A couple of years ago, my great-aunt, Sharron Norton Fenn, sent me some letters, two written by my grandfather, Clarence Norton, to his father, Harley Raymond Norton. Those letters are 85 years old in 2019.
The backstory: Harley Raymond Norton (1901-1962) was married to Cecil Mae Tharp (1895-1939).
She had crippling arthritis. Harley wasn’t able to care for her, and they separated and divorced in the mid-1920s. They had two little boys–Donald went to live with his mother and the Grandparents Tharp; Clarence went to live with the Grandparents Norton.
The 1930 census shows Grandpa Clarence, age 8, living with Paschal and Susan. I’m not sure how long he had been with them. Grandpa’s father, Harley Raymond Norton, had joined the Navy and was stationed around the world, but usually in California–that’s a long way from Missouri!
The letters Aunt Sharron sent were from 1934, one from August, which sounds like Grandpa received some school supplies from his dad now in California.
Spickard Mo Augest 28, 1934
How are you? I am all O.K. I got my things OK. I got two eversharps, 4 lead pencils, one compess, one thing to make parts of rings, one transparent ruler, one note book full of paper 6 eraser’s 2 box’s of eversharp leads. I think it will last me through one 12 in. eyesaver one 6 in. eyesaver. I will be in the seventh grade. got 4 good pair of overalls 5 shirts 6 pair of soks. she said she was going to send a pair of shoes. ma got me a new saddle girt. alma started to work at the canning factery last night. Ma is going to get work. Pa is going to work on the road. and I will go to school. We haven’t got a thing to eat but what we buy at town. Jessie is working at the green house at Treton. I was down to Jessie Sunday and John Philip came home with us. I hope you will get well.
I will close for this time
answer soon from Clarence to Daddy
We got your pictures OK she looks fine.
The “she” mentioned is Harley’s new wife, Louise. Harley had remarried in 1933, but he was ill and in the hospital. Through Mary Louise, Harley was sending money and items back to Missouri to help out.
Paschal also sent a letter at the same time. It began, “Me, I am nocked out quite a bit. my hart is trying to go back on me quite a bit anymore. and has bin so hot so long. But now has cooled off quite a bit and had some nice rain but not near enough yet as will take lots to start the pastures to do any good. And shure need it bad as feed is going to be awfly scarce and every body is feeding now and if hafto keep it up till next spring wont have 1/2 enough for the winter. we have sold all of our cows but 3. And the 3 horses and wont have feed enough then.” It was the Depression; times were hard, Grandpa Paschal was sick.
The next letter, written in November, appears to be Grandpa’s Christmas list for 1934.
Spickard Missouri, November 4, 1934
How are you? I am all O, K. I got my shoes all O.K. I am going to school right along. Just mist one day. It rained all night last night. We went over to Sunday school but didn’t have any, so we went over to Sikes and stayed all day. I would rather have the money sent to me. I wish you would send me 5 or 6 boxes of shot gun shels they are 60 to 70 cents a box with 25 shels in a box they are prety high here. there has been a lot of ducks on the lake but I haven’t got any yet. I would like to have a rifle they don’t cost much and the shels don’t cost very much I would rather have a good rifle than the bicycle. It rained some more last night to. but not to mount to anything. Well this morning is school morning. Kenneth Bosly came home with me last night we had a good time.
Clarence to dad.
Paschal’s PS at the end of the letter is great.
“I see he wants a rifle and some shot gun shells he don’t need eather as he has all the shot gun shells he wants and that is enough. and his gun is good enough anaway. There is not much to hunt anymore Paschal
In a separate letter, written November 7, Paschal tells Harley: “Clarence has been writing to you and Loise, I gess for a few things but he has a good lot of cloaths for winter and that is enough. he has got everything you folks has sent him and all was just all right–he got those shoes all right to and a good fit he don’t need that Bicksickle at all So don’t get it. Ma went to town and got his winter underware so he is all right.–he will need a new suit in the spring for summer but that is quite a ways off yet. So can see about that then.”
Paschal was not going to find out what Santa brought Clarence that year. Another letter (copied by Sharron) starts out:
Spickard MO, 8:50 O’clock Dec 12 -34
Papa is still alive. But real low. And expecting him to pass away any minute. He knows what is going on part of the time. The Dr has no hopes for him at all. Just a few more hours at best to be with us. His heart is far below normal And dropsey is developing fast. His legs are as big as can be and feet also. His abdomen is awful hard and filling fast. Almost to his heart. So when it gets there it is all over. Momma is holding up very well. Yes Harlie you send Clarence 10.00 if you can. He needs a suit…Hasen’t any. Papa hasent any crop to go on. And had to buy feed. So it is sure close times for him. Sorry you are sick. Tell us what is the matter of you. I want the truth. I won’t tell momma if you don’t want her to know. But us girls would like to know. Write one us. It is about mail time. Us girls are both here And aim to stay. We have been here a week. The nighbors are awful good. Have plenty of company. Jessie is writing this. Good by we will do the best we can. Will write Louise. Momma & Clarence
The letter was written by Jessie, Paschal’s daughter, and sent to Harley at the Naval hospital because Harley was also sick. By the time Harley received the last letter, Paschal had passed away. He died on 14 December, 1934, and was laid to rest at Wild Chapel Cemetery.
What hard times. I would gather this was the hardest Christmas Grandpa ever had—he was only 12, a seventh-grader. His dad was gone; he did not see his mother much; now his grandpa, his guardian, was dead.
I don’t think Grandpa Clarence got that shotgun or those shells, but he was not left empty-handed. A photo in Grandma Mary’s albums shows “Clarence’s bicycle.”
This article started out to be a jovial look at the Christmas list of a 12-year-old in 1934. As I read the letters more closely, there was a lot of hardship and true sadness that accompanied those wishes. Maybe that’s what the true lesson from the letters becomes–there’s joy and sadness–there always will be–but we can’t give up on wishes. We can’t give up on Christmas! We know bad times and sad times will come, but so will happy times. We have to keep pushing forward to the happy times. To those who are having happy times, and those who are pushing toward happy times…MERRY CHIRSTMAS.