Cudmore: Love letters from the Depression


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In the summer of 1931, my parents both were working and lived on what my father called “long distance love.”

Born in Torrington, England in 1909, Clarence Cudmore came to America with his mother, Elizabeth, and siblings in 1912.

My grandfather Harry Cudmore had emigrated to Amsterdam the year before to weave silk at Fownes Brothers glove mill on Grove Street. The family settled in a duplex at 36 Eagle St., three houses away from Harry and Bryna Demsky, whose son became the actor Kirk Douglas.

The homeowner where my grandparents lived was Robert Brown. Brown and his wife, Beatrice, lived in half of the house. Beatrice was my grandfather’s sister who had come to Amsterdam years before.

Julia Cook, my mother, was born in Randall in 1913. Her father, Yates, was a storekeeper who died unexpectedly at age 63 in 1915. My grandmother and her three children moved to Amsterdam after World War I. Grandmother Margaret operated a boarding house at 107 1/2 Forbes St.

Both my parents grew up in the city’s East End and met at the East Main Street Methodist Episcopal Church, which is now a community center.

Clarence left school to work in Mohawk Carpet Mills near his Eagle Street home. Julia skipped two grades and graduated from high school at age 16 in 1930.

She went off to Albany Normal School, the predecessor of SUNY Albany, but left school because of emotional and money problems.

Julia and her older sister Jane spent the summer of 1931 working as maids at a Catskill resort, the Terrace Farm Inn in Phoenicia. Their mother had grown up in Chichester near Phoenicia and relatives kept their eyes on the girls.

That summer Julia, 17, and Clarence, 22, exchanged 24 letters.

“It seemed awfully queer and funny to me Sunday not having you come after me and loving me too,” Julia wrote in June.

Clarence responded with a story about a rain-soaked church picnic in Tribes Hill where the minister’s car got stuck on wet grass and Clarence helped put chains on the tires, “I had my new suit on, so you could imagine how mad I was.”

“Oh, by the way, I have an appointment with my cousin on Thursday to go to see (the movie) ‘Dracula’ at Fleischmanns,” Julia wrote. “You don’t mind, do you? He’s my cousin and we’ll be chaperoned thank God.”

The carpet mill where Clarence worked closed for inventory the last week in June. Julia responded, perhaps sarcastically, that it was good of the mill owners to give her beau a vacation.

In July Julia had an “attack of hysterics.” Clarence told her of a wedding at their Amsterdam church where the 100 guests were served sandwiches left over from a church picnic.

Julia refused two dates and said business was brisk at the inn. Clarence hitched a ride with the fiance of Julia’s sister, Peter Segen, for a visit in Phoenicia.

Julia came down with stomach ulcers. A doctor prescribed medicine and put her on a bland diet. Clarence replied, “If I was the doctor, I wouldn’t give you anything but love and kisses.”

Clarence wrote in August, “I don’t like the idea of living on long distance love.”
Julia and Clarence were married by the Rev. Frank T. Love at the East Main Street Methodist Church parsonage in Amsterdam in April 1934, the day after my father’s 25th birthday. Their first child, Arlene, was born in August 1935. I came along 10 years later.
Clarence and Julia had been married 60 years when Clarence died in 1994. Julia died two years later.

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