by Jami Meeker

Editor’s note: This is the third chapter in a shortened version of a much longer work by Jami Meeker, which the writer hopes to publish in the future. It is appearing in the print edition of The Devil Strip in five chapters between August and December 2020. For previous chapters, visit thedevilstrip.com and search for “Margaret” or “Eddie.”

After Eddie and Margaret married in 1934, they had only one car, as was normal for the time. When it came time for grocery shopping, Eddie would drop Margaret off at the market and return in an hour or so to pick her up. One day she finished the shopping early enough to warrant calling his office to let him know he could come fetch her sooner than planned. The secretary informed her that Eddie had not been working there for six months. 

Margaret had her own job and handled the family finances. She knew how much money came into the household each month. I can see her hanging up the phone at the grocery store with a puzzled look for the bags of groceries at her feet.

It turned out that, during his half-year search for a new job, Eddie had been borrowing money from one friend after another to help put food on the table and pay bills. With such episodes in mind, Margaret was savvy enough not to trust him with money to pay the gas, electric or phone bill. She learned to send one of her eldest daughters, Mary Ann or Susan, to pay the bill instead. Eddie’s children meant the world to him, but he was a poor provider for their needs. Mary Ann and Susan waited after school for the other students to leave, after which the nuns would give them the cafeteria leftovers to take home for dinner.

But no one remembered Eddie as a struggling man who couldn’t hold onto a job. His wealth of friendship placed him among the richest men in town. The receiving line for Eddie’s funeral stretched out the door of their home, down the sidewalk and around the corner. My mother and her sisters stood for so long listening to condolences that they had to take breaks and went into the kitchen to sit for a while before returning to the open front door. Some mourners expressed their regrets along with mild recrimination that they had to find out about Eddie’s death on the radio. 

We have omitted some letters from this section for brevity. 

Read the earlier chapters of this Akron love story:

***

Eddie to Miss Margaret Willmott from Ravenna, OH – Tues. Evening, 12/20/32 

Dear Marg.—

It seems so long since I wrote this salutation, and for a while I tho’t I would never have the chance to write it again. I tho’t I was all washed up, out. It was a actual surprise tonight when Anna Belle said, “There’s a letter for you on the desk from Marg.” You see she has been kidding me for quite a while & I gave her the usual Oh yeah grunt. But this time it is real & when I stop to think about it I truthfully don’t feel it is true.  

Your letter has braced me up somewhat. In the last three years of this slump I have managed to keep busy about half or better of the time. But everything has seemed so futile. No schedule to keep to, no systematic arrangement to look forward to, no steady income, all have combined to make me feel very depressed at times. I’ve done a bit of reading mostly non-fiction & have found quite a bit of consolation & help and now I have a better outlook on life. Don’t get the idea from the above that I’ve given up the ship. I’ve just got a hunch that everything’s going to be alright. 

Those two people can be wonderful pals and understand each other if they make up their minds to. There was a great ship that arrived in New York a couple of weeks ago. Maybe you saw it in the newsreels—The Conte de Savoia. There were three parabola-shaped doohickeys on it called stabilizers. I’d guess you’d call them balancers. Anyhow they make the going easy, prevent seasickness & everything in general is peaceful riding. I’ve installed some in this ship. Of course once in a while they may get out of working order but the original idea is always in mind and repairs can be made. 

How have you been anyway? I suppose you are wondering what I am doing in Ravenna. I’ve been over here for pretty close to six weeks now. Isabel & Leo & the children have gone to Florida for the winter. My aunt & uncle of Baltimore are with them. Uncle Billy works for John Charles Thomas, the Metropolitan Opera singer. You’ve probably heard him over the radio. He, Uncle Billy, is a carpenter and has worked for Thomas and his in-laws for a number of years. Incidentally, Thomas is a native of Baltimore. When Isabel came back from her trip she was telling me she had a surprise. That Uncle Billy had been working for Thomas, and he being her favorite male singer, she got quite a kick out of it. Uncle Billy told her that Thomas was thinking of building a house-boat in Florida this winter and that he, Uncle Billy, was to go there. It seems that this has all materialized & that’s why I’m in Ravenna. I’ve been working two days a week since being here. It’s not much but I keep out of mischief. 

I’ve been in Akron two or three times. Just to go to a show. But that was all. I saw Mary Louise every time I was there. I would have called you but I tho’t it wasn’t quite the right thing to do when I hadn’t heard from you. I inquired about you of Mary Louise. She said she hadn’t seen you but that she had seen Agnes & Helen at different times. She was over here about two weeks ago & said you had been in the store that Sat. afternoon. 

Anna Belle was over to see Marie last Sat. I had been working Fri. & Sat. and didn’t find out she was sick until last Fri. morning. Else I would have gone too. Anna Belle said she was feeling somewhat better, but I intend to get over to see her within the week. I’m glad they will be closer to town. They tell me they lived quite a distance out. It will seem strange to walk down Glendora Ave. once more.

I’m going to do as you say & try to make each other appreciate life & what God has in store for us. I’ve tho’t about you & dreamed about you all summer & fall & still I see so little of you but I always like to see the sunshine after the storm. So a very Merry Christmas to you and your family and the best of wishes for a New Year.

Eddie

Given the economic times, Eddie was not the only person to fall prey to “No schedule to keep to, no systematic arrangement to look forward to, no steady income.” The three-year slump he mentions is likely a reference to the downturn that began with the 1929 stock market crash. Although he expresses some measure of optimism with his “hunch that everything’s going to be alright,” the years of futility have begun to take their toll on Eddie’s confidence. 

The Conte di Savoia was an ocean liner commissioned by Italia Flotte Riunite. The company brought their new ship into service in the fall of 1932. A British Pathé newsreel from 1932 shows the stabilizers at work on the ship’s maiden voyage.

*** 

Margaret to Mr. Edward Beeman from Akron, OH – Monday, 1/02/33

B.F. Goodrich Co.

Monday JAN. 2, 1933

Dear Eddie;

Here it is Monday, January 2, 1933. I’m at work but it seems they haven’t got going for I’m sitting here waiting for something to do. 

So with pencil in hand (if you’ll excuse it please) I’ll write till the boss comes with work. 

Had bad news to start the New Year with another 10% cut in salary. Soon it won’t even be a salary. Just ten cents a day. I shouldn’t complain maybe but it seems a crime to have to work 10 and 12 hours a day for nothing. Thursday I worked for 12 hrs. Friday it was work for 12:45 to 8:00 with no supper or no rest. The other comptometer operator left so it was up to me to do enough work to keep the others busy. Then Sat brought another 10 hrs. of work. You know how icy it was Sat. On the way home I either went down to meet the sidewalk or the sidewalk came to meet me. However I managed to get home finding myself with bruised leg, knee, hip and shoulder—right side. 

About 7:00 o’clock I felt a headache coming on. I had a fever and was afraid it was the flu. But I doped myself and went to bed. In bed I spent New Year’s eve, although it was just another Saturday night for me. I was too sick to care if it was New Year’s or Fourth of July. I feel better to-day and think I chased the flu away. 

Did you have a nice New Year’s eve and day? 

Everyone at home celebrated. Helen & Francis left Sat. nite, didn’t come home till 5:00 P.M. Sunday. Mary Mekeal is just getting over the flu, so she and Leo spent the evening at her house. Agnes & Mac entertained friends at home. 

We’ll have to celebrate on January 12th. Anyway we’ll be together and that’s a celebration all of its own. 

I see the Boss in her office—so bye till I have time to finish this letter. 

Wed. 9:10

Work again—and no work so I have a chance to add a little more to this letter. I wanted to finish it Monday nite but worked till 8 o’clock. Went home and straight to bed. Tuesday I worked till 7 o’clock going without supper. All I’ve been doing the last week is work and sleep.

Every night before I go to sleep I talk to you. I wonder if you hear me. You are so nice, you kiss me and tell me to rest. That’s just what seems to happen. Then I realize I’m only dreaming and go to sleep with a smile knowing that it’s only a few more days till I’ll see you. 

Eddie, on the 12th come early—I mean, have supper with us. I’m going to call Jake and ask him to come and bring Helen, his girl-friend. 

I haven’t seen or talked to Mary Louise since Xmas Monday—due to this dammmmm work. Also haven’t heard how Marie is. I bet she thinks I’m a fine one, promised to visit her often and haven’t seen her since Christmas. Business before pleasure, now.

The Christmas tree came down yesterday—a shame too, because it was still very beautiful. I think it’s the nicest tree we ever had. I haven’t had time to look for a blue dress yet, but I hope to have it before the 12th. I really should bank the money I’ve been saving but what the heck it would go someplace else and I’d be out a dress. How have you been since I last seen you? And Anna Belle and Jimmie, tell them I said “Hello.” I think, my dear, I’ll end this letter now and I send it—if I have anymore time at work I’ll start another. 

Write soon. I’m anxious to hear from you. The biggest pleasure I can have these days is to go home and find a letter from you. 

With Love,

I’m yours

Margaret

Excuse all errors, I’m watching the boss’ office and writing at same time.

Margaret’s workplace experience illustrates the harshness of the Depression. With the other comptometer operator leaving, she is left to pick up the slack, work faster over longer hours to keep the rest of the employees occupied with their own tasks. An honest observer would conclude that she had become somewhat indispensable to B.F. Goodrich at the start of 1933. Instead she receives a 10% pay cut four months after absorbing a 12.5% reduction. Thursday, Jan. 12 can’t come soon enough for her.

***

Eddie to Miss Margaret Willmott from Ravenna, OH – Tuesday, 1/03/33 

Dear Margaret:—

You should have received this letter this morning but again I’ve slipped up. We had a pretty busy weekend. I was going to write you yesterday but were invited out to dinner and we didn’t get up until ten o’clock. So by the time I was ready it was time to leave. Thanks for the Greetings and note. I suppose you’re pretty tired after all your work. Companies such as yours ought to be publicly exposed. In short I think they’re a bunch of petty swindlers. Maybe that sounds like a radical or narrow-minded statement but it seems they rush the work the first half of the month and when the last half comes along they give you a short vacation (without pay) to rest up from the overtime you have put in (without pay). I better stop writing like this or you’ll think I’m old man gloom gone sour on the world. 

Now for a subject real pleasurable. You. I’m counting the days until I see you again. And I’ll pray every night that your dance will be a success. Did I tell you how glad I was to see you last week? Everything seemed so calm and peaceful. Not that I don’t feel that way here, but it’s a different kind of peace. You know when your people are all separated and you don’t see them  often you get kind of lonesome and wish you were all near each other. I know I should have gotten over this long ago but seeing you all together made me think of how happy we used to be at home. I’m getting the “jitters” again. 

Do you ever listen to Red Nichols’ Orchestra over WTAM. They’ve got the meanest theme song of any I’ve heard so far. I don’t think I’ll listen to the radio tonight. I’m going to the library instead. And so my dear, my darling, my love, my etc, my etc. (Golly when a guy gets like that. Are you there?) I’ll mail this note to you so that the 7 P.M. collection will get it to you tomorrow. So until I hear from you or see you again, Good-Evening my Margaret.

Eddie

Alongside “calm” and “peaceful”, dangerous words for Eddie appear in this letter: “separated,” “lonesome,” and “used to be.” Such flirtations with nostalgia have led to gloominess, or “the jitters,” as Eddie names them here. Aunt Mary Ann recalled, “I remember hearing that word around the house. ‘The jitters,’ Mom would say whenever he got that way.” Eddie is already using the word to describe his bouts of depression.

***

Margaret to Mr. Edward Beeman from Akron, OH – Wed. night, 1/4/33

Dear Eddie,

This is rushing letters, one this morning and one tonight—but oh I was so happy to find your letter waiting for me. Worked till 7 o’clock tonight. Don’t go crazy when you read all of the time I‘ve worked. I’m so nearly crazy now that it would not do for both of us to be that way or aren’t we anyway crazy about each other. I’m listening to Bing Crosby. I like him, do you? In fifteen minutes Guy Lombardo will be on. Will you be listening? I’ve heard Red Nichols but don’t recall his theme song. Mary Louise was telling me how nice it was. 

I know how you feel about your family. We’re as happy here. I hate to think of the time when we’ll be separate. I pray, God keeps my dear Mother and Father with us for years & years. 

I wonder if this letter will cross, like the our others. Agnes has her sewing club here tonight and such a business. You know her husband, did you here that too—I don’t believe it? etc. So far, far into the night.

But I’m taking myself to bed soon and I won’t here anymore gossip. 

Darling I’m so very tired to-night so except accept this short note—I’ll write you a long, long letter when I’m not tired. But I’ll see you before then. For I have to work every night till the fifteen. I think I get off early the night of the dance. 

It’s ten o’clock—time for me to turn out the lights and go to sleep. I’ll tell you all that’s in my heart before though, but it won’t be on paper. I told you in my letter this morning—remember. 

Good night my very own Eddie—

Margaret

***

Eddie to Miss Margaret Willmott from Ravenna, OH – Monday, 1/09/33

Dear Margaret:

Have you been calling me a lot of nice names for not having answered before this? Well I’ll try to make up for it now. I was so glad to get your nice long letter Thur. morn. & gladder on Fri. morning. If I were to begin again & tell you what I think of that company you work for, you would probably give me the air. Anyhow I think their heads are a pack of those small animals we associate with the summer night country air & whom children sometimes mistake as pretty kitties.

Golly you got an awful spill didn’t you. Honest honey I felt sorry for you. I know how miserable you must have felt, having to put in all those long hours, feel a cold coming on & getting a fall to climax it all. You’ll probably remember the coming of 1933 for a long while.

Yes I had a real nice time. Anna Belle & Jimmie had some of their friends over for New Years & we were away for dinner the following Monday. But I was wishing I was with you. Some day you & I will celebrate our New Years.

I think I’m beginning to learn mental-telepathy. How come sezu? Well you remember in your note Wed. morn. about you talking to me every night before you go to sleep. I’ve heard you many a time & I’ve kissed you to sleep every night. Then I would go to sleep & dream of you. Just last week I finished a book, in it was a side-note which said, “You are what you dream.” You’ve got me dreaming of you and thinking of you thru the day. You see, what is indelibly fixed in your mind thru your waking hours constitutes your dream. And you are mostly my dream. The night is beautiful with its peace and its thousand and one thoughts, but when morning comes it’s like sticking a pen in a balloon. 

About seeing you Thurs. evening. Thanx for the invitation to supper, but I don’t think I can get over much before 8 o’clock. Anyhow I’ll come to your house but if I’m late I’ll see you at the dance. I suppose you’ll have to be there ahead of time since you are promoting this. 

Anna Belle, Jimmie & I were over to see Marie last evening. She looks pretty good but said she doesn’t feel as well as the last time I saw her. I pray every night that she will get her strength back & I also pray for the success of your dance. So until then Ba—beecue. This is the Beeman lad signing off for the 7 P.M. collection.

With love

Eddie

Eddie admits he is slacking and peppers the letter with humor to make up for it, such as the conflation of “says you” into “sezu” and his noxious description of the execs at B.F. Goodrich, who are now skunks in his estimation. 

He includes a couple of bygone expressions in this letter. The Free Dictionary defines “give me the air” as “to spurn, jilt, or reject someone, especially a lover or romantic interest.” As for “Ba—beecue,” I have no idea. 

***

Eddie to Miss Margaret Willmott from Ravenna, OH – Friday, 1/20/33

Dear Margaret:

Here’s my third letter of the week. Don’t know any news, so I’ll just ramble along. I was up to the Library last evening & I found a dandy book. One of the best I have read so far. Some day you must read some of them. I was going to the Library the night that I wrote your last letter but I put it off until last night as the books I already had weren’t due back until the nineteenth.

Maybe you wouldn’t enjoy these kinds of books. But I have a better outlook on life since reading them. You might think me radical or going goofy, but honestly I’ve felt a lot better since reading them. Well so much for that.

How are you these days and how are the rubber barons treating you? Do they give you lots of nice little over-time work to make you think they are the best little old company a person ever worked for? You know they all say nowadays they are getting their share of the business & they can’t take care of it in the regular eight hour day.

Did you hear the Baron last evening? Ask Leo for me, if he heard him a couple of months ago. Or was it that long. Have you seen Mary Louise or Marie lately? And by the way do you realize that winter is more than half over and that in two months it will be spring and we’ve only had one good snowfall (Thank God) and I’m getting to be an old man and a bore?

Too many ands in that last paragraph. I’ll have to watch my composition more closely. Was that last sentence correct?

Well, my darling, you’re probably tired of reading this Arabic and such, but what I would like to write to you I can’t. That’s only for your ears. And so my sweetheart (don’t you like all those pretty names) I’m hoping you’ll get this note tomorrow.

With all my love

Eddie

Eddie cannot resist getting his hackles up once again against B.F. Goodrich, which he denigrates with the pun “rubber barons.” Nineteenth-century captains of industry made millions for themselves by exploiting nearly everyone else. The popular title given to them in their day was “robber barons.”

Everyone listened to The Baron on the radio. Jack Pearl, a Broadway and vaudeville showman from the 1920’s became one of America’s earliest radio stars. The show that Eddie, Margaret and Leo heard, the Lucky Strike Hour (sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes), featured Jack Pearl’s character based on “The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen.” Jack Pearl did the comedy bits while his partner, Charlie Hall, played the straight man. Whenever the Baron’s tales became too wild to believe Charlie would question whether or not they really happened. The Baron responded, “Vas you dere, Sharlie?” The catch-phrase became a household question across the nation. 

***

Eddie to Miss Margaret Willmott from Ravenna, OH – Monday, 2/13/33

Dear Margaret:

I intended answering your letters Fri. but it seems I just couldn’t get to it. I’m sorry to hear your finger has gone back on you again. Maybe you took the bandage off too soon. Is it feeling any better now?

I’m so sorry to hear you were so restless after not having heard from me for a while. I know that you know I have plenty of time on my hands & that the least I could do is to answer your letters within a reasonable time after I receive yours. But as I told you in my last letter, I never have any news to tell you & it seems I have to depend on you for news & then consult your last letter & add a few comments. It would be different if I were in Akron or Yo. I would have friends there. Would be able to carry on conversation with them & not feel so dull. As it is, all the news I get is out of the newspapers & at times I can’t stand them. I haven’t made many friends here because I don’t feel like going out. They have church dances here every two weeks. Several times I have tho’t of going to them but when you can only work one day a week you don’t feel that you can afford to go to those places. If anybody told me three years ago that I would find myself in such a condition, I would have laughed at them, because I would have had more faith in my ability. I still have, but I can’t find any place where it is workable. That is, for material gain.

It doesn’t seem fair to you to write such letters with all this gloom, when things might have been better when I might have been more cheerful. (I mean to say cheerful.) But it is a great thing to say to another human soul, that in this life we have to live, your joys shall be mine and your sorrows shall be my sorrows. You are a short distance away, yet you are near. You are never so far away but that I can hear your voice in the night, and tho we are divided by a short stretch of land, we shall walk side by side & kneel together in prayer. Your letters shall make me strong & glad. You see, I have not been too greatly reserved. I think this letter shows it, so I am saying to you, “Here am I, an undisguised human being. Some people may know me in one mood, but you know me in a few more.” Sometimes I feel that I have lost all interest in life. When I think of day after day going by, time past, time wasted, time lost, & no prospects of a bright future time, I feel like what’s the use. To you or anyone else I might seem like a failure signing my own death certificate, but I’d like to get hold of the guy that said, “Progress is fascinating.” 

Here I’ve been rambling off like some half-baked cuckoo. I can’t even write plain. I don’t blame you if you tear this up before you finish reading it. I’ve got the ‘jitters.’ Now you can see why I’ve been so lax in answering your letters. 

You were writing about Mary Louise. Isn’t she in the Art Dep’t any more? And how is Leo’s ear? Did you know that Wagner fellow that drowned? The last time I saw him was when he passed us on the road when we were going to Canal Fulton last summer. Do you remember? Well Margaret I’m going to end this letter before long & you ought to be glad of that. In the meantime enjoy yourself & if this guy doesn’t answer your letters promptly tell him to take a jump in the lake. Maybe that’s what he needs. And in the next letter I will try to be as I said before, cheerful. So I’ll get this in the seven o’clock collection and don’t use that finger unnecessarily, until it is well healed. 

Until I hear from you, this is your country correspondent,

The old man of the mountain

Eddie

After two more missives from Margaret, we have no more letters over the next 24 months. We know that, at some point, Eddie moved to Akron. The next letter is from Eddie to Mrs. E. J. Beeman with a postmark of March 7, 1935. 

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