Thursday, February 18, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: A Letter from Uncle Ralph, 1980 October 2nd

Below is a letter he wrote on 2 October 1980. My Uncle Ralph was "wordy", his letters ranged from 4 pages on day when the news was light, to his usual 8 to 12 pages. I have kept his wording and spelling for that too tells part of the story of my dear uncle that I knew not so well.

This is a wonderful world of my Minnesota McPherson family, the family of my father, aunts, uncles and grandparents, as well as great uncles and great grandparents. Enjoy, as some of this will resonate with many of you. Uncle Ralph was really rather an Everyman. He writes these letters with unique sense of a common history of time and place.

Ralph Jabez McPherson, 1945

Dear Olive & Norman,

Your letter came the same day I wrote to you. Getting some funny weather now. Supposed to be a Santa Ana that can get only within 5 mi of the beach. Most of your Santa Anas, its just as hot at the beach as it is on the desert. This ones different. 70 degrees at the beach till 5 mi inland then to 95 to 100 & the desert 116 yesterday at Palm Springs.

Knocked $30 off the elect bill this last month but it was still almost 46.00 but the weather had cooled so we just had the house open with a fan or two on.

Not much news, its mostly all political now. The Liars are out in full force now. So I never listen to them. I just read their record and on most of them its pretty shoddy.

Yes I suppose being the youngest & coming to Calif so young you might not even heard of most of your relatives. I didn’t keep in touch like Margie did but I met lots of them & knew of others & nearly all the older generations are in Wisconsin. Some in Iowa, not many in Minn or Mich. In wis there were the Burmeisters, Fosses, Irelands & McPhersons, also a few Foys , in Iowa, the Fiskes. In those days people were close knit, some of them never got over 50 mi away from home in their life time. In those days, and late in the afternoon would pull into any farm house & ask to stay all night. It was common precedure if you lived close to a highway & very few would take money for putting a person up. I know 2 or 3 times a year some one would stop at our place to stay, team & all & all of them Perfect strangers. In one way it was a way of getting outside news (outside of a 20 mi circumference). Also in those days you might work for a neighbor 4 or 5 days but never think of getting paid except by him helping you.

I can remember Dad giving me hell. He was going to shock grain for another farmer & then that fellow was to shock corn for Dad. The only thing Dad and Mother had to go to Madison so Dad told me to go in his place which I did but when I finished shocking his grain, he asked if I’d rather have the 3.00 or have him come up & shock corn for me. The 3.00 looked big to me & it was no problem for me cut and shocks the corn. Only I didn’t know what bawling out I was going to get when Dad got home.

Write when you can & say Hi to everyone. Love,

Ralph & Sally

Ralph was my father's older brother and in this letter he was writing to his baby sister Olive Lorraine and her husband Norman. Olive Lorraine and Verna, being born at the end of the quarter of a century age span between eldest and youngest, were always asking about family history. My McPherson family tends to be clannish and the in-laws soon become part of the clan. Foy, Ireland, and Burmeister were of his grandfather's generation; Foss and Fiske were of his father's generation. For me these are the names of my past, the names of my tree.


  1. $46 electric bill? I don't even get that low in mid winter in Phoenix! What a difference things were just 30 years ago!

  2. Thirty years does make a difference. Uncle Ralph could tell you to the penny what he spent every month -- and he did.

  3. What a wonderful "slice of life" from the past!

  4. Ah, the lost art of letter writing! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Love that letter, it's a real keeper, it tells a lot about close knit neighbors. YOu couldn't finish your crops in time, a few neighbors might come and help you finish. You in turn helped at baling or thresing.
    I suppose the same thing pertained to the early pioneers when an old friend from Germany came new to your area. YOu put them up the best way you could until they could get on their feet. and your bonus was wonderful company and helpers and probably friend for life.

    I remember my cousin from Minnesota telling me she did not find that atmosphere where she stayed in Arizona.