“Letters from Stillwater” A Long Distance Romance…

7th and Main was home to Searcy's Grocery store during the 1910s and 1920s.

by Ammie Bryant, Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History Director

Once upon a time, in a little town called Stillwater, there lived a grocer named M. G. Searcy. He was a respected businessman with a thriving store, “dealing in Staple and Fancy Groceries” located at 623 S. Main St.  If you look for information in local history books, you won’t find much about him. But thanks to a donation of family letters to the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History, by Bill Balcer, we now know so much more about the Searcy family and the man behind Searcy Grocery than we ever did before.

It was 1920, and M.G. had three children; Edith, who was already a young lady, thirteen-year-old Frank, and nine-year-old George. M.G. had recently lost his first wife Louella to an illness. Edith had finished a year at the Nurses Training School at the Chickasha Hospital before coming home to take care of her mother before she died. Edith decided to stay home to keep house for her father and help raise her younger brothers. Frank was in the Boy Scouts and fascinated with “wireless telegraphy” and George joined Frank in his “wireless” experiments when his sister wasn’t teaching him to play piano.

Edith’s former teacher, Miss Teco Holden, had written a letter of condolence to Edith when Louella Searcy passed away. Miss Holden had taught in the Stillwater Schools for a time before returning to Rushville, Indiana to live with her mother and sisters. Miss Holden wrote to Edith again at Christmas, sending a greeting card. In so doing, she unknowingly planted a seed that would later blossom into a great long distance courtship and romance; because, M. G. remembered Miss Holden from when he served on the School Board.

On June 12, 1920, M.G. wrote his first letter–a brief one–to Miss Holden. “Dear Friend:  I would like to correspond with you that we may become better acquainted.  If this is agreeable to you I will be pleased to hear from you.  Yours Respectfully, M. G. Searcy.”

With that letter, M.G. struck up a correspondence with Teco. She must have responded favorably because on June 26th, we know that M.G. wrote again.  We don’t know what she said, we can only infer based upon M.G.’s responses. Teco’s letters are not a part of the collection; sadly they appear to be lost to history.

Teco had recently suffered a “great grief” over the loss of some friends. Her father had passed away in recent years as well. M.G. was a good Christian man who was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church as well as the United Brethren Church in Stillwater and was the president of the “Gospel Team” in town. He tried to comfort her in his letters, sharing his own losses:  his mother, a sister, his father, and finally his wife, Louella, who had passed away the year before.

M.G. wrote to Miss Holden again on July 20, 1920.  He wished he could say something “that would help heal the wound in [her] heart.”    In this letter he wrote about his work on the “Gospel Team” and the meetings they held all over Payne County and their efforts to convert lost souls to Christ. M.G. wrote at length about his children and their interests. His pride and love for his children fairly leaps off the page.

Composed on August 2, 1920, M.G.’s fourth letter opened with brief small talk about the state of her health and his before he gets to the point of his correspondence: 

“Now Miss Holden, I realize that the balance of this letter is premature I did not even dream of writing such a letter for weeks at least the day before I received your letter.  I did have this thought in mind when I wrote the first letter that after corresponding for a few months if we should have an attraction for each other which could be developed into true and pure love for each other I would offer a proposal that we join our lives in Holy Wedlock.  But for my part such a passion of pure love for you has come over me which is equal to any I ever experienced in younger days. I feel that we have got closer together with the few letters that has passed between us than might have been possible with dozens of letters under ordinary conditions. Then your letter came telling me of your lack of decision as to what you would do, this caused me to decide to write this letter now. If my declaration of love for you strikes a harmonious chord in your heart and you are willing to accept my offer I make this pledge before God that I will love you with a whole heart and do my best to make your life happy until death do us part. You in return doing your part by giving your love to me.”

M.G. acknowledged that they had never been “intimately acquainted” but that they knew the reputation and character of one another and that “with this knowledge I feel we are perfectly safe if we love each other.”  He continued, “And Oh! The joy of a happy wedded life which I am anxious to renew and of which you can hardly realize the happiness yet.”

Teco didn’t say “yes”…at least not right away. In subsequent letters from M.G., we find that Teco was wary—as any leveled-headed, young woman should be.

M.G. replied, “Your letter caused me to see myself as others might see me. Your statement about our acquaintance gave me shock which had I realized the truth of it before I wrote to you I would not have written.  I certainly owe you an apology for my being so presumptuous.  It is true we were not acquainted I merely knew you only as one of the teachers when I really stopped to think about it.”

M.G. explained how he came to write to her and why he felt so compelled,  “Why did I write to you? Frankly I do not know except that I felt I must write to you and having no desire along that line toward anyone else. I realize now that my actions opened the way for a good reason to be suspicious of my motive or that I might have looked upon you with an evil eye or evil thought and remember you for that reason. But please believe me my conduct with women has been pure mentally and physically and by the grace of God I expect to keep it that way.”

Thus began their long distance courtship. In 1920, there was no internet, and a long distance phone call was nearly impossible. Their only means of communication was via the post office. Sometimes, weeks would go by between letters, and they awaited that next letter anxiously—wondering when it would come and worrying when it did not arrive when it was expected.  M.G. and Teco agreed to write one another several times a week so that a letter was always in route to the other and there was not so much time in between.

The letters are full of family news, details of running Searcy Grocery Store, Stillwater news, and references to well known characters as well as the not-so-well-known. M.G. filled his letters with details about his life and his work in Stillwater. He described his business so that she would know that while he was not wealthy he was successful and able to provide for his family. He sprinkled anecdotes throughout his letters and the reader learns about a dispute between the city government and the gas company that cut off the gas supply to the city and caused Stillwater residents to resort to using their electric toasters to fry eggs and their clothing irons to make coffee. He wrote about his church and his children’s health and the doctors they visited. He painted a picture in words of the first Armstice Day Celebration in Stillwater to celebrate the Second Anniversary of the end of World War I in Europe.

Gradually, Teco warmed to the courtship. In December, M.G. sent her a ring—it was not fancy, there was no diamond, because while he was a business owner, he was not rich and did not feel that he could afford to send her a fine diamond ring.

M.G. explained, “I sent a check to the Hartwell Jewelry Co. at Oklahoma City last week with instructions to send at once to your address a ring which I suppose you have received by this time.  I hope it will be all right and please you. I could not buy a ring here without telling more than any one in Stillwater need know. I wrote to this company for a description of their rings and selected this one from their description.”

Teco kept the notification she received in the mail that she should be expecting a package from Hartwell Jewelry Co. that they were “sending today insured a package.  Should you not receive the same promptly, advise us at once.”

M.G. wrote to Teco about renting a home in the 500 block of Husband for the previous ten years. He had tried to purchase it but the landlord would never sell. In the Fall of 1920, M.G. found that he and his family must move, because the landlord’s parents were moving to town and needed a place to stay. So M.G. purchased a home in the new Southern College Addition in the 700 block of Monroe. The house was a “new modern bungalow” and still stands at 704 S. Monroe St. today.  M.G. described the location of the home and all the amenities. The Addition was planned to be one of the most desirable residential areas of town. Each house was required to have at least five rooms or the deed would be forfeited.

The home didn’t have indoor plumbing when M.G. and his family moved in but he contracted a plumber to do the work because the City was running sewer lines into the addition. M.G. drew a detailed floor plan of the home to send to Teco, and provided her with dimensions of the dining table at her request, because it would be her home too.

During the week between Christmas and New Years 1921, the two long-distance sweethearts finally met in person. M.G. traveled by train to her home in Indiana and spent several days there so that they could get to know one another’s personalities and determine whether they truly had an attraction for one another. M.G. returned home to Stillwater, with no one the wiser about where he had been and why. Throughout the correspondence we find that M.G. and Teco only took their closest family members into their confidence about the courtship. They went to great lengths to insure that no one in Stillwater knew that they were writing to one another or why.

From January to June of 1921, the letters from M.G. continued. They were warm, full of wishes to be with one another and the yearning to share “loves token, a kiss”.

Finally a date was set for the wedding. The last letter in the collection was written on June 3, 1921. M.G. planned to leave Stillwater on Sunday, June 19, 1921, to travel to Indiana, where he and Teco would be married in her home on June 21st.  They planned to return to Stillwater on the following Sunday. From the last several letters we know that M.G. planned to tell no one except his children where he was going in order to surprise the town with his return with a wife in tow.

What happens after that? We don’t really know. We have other family letters to Teco after she became Mrs. M.G. Searcy. We know that M.G.’s son, Frank went to college at Oklahoma A & M and we have his report card for the Fall of 1925.  In 1934, M.G.’s other son, George died in a plane crash. Local history books tell us that M.G. wanted his son’s memory honored and that the Stillwater Airport was named after George when it became “Searcy Field.”

After reading the letters, and reading only M.G.’s voice in this long distance love-story, we can only wonder what happened next in the newlyweds’s lives together. How did their relationship develop once they were living in the trenches of matrimony? Based upon M.G.’s detailed descriptions of what he wanted for their lives together and what he believed marriage should be, we can only imagine that it must have been a happy marriage if Teco shared the same ideals.

While we may always wonder about the rest of the story, thanks to the collection of love letters, saved by Teco Holden Searcy, we are provided a rich glimpse into a year in the life of a prominent businessman in Stillwater. The collection is a treasure not only for the love story it tells, and the portrait it paints of the man behind one of Stillwater’s historical main street businesses, also for the historical snapshot the letters provide of a year of living in the young college town of Stillwater.