Early summer of June 1961, I called my mother to tell her I wanted to get married. I knew it would be a shock. I was 19, it was the end of my freshman year at Northwestern, she hadn’t met Elizabeth, and as a single, working-class mom she knew the trials of survival. We had a difficult phone call (500 miles apart), I wrote her a long letter, and she replied. That summer she came up to visit (I took summer classes), she met my lifemate, was totally smitten and sold. We officially married that August, though we celebrate the previous Nov. 13th as our true bonding.
In researching her own memoir, Elizabeth found those letters. I read them partly with chuckles, partly with tears. Margaret Lucille Pitzer Bishop Sagan Leuck died in the 90’s and stands before me now. Portions of her letter to me, 6/7/61:
You know I have always stood behind you in all your undertakings and always will. From your first baby steps across the floor to your fights on 6th St., your work and struggles for certain merit badges, your school plays (I was your worst critic)—your scholarships, awards and badges. My enjoyment was giving you encouragement and love because that was about all I had to offer you—the dollars were few and they were for necessities. Your many honors repaid me for my efforts.
Secretly, I have feared that you might meet and fall in love with someone who might not understand your make-up. Being raised in a little shack across the tracks on 6th St. makes one different. The outdoor plumbing, the pot bellied stove with the wood pile beside it—the little black Buzz Fly with her puppies in the kitchen, the snow blowing in the windows and the sound of the rats gnawing when the lights were turned out. These were not the highest standards of living. But this was our home and there was love in it. You would bring your book and climb up on my lap, and I would kiss you and love you and tell you that you were the only thing in the world that I really loved. Then I would kiss you and hug you and your little eyes would just smile. Then there were the bad days—when I had to punish you and tell you “no” to things that you really wanted to do. This hurt me, too. I bring all these things up because it was only yesterday…
Then suddenly, when you called out of a deep sleep to tell me you planned to be married, you were grown up all at once—I nearly folded up. All at once you had grown up— Yes, I expected it eventually but to believe you were planning your own home seemed strange. Soon another woman would take over. Will she understand his ways? Will she think I did a lousy job raising him? Will he understand his responsibilities in a home? Will he be thoughtful of little things that bring a wife much happiness? Remember kind words are easily spoken and mean a lot.
I feel, after reading your letter, you may have found the little lady who may understand you. I have every confidence in your choice. Marriage certainly is a business—not only from a monetary angle, but must be worked at faithfully and as a team to make for happiness. … I have no advice now or ever—do not plan to give any. Suggestions, yes and encouragement, yes. … But any decisions to be made are yours, the two of you.
There are very few girls nowadays that would want to sacrifice to this extent. Your plans sound workable except for the unforeseen things which might arise before your graduation. But there are always ways to work things out if there is love and understanding. As I told you I would feel that I was gaining a daughter, which I never had, and will be to her the same as to you. I certainly would want her to feel that I would be the same as a mother and not a mother-in-law.
Naturally, there will be a big adjustment—you may have a little “rough sledding” at times but if you do I have every faith in you that you won’t be a quitter. It’s getting late so will drop you a line Sunday.
This letter sounds rambling, but knew you would want an answer to your letter, so I am sure you can get the meaning if it isn’t worded in the best style. So here it is.
That was 59 years ago. It worked out okay.
What a beautiful letter. Written from the heart.