It seems like no one writes letters anymore. Thanks to email, facebook, etc., the hand written letter is pretty much a thing of the past.
I enjoy reading biographies and historical books, especially books about U. S. history. Much of the information that current historical writers, like Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin, use in their books come from letters written to, or from, their subjects, like Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Those letters help today’s biographers show us the world, the thoughts and feelings of their famous subjects. I came across an old handwritten letter this week from my father. Okay, he was not famous, but the letter is a glance into the world, thoughts and feelings of a young, eighteen year old Marine in Basic Training at Parris Island, S.C.
The letter was written on September 3rd, 1946. My daddy, L.F. McPhail, sent the letter to my grandfather, Lonnie McPhail, whom we always called DaddyMac. Below is the letter. I have added some explanation of some things written and have tried to rework some of the grammar and spelling.
It begins, “Dear Dad, I would have wrote you individually before but you will be at work and mother will open it anyhow.” (He was right. MotherMac was nosey, and she would have opened the letter.)
“We drilled yesterday evening and only seven passed out, but not me. It was not as hard as cropping tobacco. Two passed out and went to sick bay today.” (All of us who were raised on a farm and cropped tobacco knew it was tough. Now there is proof. It’s harder than Marine basic training at Parris Island.)
“Are you still working in Dunn? Is the car in good shape since I am not there to keep it in shape for you. (Ha Ha)” (Daddy was rough on cars when he was young. His buddy, Charles Hawley, told me how a farmer told them, after pulling their car out, that he would give them five dollars to finish cleaning out the rest of the ditch. There were a lot of stories like that. But I never heard about them until I was older. I had often wondered why he didn’t get really upset when I totaled a car when I was sixteen years old. I know now.)
The letter continued, “You better write. I know mother will, but I want a letter from you. I’ve never seen a letter from you.” (I wonder if DaddyMac ever wrote him back. Now that’s a letter I would love to see.)
“We have a new D.I. (Drill Instructor) He seems to be a nice guy. I won’t be writing so often now. We will be working pretty hard for the next four or five weeks. Then I hope we start to have it easy the rest of the way.” (I don’t know if it got easier after basic training. But he did end up being stationed in Hawaii. When I was young, I remember seeing pictures of him taken there with a couple of hula girls. He didn’t seem to be having too difficult of a time. I don’t know what happened to those pictures. I think Mama threw them away.)
The letter concludes, “If you can’t read this, just look at it and think you can. Love, L.F. P.S. Tell the entire family hello and good luck.” (Like I said, I had to rework some of the grammar and spelling.)
That letter is now a prized possession of mine. After he came back home to Clement from the Marines, Daddy married Mama and built a home just down the hill from DaddyMac’s house. There they both worked hard and raised my sister and me. But Daddy never lost the good humor and joy of living that he had, as a young soldier, writing that letter in a Marine barrack at Parris Island.
L.F. McPhail passed away two years ago this week. I don’t know how much safer the world was because he was a Marine back then, but I do know how much better Gail and I are now because he was our father.