In 1925 John and Ruth begin their relationship while in boarding school at Nebraska Central Academy and College where John was a senior and Ruth a junior in the Academy. They are 17 when the letters begin in June after school is out. Ruth goes back to the farm to work with her mother and John goes to work on the railroad.
I made the trip home in the rain from Nebraska Central. Home, doesn’t that mean lots? Do you know I think most people fail to realize what it does mean unless I am peculiar and think differently. I have a feeling inside that words can’t express towards home and family. I wonder how it would seem to make a new home and know that its success or failure depended upon ones ability to do certain things. Some day I mean to find out.
So many of my friends are getting married. It’s a wonder that Mama doesn’t get tired of it (giving advice to Ralph) but mothers are wonderful things, aren’t they? It seems as though I appreciate Mother more now than I used to. Perhaps I have more sense than I used to. Dad “looks like a mean man” – can imagine him grabbing someone by the back of the neck and setting the dog on them – but he’s really just the opposite.
Mother and Father Benton are going to Iowa to visit his sister. Ruth and Ralph have to babysit and manage the farm.
Bad day – everything went wrong. Baked bread and it wasn’t good, baked cake and it was nothing to brag about. “I guess cooking is not in my line” The little chickens got sick and I lost a lot of them. “I guess the folks are having such a good time they don’t want to come back to the old drag” I don’t see how Mother has stood it all these 25 yrs cooking 3 meals/day. Here I have done it 2 wks and have had plenty and then some. My opinion is that I’ll make some man a poor wife some day unless I keep my single blessedness henceforth and forever. At any rate these lat 2 wks have added about 20 yrs, more or less, to that single state of existence (amen).” Johnnie coming to visit and “I mean to celebrate for 2 things: 1st for getting out of the kitchen and it will be the 4th of July.
Ralph doesn’t do chores – lays in bed until breakfast. The worst task is caring for the chickens. Feeding the chickens and the boys is how I spend the day. I put the new chicks in a coop. They are such dumb little thing but so cute!” “Oh I’m getting quite skilled along the domestic arts line. However I can’t make good pie crusts. I told the boys they’d have to endure it until I learn how or I am determined to do it”. Lawrence said he’d eat them – how sweet to be a martyr for the cause. Dessa to be married. “Glad it is her and not I”. I would loath to think that I was tied down to housekeeping from now to eternity. Plenty of time for that and I can only be 17 once. So many little things to make life worthwhile. Why can a letter from a certain young gentleman make lowly despised tasks not so bad after all?
Benton Family Farm and house:
It seemed quite good to get home again but I don’t know which I should prefer; being here at home or at NCC with you. “Estes” (the name of John’s car) ran fine. Rained a little. I was afraid Estes would get wet so I went to Dad’s tool shed for canvas and covered “her” up as it wowuld certainly spoil the appearance of Estes to have her get wet.
I started work on the RR. Certainly hard work. The first day I thought I would perish although its not so bad now. It would not be so comfortable to hold your hand because I only have about 17 blisters on each hand. I work until 5:00 then read the paper until supper. After supper I read or go out under a tree and think. I enjoy this very much because at school I was so seldom alone. Then after thinking until dark I usually write letters, look at pictures or read until bed at 9:00.
Although I do love my parents and family I do get somewhat disgusted when I try to uphold Christian ideas and they do not which of course causes arguments. I do not agree with so many people. I wonder if I am queer or it is them. Having experienced living in both kinds of homes my highest ambition is to provide a Christian home where my children can experience real love. I got back too late to go to church so I held my little brother and rubbed his head as I did yours until he got sleepy and went to sleep.
Sitting in Harold’s car John wrote a nonsense letter and signed it “Imp of Satan”. John inclosed a “Love 50-50” picture cut from a magazine.
Your friendship has forced me to abandon some of the worst habits one could have and I’m afraid that under the circumstances of this summer. I would drift back into the same habits if it were not for thinking of you. Last week we were laying track and to do this requires more men than we have in our gang of six. So the other sections came up to help us and at the end of the day I was so disgusted. When our gang, which consiss of mostly married men, is alone we do not talk much but when the other gang came down they talked incessantly. My, you have no idea of the type. They talk of “rotten” stories and criticisms against women. They see their wives and other girls as “low as animals” and “the only thing they are good for is to satisfy their desires. It seems that the only way I can influence them is to not pay any attention to such talk and not indulge myself.
I’m coming to Waterbury. Now the question is whether to drive Harold’s car or Estes; it would be faster in Harold’s car but I’m sure I could get there in Estes. By the way I am going to get her a new top. I will be glad when I can go back to NCC. I am afraid I will get so attached to that school that I will never want to do anything but go to school. Had it not been for me going there as a 3rd year it is hard to imagine what would have become of me.
Now that you are a farmer girl and chief cook and bottle washer of the ranch. I imagine you will acquire some muscle. I work so hard that I have to have mother put elastic in my sleeves in my shirts so when I bend my arms I don’t tear the shirts. I’ve gained over 6 lbs since coming home. Ralph and the boys will die of indigestion before your mother gets home.
Mother left me in charge of her chicks too. I just had to get them in or they might drown. My! I sure hate that job. It takes more patience than I have.
I am sure stiff tonight. This morning about 4:00 it started raining and the train dispatcher of Grand Island called over the phone and said that we should go over the track. Every time it storms we have to go. I had to go wake the rest of the gang up. We sure got soaked. We had to ride 12 miles on one of those motor cars. We got back about 6:00 and I certainly enjoyed my breakfast. Then I went to work again at 800 and it was sure hot. By 8:30 my overalls, shirt and everything else was wringing wet with sweat. Yesterday we loaded 300 ties and unloaded a car of sand in the morning and in the afternoon we raised track.
Yesterday one of the men went to Kearney and saw an accident where a man tried to hop a train and was yanked off his feet and couldn’t pull himself up and swinging him between 2 cars cutting one leg then he was unable to hold on and fall between the wheels and was cut in two just above the belt.
You mustn’t take me too seriously. Although I have criticized your cooking, very much I would like to try it and if necessary your brother and I might both die martyrs to the cause. Knowing you do trust in me I close happy although not content. Your little thing, John.
These brothers and sisters of mine sure are interesting. Some nights when I come in from work I am rather grouchy toward them and they are very disgusting. I’ve been working on this and feel I’ve made progress. They are so cute that I wonder if I was ever that way. Your letters are very interesting. I devour them to the fullest extent. Some nights I read all your letters. I have them almost memorized. Even the section men whom I work with notice the difference in me the day after hearing from you. Now isn’t that strange?