M. E. Hawkins Letter to His Mother

Florence Huntley Hawkins Waite, following the death of her second husband, William Waite, had lived with her son Mont E. Hawkins and his family in Mishawaka, Indiana, for a time. Florence was 72 and apparently in good health, good enough that she was able to make a trip back to Michigan. 

The envelope carries a street address in Grand Rapids (147 Bowne Street N.E.), which provides a bit of mystery. Late in the letter we learn Florence was visiting her sister. Her sister Ida had died thirteen years earlier, but her sister Laruka was still alive. Laruka, younger by twelve years, would die three years later but in Pierson, northeast of Grand Rapids where Grandpa Hawkins was born and where his grandparents (parents of Florence and Laruka) died. Was Laruka living in N.E. Grand Rapids in 1926, and is that whose household was so “jolly”? Also mysterious was where Florence was going to be on Monday that she would be so “lonely.” In fact, he mentions loneliness twice. Interesting to speculate ….

I also wonder how long she expected to stay since they put her stove and “cuboard” in the attic. And did she do her own cooking while living with the Hawkins? She was back in Mishawaka on November 27 of that year when she had a stroke and died two days before her birthday.

When I read this letter, I picture the family in the only house I knew Grandpa and Grandma Hawkins in, the one at 1012 Charlotte Street. That may or may not have been the case. It occurs to me that I don’t know when they moved into the house on Charlotte, and if I don’t know, I’m afraid no one else is left who would know. 

But maybe I know more than I realized at first. What I do remember is Porter grandson Lyman Wood telling that during the 1920s, Grandpa and Grandma Porter lived in Mishawaka for a while (several years?) and that Grandpa Porter built four houses, including the one on Charlotte Street. Lyman knew this because his parents had taken over the 16th Street farm and he had lived in the brick house while the Porters were gone. He may have even said he attended the old schoolhouse.

With this 1926 letter written right in the middle of the ‘20s, it’s hard to figure out whether the Porters lived in Mishawaka before or after the letter. If I had to guess, I’d say before—in other words, the Porters moved to Mishawaka not long after the Hawkins family moved there from Hastings. Hawkins son Paul was born in Mishawaka in 1921. With Lyman born in 1914, if he attended the old schoolhouse, it had to have been in the early ‘20s. Something else to wonder about is how farmer Ferd Porter knew how to build two-story houses…?

The letter is written on a typewriter and fills almost a full page. It is interesting to think about someone born in 1880 being able to use a typewriter well enough that he chose it over handwriting. There are a few typos, but most of them are fixed. I’m impressed with how good the spelling and punctuation are—not perfect but very good for that day and time.

The letter is on a letterhead of the First Baptist Church in Mishawaka with Grandpa’s name under the church name and under that an address of 609 Sarah Street and a phone number of Mishawaka 1590. That is another bit of mystery because the church is on Main Street, not Sarah Street. I’ve wondered if the address and phone were for Grandpa’s house, not the church, or perhaps the big church on Main hadn’t been built yet? Yet it held 511 on a Sunday morning….

There is a signature below the closing, and I recognize it as his handwriting. I just noticed it is followed by a strong period, which could be confirmation that his name was indeed Montell, even though I never heard that during his lifetime.

He mentions their having visited the Porters (i.e., Ferd and Esther in the brick house on 16th street). Could this be the first trip in their car that made Grandma Porter exclaim, “Oh, my word, Mont—you’re gonna kill them all!”? At least it tells us how many hours it took in 1926 to get from Mishawaka to the Porter farm northwest of Grand Rapids. I’m guessing they had taken Grandma Waite with them to Michigan for whatever visit this was. Try picturing three adults and three children in a 1926 Model T Ford car. 

Just for the record, at this time the Hawkins children were the following ages: Esther, 11; Agnes, almost 9, and Paul not quite 5. 

I am intrigued by his sentence about her praying that “the burden” may not be too great for his mind. I really haven’t a clue what that might be about.


My dear Mother:-

I did not get around to write this morning. I washed the car after the washing was finished and it was noon by the time I finished.

We surprised the Porters. They were not looking for us and just returned home as we drove in the yard. We left there Saturday afternoon about one o’clock and arrived home at seven. I had some trouble with the carrier. We cut across to the Holland road. It was fair. 

It seems very lonesome here without you. I missed you this morning coming down stairs and I did not wake up until seven o’clock. I sleep down stairs and the girls in your room and Paul and Fern in the north bed room.
The man came after the oil stove this afternoon so I will not have that to warm it up here any more.

I suppose you had a wonderful visit Sunday and Saturday. It will be a little lonesome for you today no doubt. I am thinking about you and will be praying for you. I know you will have a good time. They are all so jolly there it will be fine for you. May the Lord give you a great time.

The sick are all about the same. The undertaker just called me for a funeral Wednesday in River Park. So I guess I will keep busy. Fern put you[r] stove and cupboard in the attic. They will be all right there, while are you gone.
We had a good day yesterday. 511 at the Bible school and the church packed at night. The “Purdy Girls” asked about you and were disappointed when I told them you were in Michigan.

Paul coughs a great deal. His mother thought he had whooping cough and did not go to church Sunday.
Porter’s gave us a bag of potatoes and some eggs and 2 bushel of apples [in April??] and a flour sack of beans. So we are pretty well set for awhile. It was a fine day yesterday and today. The nights are cold however.

I forgot to tell Mrs. Porter what you told me to but will write it to her some time. She said she would be glad to have you come a make her a visit when you had had a good one with your sister. She would be glad to hear from you once in awhile. Her address is F. W. Porter, Conklin, Michigan.

I am going to the hospital this afternoon. Now try and not get lonesome. Remember the Lord is near. I will be thinking of you and know you will be praying for me. The time for vacation will soon pass. Then I will see you again. Keep much in prayer that the burden may not be to great for my mind.

You will miss the church but ever be ready to witness for your Savior.

Your loving son,