A month of trauma both at home on the farm and at the college.
Ruth 3/2/29 from Home
I nearly went under this morning when I received your telegram. I have been nearly wreck all day and can think of absolutely nothing else. No use to tell me not to worry because I can’t help it. I’ll be worried sick until I can be hearing from you again. Perhaps you are in no danger, but I have been hearing enough lately about this disease to make anyone feel worried. There have been cases in Sioux City. I wish you weren’t so far away from me. I am wondering who could be ill and if it is anyone I know. Whoever it is I am extremely sorry to hear it. As I understand it, this disease is a dreadful thing.
We have not been without our worries here at home. Chester has been very ill but I didn’t know anything about it until last night. The doctor called last evening and said he thought it was only the flu settled in his leg or hip. It started when he helped Dad haul some hogs and when he got them in town he had a strenuous time getting them unloaded. His fever has gone down considerably and he doesn’t have quite so much pain.
How will I do all week without any letters from you! How will I know but maybe all kinds of things might be happening to my boy. I will be hoping for your safety and will certainly be happy when I hear from you again. Mother has been up to see Chester just now and his leg is getting stiff. I am afraid…. Oh dear, it makes me sick through and through just to think of it. I think I’ll stay in Allen tonight so in case…I’ll be at school and not quarantined here.
Ruth 3/3/29 Allen
I called Mother to see how Chester was and learned he is about the same. His leg doesn’t hurt so much but he still has a high fever. Poor kid. At any rate I don’t believe he has what I feared he might. However it will bear close watching.
If I could have one wish really come true, do you know what I believe I would wish? There are lots of things I would like to wish for, but one of them is that there would be no more clashing of personalities. Isn’t that a really, truly Quakerly wish? I do have noble thoughts occasionally which surprises me. It always makes me feel uncomfortable when people clash and I would rather not be around. There was a disagreement in the gang because one girl was listening to a symphony and the others made a fuss because they only wanted to listen to popular music. There were words and now there will be more hard feelings. I heard one of the girls say afterward “Benton is the sweetest tempered thing. She never makes anyone mad at her”. Reward, I suppose, but the credit goes to you. I don’t always feel sweet, but I do try to hold my tongue for I truly dislike to speak rudely to anyone. I think I have learned that from you. Mother says I need you just as you are to steady my ups and downs. Perhaps so. I know that you have a very firm will. If it fluctuated like mine I’m afraid we wouldn’t get very far.
I am worried to tears this evening. I jut now called home and learned that they have taken Chester to the hospital. I couldn’t hear what Dad said so central (the operator) repeated for us. The operator said Mother was coming home on the train this evening so it must not be terribly bad or they wouldn’t leave him alone. His temperature is still high. I am glad he is there because, of course, they can do much more for him there than could be done for him at home. I still have dread of what it might be. I am going to call again in the morning. Between you and Chester I have much to worry about. When will I ever hear from you? (Rachel’s note: it’s fascinating what a role the telephone operator plays as this saga unfolds!)
I tried to call home but no one answered. Central told me that Dad came home and left word that Chester is very ill. They operated, but she didn’t know the results. Mother is staying with him tonight. My heart stops beating every time the phone rings Central said she would let me know anything she heard about him. I’ve cried myself to sleep nearly every night this week. That is when I wish you were with me.
I suppose you are out of bondage today. It will probably be a grand and glorious feeling to all concerned.
I called home this evening and learned that Chester is much better. They operated yesterday. That was not very good, but he is much better today. The trouble is all caused from an infection that localized in his side.
I paddled a youngster today. I told you I felt it coming and it did. The little dickens! I’d give it to them all if it didn’t take so much of my strength.
My heart has simply been torn to shreds this weekend. I haven’t had the faintest idea the condition Chester has been in and when I saw him yesterday it was such a shock that I nearly flopped. I hope I never see a more pitiful or terrible thing in all the rest of my life. John, that boy has been delirious since Monday and has fought and raved day and night. His life has been in question since Wednesday and I knew nothing of it. After being in such a state all week his eyes and body are terrible His eyes haunt me. Words cannot tell what he has gone through. He didn’t know me yesterday morning. It was so pitiful that I could scarcely bear it and then to think the folks have had to watch that all week with no sign of improvement. Mother says they feel ten years older and they look it. Dad has gone to pieces and can do nothing but walk the floor and cry. Chester has known the folks all the time. If he hadn’t Dad would have been done for. He is now sleeping a lot. His mind has cleared up a good bit and this afternoon he was quite rational. He knew me today but he is far from being out of danger. The things he has said would be funny if they were not so tragic. I have five brothers but I couldn’t get along without everyone of them. Everything possible is being done. He has two nurses constantly on shift duty. He is never left alone and they work with him all the time. It has been so terrible for the folks that it breaks my heart.
Mother called this evening and said Chester was coming along fine with steady improvement. It is such a relief and such a grand and glorious feeling that I went to the show. I’ll bet Dad feels like he doesn’t care what happens now. It is just too wonderful.
You are having some interesting times aren’t you? Those are the things that make me homesick for the old campus. One doesn’t have a chance to meet people like that in a place like this. Chances for meeting such people are reasons why I would like to live in a college town. I know of no place I would rather live than in Central City. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a home there somewhere near the college? It would be ideal. Where do you suppose we will live, sweetheart? (Rachel’s note: this wish came true except their home was in the college town of Penn State, not Central)
This week has been another nightmare. Mother called and me and said Chester had to have another operation. If I would go down to the hospital they wouldn’t because they are so nearly worn out. They took out about a pint of pus from his leg again. I was so glad I could stay with him even though it was a strain on me. He is so lonesome to get home again but he will be there two more weeks at least. When I got out of the hospital I went out to Meyer’s. I stepped in the door and Catherine began talking to me and in a snap of a finger I went all to pieces. I was with him all day today and feel as limp as a rag. It is still a question in my mind as to whether that boy will pull through but I wouldn’t let on to the folks.
I just laughed today when I read of your new difficulties. (Refer to the Ruth Crain saga in John’s letters below.) I think that is the best joke. I know the girl. She went to Kearney summer school last summer. Surely she knows of your situation. You see, dear that’s what comes of being tied up as you are – Ha! I can’t imagine you falling for a girl like her. You see I’m not scared a bit.
Dad said this evening that Chester seemed quite cheerful today. Dad told him if he would only get well as soon as he could hobble about he would take him down town and buy him a new Ford. Chester told me that last Saturday. The tears came in his eyes and he said he was afraid we didn’t appreciate our Dad enough. He is thinking such things because he realizes how near he came to being taken away from us all. When I left him he squeezed my hand saying how glad he was I stayed with him. That was what broke me up, but he didn’t know because I smiled and was as jolly as I could until I got home to Meyers. He’ll be a different boy when he comes home if it is possible for him to be better. I still think my brothers are the finest boys in the community. (Rachel’s note: what a loving father Bert was! Just like John Ferguson became.)
I was disappointed of course in your letter but not as much as I might be sometimes. You must come next week or I’ll explode. How I love you!
You dear, fatherly old sweetheart, so you have turned counselor and guide. What blessing you are! It is fortunate that you like to work with people. I don’t. I can scarcely bear it and so many of the children want to hang around me. If I go out to play with them they nearly mob me wanting to stand beside me. I have forgotten how many have said, “Miss Benton, you are the best teacher we have ever had” or ” Miss Benton, I think you are the prettiest teacher in the school”. I think to myself, applesauce! They ask me if I will be back next year and I tell them yes because I have signed the contract. Mr. Bell says he thinks he can give me just one grade next year. What bliss that will be!
Do you think we could leave each other? I know we couldn’t if we tried it for a while. We’d always come back to each other We have become too much a part of each other. That is why I’m wearing your ring, darling lover. Your girl friends (who are struck – Ha! kiss me) and my boy friends (yes, uh-huh) make no difference to me.
I must write to my other sweetheart. Good night lover boy. P.S. My other sweetheart is Ralph. I’m lonesome for him too.
Ruth 3/26/29 (Morning)
Will you do me a kindness please? I want you to destroy the letter I mailed yesterday. It was such a horrid thing. I dislike to think of you having it. I should’t have written because I was so tired and sleepy I scarcely knew what I was doing. Come as early as you can Friday and take all the time you can while here. I must hurry to school. Please accept my apology and destroy that letter. That will be one of the first things I’ll ask you when you come. (Rachel’s note: John apparently obeyed because this is the only letter I can identify that wasn’t saved)
I have changed in many ways you will find and I’m afraid it is’t a change that you will greatly approve of. I came to the conclusion that my college days taught me to be too serious. When I came here I took everything so terribly seriously that I nearly wrecked myself. Now I have decided to be less serious about things and have a good time. Always a letter like yours today give me a slight jolt and makes me wonder if I am becoming so much different than you.
Sunday morning I went to the large Methodist church of Morningside and saw children baptized for the first time in my life. Of course I have never been trained in the belief, but I really don’t see any value in it. I can’t see what difference it would make to anyone. They have a lovely pipe organ there and a choir that sings beautifully. You know how pipe organ music gets me. I simply love it. I should say I like it, but I mean love it.
No doubt you will be surprised to receive this letter after the telegraph I sent the other evening. I’m permitted to write only upon the condition that this letter be fumigated, and that the envelope and stamp shall not be licked by me or other “unclean” person. It’s hard to tell who might read this before you do.
I fear you may gave been worrying some from your brief knowledge of our situation. Truly, dear, this is the most tragic thing that has happened since I have been here. You can count yourself fortunate that you are away. Miss Sara Sinall, a freshman who lives near Archer, took ill with what seemed to be tonsillitis last Monday night. She died yesterday morning at six o’clock. Her presence and association in school last Monday has made it quite probable that others might get the disease. School was closed Friday morning after it was made sure that she had spinal meningitis. The psychology of the whole situation has been most depressing. We were inoculated yesterday so it is not likely that any of the dorm students will become ill. I was most miserable yesterday because I awoke with a head ache and a sore throat – symptoms of the disease I am told. Dr Ross came out to to do the inoculations and checked me over. I felt relieved this morning when I awoke feeling better. You need have no fear about me because I think there will be no other cases occurring.
We will not have any spring vacation now so I hardly know when it might be possible for me to come and see you. I had it all planned to surprise you last Friday by dropping in to see you until I was informed that we couldn’t leave the campus.
I’ve had a long nap this afternoon – that’s about all there is to do. During these few days we have played ping pong, baseball and have done everything else conceivable.
These two photos give an idea of the surroundings that John now finds himself confined to during the quarantine.
What have we done this week? We had a radio delivered last Monday so we listened to the inaugural program. I enjoyed the proceedings greatly, especially Mr. Hoover’s address. I look for progress during his administration. I’ve worked on my car until it is almost in perfect condition again. Monday evening we had a wiener roast in the gym of Hord Hall. After that we did just what we all like best: some “spooned”, some played games, some listened to the radio, and other of us discussed and argued. I think we talked on every subject under the sun. Last night the girls invited us to their “La Quarentina” night club. The program was an imitation of a spanish night club. We had a good time. For once again I made a fool of myself. Its too bad you missed seeing me do that. We’ve only had two restrictions: we can’t leave the campus nor can we say what we want in our letters. It has been considered wise to write as few letters as possible.
Do you remember of our thinking once upon a time about the possibility of us doing social work for awhile? Today I have been thinking about that. We wouldn’t earn anything except living expenses, but we would get good and interesting experience. Just a suggestion or perhaps a “wild goose” idea of mine.
So you paddled him. I should have enjoyed watching you. I venture I would have had a good laugh. I’m glad your boys aren’t large so you can develop great strength – you might then be able to deal with me in such a manner. As long as clothes baskets are handy, I think I can defend myself.
Your letter made me happy because I had become quite anxious over Chester’s condition. I wonder how we will live through some of the difficulties which must inevitably come to us.
I heard back from more applications saying the positions had been filled. I still have several possibilities in mind. I must write now to my financiers. I’m needing advise about the markets, stocks, bonds, etc!!! The more I think the more remote becomes the possibility of our marrying this summer…
Complications have arisen which make my coming next weekend improbable. You know how I hate to think of not getting to see you as I had hoped! In the first place I haven’t the money to make the trip. Second, my car is not yet fully repaired because of a delay in getting the generator. Worse still is the fact that next Saturday is the final day of a two week sale at the store and the boss almost begs me to stay. He says it will be the biggest day of the year and that he almost has to have me. To say no would almost necessitate giving up my work on Saturdays which I need quite badly.
I must tell you a big joke as far as I’m concerned. Already the women have set their snares to entrap me. Like a bolt out of the blue I learned that a girl, Ruth Crain, who lives out at district 50 had a “smash” on me. Three years ago I solicited her while working for the college. That was the first I knew here. After that when I have gone to district 50 I have met her there. When we were out there recently she asked me about Shelton schools and I had Edith contact her. Almost immediately I got a long personal letter which, to be frank, I didn’t appreciate. Well, Fred Weeks told me that he heard I was going with her. I wasn’t feeling very happy over the thoughts of anybody thinking such a thing when this girl comes into the store last night and asked me for a date! Imagine such a thing! ( Rachel’s note: Remember Ruth Crain’s name. The saga with her continues and has a rather tragic ending!)
Last night Kenneth, my roommate, wanted me to give him “a talk” as he called it. He had had a dispute with his girl, one which was similar to some of ours. So again I happily performed my fatherly function. I enjoy doing such things. They convince me of the joy of service. Needless to say, I enjoy the experience I am getting by doing such things. Thank you but I wouldn’t feel right to use it. If I work next Friday and Saturday and if my efforts to obtain a loan materialize, I will be able to come on my own money.
You are a dear to love your family so much. Did I tell you that in a recent study that I made regarding Nebraska Yearly Meeting I read statements found in one source that were your father’s words? His part as well as his families’ efforts at Elk Valley were referred to. To read such things makes me conscious of the splendid heritage that is yours.
You are the first to suggest that I was an “author”. You must be careful what impressions you give of me because when I’m actually found out, you may be considered untruthful. (Rachel’s note: John eventually does become a co-author of three successful colleges text books.)
Tomorrow I’ll work to finish putting my Ford into shape. In the afternoon I must “shovel” beans and “auction” prunes, occasionally sell a piece of bologna or an hunk of Limburger cheese. I’ll work all day Saturday.
John 3/24/29 The Ruth Crain saga continues…
You may laugh again but I hope you won’t need to again soon over the same situation. Ruth Crain persists in attempting to secure a date; however, the more she persists the more I insist that it shall not be. She wrote me a letter wanting me to go to or return from the Grand Island debate with her. I told her “no”! I also told her that I wouldn’t take her to Elgin to apply for a school. I nearly became provoked when her picture came in the mail on Friday. I haven’t looked at it yet, I don’t intend to. I’m going to return it tomorrow.
We didn’t get back from Grand Island until 1:45 a.m. so I need to write to you this morning We closed our debate season last night with two victories, 2-1 & 3-0. Dear Guy Solt is certainly welcome home. He is so helpful and sympathetic to my needs. I certainly appreciate him. It is he who has given me much encouragement an relief from some of my worries in the past few days. I’ll tell you more about what he has told me next Friday.