My Aunt Biss was 14 years old when her mother died and she took it rather hard. Her father talked it over with her Peabody Aunts and it was decided that she would go to St. Petersburg, Florida, to live with her Aunt Anne (Peabody) Stanley and help and with Anne’s two children, Donald and Gweneth. In her first letter home to her Dad, she also enclosed separate letters for her brothers.
October 16, 1934
I promised myself I would write until nine o’clock tonight and then go to bed because I am quite tired. I am going to start high school tomorrow morning and the hours are even longer than I am used to, 8:30 to 3:30, with an hour for each period. We have no gym down here though. At least they didn’t put it down on my card. We have a cute little cottage about seven blocks away from the school. It is quite a way from the noise of the city and yet it is quite close to the city. The name of the school is the million-dollar school because it cost $1 million to build it.
Gee, what meals they served on the boat. You will most likely hear me rave about them for the rest of my life. After we mailed the letter in Charleston, we went into the heart of the city and I bought this pen for a quarter and I swear it is almost as nice as my old dollar one (but not quite).
I imagine the household is being run much better than it has been for a long time.
I think you have to pay for all your school things down here. I won’t know until tomorrow. I know Don and Gwen had to pay for their school supplies and they go to the same school. I think I have spent most of my money on stamps. Well, goodbye until next week. I don’t think I can write before then.
Well, that bet still holds good. I can’t get credit for the first four weeks but I bet I will still beat you by the time the end of the year comes. I’ll know my marks before you for we get out early – in fact I expect to get home before you get out of school. The school here is only two stories high but it is awfully long.
Oh, I was shown the engine room on the ship. I couldn’t go in but they let us look in. They have Turbine motors.
I think the highest point in Florida is only 300 miles (she means 300 feet) above sea level. On the way to St. Petersburg from Jacksonville we went along a straight stretch for 10 miles at least and another place at least 8 miles, not even the slightest curve! Gee, it got tiresome after a while because everything is so low and flat. Everything (I mean vegetables) is stubbed in growth.
While I told Dad I wasn’t going to write after nine o’clock and it is now 9:30 so I think I will leave Dick’s and Dave’s letters until tomorrow. You see, I thought perhaps you would like to get separate letters for once
Well, how is the world treating you these days? Are they still just as cruel? I suppose you have had about 10 colds so you could stay out of school, haven’t you?
No license is required for driving down here so when I get home you won’t have to be afraid to go out riding with me. I haven’t driven as yet but Aunt Anne is going to let me before many more days have passed.
Bootsy loves the South just like the rest of the Stanley’s. There are sand burrs down here and they are found all over the ground. When you go barefooted, they are like burrs, only twice as small and three times as sharp. We can’t go barefooted unless we are on the beach, although in the lower grades down here, quite a few of the children go barefoot.
There are a lot of boys down here who wear ankle socks. I told you that because you used to call it too sissyish. There are two boats from the Navy anchored out in the bay where we went swimming. They were there when we first arrived. It seems to me that everywhere you look you see at least one sailor, only there are usually four or five sailors going around together.
Have you found a new girlfriend yet? I think it is about time you changed again. It looks as though it is going to rain and boy, when it rains, it pours. Harder than rains we get up there in Trumbull.
Has anyone played the piano since I left or has it gotten rusty from disuse? If you can’t understand any words I feel sure Dad or someone will explain them to you.
I am in sixth period on my first day of school. It is a study hall and I haven’t any books as yet because we have to buy them down here.
I had plenty to say to you last night but I’ll be darned if I can think of a single thing to say to you now.
How are you getting along in school? Have you been absent from it yet? Oh, describe Trumbull to me. Have the leaves finished falling yet and have you had any snow at all? It’s pretty hot down here, in fact it’s too hot. I think I would rather be up there where it is cool.
If you see Mary Dolan tell her I will write to her and her family as soon as I can but right now I have to catch up on my schoolwork. I don’t have too very much because I can’t make up the first four weeks, although I will be able to pass. I am writing this on the sly. In each class we have, we are allowed a 5 minute period in which we are allowed to talk. We are in the middle of it.
If you can use any of my things this winter, go for it, but please be careful not to ruin anything. My ski suit is in the Cedar closet in Mother’s room.
They allow gum chewing in this school! I went swimming yesterday and have begun to get a tan already.
P.S. Give my love to the boys – George, Jim etc.
Each weekend, I’ll be posting more of Aunt Biss’s letters home to her Father and her brothers written during the year she was in Florida. We’ll have the perspective from a teenaged girl, dealing with living away from her home and family, and also adjusting to the death of her mother. Her reference to “the household being run much better than it has in a long time” is a direct reference to the fact that she was expected to take over that role and she didn’t want to and wasn’t prepared to, either.
This time period was especially hard on my Grandfather, who had recently lost “the love of his life” to a long fight with cancer, his two oldest sons were working at CCC Camps during the week to help support the family and his only daughter was living in Florida and he was trying to cope with the whole situation.