by Jami Meeker
Editor’s note: This is a shortened version of a much longer work by Jami Meeker, which the writer hopes to publish in the future. It will appear in five chapters, in print and online, between August and December 2020. (We initially considered publishing the whole piece at once, but it is quite long, and we think this will be easier and more pleasant to digest!)
The white border at the bottom of the photo bears a caption, handwritten in 95-year old ink: “In Search of Adventure.”
It is one of 15 photos, sepia-toned with age, documenting days spent with friends at Mill Creek Park in Youngstown. In another photo, three young men pose in front of a stone-filled creekbed near the water’s edge. Each is dressed in a white button-up shirt under a vest and suit coat. The top of a white handkerchief marks each coat pocket and the knot of a tie pushes at each collar. Far too proper for a hike in the woods today, but not for 1922, their attire speaks silently of a more formal time.
The man in the middle stands with his arms around the shoulders of the other two. His companion to the left, wearing a suit, either black or dark brown — it’s hard to tell — leans in, holding his hat in one hand while draping the other over his friend’s shoulder. They stare ahead at the camera. The last of the three, dressed in a light brown suit, stands to the right of the other two, both hands occupied with his hat at his waist and his head turned in profile. Something has drawn his attention away from the camera.
This man is my grandfather.
I never met Edward J. Beeman. None of his 16 grandchildren did. He died suddenly at the age of 50 almost 10 years before the first of us was born. Yet he remained a physical presence in our lives. He watched from framed photos on staircase walls as we came down the steps for breakfast, or from dining room walls as we ate Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. He slept on the pages of photo albums shut safely in trunks under winter clothes in summer and summer clothes in winter. With no memories of him to call our own, we had to borrow them from his children, our parents, each of us taking away for ourselves our own picture of their father. Pictures became impressions, impressions solidified, and in time his presence became more myth than memory.
In the Mill Creek photo, Eddie’s deep-set eyes are in shadow. His driver’s license will list them as grey. It is the autumn of 1922 and he is 16 years old.
In eight years’ time he will have already lived half his life. He will also meet the love of his life.
Margaret lived long enough for most of her grandchildren to know her. For those fortunate to be firstborn in each family, the memories are as clear and fixed as any from childhood. Less so for those of us who came later. I don’t remember her voice, but I do remember her mouth. I remember her eyes, too. They closed halfway when she smiled. She kept a faraway sadness at bay.
Eddie considered her one more among many friends for the first two years after they met in March 1930, but Margaret fell in love with him instantly. She was certain he was the one, and confessed as much to him in a letter from 1932. In response, he questioned her certainty, going so far as to ask her directly, “Don’t you think that there are a lot of people in this world that you have not yet met? Somebody who would someday be worthy of you?”
Her answer was just as direct: “Ever since March 15, 1930 there has only been one person that is classed as the one and only.”
Before this undertaking, I’d never spoken to anyone about my grandfather. I’d never asked a single question concerning his life, and certainly not his death. As a child, it seemed to me improper to do so. Best to let him remain where he was — a photo on a wall in every family home.
Convinced that the surest way to get to know him would be through the impression he left on his children and the impressions they passed on to his grandchildren, I resolved to conduct interviews with everyone. I would start with our parents then move on to my siblings and cousins. Everyone thought it was a great idea when I launched into my pitch at various family gatherings. However, if information came slowly from generation one, it ground to a halt with generation two when I asked one simple question: “What is the impression you have of our grandfather?”
“I know my Mom loved him very much. She missed him, I know that much.”
“My Dad never really talked too much about him. I don’t know really.”
“She had him on a pedestal. He was like a saint, you know?”
At the 2017 July 4th picnic at my Aunt Peggy’s house, I took the first real steps on the path to Eddie’s story. I disguised my new efforts as impromptu conversations around the picnic table with my mother and Aunt Peggy. I enjoyed hearing the stories as much as they delighted in telling them, but they produced such disjointed snippets of memory spanning years of childhood and adolescence that piecing them together into a coherent narrative proved unlikely.
I don’t know if she sensed a change in my attentiveness or if it was mere serendipity, but later that afternoon, Aunt Peggy stood up and announced, “I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later she returned from the house with a bag and set it beside me. It contained exactly 100 letters and postcards her mother had left in her keeping — letters and postcards my grandparents wrote to one another from 1930 to 1936. Aunt Peggy suggested I might find something useful in them.
Over the next few months I immersed myself in the letters, which taught me more about Eddie and Margaret than I thought possible. I would read and re-read private letters between my grandparents when they were young and falling in love, before they had children of their own, when their happiness lay completely in one another.
One might believe Eddie and Margaret would be shocked to learn someone has read their love letters, all the more so since that someone is one of their grandchildren. However, after getting to know them through this correspondence and understanding their senses of humor, I think they would get a kick out of it.
On first read, Eddie and Margaret’s story is quite common: girl meets boy, falls in love with boy, eventually boy falls in love with girl, they get married, have children and love one another until death do they part. The same story happened to countless ordinary people across northeast Ohio in the early 1930s. It happened anonymously, without detail. It happened to Eddie and Margaret anonymously, as well.
That is, until now, which makes their story uncommon. Their story demonstrates that every common love story between ordinary people is unique unto itself, even if no one ever uncovers the letters that reveal how the story unfolded and discovers what makes it so.
PART I: MARGARET’S DIARY
The diary itself is no longer intact. The cover and binding disappeared long ago, most of the loose pages have separated from one another, and the entries cover less than a full year’s worth of dates. Each page is no bigger than Margaret’s hand had been when she began scribbling daily notes on them. The diary is designed to hold half a decade of entries as each page is divided into five sections, one for each year. For instance, on the first page, dated January 26, Margaret would enter 1930 in the top section, 1931 in the second section, 1932 in the third, and so on. Such a layout on such small pages provides only four lines for each day, little more than a brief, single-sentence note.
Margaret’s penciled entries date from Jan. 26 to July 23, 1930. Like many who at one time or another kept a diary, myself included, her daily commitment lasted little more than two months before becoming sporadic, then fading altogether by the end of May.
Fortunately, her short-lived stint covered the weeks just before and after she met Eddie.
Went to Canal Fulton with Leo & Dutch. Grandmother is sick. Mary home. Dutch gave her a big line to my advantage.
Leo, Alice & I went to see Holy Name beat us. But had fun. The team & boys were swell.
Dutch and Alice are friends. Leo and Mary are her older brother and sister. Their grandmother lives in Canal Fulton, which explains why they would travel to such a small village 45 minutes south of Akron.
2/01/30 – Saturday
Back to work after 3 day off. Hard at first but it’s be the same routine.
Ed’s Birthday 7 years.
Deac and Francis over in eve. Played 500. Deac & I won two games. Helen & Mother had a so & so.
2/03/30 – Monday
Had throat blessed in eve. That’s all.
Ed is Margaret’s youngest sibling. Helen is her eldest sister. Francis may be a misspelt Frances Hardacre, whom Helen will later marry., When she writes that her sister and mother had a “so + so” Margaret means they played a mediocre night of cards. If that was typical for them, then I have the misfortune of inheriting my great-grandmother’s ill luck at cards.
In observance of the Catholic Feast of St. Blaise, those attending Mass would kneel at the communion rail and the priest would bless their throats with crossed candles and say a prayer. St. Blaise was a physician known for helping patients with objects stuck in their throats. Like all good Catholics, my mother had her throat blessed on the Feast of Saint Blaise. She doesn’t blame him, but she does question the efficacy of his blessing because, despite the benediction, she came down with a dangerous case of strep throat combined with rheumatic fever.
2/04/30 – Tuesday
Went skating with Andrew Fransden (Sept. 24, 1929). Fine? Gee! Sophia & Harold (new) & Alice were along. Had pecks of fun.
Had club here. Club, Bah! three girls came. Oh well. I wish the thing could break up.
2/06/30 – Thursday
Home in evening. Stayed up late. Won at Polk. Leo & Dutch went. Had accident.
2/07/30 – Friday
Work, show with Melba, grand. Leo & Dutch didn’t get home till to-day.
Apparently neither Leo nor Dutch were injured in the accident, but it did take a day for them to get back home. Unlike today, the disruptions to daily life occasioned by a minor traffic accident were no simple matter to resolve in 1930.
2/08/30 – Saturday
Lois Pake’s birthday. Work in morning. Got weighed (122 lbs.). Nice. Tom & Gell in evening with Alice, Geo & Marg.
2/09/30 – Sunday
Mother, Dad & kids went to Hornberger’s for dinner. Leo & I only ones here. Agnes in Canton. Catherine C. & I went to show.
Home in evening. Listened to radio.
2/11/30 – Tuesday
Out with A. Fransden again. Went to Allen’s house and saw motion pictures. Swell, funny. A. swell, too—
My dress was caught in my pants. Gee! It must have been terrible. The old goof of an elevator man just looked & looked at me.
2/14/30 – Friday
Went to C. Canenay party. What a flop. Catherine got me sore and ruined my evening. That’s except I suppose.
2/15/30 – Saturday
Ruthmary had a party. Entertained [illegible]. They were awful cute. Agnes’s Tony came in evening. Bed 1:00.
2/16/30 – Sunday
Home all day. Had funny with Tommy. Leo & I played rum, winning 2 games out of 3. Leo had to help with dishes.
3/03/30 – Monday
Back at home 9:30. Not too bad. Went to Akron with Melba. My ankle turned in the street. Dumb!
Leo helped me make some candy to-night. Before Lent, I guess. Am listening Guy Lombard now. 10:00 PM.
3/11/30 – Tuesday
Leo R., Agnes & I went to see Mr. Miller who died Sunday. Jimmie, Tony, Leo & I played cards. Jimmie & I were pardners had lots of fun trying to cheat. I fixed a lunch so everything ended well.
3/13/30 – Thursday
Finished at Footwear office. Went to basketball game. St. Mary’s won of course! About 10:30 Dutch called. Was out of gas on a lonely country road. Leo & I went after gas. Took it to him. Nice ride. Leo R. brought Agnes home from work.
3/14/30 – Friday
Letter from Bennie. His letters are bigger & better each time. Agnes H. was down. We talked & talked and talked some more. Answered Bennie letter about midnight.
A pair of new names makes their debut this week. Leo R. is Leo Riegler, a friend she mentions often in these early days. No one in the family remembers anyone named Bennie, yet Margaret knew him well enough to receive long letters from him.
3/17/30 – Monday
Thought about Eddie all day. Was so darn happy, sang all day. Went to St. Patrick’s play at school. Team left for Chicago at 1:00 A.M. Good Luck, Team.
The diary pages from March 15 and 16 are missing. So what happened between Friday and Monday? Margaret met Eddie, probably at a party they both attended on Saturday. He must have made quite an impression. Poor Bennie. On Friday, Bennie’s letters are “bigger & better each time.” By Monday, Margaret is singing all day about another guy. She leads Bennie along for a few more weeks, but by the beginning of April, she will have written to him to let him know he has no chance.
3/18/30 – Tuesday
Melba sick. Worked at Miss Hanley’s. Fixed dresses & clothes tonight. Roger & Marie here. Played cards with Helen & Francis. Eddie hasn’t called yet. Oh well!
3/21/30 – Friday
Lay-off again to-day. Don’t know for how long. Dad, Helen, Leo left for Clyde, OH. Uncle Nick died. Mother sick. Went to church & I’m awful tired — mostly because Eddie hasn’t called yet. Here’s to Luck.
Next to “Here’s to luck,” Margaret drew a mug full of beer.
3/22/30 – Saturday
After a long patient week Eddie finally came over. Gee! I was so glad to see him & he is so sweet. Leo was with him. They left about 1:30 promising to come over Sunday all fresh & new. Good-nite diary. I’m happy.
3/23/30 – Sunday
Eddie & Leo over about 3:00. Went for ride but to hard riding four in coupe. Took pictures. Funny. Went to St. Sebastian’s for church then to Eddie’s house. He has the most wonderful sister but not half as wonderful as Eddie.
3/24/30 – Monday
No Blue Monday for me. I’m so gaff happy I don’t know what to do. Leo Riegler, Better known as “Jake” went after Agnes, or “Lena”. Deac & Frances here. Mother had an heart attack. Called doctor. She has been awful sick with a sore on her back.
3/25/30 – Tuesday
Over to Eddie house again. Aunt Theresa died. Jake & Lena, Eddie & I went to Canton to-nite to see her. Eddie looked so cute. He wore a sweater. Gosh, oh gosh I wonder what’s wrong with me. I must be crazy. Anyway, crazy about Eddie.
3/26/30 – Wednesday
Went to Aunt Theresa’s funeral. Home about 3:00 in afternoon. Too tired to go to church. Wrote Eddie a card & Bennie & letter. It’s funny I thought I could give up everything for Bennie but since that nite at Catherine Johnson’s it’s all Eddie. Comparing the two: Bennie may have the looks, but I found out that looks don’t count for Eddie is everything. No kidding this time. Eddie has about everything I ever expected to see in a man, attractive, has a wonderful personality & voice. Plays golf, swims, maybe I could go on & on.
3/28/30 – Friday
Eddie called yesterday & to-day. Cute. I baked cakes for him. Leo & he came over after choir practice. Eddie was so nice. The picture we took Sunday turned out good. I have a cute picture of Eddie.
3/31/30 – Monday
Eddie called. Got a new Spring coat. Cute
MEMORANDA [for the month of March]
One wonderful month with Eddie. Letters come regular from Bennie.
This is the last mention of Bennie. I hope he found happiness with someone somewhere.
4/01/30 – Tuesday
Eddie-Eddie you’re on my mind most of the time. I wonder if I’ve fallen in love with Eddie. Gee! I like him so much. He was over to-nite with Tom McGovern. –“The key’s in the mailbox.”—
“The key’s in the mailbox” could be a reference to a lyric from the popular song “A Cottage For Sale.” The Revelers, a male vocal quartet, recorded the first version of the song in January 1930. It has since become a standard recorded by Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Dinah Washington, to name but a few.
4/02/30 – Wednesday
Church in evening Eddie called. Nice. Alice over all-nite. Had funny. She’s as crazy as ever.
4/03/30 – Thursday
Went to party with Eddie & Tom. Gee. Eddie’s sister Mary Louise had a party.
With the exception of two more at the close of May, Margaret’s diary entries end here. Planning ahead to the next year, she had penciled in the day of the week for 1931 on the bottom half of the March and April pages. Alas, her diligence did not carry her even halfway through 1930. From these 37 pages, however, I know that my grandmother was fun-loving, a quality she maintained through much of her life.
Eddie & I have been going together ever since we met. Gee! It’s been wonderful. At times he was so nice, other times so mean.
He is awful hard person to understand. There is Tom Mac, Jake, “Leo Ville” altogether we’ve had som
The last diary entry ends in mid-word. Was she interrupted and never got back to finish her thought? Had she already decided not to make any additional entries and didn’t like the direction this one had taken anyway?
From the start, Margaret had to wait what she describes as “a long patient week” before hearing from Eddie. Perhaps the scant diary entries for April and May reflect Eddie’s inconsistent attention. When even a brief note dropped in the mail is enough to raise her spirits, it is easy to understand how Margaret would see his absence as mean-spirited in these early days.
Eddie to Miss Margaret Willmott from Akron, OH – 4/18/30, Friday
Thinking of You
I never hear a bird’s sweet song
at dawning of the day
Or see a rose all sprinkled
with the dew
Or think of pleasant, happy things
along life’s busy way
Or smile a pleasant, happy smile
without a thought
This is an Easter card Eddie sent to Margaret. He enclosed a score sheet from a game of 500 that lists Marg & Eddie as the “We” vs Agnes & Leo as the “They”. Team Marg & Eddie won 1310 to 720.
A curious hand-written note in pencil at the bottom of the score sheet reads “St. Thomas Hospital” and is dated 2/28/30. As this is more than two weeks prior to Margaret’s first mention of Eddie in her diary, it suggests they knew one another as acquaintances, perhaps through Leo, before the weekend of March 15, when Margaret had a dramatic change of heart towards her brother’s friend.
The only letter we have from 1930 is written from Eddie to Margaret, after a party Margaret has hosted. He complains that she sat on “Tom’s lap with your arms around his neck” and that he was “openly made a ‘chump.’” He clearly feels hurt, though he fails to own up to his own jealousy and pride.
In February 1931, we have three diary notes Margaret scribbled on the back of a timesheet from work.
Feb. 1, 1931 Sunday
Snow & Cold
Chicken again for dinner. Victor here, Mac here too. Hospital in afternoon to see Laurel. Met darling Mekeal at 4:00 to her Grandmother’s for supper. To Keith’s in evening. Was in a terrible mood all evening. I wonder why I can’t forget Eddie. Sometimes I almost go crazy. Who said love was wonderful.
Feb. 2, 1931 Monday
Beautiful day—Sun out all day. The moon to-night is wonderful. The moon, a full moon. Um Um! Ain’t that something. Home in evening with radio. Leo home too. Good boy.
Feb. 3 Tuesday
Another wonderful day. As nice as yesterday.
The happy, singing-all-day-long Margaret from last year’s diary pages is no more. She hasn’t forgotten Eddie, but it appears he has, if not forgotten, then forsaken her. Three and a half months will pass before she reaches out to him.