Written on Wednesday, August 25, 1926
I’ll be honest, I find this letter hard to read. I guess this is where this blog gets a little personal, because I can’t pretend to be dispassionate about this. These are my grandparents, who admittedly I never really knew.
My grandfather, Will, died when I was less than a year old, and my grandmother, Gwyneth, died when I was just two, although she had been in residential care due to dementia caused by an iatrogenic brain injury related to her bleeding disorder.
I have very slight memories of going walking with her in my orange sweater. In my memory she feels kindly, and I am comfortable with her, but that’s all that I have to connect me in a real sense. Nonetheless, I have always felt a special connection with this woman. My father’s stories about her always made me want to know more about her, to connect with her in some way. That’s always a bit difficult when the person you want to connect with is dead.
This was probably helped by how often, when I was young, people would tell me how much I resembled her, not so much in my physical appearance (though our faces have similarities), but in the way we acted and moved and spoke. I’ll be honest here and say that I do feel a rather inappropriate level of possessiveness and protectiveness for her.
By the same token, I’ve often felt rather disconnected from Will. I have no specific personal memories of him at all, and in the stories my father told about him, he always seemed a rather distant character, not as relatable for me.
And so it’s hard to read this letter from Will to Gwyneth. It’s hard because all his kindly benevolent condescension grates on me. Every time it appears I want to leap up to shield her from it. It starts with the talk of the unknown transgression at the Boat House. As an atheist, and especially as a formerly christian atheist, his advice to give all of her concerns and temptations to God and his assurance that this will bring her more joy than the activities she is tempted to do is particularly difficult to swallow. At the time he was working essentially as a missionary at the Japan Self Help Bible School in Kaibara, and was himself a recent convert with all the zeal appropriate to that, so it’s all quite understandable, but as a person who specifically struggled with the experience of faith and god’s grace (I didn’t feel it despite wanting to desperately, but sometimes pretended I did when it seemed that this would make the adults around me happier/less concerned), it all rings rather hollow.
Eventually a few things are revealed. First, her letters may not exist in the world at all because he destroyed them, to reassure her that should be candid with him (this is unfortunate, from my prying curious perspective), and second that the transgression at the Boat House is related to dancing.
It’s important to know that Gwyneth had been dancing for years. She started young, performed as a dancer on stage (evidence to follow in a postcard), and continued to dance once she arrived in Japan. Her diary mentions lessons weekly or twice weekly. Dancing was a critically important part of her life. But with her conversion to a particularly repressive form of christianity it was suddenly verboten.
My father had told me that growing up he was not permitted to go to movies or attend dances because of their faith, but I guess I hadn’t put together what this would have meant for Gwyneth, dancer.
Thank you for your letter which arrived this morning. I would have liked to have written then, but did not have the time, so decided to wait until this evening when I would have time.
Many thanks about the pillow slips. I will bring hte measurements on Friday. That is if I do not forget. I’m a terrible person at forgetting things. By the way, before I forget it, I am enclosing a couple of cards with your little brother’s name in Japanese. Tell him to see if he can write it.
Now for more important things. I am sorry Gwyn you are feeling so bad, but listen girl I’m not going to condemn you, for I have no right to seeing I have done things just as bad myself. But Gwyneth tell the Lord Jesus what you write me. Tell him what happened at the Boat House and how you feel, also how you find it hard to give up all these things.
I believe he is speaking to you now. Oh don’t give in but come to Him, for girl you’ll never be happy I know, unless you do.
And Gwyneth when He does give you joy, don’t be ashamed to tell others. You will find that there is joy in that alone. I don’t mean to say you have to ram religion down everybody’s throat, but people will begin to ask you what’s the matter with you, especially if you don’t mix with them like you used to (for you will find that the old things don’t have any pull like they used to) and then tell them. I’m praying for you Gwyn girl, so don’t give in. God wants to bless you.
Don’t worry about those walks. I enjoyed them more tha you I’m sure, and am looking forward to many more.
You don’t need to tell the folk I wrote, unless you wish to. Your letters to me no one shall ever see. Just a minute while I burn it. There it is gone, so you need not worry about that any more. No one will ever know what you wrote.
Dwight came back just as I was going to begin this letter and told me it was a very slow party they had at the B.H. He didn’t say any thing about you at the B.H.
I wish he wouldn’t go there. He knows the people who go there have nothing in common with him. But it isn’t for me to judge.
Well goodnight Gwyneth. Don’t forget what I wrote.
Tell him your whole heart girl and you will never regret it. Speak to Him as though you were speaking to your friend. That’s what prayer is. There’s nothing difficult to it. You didn’t say if you had gone to Him. If you haven’t then Gwyn please do, for girl you cannot give up dancing or any other things in your own strength, but if you will go to God and tell Him you cannot resist the temptation and ask Him to help you, He will help you. Ask Him to take away the desire for these things. Tell Him how unhappy you are and how useless it seems to live, just as you told me and ask Him for Christ’s sake to save and help you, and Gwyn old girl, if He doesn’t undertake and give you a real joy in living and help you out of all your troubles, why, I don’t know Him.
Now listen Gwyneth don’t give up, but do as I’ve just written, for girl it isn’t only a question of now, its a question of your eternal salvation. Doubtless God speaks to all at some time or other, and girl I shall be down on Friday I expect in time for supper. There won’t be time for you to write again before then, but you can tell me, if you care to, when I see you.
I hope you won’t mind me writing like I have. But I just had to, and I was glad you wrote me.
Now must close as its getting late and I want to post this at the station before going to bed so that you will get it tomorrow.
Yours as ever,