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 the print edition of The Devil Strip in five chapters between August and December 2020. Click here for Chapter I.
Through her letters, I came to know Margaret as a young woman who has fallen in love profoundly with a young man. While she waits for him to come around, she goes out with friends, she organizes alumni dances, she works long hours at B.F. Goodrich, and she copes with being the fifth of seven children in a small house. Single sentences in her letters illustrate vignettes from her daily life. She had an easy sense of humor and was not shy about laughing at herself. She knew she couldn’t carry a tune but joined in the singing at parties despite her flat voice. She was caring and honest but with enough guile to write letters to Eddie while at work and give the appearance she was doing the business of B.F. Goodrich.
The date associated with each letter comes from the heading at the top of the first page (Eddie and Margaret were diligent about dating their correspondence) while the postmark on the envelope provides the city. Often, Margaret would begin a letter on Sunday and write it over the next couple of days. She refers several times to finishing a letter before the postman arrives, be it in the morning or evening. The post office conducted its business somewhat differently in the early 1930s: the postman called three times a day to collect letters and usually delivered them the next day; zip codes are still three decades away; and a stamp cost but two cents.
Margaret to Mr. Edward Beeman from Akron, OH 3/21/32
So many times in the past two weeks I have written to you. But I lacked the courage to send them you the letters. You will understand when you read them.
We had a most successful Mission at St. Mary’s that ended last night. Each evening we said five Our Fathers and Hail Marys for the ones in the parish who were not making the Mission. The priest said their souls were dead and while we prayed the Church bell tolled. I’ll never forget it. Do you remember the Mission you made two years ago? When you took the Willmott religion to be blessed. The penny you find with this letter pertains to that Mission. Will explain later if you don’t why I send it to you.
Eddie, Agnes is having a party Tues. April 5th for her friends. Would you come and spend a few days with us then. I might as well tell you the truth now which is—I have never giving up hope and faith of having your friendship again. For two years I have longed for you and to make my story short (till we can have a long talk) I’ll always be waiting for you. Believe me Eddie, and come for a few days. Seeing you two weeks ago for an hour thrilled me for days. I was so happy. So please! give me a chance to talk with you. Is this your wish to? Would you like talk things over as we did once before.
A girl friend of mine boy friend works in Salem. She has a car so gets him and takes him back to Salem each week-end. I always ride back with them so she doesn’t have to drive home alone. If (you came) you can come Sunday April 3rd Clara said she would drive over to Youngstown from Salem and bring you back with us. That will be the Sunday after Easter. Let me know as soon as possible and I will write you better arrangement. I’ll be waiting for you answer. “Happy Easter” to you.
No explanation is available for Eddie’s visit to Akron the first week of March or why the visit lasted only an hour. But whatever the reason, that visit changed everything.
E.J.B to Miss Margaret Willmott from Youngstown, OH – Tuesday, 3/29/32
Dear Margaret: —
I have been going to answer your letter for a week now, so here goes with a few hyphens and commas so ‘elp me. Received it last Wednesday and as you know how busy it is during Holy Week, Tenebrae and Easter Music to get ready, I didn’t have many nights to myself. I was very glad to hear from you and would like to, often. I wish you had sent the letters that you said you had so many times started to write. I was tearing my hair waiting for some news from Akron.
I remember well the Mission that I made in Akron two years ago and sort of long to be there again I get lonesome for that old crowd pretty much. But no fooling, maybe I’m just rattle-brained but I cannot recall the significance of the penny. Do you remember the date on it? When I picked up the mail the penny must have dropped out and I had my hand in my pocket at the time. I heard it drop, thinking that when I pulled my hand out of my pocket it slipped out and picked it up. I did not discover until I read the letter that there was a penny in it, and I had a half dollar and a penny in my pocket, so that’s why I ask you if you remember the date on it.
Margaret I want to thank you for your kind invitation and truthfully I wish I could be there but I don’t think that I will be able to make it. My cousin’s husband and I are driving to North Carolina at two o’clock tomorrow morning. Just what part I do not know. He is interested in some Nursery Stock company and we are taking two of his trucks. We expect to be back early Monday morning and if I am not able to make it I hope you will not feel offended.
I would like to write lots more in this letter, better still would rather be talking to you, but Uncle Sam will see that you get this. Save those letters for me for I am going to do my best to get over one of these days and promise that you will write often if it doesn’t take up too much of your time. I am going to try to get over Tuesday but don’t wait till then to answer. (I should write like that after I have waited a week to answer your’s). Hope to see you soon and tell the folks I said “Hello”.
Eddie is not fudging when he writes that he didn’t have many nights to himself to answer her letter. The office of Tenebrae consists of the night-long services observed over the three days leading up to Easter Sunday: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The nighttime service, known as matins, is divided into three nocturns and concludes at dawn with the service known as lauds. As a member of the choir, Eddie would have attended and sung at each nocturn, in addition to Easter Sunday Mass.
Margaret to Edward J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Friday, 4/01/32
Your letter yesterday was a great comfort, for we had to part with the dearest darling in our life “Our Bob.” Mother has been sick, there was no one to care for him so we had to take him back to his Mother. Aunt Anna (Bob’s Mother) took sick in October that’s when we took Bob. We all loved him so much and feel the loss greatly. Mary Louise told me of your sister-in-law misfortune. I’m sorry for her and hope she gains her health back soon.
The date on the penny means nothing for my reason of sending it. I don’t even know what the date was. But here’s the story. You gave us all a Sacred Heart pin from the Mission. Remember? Someone said I should give you a coin for it because of the point of the pin. I said it was a silly superstition and if the Sacred Heart wanted us to loss our friendship because of a pin that it was happening for a good reason. And it was a good cause for I found myself and it made a different person out of me. So now I sent you the coin and I pray to the Sacred Heart to renew our friendship for we did have a good time.
Leo been having trouble with his car. K of C had a formal dance last Monday. Leo’s car went on the bum then and he and Mary didn’t get to the dance till 10:30. They had a swell time. Both of them were dressed in big style. Leo talked to Jake to-night. Leo and Jake went to Cleveland’s K of C one night and were sick for a week after—too much [sketch of a full mug of beer]. They’re both O.K. now.
We have a new radio and is it swell. I had St. Patrick’s Holy Hour (in Youngstown) last Thursday. We could only get Akron and Cleveland on our old set.
Between lines of this letter I’m drinking beer. Wait till you drink some of Mother’s beer.
She’s the best scout always keeps a good supply.
I went to Martha’s Easter Sunday to hear Father John. He had the high Mass. I only missed two Tuesdays during Lent. His sermons were wonderful.
I hope you will be able to come Tuesday and have a good visit in Akron.
The hour is late, my eyes are heavy and we were told to-day that we were to work Saturday and Sunday. So I’ll send this episode and wait to see or hear from you.
P.S. Call when you come and someone will be glad to meet you.
Prohibition remained the law of the land until December 1933 (more than a year and a half after this letter). Interesting to discover that my great-grandmother brewed beer at home. That explains the bit in one of Margaret’s later letters about how the “new beer” put her out so quickly. The alcohol by volume may have been a bit high on that batch.
We’ve omitted a few letters here, but to recap: Margaret meets Eddie in March 1930. They become fast friends and she soon believes she is starting to fall in love with him. They spend a glorious few months together but by autumn he disappears. She keeps faith that he will come back to her someday. Nine months later, she believes her faith has paid off. Eddie makes a brief appearance in her life only to disappear again, this time for 10 months. She spends another Christmas without so much as a card from him. Then Eddie comes back. Margaret experiences what may have been her first kiss and professes her undying love to him. He comes reservedly close to doing the same but disappears again. Although his absence this third time lasts less than three months, a swift kick in the seat of his pants would not be out of order.
They reconnect, for the final time, in March 1932. (We have omitted some letters from this section for brevity.)
Margaret to Edward J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Sunday, 7/17/32
Dearest Boy Friend;
Hello! Hello! Hello!
I have much to say and such a small vocabulary to put my words into meaning I shall follow your style and forget about letter writing form. I was unconscious of my work all day Thursday over you darling! I saw a boy Wed. eve. that I knew in May of 1930. Remember your gray suit and how much I liked to see you wear it. Well you looked the same Wed. You were handsome. I’m not flattering you. I mean it and if I had not been in the present of other people. Ummmm! I wonder. Golly, Gosh, Eddie, why do we have to write such things on paper when we could understand each other better if you were here or I was there and we were alone. (Do you want a long talk to-gether as much as I do?) That’s a problem which must be a sacrifice for our own good. You class your handwriting Arabic. Mine must be Chinese, Greek and Hebrew.
I wrote this much of my letter this afternoon. Now it’s 8 ‘O’Clock. Just finished listening to Rubinoff. I washed my hair this afternoon. About an hour ago I dressed up for you. I have a blue dress with pink accessories. Now you’re here so I’ll finish my talk. Dreams— — — —. The truth is that I’m alone and very lonesome. Mac came, Agnes left with him. Leo left for Mekeal. Helen and Francis went to a show. I’m not as lonesome as I have been many Sundays past. For I know that this letter won’t go up in smoke like so many letters I’ve written you in the past two years. You see, Eddie when I get blue and lonesome for you I’d set down and write a very pathetic letter to you then put a match to it. The letters I told you about are a few I saved. You may read them but I must be with you to burn them. I find it very hard to answer your questions in so many words. They are a story all by themselves. You have proven my faith in you by your wonderful letter also restored the hope for our true friendship. At one time Mekeal and Leo were separated by a quarrel. I visited Mekeal many times we discussed our affairs to each other over and over. Once Mekeal said, “I wish I had as much faith in Leo as you have in Eddie.” You see I never stopped liking you. I knew someday our friendship would be renewed. Ever since March 15, 1930 there has only been one person that is classed as the one and only. Do you recall the piece of music I bought you once ending, “I belong to you till life is through.” There is only one thing that shall stop me now making that line of words come true. God in Heaven will sent us word. You are not conceited by thinking I care for you. I would give you absolute proof if you were here now. They are people I shall like to meet as life goes on but must I meet them only. I have never introduced you to anyone that didn’t like you. Couldn’t we meet people and make friends to-gether? Am I worthy of someone of such fine character? I’m not as high as the stool you placed me upon. Here is a part of a prayer I say every-day, “May no one be less good for having come within my influence. No one less pure, less true, less kind, less noble for having been a fellow-traveler in our journey toward Eternal Life.”
Those words express my feelings towards you. I haven’t had more than two or three dates in the past year and a half with one exception which I shall tell you about. I just can’t express myself clearly on paper. Gee! I just had a glass of beer and ohhhh… my eyes. It’s new beer but it was cold and I was thirsty.
The beer made me so sleepy. I couldn’t write any more. Stopped to see Mary-Louise Saturday. She’s fine and was glad to hear from you. Mrs. Easke’s daughter was dead three years ago yesterday (July 17). Her name was Margaret. I guess that’s why they like me so much. Please, Eddie may I cut my letter short. I’m not awake yet and I will soon have to get ready for work. I don’t know if I’ll get down to see you this week. Am working hard to get a ride to Youngstown. It’s time for me to dash and please excuse this terrible bit of writing this morning.
Oceans of Love from one
who is proud to be the Girl Friend
Margaret understands better than Eddie that the esteem they hold for one another are two sides of the same coin. Just as he believes he does not deserve the faith and love she has placed in him, Margaret knows she is “not as high as the stool you placed me upon.”
Then there is the beautiful prayer: “May no one be less good for having come within my influence. No one less pure, less true, less kind, less noble for having been a fellow-traveler in our journey toward Eternal Life.” Both Eddie and Margaret write many fine and loving words in these letters. These are, by far, the finest.
E.J.B to Miss Margaret Willmott from Youngstown, OH – Tues Morning, 8/09/32
I just left you an hour ago
So as to keep the game even here goes. I’m not going to try to answer your letter but I forgot to ask you. Was your pocket-book returned to you? I was so glad to see Mary & Leo. It seemed so pleasant once more. Did you enjoy what you saw of Mill Creek? Wait until you three can come down again, I’ll show you most of it if not all. I missed Smitty tonight. We usually see each other most every night but I guess he had something else on his list for this evening. Right now I can see you burning up the road & you’ll probably be home in an hour. Got a bad headache. Smoked too many cigarettes and I’m writing dizzily. Anyhow I’ll see you Sat. evening, won’t I. So will you please pardon me if I close with such a short note. Being naturally dizzy and with the late hour I am now groggy so Good-night.
Margaret to Edward J. Beeman from Akron, OH – Monday 6:30 P.M. – 8/29/32
[Note scribbled in the upper left corner]
How’s things? Hope we’ll see you soon again.
I have about fifteen minutes to write this bit. Did you have a nice visit in Cleveland yesterday? Mary, Ruth (Dutch’s wife) and I went to Keith’s, then out to Ruth’s for supper. We had a keen time. Could hardly get up to go to work this morning. Was at work ten minutes when I was told there was no work and I should go home till they called me. I’m sure of going in next Monday at the latest. I haven’t talked to Clara so I don’t know if I’ll see you. But here hoping—.
I finished a wonderful book. It worked on my inner self. I want so much to talk to someone about it—to you. I’m going to start the sequel to-nite. Leo starting working to-day after his long vacation. This wee letter is to prove that I’m thinking of you. I would write every day if I had the time but Mother has all the work planned. I’m going to try to get out to see Marie this week. I’ll feel so good after a visit at her house. I always see you there. Everything I was so beautiful then. I’m so sorry we were rushed Sunday morning—I thought of something you said to me Sat. eve. Really you have too much power over me. (Explained later). Sorry dear but I want you to get this in the morning. I waiting for a letter—Margaret
It is easy to lose sight of the historical backdrop to this love story. During the years that will become known as the Great Depression, Margaret does not think it unusual to show up to work only to discover there is no work to do that day, and that she might not have any work, and thus no pay, for the whole of the week. She has already noted that Clara lost her job and had to find a new one, and that Helen was “caught in the retrenching.” Perhaps her reference to Leo’s “long vacation” is a euphemism for an extended lay-off that he has had to endure.
Through Margaret’s letters, we know that all the children of the family still live at home. We also know that Margaret and Leo would prefer to be on their own. They are adults, after all. But if on any given Monday morning Margaret discovers she will not have a paycheck at the end of the week, striking out on her own is just not possible.
E.J.B to Miss Margaret Willmott from Youngstown, OH – Labor Day 10:30 P.M. – 9/05/32
Dear Mrs. Willmott’s Daughter,
Do you notice the above hour? Well I’ll probably be until 3 A.M. if I get in all that I want to write. I owe you two letters so your past two have been taken from the file & lay here as reference. It seems I fail you in a lot of things such as the Sun. I was to come to Akron. Remember when you baked the Devil’s Food Cake. I really tried to get there but didn’t promise because I wasn’t sure that I could get to go. Golly was I busy that following week. You know Myron & Cecile, Isabelle & Leo went on their vacation and I was Lord of the Preserve for a week, doing some work for Myron & Leo. This past week was the very opposite and now I’m restless.
In your second last letter you said, “There’s only one thing I can say—but not now, one reason I haven’t time. And numbskull me, I forgot to ask you when I saw you in Cleve. that nite. I’m asking for it now. I was glad to see you then & am getting impatient to see you again. When I left Leo & Dutch in Cleve. I called up Tom & he picked me up at the Public Sq. I had a great visit, it was the first I had seen Tom in almost a year. I hadn’t seen his mother for almost two years & it was good to see them all again. His aunt & uncle & cousins from Sharon, Pa. were there also some relations from Cleve. & Lorain & Mrs. Foristell (Tom’s mother) paid me a very gracious compliment in saying that I completed a very happy round-up. You know they used to live here in Yo. & Tom & I have been almost life-long friends. We went on a picnic to Cleve’s Metropolitan Park & a two hour drive through Hunting and Chagrin Valleys & Gates Mills. The scenery through there is beautiful & Tom & I were in our realm as we used to do quite a bit of walking through Mill Creek and the towns that bound Yo. Tom took me to the depot & I tho’t I was going to spend the night in Cleve. We got into the B&O Terminal by mistake which delayed us and when we got to the Erie the train was moving towards Yo. The conductor had the door closed and I pounded the door. Luckily he was right inside, so I made it on a hop. I had the keys to Myron’s store and car in my pocket for in my hurry to get to Cleve. I forgot to leave them at home. They arrived home at 8 P.M. and I didn’t get in until 11:30 P.M. But with all my hurry everything turned out fine, a happy climax to a second happy week-end this year. I’ve just finished a pipe full of Sir Walter Raleigh preparatory to the second round. Now your last letter. So you finished a wonderful book did you? I suppose that by this time you have about finished the sequel. And you want to talk to me about it. Won’t you write & tell me all about it. I may not see you for awhile again and maybe by that time you will have forgotten about it. I’m just beginning to get caught up on my reading or should I say studying. Most of the books I have been reading are non-fiction. I enjoy them a whole lot & I figure it is time well spent because I am learning a lot of things that I never even tho’t about.
You write, “I thought of something you said to me Sat. eve. (Explain later)” Won’t you tell me what it was? I talked so much I don’t even remember. Also, “Really you have too much power over me.” I must be some sort of devil, mystic, or what-have-you.
Well now that I’ve consulted your letters, what’s new? Are you enjoying yourself these days. I awoke about 3 A.M. this morning & tho’t I was in Akron. I went to the Warner this afternoon & walked home. I got home about 8 P.M. & the neighborhood was in darkness excepting a few houses. I was lonesome & blue & didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t want to go any place. Just roam. So I roamed to a comfortable chair & a book. Smitty was playing in Warren this evening & he wanted me to go along & I probably would be dancing my head off now but I’m glad I didn’t go. I would rather be alone. Still better in Akron. I would get to thinking of the last two or three years in Akron then wishing I was there. Golly there are such pleasant memories. But why am I so undertakerish when everything will soon be alright. I guess I’m just impatient. Well m’love are you spending your vacation in Yo.? If so, when? How is your Dad feeling now? I hope he will soon be skipping around. If you see Mary Louise tell her I said “Hello”. It is now 12 o’clock so I’ll finish this note & begin to read Part II in Chapter Six & so to you a pleasant Good-Night.
This is my favorite of Eddie’s letters. It is the first week of September and Eddie is writing about “a second happy week-end this year.” I might hope that more than a mere two of the first 36 weekends of 1932 would have been happy for him. But he wants more than anything to live in Akron, where Margaret and other friends are only a bus ride away.