Several years ago, when I started spending time every summer in Regina with my first cousin John Rawdon Bieber to work on his family archives, one of the items we filed was a collection of letters his mother and father had exchanged in the two years leading up to their marriage in September 1948. More recently I transcribed and footnoted the letters, with input from Rawd himself, and also from his sister Marianne, who, like myself, are descendants of the Aron Niebuhr line. The letters present a remarkable picture of the time now six decades past in which my mother's sister conversed by mail with her intended.
I quote here the introduction of this book, which I printed off in draft for the first time yesterday:
The correspondence between Mary Rempel and Walter Bieber in the summers of 1947 and 1948 when they were apart due to Walter's summer work between years of law school, and their letters after their marriage during short periods apart, present a fascinating story not only of the central personalities but also of the times and the attitudes of sixty years ago.
As in all good stories, the protagonists grow and change from the beginning to the end of the story. Walter changes in his attitudes and opinions more than Mary, but perhaps this seems to be the case because a whole summer's worth of letters from Mary to Walter are unavailable. At the beginning of their correspondence Walter struggled to find anything to write about, and found it hard to articulate how he felt about Mary. By the end of the following summer there was no lack of content, with his feelings for Mary being expressed freely and even poetically. Mary in turn became more articulate about her feelings and opinions. They grew and changed together.
Added in date order are a few letters from Walter's friends and relatives, and one from the University. These letters complement those of the central personalities and flesh out the narrative of this period of their lives.
In 1947, Mary Rempel and Walter Bieber were engaged and planning to marry. As they lived at some distance from each other, they wrote frequently. Mary's letters to Walter the first summer they were apart - 1947 - have not been preserved. It is speculated that Walter had no private place to keep them while he was working at his brother's farm near Wolseley, Saskatchewan the summer between first and second years at law school. Mary did preserve Walter's letters for both the summer of 1947 and the summer of 1948. These have been preserved by their son Rawdon, and are here transcribed. The originals were photocopied in Regina in June 2005 and June 2007 by Mary Crane. In some instances the photocopied words are unclear and might be clarified by checking against the originals, now November 2008 in the hands of Graeme Mitchell.
Information for footnotes was provided by Marianne Bieber Daigneault and John Rawdon Bieber, Mary and Walter's daughter and son, and by the editor. In some instances notations were made by Mary Bieber on the letters; these are transcribed as footnotes.
Mary Rempel Bieber's memoirs, As I Remember, were printed in 1999. Walter's 1951 diary and his memoirs have been transcribed and are to be privately printed in the future.
Rawd died in October 2007. Marianne died in September 2008. Rawd's many family stories are reproduced in the Rempel Cousins book, printed in September 2008. Marianne didn't live long enough to write anything for that book; the only writing I have of hers is in a handful of emails, and in the detailed footnotes she provided on some questions I had about her parents' letters. Reviewing the Mary and Walter Letters draft yesterday, I realized that I have more of her writing than I had recalled. I am grateful to have it.
My ability to detect my typographical and other errors being notoriously poor, I will have to ask one of my long-suffering siblings or cousins to proofread this draft. Then I will send it to all of Mary and Walter's descendants and to any of their nieces and nephews who might be interested...
But before I do that, I must first decide on whether I should include in the book Uncle Walter's 1951 journal,written at the time of the birth of Marianne. (His poetry I included in The Rempel Stories, I just recalled.) It never fails. Every time I think I am getting close to completing a project, along comes another conundrum crying out for resolution before I can say "FINISHED."