He greeted her with ‘My dear girl’ on a Wednesday afternoon in 1919.
It was February 5 and Frank Whitworth, who was stationed in France, sat down to write his wife a letter. World War I was over and his letter was one of love, longing and of a man yearning for the warmth and closeness of home. On that day, my grandfather wrote that he was getting plenty to eat, had nothing to do at the moment and had a good “hat stand” to sit by. “What more could a man ask for,” he wrote. “You know don’t you Nell? I’m sure I do and it’s my own dear girl that’s so far away.”
Nell, who would become the mama of his children, and later, Granny, awaited his return in Shelby, NC, and in her mind it was Frank who was thousands of miles away on that winter day when he sat down to pen a letter. But before the children came, a boy and six girls, she was not only his dear girl, but his ‘little girl,’ who lived with his family while he was in the Army. Before the tragic death of their firstborn, Mary Edna, who died before age 2, before the work of raising children and maintaining a farm and working as a carpenter, she was the one who was on his mind and the one he couldn’t wait to hold in his arms.
He wrote her 10 pages on stationery imprinted with “American Expeditionary Forces, Young Men’s Christian Association, Army of Occupation.” The pages are yellow now–in eight years they will be 100 years old–and they open a wonderful window into the past. But Frank and Nell were living not in the past or future, but in the present. He was a good 10 years older than she, which might be why he called her little girl, and wanted nothing but the best for her.
In his letter he told her about a note he’d received from his ‘sis,’ or at least I think he referred to his sister. His cursive writing was neat enough, but sometimes hard to decipher, which reminds me of my sister Kerry’s handwriting. But I digress. His sister told Frank that he and Nell acted like two kids, and that the whole family liked Nell and couldn’t imagine what they’d do without her. Which is exactly what a man, who is serving his country and hankering to come home and start a life with his bride, wants to hear.
In his letter to Nell, he tried not to dwell on the negative and often reproached himself for doing so. But it’s hard not to confide in the one you love, and he wrote, ” there isn’t money enough in America and Europe all put together to get me to spend the almost eleven long months away from you I mean you as I have done, but Nell, it’s useless to mention these things now and I had as well cut it out.”
He read the paper every day, he said, and had yet to see where preparations were being made to get them home from what he described as this “god forsaken country.” He went on to say, “Seems as though they don’t care, and I don’t suppose they do much. That’s our great and wonderful leaders,” he wrote, underlining “great” and “wonderful,” before saying he shouldn’t write such things. “But I have got my dander up this evening and I will say a little more.” He mentions the “whiskey case,” saying “not that I care for whiskey and I never will drink again, but it’s simply this. They are taking the advantage of the boys while they are over here fighting and can’t vote.”
He was most likely referring to Prohibition and the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which was ratified January 16, 1919 and banned the nationwide sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, and despite his claim to never drink again, Frank went on to partake every now and then. In fact, I remember Granny saying that one night she had a headache and couldn’t sleep so unbenownst to him, she drank one of his beers. Years later she told him about it, and he said, “Oh, I thought one was missing.”
In his letter, he wrote, “No, Nell, you can bet your life I won’t run off to France any more. I’m going to take you with me everywhere I go hereafter.” Before he died in 1969, he’d talked about being buried beside the baby, and after his death, they fulfilled his wishes by moving Mary Edna from a cemetery in North Carolina to the one in Clover. I saw Granny cry silently at the graves once, dabbing her eyes. “I had a good man,” she said.