The Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Fri, Mar. 26, 2004
PEN INSPIRES LOVE;E-MAIL SHARES LORE
A tender letter from long ago connects family's generations.
By Kathryn Quigley
The paper is fragile, the handwriting spidery, and the language rather formal. The letter, from my grandfather to his future wife, is dated April 26, 1913.
History in my hands, more than 90 years later.
I found the letter in my father's house with a pile of old family photos. The paper is weathered and creased, with some kind of stain on the front. I read the letter many times and imagined my grandparents when they were dating.
My grandfather, Thomas F. Quigley, lived in West Philadelphia in April 1913. He was a 29-year-old learning the ice cream business, which he would soon turn into a popular ice cream and candy store called Quigley's at 51st Street and Chester Avenue.
My grandmother, Sarah Auchinleck, was a teenager living in South Philadelphia with relatives after her parents had died. She liked my grandfather, but it seems they had some sort of a falling out. "I noticed that you signed your note 'Always your true and sincere friend.' Do you really mean that?" my grandfather wrote. "As I have felt that for some reason or other I had lost your friendship, the loss of which to me meant that after losing that, nothing else seemed to make much difference."
Thomas Quigley's father had died, and my grandmother wrote a sympathy note. My grandfather, in beautiful penmanship, wrote her back. His words must have worked. Within months, they were engaged.
My father, Robert Quigley, is a retired history professor. His archival filing system consists largely of putting things in boxes and piles, then stacking them. But inside many of the piles are historical gems, such as old photos and letters.
I had possessed the 1913 letter for several months and looked at it every now and again. But new photo scanners at work gave me a way to share this piece of Quigley family history with relatives all over the country.
I scanned the letter, front and back, and sent it off via e-mail. Along with the letter, I attached pictures, including one of my grandmother as a young woman, wearing a huge flowered hat and smiling shyly.
She was my nana, with her white hair in a bun and glasses perched on her nose. She died in 1974, when I was in elementary school. But here she was as a young wife, looking out with eyes that resemble mine. I never knew my grandfather, but here was tangible proof of him in the form of a letter.
The e-mail replies from my family came back quickly. Cousins I hadn't talked to in years told me how much they enjoyed the photos and the letter. They shared them with their children.
Staying in touch with relatives is a difficult task, but so much easier with e-mail, I learned.
The next batch of pictures included a photo of my granddad as a young man. I see he has the same nose as my dad. My uncle says his son, Richard, is the spitting image of my grandfather.
I also learned the true story behind the 1913 letter. The source was my aunt Rosalie Quigley Hutton. My nana really liked my grandfather, Aunt Rosalie said, but she didn't have faith in her writing abilities.
When Nana's mother died, a friend named Claude sent Nana a condolence note. She thought the note was so well written that she copied parts of Claude's letter and mailed it to my grandfather.
My nana, a plagiarist for love.
Thanks to Claude's unwitting assistance, the note really touched my grandfather.
Her words were kind, my grandfather wrote.
"But believe me, I do appreciate them and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you."
The next year, they married.
Kathryn Quigley is an assistant professor in the department of journalism and creative writing at Rowan University.