I am pleased to introduce my first guest blogger, Edna Specht Beyer, my paternal grandmother. She actually passed away when I was in elementary school, and I never knew her very well. Recently my mother uncovered some of Edna’s writings, and I have gotten to know her much better. It turns out that she was a writer like me. Or maybe I am a writer like her.
I had heard that Edna had met her husband Lenard through a personal ad in the newspaper. The story was so vague that it never seemed real to me. Well, now I have the true story, told by Edna herself.
“Something Very Personal”
By Mrs. Lenard K. Beyer
GREETINGS from corn belt! Isolated young woman, book-worm, wishes interesting correspondence. Favorite novel, “Old Wives’ Tale”; favorite Waltz, Blue Danube; favorite sport, hiking; favorite dog, Irish Setter. Pet aversion, bridge. Yours? Corn Belt Miss.
Sitting in a corner of my quiet little room one November afternoon a good many years ago, I scribbled the above lines in lead pencil. This originated one of the small human interest ads that filled a back page of “The Saturday Review of Literature” each week. Having gotten around to launching into this journalistic adventure I had had no idea what I was going to write when I tentatively jotted down my friendly opening line. After a puzzled five or ten minutes another sentence formed rather limpingly. Then an idea popped into my head, and the mention of a book I loved gave me enthusiasm. Now I really got under way! Dashingly I wrote other favorites, and recklessly topped them with something I really hated, “per aversion, bridge.” Signing off with “Yours? Corn Belt Miss”, I felt flushed and excited. Filled with a sense of wonder at what I was doing, I went to my desk and clicked off a copy on my portable typewriter. Rereading my paragraph neatly typed, I thought it looked pretty good.
Rereading the same paragraph today in a yellowed copy of a 1933 magazine I am surprised at how gay and casual it seems in the company of the “Cultured, widely traveled” woman and the young man “with no degrading habits”. I know not whether these more dignified neighboring ads brought any results. I do feel sure that none of the other “personals” on the page could have had more important consequences to their writers than my own lively little paragraph.
But as I sat in my room rereading my neatly typed copy I expected nothing in particular, although I felt excited and filled with a vague sense of adventure. What fun it would be to look in the mail hoping to find letters from persons with similar interests — anyone, anywhere. How thrilling the possibilities of bursting the boundaries of one’s familiar environment! What interesting friendships might come to me! And perhaps even —- romance, whispered a sly little inner voice. But no, I silenced the silly suggestion with my school teacher’s sensibleness and authority.
Then an incident occurred which might have kept me from mailing my “personal”. There was an imperative knock at my door and my mother called to me announcing a long distance call from another part of the state. It proved to be an offer of a teaching position which had to be accepted or refused immediately. It was accepted. But in the midst of packing shopping and getting ready to leave for school the “personal” was not quite forgotten.
“You are not going to send that now?” was my mother’s dubious question in regard to my silly little experiment.
But it seemed that I did want to send it. So I counted the words, wrote a check to the editor and addressed an envelope to the magazine. And in my haste I did not forget to include the stamps that were to bring me the letters from the interested readers of my “personal”. However, I had all but lost interest in my experiment. As I dropped the letter at the post office on a trip down town to shop for dresses and shoes for the schoolroom I was too preoccupied to feel any continued sense of adventure. I had entirely gotten over my thrill at bursting out of my little prison of conventionality. So I rushed on to my shopping and packing. I was starting to teach once more, and it seemed like any other Fall except that it was six weeks late and I must hurry.
One sunshiny morning in October almost a year later I was waiting in a state of high excitement for a Ford V8 to turn into our driveway. I have never experienced at any other time such a strange mixture of thrills, curiosity, hopes, fears and excitement as the morning that I waited for Lenard to arrive after his long trip. Lenard and I had corresponded for most of the preceding year, our letters steadily increasing in number and intimacy as the time went on. I had spent hours and hours writing to him and he to me. Early in the correspondence he had told me of the pitiful tragedy of the loss of his wife and new-born child. I felt all too strongly how much the letters from the girl in the west had come to mean to him. As I started at the approach of each passing car I was almost overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility at letting him drive a thousand miles to meet me. As I peered at the girl in the mirror in my room I wondered again and again if I would look like the person that he had built up in his mind out of the many snap shots that I had sent him.
And he — would he really be like his pictures and letters?
Early in the morning I had put on my nicest house dress and arranged my unruly black curls as smoothly as possible. Since then I had wandered restlessly and nervously about the house waiting for a car with an eastern license plate to drive in. Should I have let him drive that thousand miles to see the girl of the letters? Would I come up to his ideal? Would I like him? Could we take off where our letters had left off? When we met face to face would we be the same persons that each had thought he was writing to? Or would we be really strangers? I knew what music he liked, what books he read, what views he held on many subjects, what his hobbies were, what he liked for breakfast. But I didn’t know the sound of his voice, how he walked, what mannerisms he had. How would we react to each other? How would our personalities “mix” when we were together in the flesh? The hours dragged on and I began to think that perhaps he wouldn’t arrive that day after all. I went about doing some housework absent-mindedly. It was nearly lunch time now. By this time I had begun to just glance at the cars going by. Then suddenly my Mother’s, “There’s a car ——-“.
“It isn’t ——–?”
“Yes it is ———-a Ford V8 and he is driving in.”
Now that my “big moment” had arrived I became suddenly fussy about going out to meet “him”. My hair needed smoothing and so forth. Finally with my heart seeming to stand still I hurried to the door.
“Edna,” asked the young man at our front door.
“How are you?”
“Why – a — I’m so excited I don’t know what to do.” It was the last thing I had meant to say. We looked at each other uncertainly for a moment and then a little blankly. After all our months of writing, waiting for each other’s letters, and counting on each other, we seemed practically strangers at that moment. He seemed a very nice young man, even finer than I had imagined. And he was better looking. But he seemed to be another person. With bewilderment I felt that the person I thought I had been writing to for the past eleven months had never existed and someone slightly resembling him stood in his place. His voice was the greatest surprise. He had a quicker, almost hasty way of speaking. And I was overwhelmed by the unlikeness of the real person from his pictured likenesses. And in my confusion I realized that without a doubt he was feeling the same way about me. A few minutes later I was helping him carry in things from his car and showing him his room in our home. Somewhat gropingly we were trying to make conversations based on our letters.
The next two or three days I like to pass over even in my own thoughts. I still feel strained and embarrassed when I think of that stage of our experiment. Then one dull October afternoon when we were walking in the deserted natural park near my home, we sat down on a park bench and faced the situation together. We did not really know each other very well, it seemed, and there was great doubt of our achieving the deep feeling and companionship that we both wanted so much. Strange as it may seem, that painful admission brought a new sense of understanding between us.
Then a few days later, on Halloween Eve, we experienced a sense of revelation. I will never forget that evening — the tang of the Fall outside, the mantel decorated with pumpkins and autumn leaves, the cheerful open fire and the magic of our feeling for each other. And being entirely feminine I will always keep the dress that I wore that night, the one of midnight-blue with the frilled collar and cuffs and the full swirling skirt that Lenard liked so much. After that enchanted All Hallows Eve the days and evenings passed all too fast.
Early one crisp frosty morning we stood together in front of my home saying reluctant good-byes. Lenard was about to retrace the thousand mile trip that he had made alone to see a young woman he had discovered in a magazine I said that we must put the third of a continent between us once more before deciding that we were sure. I myself felt entirely sure, but wanted to give him every chance to know his own heart in regard to the girl that might fill the empty place in his life. As he drove off I stood watching as long as I could see him. Then I stood alone once more shivering in my wooly white sweater and wondering whether, if I pinched myself, the past two weeks would turn out to be a dream. But many letters and telegrams the next few weeks reassured me that my happiness was all very real.
At noon two days before the following New Years, Lenard and I stood before the holly and evergreen decorated fireplace of my home and exchanged marriage vows before a local minister. A few days later his friends were surprised by the news that he had married a bride in the west. And my friends were equally puzzled by the announcements that I had married an easterner and gone east to live. Only one of his friends and one of mine have ever learned how it happened. Even yet we are sometimes startled by the innocent question, “And how did you meet?” A staid college professor and his faculty wife can hardly answer that it was through the “personal” column of a magazine.
To the natural question of the reader as to how it has turned out I can answer more frankly and say that we seem happier than most of our friends.
And not long ago Lenard and I told each other that if we had it to do over we would repeat our unconventional romance. Other results of that little “personal” of years ago are occasional nature articles that we write and publish together, a home that we think is lovely and a son who is a leader in the religious and social work of his city.
Lenard and I and more especially our son often marvel at the part that chance in the form of a small item in a magazine can play in life.
I hope you have all enjoyed reading my Grandmother Beyer’s true story as much as I have! I think she and I have a similar style of writing. I am so happy to know her better and to realize that I share in her heritage. Now I think I will go curl up with Edna’s favorite novel as stated in her personal ad, Old Wives’ Tale, and see it we share the same taste in books.