Darling, I love you, Gee


Peppered through the vast family archive used in the writing of River of January, exist three special sets of letters. Though largely filled with conventional chatter and sentimental superlatives, these documents also provide a fascinating peek into another time and place–of a nation suffering through economic free fall, and perched on the threshold of war.

The letters frequently mention the turbulent state of international affairs, from fascist Italy, to the Spanish Civil War; episodes that eventually and inevitably led to the Second World War. Even more ink is expended discussing the difficult economic situation stemming from the fallout of the Stock Market Crash–securing theater bookings, closing business contracts, and aviation training in a downsized Navy. Still, aside from the monumental, most of the content reported simple day to day life, shared with humor and concise observations. From their correspondence these men clearly promoted themselves, vibrantly rising from the faded and yellowing paper.

The first are a series of letters mailed from a Hollywood address, composed by comedy writer, Grant Garrett. (See above). The second collection, posted almost exclusively from Europe, came from the hand of a 28-year-old Belgian entrepreneur, Elie Gelaki. Serious and painfully formal, Elie’s letter reveal a methodical mind, clearly continental in manner with a determined nature. Finally, the last, and largest collection came from Mont Chumbley, Virginia farm boy turned aviator, who looms largest in the memoir. His writing reveals a practical, warm, and straightforward young man who expressed himself in plain language.

Despite definite differences in style, these three writers did share many qualities. All were deeply ambitious, establishing successful careers in the particularly difficult years of the Great Depression. They were clearly literate and educated, in a time when many (at least in America) did not regularly attend nor graduate from secondary school. These letters rise from the ordinary, written with distinctive originality, candor, and technical accuracy.

The link that tied this portion of the archive together was the beautiful New York dancer who received each letter, and preserved them all, Helen Thompson.


Grant Garrett became Helen’s first heartthrob. A native of Los Angeles, Garrett was a regular script contributor to radio shows and vaudeville acts. A talented singer and dancer in his own right, he interviewed Helen to partner with him for an upcoming tour across the country in 1931. After their junket ended, she returned to New York, and he returned to Hollywood. Now in love, the couple exchanged a series of clandestine letters, (her mother forbade Helen to see him again) with only Grant’s compositions still surviving today.

For a nineteen-year-old girl, Grant was hard to resist. Moody, smart, and funny . . . he was the essence of the tortured poet, a perfect combination of beauty, pain and passion. Of her suitors, Grant was the only one who shared her profession, and their time together forged a strong, and influential bond. Helen’s association with Grant provided something of a professional finishing school for her. From Grant she learned to laugh through tough times, and push through adversity because “the show must go on.”


Grant’s whimsical map of a planned Garrett & Thompson reunion tour.

Next time, Belgian, Elie Gelaki.

Read more about Grant Garrett, Elie, and Mont Chumbley in River of January, available in hard copy and on Kindle.


Gail Chumbley


Rereading the original draft of my book, River of January, I reviewed the back story that propelled the book’s creation. An impossible crisis pushed me to write the work, but that narrative was cut out of the main manuscript due to length. But I still believe that the story behind the published story is important to share.

The Intensive Care Unit was the largest department on the third floor of the hospital. Reflecting back I never did figure out which direction the ward faced. Was it north toward Boise’s golden foothills or south over the blue turf of the football stadium? Someone needed to open the blinds.

The floor plan in the ward ovaled around like a carpeted arena, anchored by a nurses’ station in the infield. Three quarters of the broad ring had been segmented into tiny stalls–narrow spaces housing mechanical beds. My husband’s particular nook, squeezed…

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Oh, That’s Today!

Ambushed by the date AGAIN!

Gail Chumbley


There were times when I’d be blathering along on some historical subject, and in a sudden epiphany realize, “and it happened today!” One time, displaying a before-and-after photo of the USS Maine in a lecture on the Spanish-American War, it dawned on me that the date was February 15, 1898–that very day. “Oh, that’s today!” sprang from my mouth. Various reactions crossed the many faces of my students. Ranging from, “she really needs a life,” to “that might be mildly interesting, but it’s not.” My kids seemed to exude more sympathy than interest in my sudden, self-induced enthusiasm. “Geez, don’t all hop up all at once,” was my usual sardonic response. Then they would laugh.

December 7th got a nod, September 17th, Constitution Day, and my personal favorite, “The Seventh of March Speech.” That one you ought to look up. Finest speech made in the Senate to my way of…

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