Broken Hearts, Shattered Dreams

Not long after Grandpa returned to King City, on April 9, 1919, he and Grandma had a falling out. This surprised me. The letters they exchanged over the spring, just weeks before his return, were filled with a shared dream, it seemed, of settling down. In time they did make a life together, but it would take nearly ten months—from April, 1919, to January, 1920—to break and repair their wartime romance.

Daddy and Gma on boat

Daddy with Grandma, 1977, on a vacation in Wisconsin.

Many years later, about the time this photograph was taken, Grandma cranked a piece of paper into her portable typewriter and began recording her memories. Grandpa had died–in 1967–and I imagine my father thought it was time for Grandma to fix her life story in print. I pulled out the transcript to see if she wrote about Grandpa’s return.

remember, cropped

She did recall Grandpa’s discharge from Camp Grant, and how he didn’t let them know when he’d be home. Her recollection matches Grandpa’s, who wrote in one of his last letters that he didn’t want people to “make a fool of me” when his train came in.

When he reached King City he called me, rented a horse and buggy and came out to our house for dinner. I went home with him for a few days. We dated only a few times when we had ‘a little tiff’ and he went his, and I went mine.

She gave no details on the nature of their quarrel. What could have gone so wrong? I only have two clues.

The first clue is a name I’ve shared on this blog: Stanley Brown. Like Grandpa, he had been drafted for service in Missouri (in Madison, which lies to the east of King City), trained at Camp Funston, and sent to France, where a war injury placed him in the same convalescent facility as Grandpa. It was there, in a hospital complex that served thousands of American soldiers, that the two men first met and discovered that each had the same picture of Grandma tucked in their wallets.

I found a notice in the King City Chronicle, dated August 1, 1919, that mentions a visit by Stanley Brown to King City. In the clipping shown here, the names of Mr. and Mrs. Lucian Frank are those of Grandma’s uncle and aunt (Aunt Susie being the sister of Grandma’s father).


King City Chronicle, 1 August 1919, p. 3.

Grandma vividly recalled a summer visit with her aunt and uncle, one that apparently started before this August event reported in the newspaper.

Early that summer Uncle Dot Franks were up from Madison. They insisted that Mary, me and Dorothy and Sidney go home with them for a two weeks vacation, and they would bring us back. What was supposed to be two weeks lasted most all summer. What a time we had, for they were fine hosts. (. . .) Aunt Susie was also good at seeing that everyone had a date. She didn’t have to worry about me for I began dating a boy I had met there before—Stanley Brown.

Had Stanley Brown crowded into her friendship with Grandpa? Maybe. It’s possible, too, that Grandpa’s war experience had introduced new, unexpected elements into their relationship. He was injured, tired, burdened now with helping his 72-year-old father run a farm. Maybe he was restless, too, “like a bird out of a cage,” the term he used to describe soldiers coming home from France.

Without knowing what caused my grandparents’ quarrel, I think it’s fair to imagine it came along the frayed edges of expectations. The dreams they held during the war, the ones that sustained them over the long months, didn’t materialize at the time of their reunion. The war had changed both the dreams and the dreamers.

That second clue as to what caused the tiff? That’s the subject of my next post.

Adding Insult to Injury

The year ended on a sour note for Grandpa. Out on a walk one afternoon with his buddy, Tom Wright, both recuperating from battle injuries at the Mesves Hospital Center in the Loire Valley, they ran into a man named Stanley Brown.

Grandpa and Tom Wright

Undated photo, probably near Camp Funston, 1917-18. Grandpa is standing next to Wright.

Tom Wright, a fellow from Co C that is here with me and I went over to see Wayne yesterday afternoon and on our road back stopped at the Canteen to get some candy. The line was real long so we decided to come back without it. And just as we were starting, there was a nice looking fellow saw the 356 on my cap and says, “Say” what co are you out of? So I told him. After talking a few minutes with him he says do you know Tom Alderson in that co? I laughed and then said this is him you are talking to. He then stuck out his hand and says, this is Stanley Brown.

Like Grandpa, Stanley Brown had been recruited for service in Missouri (Madison, county of Monroe), trained at Camp Funston, and deployed as part of the 356th Infantry, 89th Division (Company E). Also like Grandpa, Stanley Brown had an interest in my grandmother. In a letter Grandpa wrote on December 29, he recounted how he “was showing him a picture of yours . . .


December 29, 1918 letter to Grandma.

I was showing him a picture of yours that I have in the back of my watch, and he pulled out his pocket book and showed me the same picture. So Wright has been teasing me all day about it.

My grandfather was a proud man. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like the teasing, and pretty sure he didn’t like the surprise.

A couple of weeks later, on January 6, 1919, Grandpa reported that Stanley Brown had undergone another operation, “A piece of dead bone taken out of his leg, is what a boy was telling me.” Then he admitted, “I have been laying off going up to see him.” That’s the last time Grandpa wrote about Stanley Brown.

This story might end on the wards of the Mesves Hospital Center, Grandpa’s feelings hurt. But that seems unfair to my grandmother.

Grandma Wartime

Undated photo of my grandmother as a young woman.

Pulling out the lens to see the many women on the home front–charged with letter-writing and knitting and purchasing Liberty Bonds and keeping up the spirits of their soldier boys, as they kept up their own lives and livelihoods–it’s not hard to imagine the emotional burden they carried during the long months of separation from the men sent off to a distant war.

Consider the slow pace of the mail, which took weeks (months) to find its way to the battlefield and back home. After Grandpa was wounded, his mail was sent first to his company before being routed back to the hospital, a journey that didn’t always result in delivery. (More on that in a later post.) So, it was difficult to stay in touch, and perhaps difficult to maintain a friendship.

And then there’s the Midwestern farming culture of Grandma’s family, one that expected young women to marry and have children and set up a farmstead of their own. Were young women like Grandma expected to put their lives on hold, to wait for men to return, some injured, others dead?

In Grandma’s case–and here I struggle to find a word that gathers up what I picture as her family’s concerns and expectations, perhaps even pressure, to maintain a sensible course in her life at this time. Maybe they counseled her to keep open her options. Or maybe Grandma had questions about Grandpa, whom she met just before he set off for training. In any case, it was her family (and his) who set up introductions. That’s how she came to know Grandpa, through his Aunt Ettie (Hale). And Stanley Brown came into her life when her Aunt Susie (Dykes) Frank, who lived in Madison, introduced them there.

Why did Grandma write to these two men, and why did she give them each the same photo to carry with them into battle? I don’t know. Nor do I know the intentions of Stanley Brown, only that he was more than a wartime pen pal. He would stay in the picture of my grandparents’ sometimes bumpy romance in the months ahead.


The Last Trip Home


Train postcard

A postcard Grandpa sent earlier in the spring.

Grandpa’s last trip home ended badly, in a misunderstanding with Grandma. When he boarded the train to go back to camp, he knew he’d have some explaining to do.

This trip home, from April 6-14, had been organized by the Army. They sent nearly 30 soldiers to their homes in northwest Missouri to drum up support for the war. As the King City Chronicle noted, April 12, the “soldier boys” came with “their guns, tents and all camp equipment.” Big crowds gathered to marvel at “bayonet charges” and the speedy way the soldiers set up their tents.

The soldiers went, like a traveling show (seems to me), from one little town to the next, staging their exhibitions first at Maysville, then Osborn, Cameron, Union Star, and finally, on Saturday, in King City. At each location, patriotic speeches were offered, bands played familiar all-American tunes, and townspeople bought Liberty Bonds.

Bond ads

These ads ran in the April 12 King City Chronicle, the same issue that described the military drills. Both ads capture the point of view of this newspaper–that the war in Europe was fought to protect freedoms at home.

That Saturday in King City, on the 13th, the last day of the tour, Grandpa sat down at a dinner. I don’t know if Grandma attended, only that Grandpa was finishing up when his buddies told him to hurry up and join them. He looked for Grandma but couldn’t find her to say goodbye. First thing he did, back at Camp Funston, was start apologizing.

First apology, 2 cropped

April 14 letter, written at 9:30pm, after a long trip back to camp. As he often did when he was anxious or in a hurry, Grandpa used a pencil and messy, loopy handwriting.

The “lot of things to tell you” was explored in an unusually long letter he wrote the next day, across five pages. He opened with a note on guard duty, followed by an update on the weather, and then moved right into a reference to his sister Ethel . . .

4-15-18 apology, 1 cropped

April 15 letter

Maybe he’d done the wrong thing?? Who was this “lady?”

In the letters that followed, Grandpa never named her. He tried to explain that she needed a ride home to Clarksdale (south of King City), and that he (along with his buddies?) obliged. He also made it clear that she had taken a train from there to St. Joe, and he traveled the other direction, to Maysville, to catch the train back to camp.

The last time he mentions the episode was in a letter dated May 9.

Apology, 5-9-18, cropped rev.

May 19 letter

Grandpa was ready to move on, put this behind them. He argued, in an earlier letter, April 28, “I sometimes think that was a good thing in some ways. My people sure did hate it, but given things will happen in love or war and this was in both, so I guess that was the reason there was the trouble.”

How did Grandma feel? I wish I knew. I can only imagine the strain the war put on her, keeping up with a boyfriend who could, at any time, be sent to a war that might claim him. How did her family feel about the “lady” episode? There’s only one clue, and that’s the appearance of  Stanley Brown in their correspondence. He had been introduced to Grandma by her paternal aunt, Susie Dykes Frank, who lived east of them, in Madison, Missouri. Grandma wrote Grandpa that her “friend” Stanley Brown had been inducted and was training at Camp Funston. “I will try my best to entertain him,” Grandpa wrote back, “as I know he is nice fellow or you would [not] have had anything to do with him, course saying nothing about me, HaHa.” Their first meeting came, not in Kansas, but months later in a hospital in France, where both men were recuperating after the war. That’s when they shook hands and both pulled out pictures of Grandma.


An undated family picture of Grandma, about the time of the war.

Troubles in love or war. Grandpa got that part right.