Thursday, 14 August 2014

Family letters for happy occasions

I don't really have copies of any soldiers' letters written home, so instead I thought I would share a few letters with you that were written about happy family events. My grandmother Mona Morrison's first cousin was Nellie Ferguson, a daughter of  Charles James Young, who was a brother of Mona's mother Jane Isabella Young. In this first letter she provides Mona with a comprehensive 'eye witness account' of Mona's daughter Jean's wedding, an event that had been held a few days earlier on 22 April 1950. 

P. 1

I won't include all the pages,, because being on thin paper with another letter on the back, they are a bit hard to read, but here is a transcription of Nellie's 6 page letter for you. [I've added in a few explanatory nores in square brackets].

"Ashburton April 26/50
Dear Mona,
You have all been in my thoughts very much lately & now things may be quiet after the excitement I thought you might like a few lines, an eye witness account, to let you know how Banks and I enjoyed the whole function on Sat. The church grounds made a picturesque setting for guests & the bridal party on their arrival. Derek was a good church warden, handing out the hymnsheets as if he was used to it, but then he is used to handing out bank notes. [I think Derek worked as a bank teller at that point] A nice idea with bridal hymns specially printed. Saves time and confusion for those like myself whose eyes are dim & difficult to sort out the numbers in book.
There were time to notice the artistic bowls of flowers in the church &, to see the bride's mother and aunties sitting in state. My sympathy was with you for no doubt your heart was beating faster than usual. Mine was!
The bridegroom and his officials looked brave and calm as they stood by to await the arrival of the bride & maids.
We listened intently to the strains of the organ & for when he would change the tune. It was eyes right for us when that moment came, in fact it was all eyes on when the smiling bride arrived escorted by her father. It must be a terrible moment for a father to give his daughter away especially when she is so charming. Nevertheless John did not look at all concerned re the ordeal. The right man in the right place.
There was a lot to feast our eyes on as the two of them walked slowly & stately up the aisle. Jean looked a picture in her beautiful wedding gown and veil. My thoughts flashed to Pat & how she would have loved to have seen Jean in all her glory.
There are few brides, if any, fortunate enough to have a sister to shop in Switzerland. One might read of it in a book.
The beautiful all over lace was exclusive and altogether lovely & the frock being made by an exclusive dressmaker left nothing to be desired especially when worn by Jean.  I know of a pudding Bess used to make & Dick named it "Bess's Masterpiece". Definitely that wedding gown could be named thus, only the pudding was made in a minute, not so the gown. Wasn't  it thought that the final finishes might have had to be done as the bride walked down the aisle!!  [Dick was the younger brother of Bess, who was a professional dressmaker].
The bridesmaids made a pretty pair & their moss green frocks, together with the red roses enhanced their beauty & fair hair.
Those frocks also put another feather in Bess's hat. The lace mittens Pat sent were very nice too.
We knew the officiating minister was the Rev.D. McKenzie by his scotch accent, having heard him [?]. He did his job well in assisting the bridal pair to tie the knot. The knot that is tied with the tongue but cannot be untied with the teeth.
How clearly Jean and Ian made their vows. We could hear every word very distinctly. Naturally in Jean's profession [of speech therapist] she would know how to articulate her words correctly. Usually one only hears a muttering sound by the said parties.
Ian's sister sang very sweetly & the song so appropriate for the occasion.
I like the idea of the minister acting as a forerunner for the bridal procession. Surely that will help to stem the tide of confetti.
When you'd all proceeded to the Takehe we had a reunion of relations and friends. Met Dick & Margaret & Co when we arrived at 5.30. Margaret and I both admitted we'd have met and not known each other, but Dick couldn't say that. The children were all bright and smiling. The wedding would mean a big event for them. They were armed with cartons of confetti.
It was good to see Flo. and Bess & glad they came with us for the ride to Takehe, gave us more time to hear things,. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Ivy Power. I may not have seen her before but there is no mistaking she's an Andrews. It was nice to have a chat with her. Jack and Dorrie too. I've the same complaint as Jack! Old age creeping on & no use denying it.[I'm not sure what that complaint was, but when Nellie was writing this she was only 57, and Mona was 53]. Jack reminds me of Ed. It's a long while since I've seen Leslie and Jack Davies. They have not altered much. Jim Tourance ? hailed me with "Hello, Nellie or Jennie, which are you?" [Jennie was Nellie's sister]. I couldn't help calling his wife Beulah, the name is so familiar. Had a chat with the Littles. [neighbours of Mona and John].  [?] couldn't think who I was but soon recognised my tongue.
What a grand place the Takehe is, quite unique.  Wonderful for a wedding reception & John and you looked quite at home. That was my first chance to see you and you looked your best and very smart. I could see you during the breakfast and you'd such a lovely colour & the pretty spray toned in beautifully.
There was a wonderful spread on the tables & I can assure you we did justice to all the good things.
Mr Jennings made a first rate toast master & carried off proceedings most satisfactorily. We enjoyed all the speeches & should have moved for John's time to be extended. The bridegroom did well also. I liked the Shuttle Service between you & Littles & the very natural  account of the first time Mr L met Jean. I could picture it all. The cake was "Mona's Masterpiece". Pat on the back for the good job you made of it. It was delicious.
It was nice to be in the thick of the party at the house. Another chance to have a close up look at the dear bride & maids in all their lovely finery & another chat with kith and kin. We were glad of the opportunity to see all the presents.
You had a big task in serving all the guests. No wonder we didn't see each other till the bride was leaving. Jean looked smart in her travelling rig out & Ian and her quite enjoyed the sendoff amid the showers and deluges of confetti.
What time did you get to bed that night & have you picked up every piece of confetti yet? Let me whisper, I saw your new carpet in sitting room. It's lovely and really caught my eye.
Now dear Mona, John and you are to be congratulated on the way you both rose to the occasion & carried everything off in such good style. Banks and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I know it was a case of  "So say all of us"! We will ever remember Jean and Ian's wedding with great pleasure.
We hope to be in Ch[rist]ch[urch] during holidays & will give you a ring. Beulah's taking Graeme's book back.
I would say it's time to stop Mona, you'll be getting tired reading this.
Trusting you and John & family are well,
Much Love,
6th and final page of Nellie's letter to Mona

I hope you enjoyed my transcription of Nellie's letter and didn't get tired reading it. The sign of the Takehe is an impressive reception centre in the Cashmere Hills, built in the style of an English manor house. It was severely damaged by the Christchurch earthquakes and is still closed while reconstruction and reinforcement takes place. By the way, the Morrisons were strict Presbyterians and there was no alcohol served at the wedding, so all the toasts would have been made in fruit punch made up by a local hotel 'or lemonade for the more hesitant', as my mother said in one of two aerogrammes written on the morning of her wedding, after she was woken up by the 'milkman's clattering'. The wedding wasn't until 5 pm, so she had plenty of time to  describe in detail all the arrangements, the  flowers and her mother, aunts and future mother-in- law 's intended outfits to her absent sister Pat.  She told Pat she had bought  her Aunty Bess 'a string of white pearls as an extra for all the hard work she has done for me  - she's been sewing day and night'. 

 I imagine Mona would have shown Nellie's letter to Jean when she and Ian returned from their honeymoon, and she then wrote her own account of the proceedings on the reverse side of each page (you can see her writing showing through the thin paper) and sent the whole thing over to her other daughter Pat, who was working in Switzerland at the time. Luckily for me the pages are all well numbered.  I haven't transcribed Mona's letter, but there are some amusing things in it. She starts off by saying it will not be a long letter as she just posted one on Monday, but then has no trouble filling up all six pages, with lots of chatty gossip about what had been happening with various friends and relatives, including a story about how Jean had gone out with them to visit her in-laws and was worried that Ian wouldn't be able to get in when he came home from work, but when he did so he found she had left the front door undone. Mona mentions they were experiencing power black outs at the time, and how this caused problems when people were out late and had to find their way home with no street lights. 

Mona writes very naturally, just as if she were speaking to Pat, describing everything around her, for  example The five male members of the family are all around the fire, Derek, Graeme and Peter are playing draughts & Dad looking on while Puss is slumbering on the mat and enjoying the fire'. The other male family member absent was Mona and John's oldest son Ken, who had been killed in WW2 about 7 years earlier, and his loss would still have been keenly felt by his whole family.  Mona and John wrote to Pat every week over the many years that Pat lived and worked abroad, and Pat methodically kept all their correspondence.  Many of the letters have since been read and discarded by my mother, but I convinced her to keep a few. There's also one from Mona 'scribbled under the drier' at the hairdresser's the day before the wedding, in which she goes into great detail about the new carpet mentioned by Nellie that was purchased specially for the big occasion. It has 'bright autumn colours in it, greens browns rust fawn & a little mauve' and she's made new curtains to go with it. Mona says she'll have to start calling the front room the lounge now, which looks very much bigger with the wall-to-wall carpet. In a postscript added after the wedding she mentions Derek handing out the hymnsheets 'much to my surprise', and tells Pat how 'John stood on Jean's train and a groomsman knocked over a vase of flowers as he came in but that was all the slips in church'. In other extracts, she comments that Ian's sister 'sang a beautiful solo, went back to her seat and cried and cried, I don't know why'. After the reception 'Dad invited the the crowd home to see the presents and have a cup of tea and I'm sure the whole 80 came. I don't know how we fed them but we did. I said after I would have had a pink fit had I  known so many would come'.  The new carpet must have survived the onslaught of visitors, because I'm sure Mona would have told Pat if it hadn't!  John Morrison had also just bought himself a new car, and the song Nella sang at the service was "All joy to Thine".

 An earlier letter dated 17 March 1949 was written in much excitement when when Mona discovered that Pat's book about the history of Christchurch entitled The Evolution of a City was on display in the bookshop window for 12/6 d. 'It is quite a decent sized book, nearly an inch thick, not a paper covered one as you thought.' Lots of details about how they had found out it was available, and that they would send Pat a copy as soon as they could get one. 'Dad is going to see Mr Batchelor & thinks he might get a free copy'. 'It was a great thrill to see it, and I'll be dying to get my hands on it.'

Here's another letter written by Nellie, this time to Jean while she was in St Helen's Hospital Christchurch, lying in after giving birth to her first child ( yours truly), and hence it's filed in my baby book

This very pretty envelope was hand painted by Nellie's talented daughter Beulah, who often won prizes for her artwork. It contained the following letter.

"Dear Jean,
It was wonderful to see your name shining on the front page in "Press" today. We are delighted to know you and Ian have a wee daughter & that you and baby are both well. There is so much to be thankful for in the life given and the life spared.
We all extend to you & Ian our heartiest congratulations & feel sure you both will have every reason to be proud of your little girl.
After we'd learned the news Beulah and I were so thrilled we didn't want to do any work. 
We wanted to see you and baby! There will be great joy at 2 Aylmer St with Granddad, Grandma Aunty and Uncles, especially Peter when his niece arrived on his birthday. 
Well Jean,you will enjoy your little holiday, every day will be full of interest & I trust that you and baby are progressing & growing stronger each day. 
Also that you are receiving all the attention that is your due, for I've not the slightest doubt that you will be a pet patient. 
Much love from us all, & hoping to see you and baby soon.

In some ways it's rather sad that my parents decided to leave New Zealand and move Australia only a few years later, because as a result we missed out on getting to know cousin Nellie and the many other members of our parents' extended families.  I've never met Beulah, although I expect she met me as a baby, but these days I am in touch with her by email.
 I only have a couple of photos of Nellie Mackellar Ferguson nee Young. The first one shows Nellie with her widowed mother, grandmother and siblings and was taken in 1909 when she was about 16. 

Celebrating 125 years since the arrival of the Young family in NZ. Top row, left to right:Muriel Wilson (nee Young, d/o Uncle Ted), Jack Young (brother of Muriel), Maisie Hearfield (Young), Norman Young (brother of Muriel), Jean Ambrose (Young), Jack Davies (son of Aunty Pheme). Front Row, Dorothy Coughlan, Mona Morrison, Nellie Ferguson, Ivy Dawber, Margaret Young (Uncle Fred's daughter).

This second photo taken in 1971 shows Nellie and Mona in their later years. Nellie is in the centre front row sitting next to Mona in floral dress, when they were attending a gathering held to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the arrival in 1851 of their Scottish grandparents/great grandparents Charles and Jane Young in Christchurch NZ. Two others in the picture, Jack Davies and Ivy Dawber, previously Power, are mentioned in Nellie's wedding report. Mona passed away the following year and Nellie followed in 1974.

Finally, here are a few pictures of the wedding that was reported upon by Nellie, showing Jean with bridesmaid Jocelyn;  St David's Church where the marriage ceremony took place, which sadly no longer exists; with her parents John and Mona Morrison; Jean and Ian at the Takehe; and cutting the cake. The dresses do look beautiful, and Jean's lovely wedding dress now hangs in my wardrobe.

Jean and Ian cutting "Mona's masterpiece"

  Two of my Morrison  uncles, 20 year old Graeme and 15 year old Peter, getting to know their new niece. For a previous blog about the life and work of their sister/my Aunty Patricia Morrison, click here.

For many more letters written by many more correspondents on many different occasions, just take a look at  Sepia Saturday #241


Wendy said...

When I was a teen, I looked forward to the Sunday paper because that's when all the wedding announcements appeared. They were so fun to read, so full of detail, but they pale next to Nellie's letter.

La Nightingail said...

Jean's scalloped-edged veil was so elegant. And that beautifully painted envelope that wound up in your baby book - so special. Nellie's letter referring to Jean's 'lying in' reminded me how things have changed over the years. My mother was in the hospital for 10 days after the births of her children. I got to stay for 3 and 4 days. Now, new mothers are sent home the next day unless there are complications. What a shame - especially if there are other children at home because staying for a few days gives a mother time to form a one-on-one bond with her new child in a calm, non-stressful environment which is a healthy boon for both mother and child. Unfortunately, insurance companies don't see it that way.

Caminante said...

Wow, you certainly have uncovered a lot of information about your family history. What a hobby!

Anonymous said...

You have some very descriptive letter writers in your family, glad somebody thought to keep them

Little Nell said...

That hand-pained envelope is an absolute treasure! The wedding picture are lovely.

ScotSue said...

What wonderful family heirlooms you have - the eyewitness wedding account reminds me of a press cutting I have of my great aunt's wedding of 1929, with very fulsome descriptions of the dresses. The hand painted envelope is so beautiful.

Postcardy said...

That's a beautiful envelope from your baby book. The hospital where I was born was named "Lying In," but I've never seen "lying in" used in a sentence or description before.

Anonymous said...

Your two letters tell such vivid stories - it's so nice when the writer's personalities come across so well.

Anonymous said...

Those letters are great.aThey really paint a picture in words.

Karen S. said...

Wow, your Uncle Graeme's name is spelled just like my nephews, and it's not that common of a spelling!

Sherri said...

Nellie was such a thoughtful letter-writer. I'm sure Mona treasured her eye witness account of the wedding of which they spent so many months agonizing over the planning.

Sharon said...

Wow! I am so impressed with Beulah's art work! Wonderful also that you are in contact with her now (The internet is wonderful!!!)

anyjazz said...

An impressive collection. Loved the decorated envelope.

Alex Daw said...

The decorated envelope is just beautiful and the letter glorious in all its detail. At first I thought that Mona wasn't at the wedding but now I realise that she was and that Nellie was really "chatting" to her, as you say - giving her her view of the wedding from where she stood. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a detailed description of the wedding. And, six pages! Incredible.

Lorraine Phelan said...

Beulah's art work is delightful, and Nellie sure knew how to write an interesting letter. It's so poignant that you posted this the same week that Jean died.