Letters from Mother to Dad

I ran across some snippets of letter between Dad and Mother mixed in with business correspondence. 

My parents weren’t particularly demonstrative (maybe that’s where I got it), but they conveyed their closeness in shared moments and glances.

This series was part of a photo book I put together documenting Christmas 1969.

A letter from Mother

Based on the fact that it’s on Markham and Brown stationary, this must have been written shortly after they were married. I’m not sure if she sent it to Dad or to her parents.

“I wish everyone could be as happy as I am all my life. I had most everything I wanted and now I still have what I want. I don’t see how it can last forever. I am twice as happy as I ever expected…”

Mother buries the lead

Newspaper writers constructed their scribblings in what was called the “inverted pyramid” style, meaning that the most import elements were at the top, making it easy for an editor to trim from the bottom if space was tight.

If you put the important thing at the bottom, it was caused “burying the lead (spelled lede in journalistic jargon). Friend Jan says I’m bad about doing that.

Anyway, in this undated letter to Dad, Mother lists all kinds of mundane things she had taken care of, then, in her buried lede, she says, “Thank you for a nice day. So glad you made me a mother. Love MLS.”

Making memories

In 2012, I discovered this frame.

I wrote, “I don’t remember taking it, probably because the moment didn’t mean as much to me then as it does now. I often say that some days you make pictures; other days you make memories. This was one of those cases when I’m glad I made a photograph that lets me fill in a memory that I DIDN’T make at the time.”

That’s one of the shared moments I mentioned in the lede.



Cape Sewer Project 1940-41

Dad worked for Markham and Brown Construction before he started his own company. These photos are from one of his scrapbooks. They were captioned “Sewer Job – 1940 – 41 Cape.” His sewers aren’t as old as the ones I posted yesterday.

1936 Project required 25 to 100 men

I couldn’t find any news stories about the 1940 project, but E.L. Markham was awarded a $125,837.69 contract to construct a sanitary sewer in the West End in 1936. The February 1, 1936, Missourian story said the project would employ an average of 25 to 100 men for a period of three months. The money was going to  come from PWA, one of the alphabet soup of “make-work” agencies created to get men working and pull the country out of the depression. (We’d call that a stimulus project today).

80% of work to be done by machines

Eighty per cent of the excavation work was to be done by machinery. Laying the sewer pipes would be done by guys like this. About 11 miles of ditches needed to be dug.

Dad said a guy came up to him on a job and complained, “Mister, that dragline you’re operating put 20 men with shovels out of work.”

Without missing a beat, Dad responded, “Yep, or 2,000 men with teaspoons.”

The H.H.S. in the above photo would have been my Uncle Hubert Steinhoff. He ended up working for an asphalt company in Illinois.

Skilled labor made 60 to 75 cents per hour

Three classes of labor were to be employed: skilled, semi-skilled or intermediate, and common laborer. Ninety per cent of the workers were to be taken from the relief rolls in the city before looking for other workers.

Skilled labor, such as operators of machines, concrete finishers and brick layers, were to be paid 60 to 75 cents per hour; intermediate labor, 40 cents, and common labor, 30 cents. Because the goal was to employ as many men as possible, no laborer could be worked more than eight hours a day or 130 hours a month. The PWA preferred that the work day be divided up into two five-hour shifts.

I remember Peewee

Some of these guys have the fresh-off-the-farm look of some of the fellows I worked with one summer. One young guy named Peewee was built like a fireplug and was strong as an ox. He would make lunch money by betting passersby that he could rip his shirt off just by expanding his chest. As soon as the mark had handed over the ernest money, Peewee would take a big gulp of air and the shirt would go ripping off like The Hulk on the TV show.

One day three or four of us were wresting a concrete bucket onto a truck. Peewee walked up, told us to step aside, and threw it on the truck by himself.

Dad was really sorry the day Peewee told him he was going to have to leave the job because he’d been drafted. All that was left was for him to pass his physical. The next day Peewee was back on the job. The army rejected him because he had gotten “all stoved up” when a wagon fell over on him when he was a kid. Maybe that’s why I was a 128-pound weakling: I didn’t have a wagon fall on me during my formative years.

Photo gallery of sewer project

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.