A few months ago we received a large collection of papers from a woman named Ida who had died in 2000 at the age of 95. She had kept a lot of things from her long life, but most of it was not of a personal nature. There are no diaries and what correspondence she kept were impersonal, such as Christmas cards with only a signature. Much of the collection consisted of mass produced programs and travel brochures. I was beginning to despair of finding anything personal when I came across a single, sad letter.
Post marked Philadelphia, 1956, the letter has no return address and is signed with only a first name, “Lorraine.”
The letter begins noting that it has been some time since the two had seen each other. Lorraine goes on to describe the deep depression she has been in since she last saw Ida.
“now there seems to be no hope for me at all, I can no longer look to the future and know that things will work out, because the present is all to clearly pressing me downward until I shall soon reach the depths of a living hell.”
The first page of the letter
She goes on to explain how the few months she knew Ida were happy for her.
“I almost felt for the first time in my life that I was almost needed in some small way, that all seemed to give my life itself a purpose.”
The letter, which almost fills four sheets of paper, goes on to describe the break between the women in only very vague terms.
“That night while taking you home I know I told you a lot of things that must have been pretty hard for you to take and accept as a part of anyone’s life, but I only told you about another part of life that exists, even though you detest the thought of such things, still — you cannot deny that they are so….it was something I would never had disclosed to anyone else to, even to you had I had the slightest inclination as to the result.”
Ida in the 1920s
Lorraine goes on to say,
“I do think, though, that my entire description of another side of life was entirely misinterpreted into meaning something that was the farthest from my mind….I sought out these people because I had to be able to have someone to talk to — and one of my own kind was the only solution since I had no one else in the world to turn to until — until you came along….But in saying everything I said, Ida, I never dreamed of swaying you to that way of thinking or of living. In fact had it ever become a question of your doing so in my mind, I would have flatly and outrightly [sic] denied the possibility of ever changing you, and furthermore I would have then done everything in my power to turn you bitterly against that life.”
Lorraine ends the letter by wishing that Ida’s “dreams and ambitions become realities in the very near future.”
From the collection, I know that Ida was a single woman her entire life, but because of the dearth of personal material, I really can’t say what relationships, romantic or otherwise, she might have had. In an interview for a local newspaper she says that she never had time for a husband or children. And I don’t know if she replied to Lorraine’s letter, though if I had to guess, I would say no. But she did keep this letter when most of her other correspondence was discarded or destroyed.