A Special Friendship
“The adorable picture of your new daughter Catherine brightened our Christmas more than anything we received. She is simply beautiful and looks so sweet and dainty. We think she looks exactly like you and are so thrilled over it. I wouldn’t take anything for the picture and have shown it to everyone with such pride…”
So replied Alice Hand Callaway to a friend in a letter dated January 6, 1943. Little did I know that my path would cross with the adorable little girl Mrs. Callaway mentioned some 70 years later.
In 2013, I attended the Southern Garden History Society annual meeting in Lynchburg, Virginia. There, I learned from a friend about a woman, Catherine W. Lynn, who reportedly had family from LaGrange and knew the Callaways. We didn’t actually meet, but our mutual friend followed up on the connection, and some months later an unexpected box arrived at Hills and Dales. Much to my surprise, it was from Catherine Lynn of Lynchburg! Catherine’s mother had passed away some years earlier and, while cleaning out, she discovered a number of letters that her mother had received from Alice Callaway between 1941 and 1993. In 2020, another bulging envelope arrived, full of cards, clippings and more correspondence. All told, the two collections include over 75 letters, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, photographs, and Christmas cards. This treasure trove of documents provides a beautiful glimpse into the life of Mrs. Callaway and highlights a special friendship that lasted a lifetime.
This wonderful stash was saved by Mrs. William Lynn Jr. (1907- 2001) who grew up in LaGrange and was born the same year as Fuller Callaway Jr. Mrs. Lynn was a Mitchell before marriage and was usually just called Katie. Her parents were Dr. and Mrs. Louis Mitchell Sr., who lived at 207 Hill Street. Her father was a dentist, while her mother, Martha, descended from the Banks family and through that lineage was related to the Callaways. Not surprisingly, Fuller Jr. and Katie became childhood friends while growing up in LaGrange at the same time.
After Fuller Jr. married Alice in 1930, a relationship blossomed between Alice and Katie that would last for nearly 70 years. The family friendship was so strong that Katie’s marriage to William Lynn Jr. took place in the living room at Hills and Dales on November 8, 1930. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution,
“The home was beautifully decorated with quantities of flowers from the gardens. In the living room, where the ceremony was performed, white chrysanthemums, roses and snapdragons were used in a background of ferns and palms. White cathedral tapers in silver candelabras were placed on the improvised alter.”
After the wedding, the couple settled some 500 miles from LaGrange in Lynchburg, Virginia, where Bill ran a hotel. Thus began the letter writing between the two young wives, nearly all penned in old-fashioned cursive. They paint a picture of true closeness as Alice shares the ups and downs of life, describing joys and documenting routine trials and tribulations. I suspect the two women bonded because they shared so many things in common. To be honest, reading such personal content brings me a bit of guilt, as they were written for an audience of one. They do, however, provide a wonderful view into a life well lived and what better way to experience it than in Alice’s own words?
In the letters, she comments on topics that include the challenges of raising teenagers, tackling illnesses head on, and the ongoing task of making a happy home. In 1946, she wonders out loud about Fuller Jr.’s health after he was thrown from a horse, broke three ribs, and lost consciousness. Fortunately, he recovered. On August 14, 1942, Alice laments:
“Fuller is working awfully hard but manages to relax when he comes home. I have never seen anyone like him. Sometimes I wonder why he isn’t crazy with so much on him and he can come home at lunch and sleep like a baby in a short time. I am glad he is getting away though. We are taking George to drive so that should relieve him of that tiring part of the trip and I’ll try to see that the children are a pleasure rather than a nuisance.”
These concerns are counterbalanced by a wide range of cherished memories — her son Fuller III learning to drive, daughter Ida’s first date, trips to summer camp, attending family weddings, the birth of a new grandchild, and stories of the family spending time together. Alice also periodically celebrates accomplishments both big and small, such as learning to type, volunteering for the Red Cross, and the completion of their newly remodeled kitchen. One particularly heartwarming story occurred on January 6, 1964, when she writes,
“We drove down to Sarasota…where we met Fuller III. He had brought a 40’ sail boat from California to enter the six races of the Southern Ocean Racing Club. The first took place before we arrived and was from Miami to Cat Cay. His boat came in third in this race. Then the day after we arrived the second race started from St. Petersburg to Venice…. The following morning the boats started coming into Venice and we drove down to see the finish and attend the awards dinner that evening. The “Conquistador” (Fuller’s boat) won the race so we couldn’t have been there at a better time for happiness for all.”
Sprinkled throughout their correspondences are tales of common friends, gifts received and travels. Numerous special gifts she received from friends and family are documented, including a handmade pillow, a hand-painted tray, a gardening book, a beautiful new rug with a ﬂower pattern, a hand-knitted silk handkerchief set, and a gift to LaGrange College in her honor. When the present came from Katie, Alice would always compliment her on her ability to give the perfect gift! She also details upcoming trips and recounts ones that have passed. On a postcard from August 1944, written from Eaton’s Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming, Alice reveals the following,
“Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you while I had time to write away from home. We’re enjoying the ranch as much as before and Fuller III and Ida are happier than I’ve ever seen them. They ride with us twice a day and have even been on two all day trips way up in the mountains. Hope your family are all well… Love to the both of you.”
Besides often being apologetic that she does not write enough, other common threads throughout are periodic mentions of the weather, and highlights from the garden, the latter being a topic that clearly brought her much pleasure. In 1943 she recounts,
“I wish that you could have seen our camellias about two weeks ago. They were a solid mass of blooms and the hedge around the terrace next to house with thirty bushes of the same variety in full bloom made a beautiful sight. Our last hard freeze killed them so they are now brown on the bush, a sad reminder of their past glory. I have bought eleven new plants this year, rare varieties, and hope to add to them each year. The garden looks lovely to me and I like Mr. Miles, the new gardener very much. He keeps things Spic and Span the way I like to see them.”
Then on May 2, 1976,
“LaGrange has been having unseasonably warm weather and when we returned [from Florida] all of the azalea, dogwood and wisteria blooms were over. I planted 1,000 tulips last fall for a Garden Tour… There was only one bloom left when I arrived so not only were they not pretty for the tour but I missed them too! Ida said they were gorgeous and did take some pictures for me.”
It’s a shame that handwritten letters (and cursive writing) are rapidly becoming things of the past. This wonderful collection is proof that such personal missives are the best and most humane way to stay connected with a distant friend, and we are so thankful they have been saved! In the words of children’s book author Susan Lendroth, “To write is human, to get mail: Divine!” I am certain that Alice and Katie would agree. ~CBW
A special thanks to Catherine W. Lynn for saving her mother’s letters and sharing them with us, and much appreciation to Jane B. White for fostering this connection.
Catherine Willis Lynn gifted the estate a wonderful collection of personal letters and note cards that her mother received from Alice Hand Callaway. The correspondence spans from 1941 through 1993.
Fuller Callaway Jr. painted this watercolor of Catherine Mitchell Lynn’s childhood home on Hill Street in LaGrange in 1954. Fuller gifted the painting to Catherine.
Alice Hand Callaway standing with Katie in front of the pool house at Hills and Dales in 1953.
Fuller Callaway Jr. and Katie, both age seven, attended the wedding of a mutual friend in 1914.
A fish-design throw pillow Katie made and gifted to Alice Hand Callaway.
Dr. and Mrs. Louis Mitchell (Katie’s parents) are pictured on the front porch of their home with a friend in 1915. The Mitchell home was looking at 207 Hill Street.
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