After my grandfather, Conductor James Basset Gwin of the Southern Railway, was killed in a 1921 train wreck near Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama, my grandmother, Adrian Belle Vardaman Gwin, went back to work for the Southern as a station agent and telegrapher.
Several suitors courted her for some years afterward, though none succeeded in winning the widow's hand. But my dad, Adrian Sutton Gwin, often told us stories of a gentleman farmer, a Mr. Benny, the one who came closest.
Today I found in Dad's files an old letter on "Postal Telegraph-Cable Company (Office of the Manager)" letterhead addressed to "Mrs. A.V.Gwin, McDowell, Ala." and postmarked "Marion Junction, Ala, May 2, 8 AM, 1925."
The pencilled letter is signed "Lovingly, A.B.B."
Grandmother, then 48 and the single parent of four school-age children, was station agent at McDowell, as the trestle and bridge across the Tombigbee River at Demopolis was still standing. (A few years later, a riverboat would crash into the bridge pier, causing the bridge to collapse. It would never be rebuilt, and the line from York through McDowell to Demopolis would be discontinued and torn out.)
It makes sense to me that Mr. Benny, gentleman farmer, would have also been a telegrapher/station agent, knowing my grandparents through this connection, and I have every reason to believe that the following two letters, mailed together, are from him.
It is of interest that though the letters were written in February of 1925, they were not mailed until May, some three months later.
Only time for a few words.
I can't understand you. You are too deep for me, but I still Love you. If you could only say as much for me nothing else would matter. Will comply with your wishes.
I will still call you that. Your little brief came in this a.m. together with clippings. It was nice of you to remember me on Sunday in the midst of all your other pressing and all important dutes. Yes Dear, I was honest and fair with you from the very first, did not misrepresent a thing. Neither did I make any big claim or promises which I was not able to fulfill. Then why oh why didn't you tell me that I did not come up to your standard or expectations. Tell me in what way did I embarrass you by coming to McDowell. Who is it around there who you are ashamed for them to see you with me? I will admit my manner, dress, etc., are not flawless, but still they are passable. I had pictured such a pleasant little existance for us in some nice little station with me doing all the work and you bustling around me making things cheerful and bright for me and at intervals with one hand on my shoulder and the other tousling up my hair, but I guess you did not allow your mind to dwell on such small subjects. But with all your faults, I love you still, and as you said in that awful letter, I can force myself to disregard it all but not forget it so easily as you said you could. I have not given up yet. I will have a better position some day and feel more independent. Then I will come for you and ask no questions. You won't be safe unless you leave the Earth, and I am not sure I would not follow you any way.
I have a 1927 schedule of the trains on that line. The one originating at Chattanooga, Tennessee, early each morning, stopped at Marion Junction daily at 4:20 p.m., arriving at McDowell at 6:05. The morning train originated at Selma, stopping at Marion Junction daily at 10:15, arriving McDowell at noon.
I really have no idea what happened, but based on the letters and the schedule, I can imagine the following scenario:
Mr. Benny, agent at Marion Junction, had decided to surprise Grandmother on one of his days off and eat a "pre-Valentines Day" lunch with her. As all agents and their families had "annual passes" allowing them to ride the train anywhere for free, he hopped the westbound passenger train at 10:15 that day and rode for an hour and forty-five minutes, arriving at McDowell right in time for lunch.
I imagine Grandmother, who hated surprises, was not prepared for this unexpected, come-as-you-are date to go to lunch with him and refused. He wanted to know why not, she told him to mind his own business and whatever, at which he left, returning to Marion Junction on the afternoon train. He wrote the letters to her but didn't mail them for three months.
(Readers, please remember that, while based on known facts, the above scenario is pure speculation and may or may not be the way things actually happened.)
I hope that some relative of this Mr. A. B. Benny, Southern Railway Station Agent for Marion Junction, Alabama, in 1925, will see this and contact me.
John M. Gwin
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