Motherhood!…I must always say it tenderly…











“Helena – 28 days old – or young! “

Today would be the ninety fourth birthday of my mother-in-law, Helena Schlichter Talmage. She just passed away –  on July 24, 2013 –  a few days shy of her birthday.

To maintain some clarity among similar names: Helena Schlichter Talmage, my mother-in-law,  is the daughter of Helen Ottens Schlichter – the writer of the letters which this blog is about.

I thought, today, how amazing is it that, among the letters, sorted by date, I will surely be able to find a letter in which Helen writes to her mother about her newborn daughter, Helena, who was born 94 years ago!

The letter is dated:

    August 5, 1919,  Rm 5  Hospital, China Inland Mission, Shanghai

It is a long letter – both sides of seven pages – small writing. I will share excerpts: 

“-therefore also I have granted her to Jehovah; as long as she liveth she is granted to Jehovah.” I Sam. 1:28

Mother Dearest,

Isn’t it glorious? – Motherhood! I know now something of what the word means,     and I feel as if I must always say it tenderly….

Helena Louise – we are so very, very happy – and I know you are all rejoicing  with us….God sent her to us at five o’clock Sunday afternoon…She weighed in at seven pounds when she came to us and has an abundance of dark brown hair – straight – oh, so straight. I never saw so much hair on a young baby….

Of course, Helena is the dearest baby in the world, and we both nearly love her to pieces. She amuses us with the most comical faces, then suddenly a beautiful smile….

Well, this is the twelfth day since Helena has been ours, and I am now writing this sitting out on the veranda – in a long steamer chair, with Helena fast asleep in her coach right beside me. Alfred is here, too, lounging in a steamer chair…

A few days last week we were having the remains of a typhoon. What winds there were! ..but in the midst of banging doors and shutters, and howling winds Helena slept sweetly on…

Love to Papa and Mil and lots and lots of love to my dearest, dearest Mother  from

Her own happy daughter,




A Passing

helena & parents

July 27, 1920, Kurling, China   “The Family”

Alfred and Helen O Schlichter with daughter, Helena, on her first birthday


Helena Schlichter Talmage

July 27, 1919  – July 24 2013

Born of Loving Parents


Before I Start – a sample letter

Letter from Helena Schlichter to her mother, Louisa Ottens, from The Bible Institute of Los Angeles, September 1917. Just a sample of Helen’s detailed writing. She often mentions Billy Sunday during the Los Angles years. But – I’ll get to back story later.  

Just enjoy the letter, young Helen’s enthusiasm (she’s twenty-one in 1917 and newly-wed) and its historical context. This is, by far, one of her shortest letters. I will not be transcribing many – but will frequently offer up especially interesting or lyrical passages. 

This is one of the first letters. 

Dearest Mother,

Safe in Los Angeles at last. (You can pronounce that name almost any way you wish. Almost everybody pronounces it differently here. Yes, we are here – dead tired. Today, while a day of most wonderful mountains, was also the most tiresome. My patience was about gone. We ordered a good breakfast and lunch, but nothing seemed to taste good. The California Limited certainly has excellent dinning service. Talk about cantaloupes! Only fifteen cents a half, but they were worth it. Dee-licious! Ice cream – just one round ball – twenty five cents. Of course, when you are served on silver platters, with silver finger bowls, perfect snowball linen and napkins, you’ve got to pay for it.

We traveled through the desert since yesterday afternoon. The colorings were marvelous – the mountains exquisite in their innumerable hues. We climbed over some mountains today, all night – about four thousand feet high we were. The engine – a gigantic oil burner, had all it could do to pull us up. We couldn’t go straight up but in an s-shaped curve. It was a novel sensation to see the distant mountains decreasing as we ascended. As we neared Pasadena, we saw acres and acres of orange groves. A man on the train said orange growing is a rich man’s game. It was interesting to note that as we pulled into Pasadena, the first thing we saw was a Woolworth store – it looked very natural.

The train was on time to the minute as that at 2:40 this afternoon we were leaving the train. We soon had a taxi and were riding toward the B.I. of Los Angeles. Los Angeles business district is very clean. The buildings, most of them, are extravagant affairs. There is a department store which we passed tonight that is as handsome as Wanamaker’s from the outside, though not as big of course. This section of town seems to be all hotels and automobile showrooms. Speaking of automobiles – it seems like millions of them. The streets shine from their oil. L.A. streets are certainly clean.

Billy Sunday is here in full force but says he is meeting a new situation – different from his other towns. Christian Science is VERY popular here. We walked up to the Tabernacle after supper – about six blocks. It was crowded of course and looked just like our Philadelphia Tabernacle. We hope to hear Billy soon. There are quite a number of Philadelphians at the school.

Our trunk came this afternoon but not the suitcase. I suppose they got separated.

And now – about our rooms. There is a women’s building and a men’s building, you know. The married couples have their rooms in the men’s building – for the time being. In a few weeks, the married couples will be changed to the Radcliff – a very good Christian hotel, where they will each have a bedroom, bath and kitchenette! If we wanted to, we could cook our own meals or we could just cook breakfast and have the rest of the meals at the school.

The rooms alone cost $2.00 for each of us. The meals at the school, $3.50 for each of us. We haven’t decided what we’ll do. As I say, we shall stay in our present rooms until those apartments are vacated.

The rooms we have now are dreams – a bedroom and a bath. The walls are cream color, the woodwork, cherry. The bedroom rug is very much like the living room rug at home. The bedroom is very nearly as big as your sitting room. The furniture consists of a lovely dull finish brass bed, a mahogany bureau, a combination table and desk, a dandy leather seated rocker, and a chair. The bathroom is all white – white tub, wash stand, and toilet, with a white mirrored cabinet. The floor is tiled. There are two nickel towel racks with snowy towels and a bath rug.

The windows in both bedroom and bath are casement in style. At both windows are white scrim curtains. The bureau looks beautiful with my white set on the bureau scarf Florence Schlichter gave me. Here is a rough floor plan of our rooms. There are twilights from the center of the ceiling so you see we won’t strain our eyes.

We went to the prayer meeting of Dr. Torrey’s church which is the church connected with the school. It was a real live prayer meeting.

Alfred is admiring the bureau with its trimmings. He is like an enthusiastic boy – but he does take excellent care of me – in so many little ways.

Will you send my fountain pen out? It was on the chiffonier. Its box is in the second bureau drawer from the bottom. There, now, it’s twenty minutes of eleven so I’ll stop. I’ve told you all the details I can think of now. We kept very easy hours on the train – eight o’clock almost every night. Take good care of yourself and give my love to everybody. Alfred sends his love to you and I send heaps and heaps. Write as soon as you can.

Your own loving daughter,



A Life in Letters


                At the moment, there are over two hundred  letters on my dining room table. They are old letters, their envelopes yellowed and brittle. Fortunately, the pages which they have been protecting all these decades are still crisp and pliable – clearly offering their words in a meticulous, inviting script.

These letters were written from 1914-1926 by my husband’s grandmother, Helena Schlichter, who maintained a steady and faithful correspondence over those years with her mother, Louisa Ottens. Most of the letters are written after Helena’s marriage to Alfred Schlichter. The adventuresome newly-weds would end up far from home, but Helena’s mother was kept very much in her life through detailed and frequent letters. They always begin “Dearest Mother,” and are signed “Helen” – so, I will refer to Helena as Helen.

I have stacked her letters in piles sorted by year – the oldest having been written in 1914 when Helen was a teenager. The 1919 pile is the tallest and I will soon be reading into it and finding out why she had so much to say in that year. It is the year she arrived in China as a Christian missionary, and it is the year her first child was born – so let me guess…

I have my notebooks ready. I decided to take notes by hand rather than sit next to a computer as I read the letters. Handwork seems more connecting. I put some effort into finding notebooks with a quality of paper I will enjoy writing on – with lines which are not too dark.  I’ll be using a mechanical pencil because I like the slip of graphite on paper. I feel like an artist  getting ready to fill a canvas as I begin to move through Helen’s letters, one by one.

My goal is to create a representation of the story that lies in these pages. There is a process here, as there is in painting a landscape, or a portrait, in which much of the detail confronting you must be left out. The trick is to determine where the essence is, how to arrange it, how to interpret the hues.

My first task is to just read and marvel as portions of Helen’s life unfold through over a decade of articulate, long, reflective and detailed discourse with her mother. These are letters of familial love, religious passion, foreign adventure, domestic joys, fabric swatches, recipes, motherhood, lots of photographs and theological tracts.

I hope lots of friends and relatives join me as I “blog” through discovery and reflection along the way.