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Monday, 25 June 2007

Portrait of a 1918 Blogger

By Betsy Devine of Betsy Devine: Now with even more funny ha-ha and peculiar

My great-grandfather's name was Hugo A. Dubuque. His 1928 obituaries described him as “a credit to his race,” said race being French-Canadian. He put himself through college, trained for the bar and ultimately became a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge spending many days riding the circuit far from his home and family in Fall River.

And late in 1918. he became something very like a blogger.

My sister and I discovered his “blog” tucked away in the pages of our father’s baby-photo album - a series of short letters written almost daily that Judge Dubuque mailed home from his travels, addressed to his brand-new grandson.

The series begins with a letter to his daughter Marie. The judge, clearly shaken by his youngest and dearest daughter’s delivering her first child in her girlhood bedroom:

“I cannot tell you how glad we all are that you came through the ordeal all right. How proud Frank will be when he gets the happy news, and his folks also.

“You can now see, better than you ever realized before, why a mother is the center of such sweet and tender affection. The explanation is that she has earned it by going through the great trial and suffering for, and devotion to, her offspring.

“Suffering purifies and ennobles all things.

“May God bless you and your dear little son, and bring back to you safely his father home [from the World War I battlefield].”

Here’s a characteristic “post” from January 1919:

“I envied you this morning, my boy, nice and warm in your cozy bassinette. It was very chilly for grandpa - the wind was North and snowing, the walks were very slippery, but Gaga is always careful so he did not fall down. There is no heat at all in the Elevated cars in Boston on account of the influenza.

“What was that I heard this morning? that you gave an unearthly shriek, like a sort of Indian war whoop, because you were so hungry? That is very rude for a little boy to do that, and scare his Mamma and Atta Paul [Aunt Pauline]. But, of course, when a young man is hungry he cannot always repress his feelings. So be a good boy and we will all love you dearly.”

Two weeks later, the proud grandfather has something new to blog:

“It is the first time, yesterday, that my voice as a singer was ever appreciated. And you, sweet little grandson, were the one to do so. Nothing pleased me better than to see you apparently enjoy grandpa’s singing. You evidently could stand it with delight, on the ground, presumably, that any noise will do as an amusement.

“Wait until your Dad gets home, he will sing lullybys for you. It will be great for you to be carried around by a hero of the greatest war in the history of the world, that of 1914 - 1918.”

Springtime is a great inspiration to bloggers - even those of March 1919:

“You missed it, Murray, in not getting up at 5 A.M. the same as your Gaga did this morning. There was a nice white frost, the harbinger of spring, spread over the trees and ground. The air was so sweet and pure. It is a real delight to be out early.

“The spring will soon be here, and by the way this is your first spring. While you have seen flowers in the house, they are much nicer on their own stems in the sunlight outdoors.

“Gaga expects to have a garden this spring, back of the house; so you’ll see things grow and you will learn farming and horticulture, garden and flower production. And you will sleep surrounded by flowers and vegetables, which will form a background to the picture of my little grandson. I hope your dad, when he takes you to Manchester, will have a little garden, if it is only to grow some flowers and a few of the ordinary vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, rare-ripes, and the like.”

I transcribed only a few of these letters and of course I now wish I had copied out all of them. A good excuse to go visit my sister again.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: As of this writing (Sunday 24 June), there are two stories in the queue for next week. If you would like to see this blog continue, please consider sending in a story contribution.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


It is wonderful to have those letters from a family member. I envy that child, and wish that my grandmother had written to me.

Your great-grandfather must have been a very loving man. All elders should leave a written legacy of some sort for the generations yet to be born. I had two great grandfathers in the Civil War and would love to have an account of what their life was like then.

I am currently writing my second Memoir. The first was mostly a chronological history of my family and a description of the family members. The current one is about my life and what it was like for the country during the Depression, World War II, and beyond. If nothing else, it is very therapeutic.

Darlene, I think it's wonderful that "our" generation will be able to leave such a rich collection of memories behind. And thanks for your kind words about my great-grandfather--because of these letters, I've had a chance to get to know and love him.

How I enjoyed reading the letters your great grandfather wrote.
There is a saying that when an old person dies it is like the library burnt down.You saved those letters from being destroyed and now here we are, complete strangers, reading those loving words and being captivated by their wisdom.
I am in the process of making a family tree with a picture of each person along with their personal history.I can go only to my grandparents because that is as far back as the photographs go, but you have to start somewhere and that is about 120 years back, which is better than no history at all, and I'm hoping that one of the young people in our family will take up the task when I am gone.
A final observation: Your Great Grandfather died in 1928, the year I was born.

Those old letters are a priceless, intimate history of your family. The next time you are visiting your sister could you take the remaining letters to some place like Kinko's and copy them so you would have your own copies.
I would love to read more of them.

Those were wonderful letters.

What a fun insight into his mind and heart. What a lucky treasure you have found!

What a dear man, and what a wonderful gift these letters are. Did his father come home from the war ok?

I am from Fall River and I attended the Hugo A Dubuque elementary school

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