Home


Letters to Momma

Dear readers: My grandmother, Margaret Givens Steed, passed away three weeks ago. In cleaning out her attic, I came across some things I did not expect to find. There was a Winchester rifle, two saddles, eleven pair of spurs, and I also found a cardboard box filled with letters and postcards. These were letters she herself had written to her mother, my great grandmother Alice Givens, back in the nineteen thirties and forties. The stories she tells in her letters are just too good so I am going to put them into this website over the next few weeks, as I have time to read them, because her handwriting is pretty hard to read, and most of these were written in pencil so sometimes it is hard to make out. I will transcribe the letters word-for-word, so that anybody who is interested can enjoy them along with me.

PS: Many of the letters contain her sketches, and a few photographs, which I will scan and include as best I can, and when there is a post-card I will scan the image too. When I can’t tell what a word is, I’ll make my best guess but my wife the English teacher says I have to put my guesses in brackets. She also says that the box was labeled “Letters to Momma," and so that is what I have to name this website.

Also, many of the stamps are quite collectible and I will be listing them for sale online for you stamp collectors out there.

I hope you enjoy these letters. I guess I really never quite knew my grandmother until now.

Sincerely James Steed

 

 

Feb 22, 1933

Dear Momma, I bought a lamp today. I know you’ll think I was crazy, but it is the most beautiful lamp you can imagine. It has a picture made into the lampshade, of a woman or cowgirl on a horse rearing up, and she is twirling a lariat in the air over her head, and it glows the most beautiful colors when you turn it on. I may not ever turn it off.

Momma, you know how we lived on a farm before we moved into town, when I was little? I don’t remember anything about living on the farm, but I think I must remember it down deep, because of something I have just noticed. When I wait tables at the café, and every night after we close at midnight, and I clean the floors and [something] the dishes and lock up and I’m walking home around one thirty, and I just realized the other night that while I walk home, I’m always looking up. I just noticed it. I’m always looking up at the sky, but I can’t see any stars for the streetlights. I finally get back to my room and go to bed, but even laying there in bed I’ll find myself looking out the window, and I’m not looking down at the street, I’m looking up where the stars are, and I still can’t see hardly any, and then it’s morning and then I go to a matinee, and then I go to work again. But don’t you think the way I’m always looking up is because of when we lived on the farm, and I’m still looking up trying to see the stars, even now? That’s what I think, anyway.

Here’s what I think Momma. I think the whole universe and the solar system is all just stuff, and all this stuff may be important, but we are the brains of the whole universe and we are doing all of the thinking that there is, so we need to think hard. And if we don’t figure out who we are, nobody ever will so that has to be what we think about most. If we don’t figure ourselves out, then when we’re gone, it’s like we were never [something]. So if you can completely be yourself, that’s a real accomplishment for the whole universe. Anyway that’s what I think about it.

The movie I went to today before [something] to the café, it was a Hoppy, what they call them, a movie where the hero is Hopalong Cassidy, in “The Call of the Prairie” The character Linda in the movie is a strong young woman living out in the west with cowboys and criminals and horses and buggies and I just wish I could be like that.

I get paid on Friday and there are some Roy Rogers movies all Sat afternoon at the Rialto and I’ll write and tell you all of the [something] that happens.

Bye Momma love you

Margaret

 

Feb 27, 1933

Dear Momma. I found a piece of rope yesterday. I took it home and tied it like a lariat. I have this book from the library about ranching. I tried to lasso my new lamp, and knocked it over. I tried to lasso my bedpost, but that is too easy, so I went back to lassoing my new lamp, but carefully so I didn’t break it. Well Momma I know it’s crazy, but you never can tell when a skill like that might come in handy. So I made a promise to myself to throw a lasso one hundred times every day before I go off to work or to the movies. I only did twenty times yesterday and my arm is sore already.

There is a Tim Holt picture at the theater right down the street from the café. I love the scenes of the wide open prairie and the big deep forests, and the girls who live out in the west are independent and courageous.

 

 

March 2, 1933

Dear Momma, I’m tired of waiting tables. I’m tired of waiting. I don’t want to wait my whole life. Yesterday there weren’t any good movies I wanted to see so I went downtown to this museum and looked at the paintings. There were hundreds of them, paintings of rich people and poor people, a lot of them from France. I looked hard for a long time at one painting of a rich lady in France. Well, there isn’t a thing in the world I can do to make myself up like that. If I had some rich husband he could paint me all up with his money, but all the frills on earth wouldn’t change me into that [something] woman. I feel like I want to just be who I really am. But this [something] here, being a waitress in a café in a big town, it’s not working.

But Momma I have got to make up my mind now, and I’m going to tell you why. When I was at work tonight waiting tables, I [had] this table by the [something] window and I picked up all the plates. You wouldn’t believe how much food these people will leave on a plate, Momma. Well while I was picking up the plates, this whore was looking in the [something] window, looking at the food on those plates. She was real skinny, real thin, and it is so cold out there, and when she saw that I had noticed her, she just walked away out to the street. Well there was this whole slice of apple pie that this man didn’t touch, so I just took that pie out there and I gave it to that whore.

Momma, that girl wasn’t not one bit different from me. We’re about the same age, we don’t neither one of us [have] any money or anything much to look forward to. Only, I imagine she thinks she is worthless, where I figure surely I must be worth something even if I don’t know what it might be. But Momma, when I came back in, the boss was standing right there at the door. I wasn’t even out there one minute, but he told me I was fired. He said, “We don’t need that kinda people hanging around here looking for handouts all the time. You get your ass out of here and hit the street.” He said, “You can go with her, if that’s the kind of people you like.”

And Momma, here’s what I said: I said, “Boss, you and the kind of people you like can just go jump in a lake for all I care!” And Momma I just walked right out of that place. But, now I’m sitting here broke and jobless and everything I’ve got is all behind me now. I can’t see anything in front of me. But momma, I got this crazy idea. When there isn’t anything in front of you, [then] what’s stopping you? Everything behind me has been just a bunch of crap. So maybe if crap is behind me, maybe there’s some good things out there in my future somewhere.

Bye Momma love you

Margaret




 March 3, 1933

Dear Momma,

Your daughter, your dear Margaret, is a criminal. I have gone from bad to worse. Right now I am on a train, wearing man’s clothes, trying to pass myself off as a guy named Ed Maxwell. I am a member of Company 1781 of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and we are on a train going to Centerville, Arkansas. I am writing this letter to tell you  how this all happened, and I will mail it as soon as we stop someplace, which they tell me will be in Washington City, the capitol of the United States.

That last letter I sent, telling about giving the pie to a whore and how I got fired, well, I just wrote that letter last night, and a lot happened right after I dropped that letter into a mailbox. I'm not proud of it, and I thought about just never telling you, but Momma I need to tell you. I don't have any idea anymore what I'm doing or how things are going to turn out. My life has just exploded.

So, there I was, fired, standing on the sidewalk with no job and nothing to do and noplace to go to but my room, and no money for next week's rent anyway, and I was too upset to go to that little room, so I started walking down the street. I went into the candy store and I bought some candy for old Mister Jones, the old man I talk to sometimes in the room next to mine. Then I just kept walking. After about an hour, I went into this coffee shop and I had some coffee and ate some candy and wrote that letter and dropped it in a mail box and walked some more. But then I saw that same girl, that whore I gave the pie to, and this man was yelling at her and right then he punched her right in the face, and he got in a big Edsel and drove away.

Well Momma, that girl had brought me nothing but bad luck, but she was on her hands and knees out there on the street and nobody was helping her. People just would make a big circle around her, and so I went out there and helped her up, and her lip was busted and I put my hankie on it to stop it bleeding.  She told me that guy was “her man,” and he was mad at her for not making enough money for him. Well I told her she needed to get a real man and dump that guy. I was thinking to myself, what would Hopalong Cassidy do right now? I mean, the guy was gone so I couldn’t shoot him or beat him up, and we weren’t out in the west anyway, and I couldn’t beat up a flea anyway, and right then two coppers, or policemen, came up and asked us what we were doing. Well, I was about to answer when this whore girl started yelling at them to leave her alone. The biggest copper said he’d arrest us, and then I started yelling. I said, “Why arrest US? Why not go arrest the guy that hit her? Why arrest the victim? Aren’t you supposed to be for law and order and justice and…”

Momma, being in jail is not an experience I want to ever repeat. They shoved us into their car and drove down to the police station, and then they shoved us up the stairs, shoved us through the doors, shoved us up to the front desk and finally we got shoved behind bars with a bunch of the sorriest people you can imagine.

Momma, I thought about just not ever telling you about this. But I’m all alone and I just want to tell you. So here’s what happened next. Well, next was two hours of just standing by the bars wishing I was in Wyoming. That girl wouldn’t talk to me, and the women who would talk to me I didn’t want to. So I just stood by the bars and dreamed. Then a policeman came and took the girl. He told her that her man had come for her. The policeman didn’t call out her name, so I guess he knew her by sight. Well I hope he never gets to know me that well. She just walked out and went away with the very man who had beat her up, and she didn’t even give me my hankie back—but I didn’t much want it back soaked with her blood anyway. So there I was in jail and I couldn’t even claim I was innocent. I was unemployed, a vagrant, yelling at officers of the law and generally disturbing the peaceful community. I belonged in that jail cell with the other low down criminals. So I just kept standing at the bars and dreaming about riding a big white stallion up over a hill. But then I heard the policeman coming. He took a man out of a cell and walked him out. I heard him tell the man, “You’ll be out in a month if you can keep out of trouble for that long, Eddie.”

Well I just watched them go by, but I noticed that Eddie pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, and balled it up and threw it on the floor, and he said, “Well, fuck it!” and then they were gone. Well Momma I reached out my foot through the bars and got that wad of paper and held onto it, so I could give it to the policeman. I thought it might be evidence or something. I mean, if Sam Spade was in jail and this happened, it would be something important, right?

I nearly fell asleep standing there at the bars, but a jailhouse is not a great place for taking a nap. People yelling kept waking me up. A woman behind me passed out and fell down flat on the floor and busted her nose, but Momma my days of kindheartedness are over. I was fresh out of hankies, and she just laid there bleeding and nobody did much of anything. So I yelled for an officer to come help her, and two policemen came in the cell and picked her up and sopped up the blood. I showed the paper to one of the policemen, and I told him “Eddie dropped it.” Momma, that man looked up at me for a long time and he didn’t say a word. When he finally spoke, he just said, “Little lady, why don’t you come with me.”

I was thinking I had solved a crime, I had the key to the whole puzzle wadded up in my hand, Eddie’s secret piece of paper. The policeman took me down the hall to a door that said, CHIEF. He knocked, and shoved the door open. Momma, policemen in this town, they seem like they just shove everything. Anyway, he said to the Chief, “Chief, this girl don’t need to be in here. She was with a whore we picked up, but she’s not a whore, are you, little lady?” I said, “Me? No I just saw a man hit her and I gave her my hankie for her lip and then a policeman came and took us off to jail. I guess I did yell a little bit, but, well…” and the Chief said, “Okay, let her out. When was the last time you had anything to eat, Miss? Take her down to the joint on the corner and get her a sandwich, Joe. Try not to yell anymore, alright Miss?”

Well Momma I said “Yes SIR!” as fast as I could. So now it’s nearly one in the morning and I was on a date with a police officer named Joe. We sat at the counter and I showed him the piece of paper that Eddie the criminal had dropped, and Joe told me it was nothing. He fixed me up with a sandwich and a milkshake and he asked me, “You got money for trolley fare, Little Lady?” He gave me fifty cents, and he left me there and went back to work, nabbing criminals and keeping the peace. I don’t see how a policeman can really be expected to keep the peace at all when it looks to me like they never get to experience any of it themselves in the first place. Whatever else happens to me, Momma, I hope I’ve now hit bottom, so the rest of my life ought to be uphill from here.

I sucked up every last drop of that milkshake, and then I got on a trolley, and I was thinking about my situation. I had nearly no money, and the landlord had told me, he said if I ever missed paying on rent day, I had to be out of my room by noon. I had noplace to move to, noplace to find a job, nobody I could ask for help and nothing to my name but a lamp and a rope and some clothes. When I got back to the boarding house and I was sitting on the bed, I was looking at the piece of paper I’d picked up off the floor in the jail cell. That man I saw throw it down and cuss, I never saw him again, so I figured it was okay for me to read it. So I looked at the paper, and it was for Enrollee Ed Maxwell to be at the train station at four o’clock in the morning, to ship out with the CCC and go to Arkansas. Momma, the CCC pays $30 a month, and $25 of that goes to the workers’ parents. Ed Maxwell got accepted into the Civilian Conservation Corps, but he didn’t list any parents, and he didn’t write in where to send the money. So I got thinking. What if I fill in your name, and I pass myself off as Ed Maxwell and I go to Arkansas—wherever that is. It sounds like it’s out west someplace, and that’s all I want in the whole world anyway. The worst that I could imagine didn't seem as bad as what I'd just been through. I did not really think this thing through like I should have, but so far it seems to be going okay.

Well, it was about two in the morning by then. I needed man’s clothes if I was going to pull this off. Old Mister Howard Jones in the room next to mine was over there snoring up a storm. I decided to steal his clothes.

Mr Jones is probably the best friend I’ve made in this town since I’ve been here. He was in the Civil War, and he was a cowboy, and a sailor in the Merchant Marine, and then he got his skull cracked and his neck broke when he got beat up for picketing for the unions, and now he’s old and he’s been sitting in his room for years. I always stop by in his doorway and listen to him tell stories. And I bring him chocolates—he loves candy. He told me some stories about being a cowboy, and he showed me how to throw a lasso one day when I was making a lot of noise. He heard me keep knocking my lamp over and he called to me, and I told him that I was trying to rope my lamp. He said, “Missy, I worked for twenty years on a ranch in Arizona, back in the days when you had to be on the lookout for Apaches if you wanted to keep your hair. Let me show you how to use a rope right.”

Mr Jones’ real name was Hezekiah Arnold. But he changed it in the Civil War. He told me about how I should stay away from a war if I possibly can. He said the only thing the soldiers really care about is taking anything they can get, looting towns and stealing from the dead enemy soldiers. They shoot their guns and shout and act brave, but really they just hope to not get killed, and they hope to find good loot when the battle is over. He said one night after some big battle, he and the boys were sitting by the fire in camp, showing all the loot they’d got, and gambling, and smoking the tobacco they’d taken off the rebel dead. The rebels always had tobacco. They’d take tobacco and pipes and pocket watches, money if it wasn’t paper, but they always hoped to get an officer, and get his revolver or his sword, his eye glasses, or maybe get one of those big pigsticker knives the rebels favored. If they got anything paper, they’d just toss it into the campfire. Well Private Hezekiah Arnold of Eagle Grove, Iowa, had some loot, and in it there was this letter from a mother to her son in the rebel army. While the rest of the men were smoking and gambling, Hezekiah sat by the fire and he read the letter. Momma, Mr Jones’ eyes teared up a little even telling me about it. He said the letter told how the woman’s husband and brother had both been killed in the war, and her daughter had gone whoring to Vicksburg, and the mother just begged her son, named Howard Jones, begged him to just stay back, just keep down, just come home alive because he was the only one now who could make things right again. She wrote that “it didn’t matter a lick” who won the war over states’ rights, all that mattered was getting the family back together.

Well Momma, Private Howard Jones of the rebel army got tossed in a ditch and dirt thrown on him, and nobody cared about him or his family. But Private Hezekiah Arnold put that letter into his pocket, and he stood up and walked straight out of camp in the dark, and then he just kept walking all the way to Arizona. He changed his name to the name of that dead boy. He told me he just decided right then and there to get the both of them out of that stinking war and go see if they could find some better world to live in. He told me one time, something like, "Missy, you can't outrun the real war. It's never over. If you don't fight, they will just treat you like they treated young Howard Jones. You can't stop fighting some fights, not ever." I always remember that, because it was nearly the only time I ever heard that old man say anything serious, and I don't even know what he meant by it.

But he ended up a crippled old man in New York City, and his old cowboy clothes hanging on a nail. And I ended up a criminal. Momma, going into that room in the dark was like sneaking into a roomful of ghosts. There’s the empty clothes hanging on the wall, but the man who wore them doesn’t exist anymore. There’s the ghost of Hezekiah Arnold floating around somewhere in that room, even though he hasn't died, but he hasn’t really existed since he changed his name and went west in 1862. There’s Howard Jones, but he’s not really Howard Jones who’s been dead since 1862. The man who lives in that room hasn’t been out of it for heaven knows how long, and the whole room just smells like layers of death, like death and decay and rot, like the ditch in Virginia where that rebel boy got buried along with his whole army, layers of dead bodies, and under them layers of ruined families, and under all of that a whole world of dirty, hungry worms. But I needed to loot that old man, so I tiptoed on in there and did the deed. He probably would have loved to give me those things if he knew they’d help me out. I imagine even ghosts get tired of hanging around with nothing but the past for company. But, well, I didn’t want to wake him up, because it is hard for him to get to sleep sometimes, so I wrote him a letter explaining the situation, and I left a box of chocolates, all but the ones that I ate, and I took his old clothes. They smelled from hanging so long but they fit alright, except the boots are loose. I had to leave my own things, even my good winter coat. But I didn’t leave my lamp. I put it and my rope and a few things in a sack, and I took a trolley out to the train station. When they called roll for Company 1781 of the CCC, Ed Maxwell was present and ready to go to Arkansas. Luckily, it was foggy when they looked at our papers, because I just look crazy in those smelly ancient clothes and big old boots and all my hair stuffed up into that moth-eaten old hat. But I got in, so now, instead of me sending you two dollars every week, the Government is going to send you $25 on the first of every month. At least, from now until I get caught. You should get your first check, Momma, starting next month. If you write me, remember not to send it to Margaret Givens. She is tied up in the sack with my lamp for now.

Bye Momma love you

Ed


Ed Maxwell

CCC

Company 1781

c/o Petit Jean Mtn. Work Camp

Centerville, Ark.

 

 March 5, 1933

Dear Momma,

Up at the top of the page is what my address will be when we get to Arkansas. I haven’t seen any maps yet so I don’t really know where that might be. I think Arizona is farther west.

The train is coming into the station at Washington, and I wanted to tell you what happened so I can send this letter while we’re stopped. Well, we left New York at 4:15 this morning. I found a seat all by myself and just acted like I was asleep. I was afraid if I talked to anybody they’d figure out I’m a girl and they’d throw me off the train.

I noticed pretty soon that my skin feels all crawly. I wonder if these old clothes I stole from Mister Jones were full of bugs. I mean, they just hung there on that rusty old nail for years.

I just felt terrible, and then I noticed things moving inside his old cowboy hat. I have my hair stuffed up into it, and the sun is starting to come up and none of the men are asleep so I can’t take my hat off or my hair will all come tumbling out, and I am starting to go crazy. Things are crawling all over me and here I am trapped in a railroad car full of men. And I can’t even go to the ladies room. I have to go to the men’s room or not go at all. Oh, Momma, I got myself in deep this time. I have to cut my hair off, and soon before these hat spiders eat me alive. I learned my lesson. Crime does not pay. Honesty is the best policy. All my life I tried to be a good girl and look at me now. In the last ten hours I’ve been fired, I’ve been arrested, I’ve served time in prison, I’ve stolen clothes from an old man in his sleep, and now I’m on the lam, traveling with an assumed identity. I falsely filled out official government documents, so now I’m a federal case, a felon on the run. I’ve got fleas and spiders and ants in my pants and if the authorities catch me they’ll probably string me up for what I’ve done.

But I got thinking about Pretty Boy Floyd and what’s-his-name Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly and Belle Starr and I started to understand how they must feel. I have to toughen up. I chose to live my life like this, and now I have to take what comes. Whatever happens, they won’t take me back to Ernie’s Diner on 47th Street in New York alive!



That’s when I noticed the porter. When it got to be daylight, he was coming through the car, calling for us to go up to the dining car for breakfast, courtesy of the U.S. Government. The porter had on a train uniform, and his badge said his name was Mr. Drake. Mr. Drake was pretty old, at least thirty, and real tall. He was a colored man with real high cheekbones and strong features, and something made me think he was pretty smart. And then I noticed that he kept looking at me, and he’d get this funny look in his eyes. Well, on his third trip to our car he didn’t call for breakfast. He came right up to me and he bent down, and he whispered, “Ah, sir…I don’t believe you is supposed to be in the CCC, now is you…?”

 

Well, Momma, the gig was up. He saw through my disguise. I started to tell him I had a sick sister and a crippled grandfather …. but I knew he saw straight through me. You know how some folks you meet, they just seem like they hold the whole world in their hands and they can do whatever they want with it? It’s not race or sex or money, Momma, it’s brains. Mr. Drake was like that. I wasn’t going to put anything over on him.

I started to get up out of my seat. I guess I figured he was going to throw me off the moving train and leave my carcass for the wolves or something. But he put his big hand on my shoulder and he said, “Thought so. I think I can help you out.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of scissors and a bar of soap. “There’s a colored folks washroom in the next car. I’ll take you.”

And then, Momma, he stood up real straight and he shouted, “Yes SIR!” and he stepped back so I could get out into the aisle. Well, I looked up at him, and he made eyes telling me to get moving, and all the time he was acting like I was telling HIM what to do when it was the other way around. Well Momma, I stood up and he led me out the back of the car, and across into the next car. This car was for colored people, and it was mostly empty. He opened the washroom door and there was a sink and a mirror. He said, “Nobody gonna bother you in here. I’ll be back in 15 minutes. You stay put till I comes for you.”

And he shut the door and left. Well, I got out of those clothes faster than a jackrabbit and I hung them out the window to hopefully blow the bugs out of them and air them out a little. And I washed myself all over, and I cut my hair real close, , but then I heard a knock at the door and I got myself dressed as fast as I could.

Mr. Drake said, “You sure smells better.” He lifted my hat and looked at my hair, and he came into that washroom with me and he took those scissors and gave me a better haircut. He said, “What’s yo name?” I said, “Margaret. But my papers say I’m Ed Maxwell.” He said, “Well, I guess I’ll call you Miss Ed, and won’t offend nobody that way. Let me hears you talk some.” So while he cut my hair, I told him all about going to jail, and he coached me on how to talk like a man. He smelled good. I mean, that man took pride in his appearance, and he wore after shave, and he just carried himself like he was the most important man on that train, and to me, he was. When he decided my hair looked alright, he said, “Miss Ed, They’s a lots of people has got it bad nowadays. Me, I got it pretty good, so I’m just glad to have a chance to help somebody that needs helping. You do the same for somebody someday, ya hear?”

We stepped out into the colored folks car. A woman saw us come out and she just shook her head as if she was seeing the most shameful thing on earth. And right then Mr. Drake turned around and he said, “When we go in there, remember: you is the boss.” But then he got a funny look on his face, and he looked me right in the eyes and he said, “Keep remembering it your whole life, Miss Ed. Ain’t nobody the boss of you but you. You is always the boss. Ya got it?”

Well Momma, I didn’t have even a clue what he meant or why he acted like it was so especially important, and I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded, and he smiled at me and turned around and we went back to my car.

He took me back to my seat, and he winked at me and gave me a big Army-style salute and said, “Will that be all, sir?” I saluted him right back and said, “Thank you, Captain Drake.”

Well Momma, I felt like a new man. I started thinking I could have some fun with this situation. A couple of the CCC boys turned around in their seats and asked me, “What was that all about?” I put on my man face and I told them, “Aw, the president of the railroad is riding in the next car. I just wanted to have a word with him. He’s a nice fella. Not all stuck up like people think.” Then I just slouched in my seat, and pulled my hat down over my eyes and left those guys to worry about it all the way to Washington.

I never saw Mr. Drake again. But Momma, every time you get a $25 check from the CCC, you and me both ought to say a prayer for that man.

The train is pulling into the station now. They’re saying we will have six hours here before our next train leaves, at 2:47. Some of the boys are talking about going to the Capitol Mall and seeing the Washington Monument. I think I’ll go with them. Me and the guys are gonna do the town.

 

By Momma love you

Ed

P.S.

Dear Momma, We had some real fun in Washington. Cherry trees are blooming everywhere all over town. The train is about to leave so I have to run and mail this, but I’m enclosing some sketches I did with the guys, and I bought a postcard but I’ll just stick it in with this letter. They all call me Ed, and they think I must be pretty important, now, because of how I got special treatment on the train. We went to the capitol, and we went to the museums, and we ate at a little place where some Frenchmen got all emotional and started singing on the sidewalk, and we tried to build a human pyramid at the Washington Monument, but Charles got hurt pretty bad, and I did not start smoking, and I have to run

Bye Momma love you

Margaret

 

 

NOTE TO READERS: The following letter is out of order, but I went ahead and transcribed it anyway. When I find the missing letters I will insert them in a correct timeline. Yours truly, The Editor.



Dear Momma,

Something interesting happened this morning, and everybody says I was a hero even though I didn’t really do anything, and I didn’t even know what was going on when I did it. Here’s what happened: Early this morning, a big black Ford convertible pulled up at the ranch, and this man in a suit got out and knocked on the door, and Boss let him in. Then a woman got out of the car and went in the house. Well, me and the boys were all in the cook shed. Cookie was dishing up breakfast and we were all watching out the window to see what was going on. The boys all got nervous. They said they didn’t like the looks of it. Nobody knew who those people were. Danny said, “They’re not from around here, or that guy wouldn’t be wearing a suit when it’s ninety in the shade.” Bob went out, and he came back and told us the license plate said Illinois, and the car had bullet holes in its side, and a window was broken out.

Then Boss’s wife Elaine came out of the house and she came over to the cook shed. She didn’t come inside, she just stood at the door and told Cookie to make two big plates of breakfast and lots of coffee and bring it over to the house. She didn’t say a word to us, and she turned around and went straight back to the house.

Well, after Cookie took the food over, he didn’t come back. So that was when Jim started thinking. Jim is a great one for thinking. He said, “If the cops are after those people, they may be looking to hide out on the ranch.” All the boys told him he was crazy, and it was probably Elaine’s cousins or something. But Bob said, “There really are bullet holes in that car.” Jim said, “If I was them, I’d hold Boss and Elaine hostage, and not let them leave. Or I might take them with me as hostages, and dump them out down the road when it’s safe.”

All the boys were getting upset. They didn’t think Jim was right, but they didn’t have any better idea what might be going on. Jim didn’t have any notions of what to do, he just had notions about how suspicious it looked.

Well right then, Boss came out of the house and came over to the shed. He did like Elaine and just stood at the door. He looked pretty nervous, but all he said was, “Boys, and Maggie, that north fence needs mending. All of you get on up there and fix it.” Well, Momma, mending fence is a one-man job. It doesn’t take twenty men and a girl to pull a wire and nail it to a post. Then boss said, “And, boys, always remember to look out for the calves.” And then he was gone. Now, ‘look out for the calves’ was a funny thing for him to say. That is what we do anyway, so all the boys were talking about how this just wasn’t like Boss.

But he’d said what to do, so the boys all got up and started collecting their gear. Bob said, “This don’t set too well with me. Something here ain’t right.” Danny said, “Maybe we ought to leave somebody here as a lookout.” And Jim said, “Well, I guess Boss knows what he’s doing.” But Momma, I wasn’t willing to ride off and leave Boss like that, and worry about it all day not knowing what was going on. So I went over to my little house and I got my rifle. I jacked a shell into the chamber and let the hammer down, and I went straight up on Boss’s porch, and I pushed the door open.

You know, it’s funny now when I think about it. I don’t remember hearing anything, except I heard Jim and Bob yelling at me to come back, but at the same time it was like I didn’t hear them at all. I was just going to make sure everything was okay, but I remember my heart was pounding real hard. That was about the only two things I could hear. I didn’t hear the horses or the chickens or the cat, just my heart pounding, and Jim and Bob yelling at me to come back.

When I pushed the door open, I felt like a policeman, and I remembered how that policeman in New York City shoved everything. All of a sudden I knew why. You shove when you have to make yourself do something that isn’t easy to make yourself do. Well, I shoved Boss’s front door open without knocking, and I walked right into the house. I hadn’t ever been in there before. I heard a noise and I turned to my right. It was a dining room, and I saw the woman tying Elaine’s hands behind her back with clothesline cord. Boss and Cookie were standing up, and they both had their hands tied behind their backs. The man in the suit was standing at the table with a plate in his hand, and eating. There was a big automatic pistol laying right in front of him on the table. And all at the same time they all looked up and saw me and everybody’s eyes got real big.

Well, I just stood there. I didn’t know of anything to say, and as far as the rifle in my hand, it might as well have been a broom. Nobody moved for just a second, and then the man dropped his plate and it broke on the floor and he reached for that pistol on the table. And I heard Jim’s voice behind me say, “Better not, pal.”

Turns out all the boys decided they ought to come and make sure I was okay. They were all standing behind me, and all of them had their guns with them. They untied Boss and Cookie and Elaine, and Boss called the Guthrie police. And the whole time, I just stood there where I was. All the boys came inside like a river of cowhands and I was a rock they all had to go around. They were talking and laughing, making jokes about how they should have let the criminals take Cookie, but I couldn’t move. I was shaking, Momma, and I was afraid if I moved, I might start crying. But I never told any of the boys that. Elaine really was crying, and she went down the hall and we didn’t see any more of her. We all just sat around waiting for the Guthrie police to come. The two criminals told us they’d robbed a bank in Oklahoma City yesterday, and they’d been running the backroads all night trying to make it north to Kansas. Momma, they didn’t even get close.

Sheriff Walters said they stole six hundred dollars from the Merchants Bank. That’s about ten years’ work for a cowhand, but I believe I’d rather spend ten years on a horse than ten years in a jail. When the excitement was all finished, Boss told us to all do like he’d said and go fix that north fenceline. Well Momma, we didn’t do a lick of work all day. We rode that whole fence and didn’t find only three wires to mend, so mostly we just talked and told stories and sang songs and rode along together all day long.

But when we got back to the ranch this evening, the Guthrie Municipal Band was here playing, and there was a big barbecue going and a man from the bank was here and we all ate ice cream and drank root beer and it was the most fun I’ve had since I got out of high school.

But Momma, then Elaine came and gave me a hug, and she took me over to my little house to show me what they’d done. There was a wire strung from the cook shed, and my lamp was plugged in, and it had a new bulb in it and there was a pretty checkered curtain on my window, and a nice table and chair instead of the old box I used to have to sit on. There was a rug on the floor and a clock on the wall, and a mirror, and a night pot so I don’t have to go to the outhouse. Elaine told me, “Honey, if there is ever anything you ever need, you just tell me and I’ll make Henry get it for you.”

Well Momma, it was so nice to see my lamp lit up again, I broke down and cried like a baby and Elaine just hugged me until I finally quit, and we went back to the barbecue.

But now I look up at my new clock and it says it’s three in the morning. I can’t sleep a wink. I can hear twenty men snoring over in the bunkhouse, and there’s a coyote howling north of here on the hill. I can look out my window and see all the stars in the whole world. I remember while we were eating barbecue, Danny came up to me and he told me, “Maggie, you are the bravest woman I’ve ever seen. You could have got shot doing like you did.” And I guess I was pretty lucky, but it was the boys standing behind me who really saved all of us. But Momma, I look at my lamp shining here on the table, and my lariat hung from a nail, and I feel like I’m starting to be a real cowgirl.

Bye Momma love you

Maggie