Tuesday, May 11, 2021

52 Ancestors - MOTHERS DAY: The Many Loves of Mary Eleanor

Growing up, I was well aware that my mother had been one of the beautiful and popular girls at school, both high school and college. Not until I started going through letters saved between 1946 and 1950 did I realize just HOW popular!

Letters my mother saved

The stacks of letters reveal there had been more boyfriends than I had ever heard about. Bruce. Pete. George. Bob. Graham. Of course, I want to know more although, quite frankly, I have been reluctant to open the letters for fear of learning something I don’t want to know!

Nevertheless, with one eye closed, I began opening envelopes. Since Graham always included his last name in the return address, I decided to start with him. The letters begin in the summer of 1947 following Momma’s first year at Shenandoah College where Graham must have been a student as well. Graham’s letters are “hot and heavy” professions of love blah blah blah. He called her “Pretty Face,” “Dream Girl,” “Sweet,” and “Booby” (Booby?? What the heck?). He signed off, “Loving you every minute” and – my favorite – “Loving you like a fiend.”

Then in 1949 the letters are just friendly. He addressed her by her nickname “Duny” and signed off, “As B/4 Graham.” The “break up” must have occurred in 1948. I’m guessing Momma did not save all the letters because there are none from him that year.

Here is what I learned:

My mother must have been a poor pen pal because Graham always seemed surprised when she wrote back quickly and relieved when she finally responded. One time he even praised her for getting better at letter-writing.

During the summer of 1947 Graham was desperately looking for work. Unable to find anything, he described himself as being “like a lost ball in high weeds.” Eventually he took a job for a company in Ontario.

Graham liked to party. Sometimes he didn’t get home until the wee hours. There were days he drank beer all afternoon.

My favorite insight into Graham’s personality is this: he called his car “the sex machine.”

Back of a postcard Graham sent from Gettysburg
on his way to Canada

Letter from Graham while in Canada

In another incident involving “the sex machine,” Graham’s personality shines through as he described the night he hit a dog: 

from one of the letters summer 1947

Graham was not returning to Shenandoah but had applied to North Carolina State and to the University of North Carolina. He was quite anxious to hear whether he would be accepted at either. While he joked that he might flunk out the first semester, he must have been smarter than he thought because he was accepted at BOTH schools.

Apparently, he chose to go to NC State with his best friend but later regretted that decision and enrolled at UNC. In the last letter that Momma saved, Graham described himself as being “a square peg in a round hole” at NC State and wished he had been at UNC Chapel Hill all along.

Wondering what became of Graham after that, I headed to Ancestry and searched “Graham Wilson.” Up popped the UNC yearbook with this picture:

Graham Wilson
UNC Chapel Hill 1950
A.B. degree in Economics

Back in January, I posted photos of my mother with a man yet to be identified.

Graham Wilson and "Pretty Face"


The man was Graham Wilson. I wonder if that’s the “sex machine” in the background.

Here is Graham again in a photo previously unidentified: 

"Duny" and Graham

Elizabeth Hardison
Meredith College 1948
Graham found another pretty face to woo and marry: Elizabeth Hardison, a graduate of Meredith College with a degree in biology. They had two daughters. Graham and Elizabeth had been married 53 years when he died in 2004.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Yeah those letters are funny and scary!
    At least we know who Graham is!

  2. Wow what a cache of family history. Guess the "sex machine" found a good mate! Fun post, thank you for sharing how you navigated this situation.

  3. Ya gotta love a woman who saves all those love letters! How interesting for you (and us) to dive into your mom's love life. It's wonderful that you were able to find so much information and especially that you now know who the man in the photos is. Well done! And such fun, too. (And aren't you glad Graham isn't the one your mom chose?)

  4. This is so "my life" right now as I transcribe letters between my parents and now working on letters my dad wrote to his parents while in the service. It really is reading like a book right now, although I know the ending since he lived and I'm here. I can't get over "sex machine" - I hope you don't learn anything more about THAT!