Sunday, November 10, 2019


…and those who tell us OUR stories…

On November 11, 2002, the following letter, titled “Nov. 11, 1918,” was placed first in the reader comments on the Sacramento Bee’s Opinion page:

Eighty-four years have gone by, but I will never forget that fateful day.  I and my granddad were in the little village of Franklin, Ill.  We were at the blacksmith shop having winter shoes fitted to our faithful old mare, Cricket.  All at once we heard a great commotion down in the town square.
     People were shouting, firing shotguns and the church bells were ringing.  We soon found out the reason.  The war had ended.  The German army lay in total defeat.  Kaiser Bill had fled to Holland and never again would that nation disturb the peace of Europe or the world.  And now the boys would be coming home.
     But sadly, some of them would not come home and those who did were no longer boys.  War is a terrible thing.  Armistice Day, how can I ever forget it?
 - Gil Masters, Grass Valley

His words moved me to want to say thanks, but I didn’t know how to contact him.  So, I penned a note – the content of which I cannot remember, although I must have mentioned something about being a school principal – and sent it to the Bee’s editorial desk asking that it not be published, but rather forwarded to the writer.  In response, I received a phone call from then-Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez telling me he’d honor my request and adding: the letter Mr. Masters sent to us came in really shaking handwriting and “we were all quite touched by it. It took some real deciphering for us to actually put it into print.”

About a week later, I received the following (type-written):

Today I received a most heart-warming message from a lady in the office of the Sacto Bee.
     She enclosed your comments and it is indeed a pleasure to hear from you.  I am told that only five or less we run into even [remember]the end of WWII.
     Yes, my generation or what’s left of it does go back a long way.  I was eight at the time.
     When I was six, I enrolled in the one room country school called Sulphur Springs.  Grades one through eight in one room and only one teacher.  We usually ran about thirty or less students 6 thru 18.  We were required to bring a slate and a lunch bucket.  No computers or cell phones.  We were required to keep our feet on the floor and no caps on backwards.  The rod on the teacher’s desk was not put there as an ornament. I might mention that all my teachers were women.
     By listening to the older students recite before the teacher’s desk, I knew every bone by name and could do square root in my head.
     Hey this has turned into a thesus [sic], please forgive if I do ramble.  I hope to hear from you again.
- Sincerely, Gil

I am sharing this because, as I was thinning out boxes of junk in the garage the other day, I came across the clipping and his letter – again.

I say “again” because I had unburied the clipping and letter perhaps a year after receiving it.  Cursing myself for not being any kind of pen pal, I immediately wrote to Mr. Masters wishing him well and offering that I hoped I could come up and take him to coffee.  Thinking that anytime an elder to slips out the door, a lot of the unwritten slips out the door with ‘em, I wanted to absorb a bit more of his first-person history. (And I always enjoyed the drive up to Grass Valley.)

Within the week, my year-too-late letter was returned to me marked recipient deceased.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

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