Special Delivery

Letters from Mary to Clifford

One lazy Sunday, I went for a walk and wandered into the locally legendary Pauline's Antiques. Overflowing with every very old and random thing imaginable, it was a legit time capsule in there.

While pawing through ancient stationery - both used and unused, I came upon two small letters from a woman named Mary E. Stubbs in Healdsburg to a man named Clifford Holmes in Sacramento. The letters were sent in the summer of 1939. Each envelope has two pieces of small stationery. She wrote both missives in two parts, each over a period of 2-3 days. The second letter went out just three days after the first and was sent "Special Delivery," costing 4x as much.

She writes about going to work, spending time with friends, feeling blue, the colored photos her friends brought back from Europe and how she intends to go there one day, "Just see if I don't!" she exclaims. Pointing out that she always tells him what she does with her evenings and he never tells her, she asks Clifford what special things he does with his time. She asks him for a picture of himself, and another poem (apparently he'd been published.) The first three parts are casual, a little flirty and fairly wordy, but the fourth piece is simply:

It's so urgent!

"Cliff, I haven't time to write more. I have to see you. If you possibly can, please come over this weekend. If you can't come this weekend, I may never see you again. Really! I'm staying at Hood's at 507 Tucker, so come there. Please come it's so urgent! Loads of love, Mary."

I became fascinated with the mystery and started doing research. I found a picture of her through the Healdsburg Museum. There's a photo of the Healdsburg High School class of '36 which includes a photo of one Mary E. Stubbs. I think she looks anxious and susceptible to theatrics.

Healdsburg High School 1936

I wonder, did Clifford come over? Did she ever go to Europe like she insisted she would? Another intrigue is that she describes a date she went on and how she thought she might run into him, Clifford, at the show. It truly sounds like Healdsburg was thee place to be in the 30s. She says she went on a group date with other couples, but clearly she has an intense interest in Clifford. Were they clandestine? Were they in cahoots? Was she a very avant garde and free woman?

Healdsburg and Sacramento aren't that close together. Google Maps says it's a two-hour drive even today. Especially in the late 30s, there weren't nearly as many cars nor highways, so I wonder how these two met, what their relationship was and what became of it. It occurs to me that although I find no evidence that they ended up together, the two letters were kept together for the next 70+ years until they ended up in an antique store. Unless she got them back, he must have kept them. Somebody kept them, through the decades, through entire lives.

A couple weeks later I discovered that, after many decades, Pauline's Antiques was closing. It occurred to me that I had precious little time left to see if there were any other effects of Mary Ellen's or Clifford's. I spent a few days and many dusty hours looking through the thousands of random items, which were kind of organized but not really, because Pauline was trying to clear out the space.

I found only one more thing, this card (front & back):

Miss Mary Ellen Stubbs

I drove to Healdsburg and went to where "Hood's" used to be. It's a parking lot now. I also went to the library and met the fine people who spend their time cataloguing the history of people long past. They pointed me to a great resource, the California Digital Newspaper Collection from the Center for Bibliographical Studies.

Through this incredible resource, I learned a lot about Mary Ellen and her family and friends.

From the Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar, 24 June 1940.

Stubbs Family Leaving Wednesday for Eureka

Reverend and Mrs. John Stubbs and their daughters, Mary Ellen and Marjorie, expect to leave Wed for Eureka, where they will make their future home, Rev. Stubbs having accepted the pastorate of the Christian Church there. He has been filling the pulpit of the local Christian Church there. Rev. Stubbs will drive to San Francisco Tuesday to get Marjorie, who has been at the Children's Hospital while having a new brace fitted. Previous to the departure of the Stubbs family, Healdsburg friends have been entertaining them at dinner.

The biggest news though, concerned Mary Ellen's sister Marjorie:


It’s not everyone that can show a personal birthday letter from President Roosevelt. How could you blame Majorie Ann Stubbs for being jubilant Monday when she received in the mail this message. The president had evidently read of Marjorie’s plight in the Healdsburg Tribune, for she had just come home from the Children’s hospital in San Francisco where she had been confined for over two years with infantile paralysis (ed. polio). She arrived in time to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, December 26. Stricken by the dreaded disease Sept. 30, 1935, Marjorie Ann has nevertheless continued her high school studies while in the hospital, and has made rapid progress in them as well as her recovery of health. Just before Christmas she came to Healdsburg to stay with her parents, Rev. and Mrs. John F. Stubbs, several months. While she has been here, Marjorie Ann has attended every service of the Christian church of which her father is pastor, in her wheel chair. She has also been guest of honor of several parties given by the young people of the church. A copy of the letter just received follows; THE WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON, D. C. December 27 (Private) My Dear Miss Stubbs: I have just read a newspaper article about you which has come to my attention. I am sorry to learn of your illness but am glad that you are getting along so well. I hope you will let nothing discourage you in your efforts for continued improvement. This little note gives me an opportunity also to extend my heartiest congratulations and best wishes for your birthday which you celebrated on December twentysixth. Very sincerely yours, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Signed) Miss Marjorie Ann Stubbs, John Stubbs, Pastor; First Christian Church Healdsburg, California.

The trail on the Stubbs family grew colder over the years. Pastor Stubbs died in 1967. Mary Ellen went to college in Fresno. What I learned, mainly, is that the most mundane details of fairly common people's personal lives were breathlessly reported on in newspapers! What they ate, where they went, who they spent time with, lectures they attended, who drove the car on a trip someone. What's funny, of course, is now we breathlessly report on our own lives like that, and news outlets post about what celebrities wear for a walk down the street. People are so weird.

Thirty-five members of the Christian Endeavor society of the Healdsburg Christian church were present to enjoy the annual banquet of the organization which was held in the church annex on Friday evening. New members of the society were initiated at an impressive candle light ceremony; and the officers who were elected recently, including Miss Marion Prest, president; Leonard Green (this is the Leonard referenced above), vice president; and Miss Hazel Hood, secretary-treasurer (This is "Hood" who Mary Ellen is staying with in her desperate letter to Clifford), were installed by Rev. John F. Stubbs. Brahams’ waltz in A Flat was played as a piano solo by Miss Genevieve Robinson, following which the principal feature of the evening’s program, consisting of three reels of motion pictures, was presented by Dr. and Mrs. F. E. Sohler, the scenes having been filmed by them during their travels in Africa. A color scheme of yellow and orange was carried out in the decorations and table appointments for the affair; and the dinner was prepared and served by Mrs. John F. Stubbs, assisted by the Misses Mary Louise and Martha Roux and Opal White. Arthur Pope and Robert Wallace, having enjoyed a fine visit in Healdsburg, departed Monday for a short stay in San Francisco and later on expected to go to Santa Barbara, the home of Pope.

I also learned that women lose their own identity and become a subsidiary of their husbands when they get married.

29 April 1937

Mrs. L.M. McClary of Des Moines, IA enjoyed a visit with the home of her son-in-law and daughter, Reverend and Mrs. John F. Stubbs.

Eventually, I became overwhelmed and kind of bored with the investigation. I couldn't keep the stories straight anymore, and began wondering what I was even looking for. I asked Pauline if she knew the names. She didn't know Mary Ellen, but she did know Clifford - he was a friend of her brother's. He became an accomplished and somewhat well-known painter. Pauline had a LOT of his paintings and I almost bought one but... well, I didn't like them that much.