Sunday, September 4, 2016

Letters from Marilyn - Update 1

I have taken some time away from regular writing here at Certainly Candid as I work on my novel. Now that I have made significant progress, I will share some background information with you, my online readers. Letters from Marilyn is a working title and while I have not decided upon the style of this piece (purely nonfiction, historical fiction emphasis, infused memoir, etc.), I have enjoyed every moment of reading (and rereading!) her many letters.

Marilyn Solberg was my grandfather's sister and she wrote letters to her mother almost every day during college. Marilyn died too young at 21, leaving behind a family who loved her and a myriad of friends. Our family found her letters when her own mother (my great-grandmother) died in 2004. She had kept them all. Over 60 years old, they contain so much written word from the great-aunt I never had the chance to meet.

Shortly after Marilyn's sudden death, her college roommate wrote this to Marilyn's mother in 1953: I don't know how I'll ever get used to life without Marilyn. We had done so many wonderful things together. It seemed that at first I was too stunned to realize, and now each day it becomes more vivid that my best friend is gone.

Marilyn's letters are in beautiful condition, a testament to the care her mother gave them even after Marilyn passed away in 1953. All in their original postmarked envelopes (postage was 3 cents in 1950!), the letters go from 1950 to 1953. Marilyn writes about her day-to day-activities at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, her friends, world and national news, and so much more. Her letters are witty, joyful, reflective, and at times, sorrowful. She writes of the men she knows who are drafted for the Korean War, leaving behind girlfriends and families. They are an account of our nation's history from her eyes, a memoir of her life, and penned memories to those left behind.

Reading Marilyn's letters has been a whirlwind of a journey. I am not even through her freshman year of college - she wrote more than 200 pages home! I have been annotating, listing questions, reading history I'm not familiar with, and researching names of people who are no longer living and places that no longer exist. Her freshman year brings such fun stories. Here are a few snippets of her writing: 
September 22, 1950 regarding freshman initiation week at Augsberg: I'm so sick of wearing green beanies, bowing to upperclassmen, and carrying trays I could scream! Honestly this initiation is enough to scare anyone out. Tomorrow is the last day tho! 
November 6, 1950 regarding her fall activities: I got my typewriter! I went downtown and went in several stationary stores. They had typewriters but I didn't know if it would be such a good idea to get one in a small store. Well I ended up at Dayton's. I got a Remington Rand. I paid $95 for it. It's wonderful and far surpasses any others I saw. I went shopping today with Joan, her sister, and two other girls from Atwater and honestly I've never seen such a riot! None of us accomplished too much except me. It was the University Homecoming this weekend too so there were millions of people downtown. 
And some days, even Marilyn's friends wrote a letter to Marilyn's mother. Here's an excerpt from Marilyn's friend Audrey on December 5, 1950: What did you use to get Marilyn up in time for school? I've thought of dynamite but I know Miss Milla P. Thompson [the dormitory headmistress] would bawl me out again for making too much noise. This morning we both felt pretty lazy and sat and talked through my first hour class. I wonder if I can get a credit for my education on "The Life of Marilyn's Family in Ray, No. Dakota." Just now these gals, Joan, Marie, and "Flirt Squirt" [Marilyn] are arguing who is the most broke. I beat 'em all, I think, but who's passing around opinions? Around here they're cheap. Signed, Marilyn's Constant Pest, Audrey.
This is just the beginning of many more stories, so many of which are reminders of my own college years. Despite the 57 year gap between her first year and mine, some things never change (yes, this educator here whispered through some of her own first hour classes with friends in the back row of the auditorium).  

As I continue compiling, reading, researching, and weaving these letters into story, I will post more updates along the way. Even if I never publish this work, this project is for you, Marilyn.

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