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Round robin revisited in book: Collection of letters between siblings offers historic perspective

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lynn A. Wade/Daily Mail Susan Thornton, supervisor of acquisitions at the Blanche Skiff Ross Memorial Library at Cottey College, left, displays historic Cottey College books containing information about her aunt, Distinguished Alumna Miriam Gray, a 1925 graduate of the college, while her mother, Carolyn Gray Thornton, right, presents Library Director Becky Keil with a book that's a compilation by her aunt, Ellen Gray Massey, of round robin letters between eight siblings of the Gray family, spanning more than 30 years. The presentation was made on Monday afternoon.
By Lynn A. Wade

Nevada Daily Mail

The 1940s through the 1970s were ripe with historic moments, and during that time, eight siblings recorded many of these moments in history, through a series of round-robin letters, kept and sent around to one another throughout the years. Those siblings' writings have now been compiled into a book, "Our Robin is Read, Voices from the Wayside" by Ellen Gray Massey.

Members of the Gray family, the sons and daughters of Chester H. and Pearl Welch Gray, a well-known Vernon County family with its roots at a farm called The Wayside, held a broad range of backgrounds and insights at the time the letters were written. There was Miriam, a university of Texas professor and a distinguished graduate of Cottey College honored by the school in the 1950s. There was Ralph, a National Geographic writer; Vernon, a NASA research scientist; Harold, employed by the National Highway Users Conference, Chicago; Kathryn and Gertrude, homemakers; Carolyn Gray Thornton, who's done many exciting things and is now a columnist for the Nevada Daily Mail; and of course the book's author, Ellen.

Carolyn's daughter, Susan Thornton, is now supervisor of acquisitions at the Blanche Skiff Ross Memorial Library at Cottey College; and because of that connection as well as Dr. Miriam Gray's being a distinguished alumna and 1925 graduate, a copy of the volume was donated by the family to the library on Monday. Miriam also started the whole round robin process, and even came up with a letterhead design, a circle encompassing letters growing on cornstalks.

The round robin letter exchange began when Carolyn, the youngest sibling, went away to college in 1944; and continued until Vernon's death in 1975.

Vernon had expressed a desire that the letters would one day be published, and now they have, Carolyn said.

Referring to a comment by the book's publisher surmising that receiving the ever-growing packet of letters must have been like Christmas, Susan agreed, "It was kind of like Christmas. It came in a big package," full of treasures -- in the form of the letters.

The book filled with personal messages through which the personalities of the writers shine, and Susan said it was fun to read of what family members were like as children.

The moments recorded in history provide perspectives on the current events of the times Carolyn said.

On Aug. 20, 1945 -- six days after Victory over Japan Day, marking the end of World War II -- Harold wrote, "This is the first letter after Victory. I was in Clarksburg, W. Va., on the evening of the 14th. I was walking down the main street looking for a restaurant with a radio when the announcement came at 7 p.m. The downtown area had been deserted, but right after the announcement, people began to head for the business center raising hell. Within a half hour the streets were a milling mass of humanity and traffic with horns blowing, fireworks popping, whooping and hollering." Restaurants and bars closed, and people were drinking in the streets. "One man when down the street carrying a pet skunk. A boy amused himself by scaring women with a young snapping turtle. A man walked down the street in his underwear," he continued.

There are fun, personal stories, too, like Carolyn's own account of going out on a date on a tractor.

Now the younger generation of Gray descendants are continuing the tradition, electronically, rather that with paper letters.

Meanwhile, "Our Robin is Read, Voices from the Wayside," is Ellen Gray Massey's 40th published book. The paperback volume sells for $19.99 and is available at Cavener's Library and Office Supply, Nevada, from Ellen Gray Massey, 125 Maple Drive, Lebanon, MO 65536. and in paperback or as an e-book, at www.goldmindspub.com or Amazon.com.

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An excellent article, Lynn. Thank you very much for all you do for Nevada and for The Daily Mail, another institution in my life.

-- Posted by susanjthornton on Wed, Nov 28, 2012, at 7:42 PM

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