Man turns grandparents’ love letters into book
BY PAM BORDELON
Advocate staff writer
August 30, 2012
Shock and awe isn’t just a military term popularized by former President George W. Bush. It’s the perfect description of Christian Garcia’s reaction when on a visit to New Roads many years ago, his Uncle Bradford Lancaster entrusted his maternal grandparents’ love letters into his care.
First, Garcia was shocked because his uncle gave him the letters instead of daughter Marcy Lancaster Simoneaux. “She was standing right there!,” recalled Garcia, in a recent phone interview. “When I asked him why me, he said ‘Because I know you’ll do something with them.’”
The awe came from the sheer volume of letters written by Amanda Doerr and Joseph Bradford Lancaster, some 200 of them.
It took Garcia 20 years to get around to it, but his uncle’s assumption was a pretty safe one. The Covington native and current Greenville, N.C., resident is the publisher and editor of numerous elementary and middle school textbooks in all subject areas. “That’s what I do for money,” said Garcia with a chuckle, adding that this was simply a project of love.
The project is the book “Now & Always: A Louisiana Love Story,” a compilation of his grandparents’ love letters written between 1901, when their courtship began, until Joseph B. Lancaster’s death of a heart attack at age 51 in 1916. He and Simoneaux read excerpts from several of the letters at the Foundation for Historical Louisiana’s Heritage Lecture July 19 at the Old Governor’s Mansion. “Now & Always: A Louisiana Story,” can be purchased for $40 online at https://www.lulu.com.
“The letters were in this box, well organized into folders,” recalled Garcia. “My grandmother had kept them and then my aunt, who never married, preserved them and eventually my uncle Bradford got them.”
As he began to read the letters and delve into the history of the maternal side of his family, Garcia, who got his undergraduate degree in history at LSU and his master’s at the University of North Carolina, found his interest more and more piqued. Lancaster was 36 when he met the 24-year-old Doerr. While Garcia is still not sure how the couple met, it is quite possible that Lancaster, who at the time was into his second year as the first official superintendent of education in St. Tammany Parish (1900-1904), met the part-time school teacher through mutual friends.
Lancaster was studying also for the bar in Baton Rouge and would write “My dear Miss Amanda” often twice a day, sending the letters by train. From the first letter until the last one, he most often signed these missives “now and forever” but always used his formal signature, “Joseph B. Lancaster.” She would do the same, but her closings were a bit more informal, “Your loving wife, Amanda” being one of her favorites.
“My grandfather stayed in Baton Rouge for most of 1902, serving as a member of the state Legislature and studying for the bar,” said Garcia, adding that the Legislature isn’t the only thing that kept Lancaster away from home. He also served as a district attorney and judge.
“It was a very important part of their day to stay in touch,” he continued. “They talked about raising their love for each other; raising their children, whom they obviously loved much; everyone’s health; and their extended family and friends.”
In one letter, Lancaster advises his wife to be careful of fire, “I haven’t insured the piano yet.”
Lancaster’s letters also provide a glimpse of life in Baton Rouge, happenings at the state Capitol and his career. Doerr Lancaster’s letters help paint a picture of life in Covington in the early 1900s.
“I grew up in Covington; that’s why the letters are so dear to me, especially Amanda’s,” said Garcia. “They describe what life was like during that time.”
He discovered that the ties between the Northshore and New Orleans were strong even then; that there were numerous civic organizations, “much more well organized then than now”; that baseball was “huge” as was the card game uker; and that musicians were plentiful.
“Everywhere you went, somebody would play a violin, a piano or be in a band,” added Garcia. “I’m just amazed at how well they entertained themselves back then.”
He was also amazed by the lack of scandal. “I was free to publish the letters in their entirety; they speak for themselves.”
Following Lancaster’s death, Amanda and her children moved in with her mother at 1415 Monroe St., Covington. Fourteen years after the death of her husband, Amanda died at age 53 after suffering her second stroke. And while their lives and their marriage were all way too short, there are some 200 letters that bring them to life via Garcia’s book.
“My mother was the youngest of five children,” Garcia said. “She was just a baby when my grandfather died and I’m convinced Amanda told her stories about him. My mom passed those stories on to us and I was fascinated.
“He was only 51 when he died and fit in so much into his life … he was inspiring, such a leader,” he continued. “When I was growing up there was never any acknowledgement that he was someone of stature in the community, but three years ago they named St. Tammany’s newest school after him (Lancaster Elementary in Madisonville).”