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Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

'Our Robin is Read ...'

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hi neighbors. I have had the pleasure of reading Ellen Gray Massey's latest book and I am very impressed!

The book, "Our Robin is Read -- Voices from the Wayside" is a collection of letters sent as a round robin between the Gray family's eight siblings, children of Chester and Pearl Gray. The letters span the time period from July 1944 through July 1970.

The Gray family was unique in that they lived in two vastly different communities. During the school year they lived in Washington, D.C., where Chester served as representative of the American Farm Bureau Federation and later as Director of the National Highway Users Conference. Throughout his 26 years of service he was held in high esteem by the movers and shakers of our country's government.

In the summer Pearl and the children packed up and returned to Vernon County to live on their 500 acre family farm dubbed The Wayside.

Talking about the time before the round robin, Ellen explained the family ties to Nevada. "Harold and Miriam both graduated from Nevada High School: Miriam in 1923 and Harold in 1926. Miriam graduated from Cottey College in 1925."

It was several years later, when Ellen and Carolyn had left The Wayside to go to college that the family felt a need to keep in touch with each other. The siblings had become separated by many miles as they left home and formed their own lives.

First person accounts of historical events are priceless and first person comments on events of the times are rare. These letters are time machines through which we can become immersed into recent history.

Fortunately the Gray siblings share more than parentage and love of the family farm. They all have the gift of gab and excellent writing skills which puts their letters a high step above most correspondence.

Ellen explained in the book about how the round robin worked. When the package of letters returned to each sibling, they would remove their last letter and insert a new one and send the package on. It took from weeks to months for the robin to make its rounds.

The first letter was penned by eldest sibling Miriam who was 39 at the time and teaching physical education and dance at the University of Texas in Austin.

Harold was 37 when the letters started and was a field man for the National Highway Users Conference in Chicago.

Kathryn, 34 was a homemaker in Terre Haute, Indiana. Gertrude, 32 was a homemaker in Washington, D.C. Ralph, 29, was an editor/writer for the National Geographic living in the D.C. area as well.

Vernon, 27, worked as a aeronautics engineer in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ellen, 23, was a graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. and Carolyn (now known as Carolyn Gray Thornton) was 19 when the correspondence started and a sophomore at the University of Missouri.

Although they lived in two communities, the letters make it evident that the family felt a great love for The Wayside, and they all helped with the running of it.

"We still have our farm, The Wayside, in a family corporation," Ellen explained. "Several of the Thorntons live on the farm. Only Carolyn and I are living of the eight siblings, but our nieces and nephews still own their parents' shares of the farm"

Some of the letters made me laugh, some made me cry, but all made me realize that these were people with valuable insights into the times they lived. They had access to information many people of their day didn't have. They traveled far and wide with their careers, meeting people who shaped history. More importantly, they shared a love of family and a pride in doing what's right.

Carefully and caringly edited by prolific author Ellen Gray Massey, the letters in the book show not only the personalities of the eight adults, but also their insights on the events of the times.

I enjoyed sharing a cup of warm milk with Gertrude in post-war London, feeling the energy from high-speed Miriam, listening to eldest brother Harold's sage advice, shooting the rapids with Ralph, taming the wild children with Kathryn, swapping jokes with Vernon and sharing family life with Ellen and Carolyn.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes history, genealogy, or iconic Americana ideals and family values.

"Our Robin is Read, Voices from the Wayside," is available from Cavener's Library and Office Supply or from Ellen Gray Massey, 125 Maple Drive, Lebanon, MO 65536 or at www.goldmindspub.com online or from Amazon.com.

Nancy Malcom
The Third Cup