handwriting stayed constant until Dad died, when it changed from the free-flowing to a more condensed form. When she lost her sight at 83, only then did her handwriting become more cramped, like old peoples’ writing often is.
There were times in the thirties when we could not afford to buy paper or the one-cent stamps needed to mail a letter. Mom would write on anything that she could find and save her letters up, to be mailed when she eventually got stamps. Or, more commonly, she would send them on with someone passing through. Many families kept track back then through word of mouth, so sending mail with someone like that was common.
Mom knew that in order to get her beloved mail, she must write to others. While I was in dental school and afterward, Mom wrote to us weekly for some 37 years, without fail. It was only in the final three years of her life, when she was mostly blind and had to use a magnifying glass to see what she had written (and even when she could not see to write) that the letters slowed down. Finally, completely blind, she still would write, the letters nearly indecipherable but so lovingly received. We, of course, could not let her miss out on our letters per week, and a grand daughter or neighbors would read them to her. Mom just couldn’t NOT write back, even if her letters were unreadable.
Mom’s mind stayed bright and alert until the end. The only evidence of any diminution was that her excellent spelling finally suffered. That may have been more a function of her blindness than mental degradation.
Mom had a love affair with stamps her whole life. She thought they were gorgeous! In later years, whenever a new stamp was issued, she would buy sheets of them from the post office, favoring the more artistic ones. You could bet there was always a different and lovely stamp on any of Mom’s letters. She was so entranced with stamps that she would often buy and send her friends a bunch of her latest lovelies!
Mom knew everyone in our area for many miles around. For many of our early years she had picked fruit with many different folks and often, down through the years, neighborhood ladies would get together to make huge batches of doughnuts to conserve and reuse the expensive oil. Or groups would get together to can fruit, which she also did, once she stopped picking in the orchards. She loved to work in the packing houses or canneries, doing corn, apples, cherries, prunes, and other fruits.
Mom was the most dexterous person I ever met. On a production line in a cannery, she was so fast that the line supervisors always put her in the most demanding position. But nothing fazed my Mom. Not only was she much faster than the others, but she loved the camaraderie and talking to so many friends at the same time! Working with a crew of women was the nearest thing to heaven for Mom. Mom was in her glory working at warp speed and talking to so many other women. She would look forward to her packing house experience the whole year.
Her friends were important to her, but equally important was the money she earned. While most years it would only be $150-$300, it was “found money” to Mom, who had no other discretionary funds. Farming was hand-to-mouth those years. We raised all our own food, buying only things that we could not raise ourselves, i.e., salt, pepper, flour, sugar, etc. For most of his life until he was in his 60s, my dad never made more than $4,200/yr – and some years crops would totally fail. My folks bought their farm in 1933 for $1,500, at the depth of the great depression, and it took all they had to make the payments on that for ten years. Then to add more hardship, the power company put in electricity in 1938, but charged them $500 per power pole. It cost $2,500 just to bring the power to our farm from the trunk line. It took another ten years to pay that off.
I have the “abstract” of our farm. This was a compilation of all the title transfers that normally you will see now in the form of deeds and Deeds of Trust “recorded” at county recorders office. When the county finally modernized, they gave the current owner all these old abstracts – after recording copies of them. You can see the history of area farms in there. The economy was always boom or bust. Cycles were four to five years long. Farmers would go bust in down cycles. The life insurance companies, and a few banks (who made most all the loans), would end up with the farm again. It was rare for a farm to go more than a few years without being foreclosed. My Mom and Dad lived in fear that they would have a crop failure and lose everything.
This heavily impacted my Mom, who would simply not allow my dad to go into debt for anything. Therefore, as neighbors died or sold or lost their farms, my folks could never bring themselves to buy those farms, even at fire-sale prices. This was very problematic in later years, as farms simply had to get bigger in order to survive. So in his 50s and 60s, my dad was reduced to farming a patchwork of six or seven other small farms here or there (in addition to his own) that he could rent. That diminished his profit and meant much more work, as he had to rush from one to another in order to irrigate them – making several times more work.
It might be several years before Mom could save enough from her work in the packing houses to buy a dress. Mom adored dresses with huge flower patterns – the brighter the better! As a harmonizer she, of course, liked the warmer colors. No “dark” colors, like blues or grays, for her! Then she entered what I call the “old lady age,” where everything tended toward purples. Those huge floral patterns were a sight to behold!
Mom was intensely loyal, so it was not surprising to learn that she used the same hair dresser for her permanents for 43 years and counting. As mentioned above, once folks met Zola, they never forgot her. Years would pass, and then she and I would go into a store and she would start talking to someone, or someone on the street would stop us to talk. Afterward, I would ask her who that was, only to discover that it was a casual acquaintance from years before who remembered her! Because she lived in that community for sixty-three years and had worked with and for so many folks, there weren’t many that she did not know.
In the 30s, when my folks were beginning their farm in that area, crops could not make the debt payment of $160/year, so my parents earned the necessary money by picking prunes and apples. They went from farm to farm following the fruit. These orchards had lots of culls, which the owners willingly gave away. Our family got loads of them and pressed them for apple juice and cut them up for pies, and lots of canning – such free food was a godsend. Mom knew her apple varieties very well so she made certain to get the best ones for canning, for pies, etc. For many years afterwards, when they no longer picked apples actively, Mom would make the rounds of those same apple orchards, getting culls. The owners were old friends, and it was a kind of reunion to see them. Because of her hand speed and coordination, no one could pick fruit as fast as Zola. But, she could not bear to pick from a ladder, being afraid of heights. Mom would pick what she could reach from the ground, and Dad would pick the upper parts of the trees.
Mom was like a long distance runner, “hitting the wall” and going past it. It didn’t matter how hard a task was, she would simply put her head down and plow through it! She did not give in to fatigue and never complained. I remember my early years working beside her and how tired I got and how hard she was to keep up with. She would just tell me to go sit down and rest – but she kept on going. I would button my lip and go back to work. Because of Mom, I developed a stamina that I and my peers marveled at even 30-40 years later. It never ever mattered to Mom if others did their share of the work. She simply continued the job until it was done whether others did their share or not – never ever a word about it – doing it all herself if no one helped her. In my later teen years when I would be away working all day, I would come home to find Mom doing the milking by herself. I would tell her I would take over. But, she would just say, “I don’t mind, really I don’t.” And, she really didn’t. But I would have to literally push her to the house in order to get her to let me do it.
Mom would work until either the work was done – no matter how long, or until it got too dark to see – or when doing other chores would force a stop. She was a very difficult act to follow! In Idaho in the longest days we would be in the fields from 3:30 am when the sun came up until after 10:00 p.m. when it went down. When I left home and worked in the normal hour jobs it was always astonishing to me when folks would say they were “tired” at four of five in the afternoon! To me the day was only half over how could they be tired!
Mom’s life work that she enjoyed more than any other was quilting. She was a “machine”! She would go to the church quilting bees, and I have seen her on one side of a quilting frame keeping up with five or six ladies on the other side, quilting and talking nonstop. No one came within a light year of her! And her needle work was simply the best there was. Every year until she could no longer get out and drive, she entered quilts in both local and state fairs. She always won prizes! On later trips to Utah, she went into the quilting stores to see if they might buy some of her quilts, and they loved them. Mom did not like to do the patterns and would get Annie Friend to make her patterns for her – which Annie was still doing at 93!
You must understand what a disability Mom had. In her fifties she had terrible arthritis in her hands. And, it only got worse. The arthritis became so bad that she could not bend her fingers. They looked all gnarled up. But, her fingers were gnarled in the right configuration and didn’t slow Mom down a bit. Her hands were very callused from all the farm work that she still did. But hand calluses just appeared to make it easier for her to manage the stitching.
Mom so loved the county fairs, enjoying all the exhibits, that she trained us to always enter in every category that we could. It had nothing to do with winning ribbons, but, instead, was to ensure that there were enough exhibits to attract folks to the fair. Mom invariably won prizes for pies, quilts, and other exhibits. I never remember her keeping any of them; instead, she gave them away. It was never about prizes with Mom. When the town and county fairs finally disappeared in the 80s, Mom was very sad to see them go. Fairs not only had marvelous and beautiful exhibits, but there were all those wonderful people to meet and/or to revisit.
No one could “out stubborn” Mom. She was extremely bullheaded! No arthritis would keep her from her beloved quilting. So when normal folks would give up on stitching quilts, it was very characteristic of Mom to make that into a plus instead of a negative. Looking at her hands you would swear that she could not do anything. Her hands were mostly just gnarled claws because of the arthritis. But nothing slowed my Mom down! “That’s life,” or “this too shall pass,” or “nothing lasts forever.” How often I have heard those words. Regardless of the arthritis in her hands, Mom did not slow down her quilting until she went blind and couldn’t see. The last quilt she did for our son Steven’s wedding she apologized for, saying that she might have dropped a stitch here or there! But, to all of us, it was perfect as usual.
She made and gave away quilts for the whole extended family and many friends. Occasionally, some friend would insist on paying her, but it was really not much – usually $150, when anywhere else the quilt would have brought at least $350-$650. She said the lower price worked out to about $5.95/hour. None of the other ladies I saw quilting did the really neat close stitching, like machine work, that Mom did. Mom loved to see her quilts become part of folk’s lives – her “children” like her flower “children.” Her worst problem with getting old was that she could no longer see to do her beloved quilting. Virtually every letter for forty years was mostly about quilts – the current one on her frame, and patterns for the next one. Often, she sent a picture of the quilt she was working on, or she made a drawing of the pattern.
Mom had many “girlfriends,” as she called her friends. Our nearest neighbor, Melba Capener, was a pal. Mom and Melba went everywhere, singing for this church group or that one. Together they did funerals and weddings over the three contiguous counties.
Mom could sing either soprano or alto. She usually let her companions choose the soprano part. Mom had a beautiful voice and was in great demand. She also played piano very well. In later years, though, she would not play for two reasons: one, her fingers had so much arthritis and were so gnarled by field work that she could no longer play as well as she liked; and two, she maintained that male pianists were so much better, being more “aggressive” and playing with “power,” that she refused to compete. You could not fool her with a phonograph record of a female playing or a male playing. She could tell almost instantly. It was uncanny to me.
Another great pal was Grace Myers, another close neighbor. They would get together and make a day out of it, going to Ontario OR, Boise, or just wherever. Whenever a pal died or moved away, it took Mom only a month or so to find another especially close pal.
One was the Kay and Shirley Oldroyd family. Oldroyds had rented a neighbor’s farm (Griffin), with option to purchase. True to my dad’s habit he was first in the neighborhood to rush over and greet them, make them friends, and to trade work. And, Mom took Shirley under her wing and integrated her into church and area. Then a year’s bad crops saw the Oldroyds leave and turn their farm back to the owner. However, true to form, 40 years later Mom was still corresponding and maintaining the friendship. They moved back to Utah, and Mom insisted upon visiting them on Utah trips. And, the Oldroyds would come back occasionally and stop in to see Mom.
Mom had an exuberance for life that was always evident. She loved her flowers, treating them as if they were people. She had a green thumb and always had magnificent flowers – tulips and daffodils for early color to show spring was at hand, then hordes of flowers for Memorial Day and for the summer. Then came her fall lineup of flowers that defied frost until the end. Mom loved the seasons. She always celebrated the advent of each season with tales of how this flower or that was doing, how big these or those were, and descriptions that we never tired of. Folk’s would often comment about what wonderful flowers Mom had. She would reply, as her mother had before her, that it was love that made them grow so beautiful.
Mom’s letters were full of her flowers, talking about them, describing how big and gorgeous this or that one was. Flowers were like children – individuals and lovely.
She always lamented the final flowers that succumbed to frost in the fall – telling us that all the rest had died, but telling us that the remaining ones were valiantly hanging in there for a few more days. She would dig all her bulbs, separate them, and store them in the cellar for the next year. Mom had so many bulbs that she gladly provided neighbors and friends far and wide with her extras. Mom said, once, that she saw her particular bulb flowers eventually growing in almost every yard in our county, and she would know. She knew every variety like the back of her hand.
Whenever she saw a yard without flowers (or without her “lovelies.” as she called them), she was sure to be by to introduce her flowers to still another yard. She gave away the “children” of her lovelies. She took pickup loads to the cemeteries on Memorial Day. After Dad and Charlene died, she kept roses growing on their graves until she was 87 and blind and/or had no way to drive over there. Letter after letter would allude to her needing to go weed or water the grave flowers. One of my saddest concerns now is that Mom has no one close by to grow her precious flowers on her own grave. I try to remind my sister, Carolyn, on Memorial Day to be certain to put flowers on Mom’s grave for me.
Yard work to care for her flowers was particularly difficult for her up into her 80s, but no physical infirmity, except her eyesight, could prevent her. Even at 87, 88 and virtually totally blind, she would feel her way out along the little white picket fence to rake leaves off her tulips and daffodils in the spring. She could really only distinguish light and dark, but in her mind’s eye, she knew where every one of her bulbs were and could not bear the idea that they could not emerge from their winter sleep under a blanket of leaves. One of her life’s treasures was that little white fence I built for her in 1954 to keep Dad from parking cars and equipment on the lawn area. This gave her a whole new area in which to place her beloved flowers and where they would display so well for passersby.
Our house was a well-known landmark for folks. Our lane was a “collector” road that funneled traffic from a large area toward our town; also, it was a shortcut between our little town and the towns to the north and west. So the road was well traveled, and all the locals knew Mom and her flowers. She never let anyone down, always having the best flowers around and the earliest each spring.
Mom’s peonies were her trademark. They were simply huge – no one else, seemingly, had the knack or the persistence to get such huge flowers. It takes real skill and dedication to get such big peonies. In the fall she knew that effort must be made to fertilize, prune, and to “winterize” both her peonies and roses in order to have great flowers for the following year. Care in the fall is a prerequisite for great flowers the following year. Occasionally, a very hard winter would come along and freeze and kill her lilacs, roses, and, sometimes, the peonies. Sad, but ever the optimist, she would redouble her efforts in order to get back into the groove.
The year I built the little white picket fence (1955), I also did the lawn. We never really had a lawn. Dad had no use for a lawn. It was simply wasted space and energy. So he just used that space to park cars or tractors. The lawn had a great deal of crabgrass. Crabgrass is a very difficult weed to eradicate. It has “runners” under the ground and little pods along these runners. So anytime you hoe or destroy the parent plant, it liberates multitudes more to spring up in its place. Rather than try such failing measures, I built a frame with quarter-inch hardware screen. I literally dug up every square inch of our lawn area down a foot or more, sifting out all the crab grass roots and burning them before I planted the lawn. Then I planted two maple trees where they would shade the house in late afternoons from our brutal western sun. I also planted two little spruce trees in the mid lawn. By the road, and along the property line between us and Sloan’s place, I planted a trellis line of concord grapes. I also planted a large area along the road, where Mom could showcase her flowers. And I also planted a number of lilacs (Mom’s favorite spring scent) along the ditch, where they would be sure to get all the water that they needed.
Mom loved her new lawn and all that I had done, and she would remember to tell me in many letters over the years how much she enjoyed them all. She was very enamored with the maples. They were favorites. Not only did they provide much needed shade, but Mom loved how they sprang so beautifully into leaf in the spring and looked so pretty in the full summer. Then in the fall would be the blaze of beautiful fall foliage. She adored this color and would always mention them in her letters – like, “well, it is raining and will bring down all my beautiful leaves!” Every season she would elaborate on how the maples were doing. Even in the depths of winter (not a nice 2-3 months in that area, as it brings lots of mud, dreary days of fog), Mom would wax ecstatic in her letters about how pretty the frost from the fog settling on the maples would outline all the limbs in glittery jewel-like ice crystals, which would blaze in iridescent colors. Many times that was her sole “beauty” yard item in the winters.
Eventually, one year the biggest of the maples got a disease that killed it, and it had to be removed. That tree had lasted fifty years – far past its normal longevity. Mom took the death of her maple hard—harder than the death of many friends. The other maple lasted until Mom’s final two years, finally having to be taken out as well. But, by then Mom could not see to miss it so much. It was amazing how much pleasure such small things brought to Mom. In her letters, she would comment again and again about what was happening to her beloved maples.
The little spruces finally got good-sized. Every year they attracted some variety of birds that built nests and raised some young. Mom was always sure to tell us what was happening in the spruces as the year progressed. She gave a running commentary down through the years. The farming neighborhood changed radically over those decades, as old little farms coalesced into larger units and old farmsteads fell by the wayside, with all their landscaping and trees. As a result, the bird population greatly declined. In her final couple of years of sight, Mom said that noisy raucous crows had taken the spruces for a nest site. But, she didn’t mind – at least they were birds. So we were treated to letters about the two crow nests, the little ones, and their flight efforts.
Mom did not like winters (partly because of flowers not growing), because in her early days on the farm, winters were so desperately hard. Getting crops in was very hard work – the hardest of the year. This was the time of year when most crop failures came home to roost, and the farmers suffered the consequences. Winter brought dreary days, with at least two months of fog that limited our view. Mom did not like the “closed in” feeling of fog. The first years’ winters were spent cooped up in the tiny little cellar most of the winter for we had no house. Winters made our yard, corral, and fields a vast mud hole, or else sheets of ice, covered everything – and, of course, such ice would eventually thaw and be replaced with mud!
The cows were always a real mess of mud and manure that had to be cleaned off in order to milk, and that was done in a cold drafty barn. Water troughs and our water pump had to be unthawed continually to get water for ourselves and stock. We were always cold, as our one room house (when we eventually got one) had no insulation. The cold wind blew right through it. Winter simply made our hard life much, much harder. So it is no wonder that Mom loved and anticipated spring with such fervor.
In her letters, she would go on about each variety of bird that arrived, and the farmers burning ditches and beginning the spring work. Then through the summer activities, she would have a running commentary on what was happening in this crop or that one. Her letters, to me, were just like being there in person, she was so thorough. And, of course, I was familiar with each of the adjoining farms, farmers, and crops. Had I been right there, I could not have known more. She elaborated on the times – what crops were being put in that year, or farmers’ problems with water, drought, and different crops predicated on such exigencies. And, she would tell about early frost, insects, and other crop calamities, in addition to the hardships of different farmers and their crop failures, late or early freezes changing the entire farming year, and so on.
Because they were the harbingers of spring, Mom was always ecstatic about our little apricot trees bursting into bloom and other fruits as well. She was particularly taken with fruit trees blossoming and would be sure to tell me the details about her own little fruit orchard in her back yard.
Up through her early 80s, Mom still canned cherries, pears, peaches, apricots, and jams – filling all her available bottles. She loved going around to various neighbors to buy or pick.
Mom’s large garden was her delight. It had been our salvation and kept us from starving during the 30s and early 40s. She canned everything that we would need through the winter months until she could get the next year’s garden to producing. Mom’s garden took a lot of very hard work. When she no longer needed all the garden space for vegetables, with just her and dad at home, then she planted extra flowers to be certain to have enough on Memorial Day. To think that she planted tomatoes, even at 84, when she was mostly blind, simply boggles my mind! She had stopped the huge garden in her early 80s, no longer able to spade it nor to really see what was happening, but in a small section she still planted a number of cantaloupes, berries, corn, etc., through her 84th year. The only thing that she did not do well on was raspberries. Oh, she picked and canned them with no problem, but she could not bring herself to sufficiently prune them. Raspberries are exuberant growers, sending out lots of suckers and runners and growing a dozen or more canes which have to reduced to six or eight for the next year. It is imperative to prune the heck out of them, or they quickly become so overgrown and stickery as to make picking impossible. Mom, was not good about pruning. She could not bear to cut things off and throw them away – especially as drastically as was necessary with raspberries. So our monster raspberry patch was a casualty when Dad was no longer around to do that chore.
A very striking thing about Mom’s letters was the huge number of close relatives and friends that died. Mom was quite stoic about them, saying that “nothing, and no one, lasts forever.” But she loved so many that she explained later that being the “last to go” might have been her hardest challenge. Being a child of an older mother and father, all her siblings were considerably older and so, of course, died earlier. She outlived all her friends and almost all of her acquaintances of any length. She said that it seemed the only thing that she did was go to funerals.
Mom was a very emotional woman. That made her “ups and downs” exaggerated. Basically she was both a romantic and a certified optimist. She would be a tad depressed by continual fog for those two bad winter months. To balance “down times” were all the other times that so outweighed the “down times” as to make the “down times” almost unremarkable. Every letter was simply full to the brim with exuberance for the beauty she constantly saw around her and the people she loved. When it rained, she would be thankful for the moisture that her flowers and the crops needed. If it snowed, then that was water being stored for the next summer. Even forest fires were placed in the optimistic column, because those fires cleared away brush and diseased trees to better enable recycling or made it easier for little animals to move around.
Mom just lived for her loved ones to visit, and virtually every letter is an urging to come, come again, or stay longer – or how so and so was just there and how she enjoyed their visit.
With a very large family of many generations, both on her side and Dad’s side, there were a bewildering number of family lines and their news to keep up with. That, alone, would be more than enough for most folks. But, Mom had so many friends over her long life that she dearly loved that she kept up with them, as well. She said that some could not be induced to write to her more than once per year, which had to be a boon in disguise, as I have never understood just how she could manage to correspond with so many!
Mom’s hobby, in addition to so many other things, was to buy greeting cards for the vast number of her correspondence. She so loved poetry that she found great pleasure in buying greeting cards, both for the greeting and also for the poetry contained therein. She would get especially ecstatic about very flowery beautiful cards. Many of her letters would be folded up in the middle of a greeting card – whether or not there was a card type of occasion.
Mom loved poetry. Every few letters would include a page or two of poetry. Something had simply brought some poem to mind so she would include it. Often she did not designate an author when a letter morphed into a poem! You might be well along on a page before you became aware it was a poem! Mom wrote lots of poetry herself. But most of the time she did not designate what was hers from some she had copied from some other source. So we have lots of poetry in her letters without attribution! Her own poetry was often as good as she might have copied, so it can be difficult to distinguish.
When Mary met Mom in 1957, there was an instant chemistry between two harmonizing personalities. I have always been so grateful that Mary and Mom had such affinity and love for each other. Mary often went up to see Mom and spent time with her, running around doing girl things, buying dresses or looking through knick-knack stores (Mom’s delight), traveling to Wheeler with her for a week to get her chelation treatments, and/or going around Mom’s area visiting old friends,
Mom’s letters are simply stuffed full of her love for us and others. No letter is without that major thrust. As I read through this magnificent pile of correspondence, I am gratified no end that Mary shares with me my memories of such a remarkable person and feels the same love for her. They say we are never really gone from this existence as long as others remember us. Well my Mom is not gone, as I will never forget her as long as I draw breath! It is a truly unusual day that something does not bring her to mind some way.
**Mom (Zola Eliza Kimball Chandler) was born on July 25, 1904. She left us on March 19, 1994, at the age of 89. There were nearly two thousand letters written by Zola, not counting the ones written when she was blind and could not see what she was writing, and which are pretty difficult to read. She probably wrote twice that number to others during the same time period.