Praise for The Letters of My Grandfather, Moses Perry Johnson, 1911-1928
Moses Perry Johnson, a successful businessman in St. Louis, has grown apart from his wife and taken up with a red-headed chanteuse. He sells all he own, settles most of the money on his adult children, and heads for the West Coast to start a new life.
Just another trite story of infidelity, right? Except that Perry Johnson's story takes place at the turn of the last century.
Upon his arrival in Washington State, he begins a series of lengthy letters to his daughter Lucy. As you read Perry's letters to his daughter, you will gain insight to life in 1900's Washington and California. He travels from lumber camps to dynamite factories to bustling cities like Seattle and San Francisco, looking for work and that fresh start. After more than a year in Tacoma, Perry moves southward, seeking a better climate. There were difficulties we cannot imagine in today's modern world. Waiting two weeks or more for a letter to arrive. Walking miles to work in the rain that never ceases. A fifty-three hour work week. The company keeping a portion of your check each week to pay for your room and board. Imagine getting your entire week's pay in coins in an envelope. He came to a young man's country at the age of 56. He had to prove himself with the same vigor and strength as men half his age.
There is a good deal of history discussed in these letters Perry sends to Lucy. One entire letter is devoted to the changes he expects to see in the department store where he worked for a while, once the Panama Canal is completed. He visited Canada and talks about their Transcontinental Railroad, completed nearly sixty years after our own. While in San Francisco, he works at the site of the 1915 Panama - Pacific Exposition, giving details about its construction. When he leaves San Francisco, he takes a job at Yosemite, clerking at the company store. When that job ends, he takes a grueling job at a power plant near Yosemite, lying about his age in order to be hired.
The mores of that era prevent Perry from talking about his relationship with Cynthia, the chanteuse. Perry repeatedly tells Lucy that there are no secrets between them, that she can tell him anything, that they are "chums." Despite this, he never mentions Cynthia or their relationship. He alludes occasionally to her companionship, writing about an especially good home-cooked meal, and occasionally uses "we" instead of "I." That is as close as we get to learning more about the red-headed singer for whom he changed his entire life. When his family finally visits him, Cynthia is introduced as the "housekeeper."
Perry tells a good story. You can feel the energy of these bustling towns. You see the beauty of the mountains, Puget Sound, and Golden Gate Park. You feel his despair in the early days, before he finds work and is settled. You know how much he misses his daughter and her children. You sense his awe of the majesty of the mountains. You feel his joy when he finds work and his life comes back to what he feels it should be.
Thankfully, the author has chosen not to edit her grandfather's letters. We are able to read them as he wrote them, with spelling errors, lack of punctuation and excesses of language common to that era. In her Introduction, the author gives a brief genealogy of the people we will meet through Perry's letters, which helps the reader to speedily catch on to the references made to siblings and other family members.
The only way to make this story better is to find Lucy's letters, too.
San Jose, CA
October 15, 2012
As I read I begin to feel as if I were shadowing his every day life. This book flows with personal lives and adventures, and feelings of history as if you were right there experiencing it yourself. Bravo!
Marin County, CA
October 22, 2012
Blejerh gave to:
Letters of My Grandfather: Moses Perry Johnson by Anne R. Dick
This book pulls you in and you cannot stop reading until you're done. Moses Perry Johnson was a successful businessman, father of a large family, descendant of Captain John Johnson, one of the founders of Roxbury, Massachusetts. He had everything going for him, but at age 56 he left his family of 12 children and, without a nickel to his name, went out West to start over again in 1910 in Oregon. The centerpiece of the book is the letters that Perry Johnson wrote home to his eldest daughter, Lucy, and his is an authentic voice of his era. It was not an easy time to start over and his life those first years were a struggle that this upper middle-class, well-educated, well-bred man was not accustomed to. Anne R. Dick, his granddaughter, adds context to his letters with a deft hand, based on her research into the family and into Perry Johnson's life. If you like American history, social history, genealogy, or the history of our Western states, you will like this book