My recent purchase of a 1941-1942 WNAX Neighbor Lady cookbook has reignited my love for these books. I particularly love the letters that are included in each book because they capture so much of the history and the way that people lived. Here are some of my favorites from the 1944 book.
Dear Neighbor Lady: For many years I have spent my winter months making quilts and rugs. But since the war came on my hobby is writing to those in service. I began by writing the home news to the boys from our own community who were at Guadalcanal. Later on there were others and as the young folks call me “Mom Fay” I always signed my name like that. Finally boys who had no mothers wrote and asked if I wouldn’t be their “mom” too. So up to date I write to 26. I had always hoped to have a “baseball nine” of my own, but they were nearly all girls. “My sons” in service all want to belong to my baseball nine. My pitcher writes from India, my catcher from North Ireland, my first basement from Australia, my shortstop from Italy. They write such good letters. They seems as if they are my sons. One is a red-head from the state of Ohio, and while in the hospital he wrote and said, “Dear Mom, you can’t imagine how good it was to have you call me ‘son’.” My hobby takes a lot of time but I enjoy writing and how much it means to these boys whose mothers died when they were 3 or 5 or so. They seem to feel that sense of belonging to someone, which is very important to all of us. In a letter from a boy from the state of Texas, who is now across, he wrote, “Guess what, Mom. I qualified as a bugler yesterday.” He wrote and asked if I could stand just one more son, in April last year, as he lost his mother when he was 3 and he had been reading the letters I sent to his buddy. So my evenings are spent writing to these boys of mine. My southern boys always say, “Be sweet, Mom,” and I can hardly wait to have them all come home, although there are so many that I have neer seen
– Mrs. John Fay, York, North Dakota
Dear Neighbor Lady: Maybe first, I had better ask you to excuse me for being so brassy as to address you as above, but you know us poor husbands have to listen to the ups and downs of women for 6 days each week through WNAX as our wives always turn their dial to this program at 3:25 p.m., but it could be worse. The reason I am writing is because my wife has been in bed for three days with flu, she was pretty sick but is coming all right now and she said, “if someone does not write for me they will think I have forgotten them,” but you do not need to worry as she mentions something about the Neighbor Lady program all through the day and maybe the night as I do not stay awake to listen to her. I guess she has tried every article that you advertise and of course there is no comparison and I suppose I will have to admit that they are all okay with me. She sure has received a lot of letters from Neighbor Ladies all over the country and she wishes you to tell them that she will write to them when she gets her strength again. I work out at the airport so if you women get too hard on us men, I can fly away. I think I will write to Jack Paige and have him start a competitive Neighbor Man Program and name it “Neighbor Ladies’ Poor Husbands.” Well, I don’t expect a good deed dollar, but pray for my wife to get strong fast. Very truly yours, a batching husband.
– George R. Granger, Mitchell, South Dakota.
P.S., While I was writing this letter I forgot my Neighbor Lady meat stretcher in the oven, viz: meat pie, and the top cooked to a dark brown, so I guess it is done. G.R.G.
Dear Neighbor Lady, and all you wonderful friends. Usually I find it easy to write letters, but this time, I just don’t know how to begin. How can a “thank you friends” convey my feelings and make you all know just how much I did enjoy those wonderful letters, cards, beautiful greetings, the pictures and the presents. Thank you, thank you all so much. I wish every WNAX Neighbor Lady would have as pleasant a birthday as I did. I wish I could write to each one and thank them, but that’s impossible. I didn’t turn the radio off as you suggested, Neighbor Lady, as I’d had a letter telling me someone had suggested a card shower. I was surprised that so many did write and the mail came so fast. Hazel said, “Mother, you had better tell Neighbor Lady how excited you were.” Just how did I rate such a surprise? I kind of believe it was Mrs. Whitehorn and Mrs. Granger that got the idea started; with your cooperation, it was a huge success. I especially like birthdays, and I can’t think of anything that could have pleased me more than did all those kind messages. I received 170 cards, letters, and greetings, 18 lovely hankies, a bird of paradise brooch, a wool yarn flower for a coat lapel, a crocheted cross book mark, doily with lace edge of shaded pink thread, package of flower seeds and a Perfex hot pan holder. Also a clever cut-out greeting from our Neighbor Lady. Some very thoughtful person even wrote to Bertha Kott about my birthday so I received a lovely letter and a greeting and hankie from her too. Again and again, “thanks” all you grand neighbors.
Very truly yours,
Mary Renn, Pine River, Minnesota
These letters make me realize a few things. One, that we seem to have lost a sense of community to the point where we make connections with random strangers and take the time to really communicate. The advent of the internet created a surge in that a little bit, with Yahoo groups and the like bringing people together. Facebook has also allowed us to make connections with long lost friends across the globe. However, we spend so much time “liking” statuses and not enough time actually talking. How much do we really know about the people on our friends list?
These letters also make me feel guilty for my own lack of meaningful communication. Nearly all of us enjoy getting actual mail from people, but how many of us actually send mail aside from the obligatory birthday card? I need to make a point to be better about mailing letters and whatever else. The card shower idea is not new, I know, but it is a lost practice. Can you imagine getting 170 cards for your birthday?
And the lady who wrote to all her adopted “sons” — that is a heartwarming story and selfless act on her part. Keep in mind that there was no computer to type letters quickly; no way to just copy and paste things to avoid having to repeat it. She wrote to 26 boys and had to take hours out of each day to hand write the letters.
One thing these letters remind me of is the simple fact that it is important to stay in meaningful contact with people. Facebook and smart phones give us a false sense of connectedness, I think. We think a text means something, or a Facebook “like” means that we are thinking of that person, but in reality, that contact means very little.
Perhaps we should revive the concept of a card shower and start mailing letters to those who are important to us. Email has made us forget how fun it is to actually get a letter or package in our mailboxes.
OK, end of rant. I will be posting more letters from other Neighbor Lady books in the near future. More fun on the way!