Ida was a great aunt of my husband's, whom I met once when she was old and senile, but cheerful. 50 years before that she had traveled from California to Panama and Peru as a missionary, and the gifts she brought home long ago have decorated our houses over the decades and made her name a household word. Like this carved gourd:
Recently I came into possession of several packets of the letters she wrote home from 1919 to 1922, when she was in her early 30's. I am spending many hours of these winter days typing Ida's words into computer documents so that this little bit of family history will be accessible to whoever is interested.
Ida wrote to her mother as she was preparing months ahead:
Florence Fletcher is making me a couple of skirts and a dress and I have enough waists and underclothes. You know things mildew down there so I’m taking only just what I need and no more. I’ll have to hang everything that I possess in the sun every week so I won’t want a couple of trunks full of things. Picture me dressed in white every day, just like a real lady. When my corset covers wear out (I have 6 good ones) you can make me some more.
Now don’t worry about me. I’ll get some fish berries and flush and won’t even be sea sick. God will lead me there safely or he never would have called me to go so you just rest easy in the Lord because that is all there is to do.
The night before she departed from San Francisco:
My war stamps will bring me $42.90. I had to wait 10 days so they (post office) are going to send me the money. My ticket will be $114. The fare is $152 with a 25% discount for missionaries. So you see I have plenty of money.... Sent my trunk to-day and to-morrow a.m. Sat. I go up to the city on the 7.20 train. I’m taking my rattan suit case and then 3 suit boxes done up in heavy paper with a shawl strap. Have practically all of my clothes with me.
She makes me laugh out loud, the funny way she relates her responses to the people and culture she encounters. And I admit that some of my laughter is over her less-than-charitable opinions which I would be unkind to publish. But here's a fairly innocent clip from Panama, less than a month after she'd left home:
I’m sick of cockroaches but I do have many in my room. But ants and cockroaches have complete possession of our kitchen. Our girl is so shiftless and it doesn’t seem to be any body’s business to make her clean up.I like the spirit of someone who writes things like, "Don’t worry about me because you know I’m always happy anywhere and I sleep and eat like a brick, as per usual." So I'll likely have more expressions of her verve to pass on as I go along with Ida on her South American adventure.
There is no such thing as wall paper here. It wouldn’t stay on the walls – too damp – Nearly all the houses are ceiled, sides and all and painted in a most hideous shade of bluish pea green. The kind that makes you crazy. They are strong on red too. You’d think it would make them hot to look at it.