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The Old Lady From Dubuque

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Take a letter: To Harold Ross, Editor, The New Yorker magazine, New York.

Dear Mr. Ross:

I realize that this letter likely comes at an inconvenient time for you, since you died in 1951, but common courtesy demanded that I write and let you know that Aunt Elna died earlier this month in Dubuque, Iowa, after reaching the century mark.

This week I have been in Dubuque, Iowa, going through her belongings. In an attic trunk, I found a copy of the very first issue of your New Yorker magazine, from 1925.

You may remember Aunt Elna; she's the "old lady from Dubuque" you referred to in that first issue—the editorial where you announced that you would be writing for a very urban and sophisticated audience, and not for "the old lady from Dubuque," or for anyone else from our Midwest. You were not, you wrote, interested in "trading mirrors and colored beads." Like much of the East Coast, you believed that e-lectricity and aero-planes are necessities for high culture.

I don't believe Aunt Elna ever did subscribe to The New Yorker. perhaps she was offended at being called old at the age of thirty. Perhaps she didn't have time to read much after trimming the wicks on the kerosene lanterns each evening and checking to see if the powder in the flintlocks was dry. Perhaps she took offense at your position on murder. "We intend to take a firm stand against murder," you wrote in that same issue, "But we don't want to be bigoted" about it. When it came to murder, Aunt Elna was a bigot.

Most likely, though, she didn't subscribe to any magazine that could not be recycled. With its slick paper, The New Yorker would have been impractical in the outhouse.

Aside from that first issue of The New Yorker, there was little of value among Aunt Elna's effects, except for a box of colored beads and a gross of small mirrors. Tomorrow we take those out to the reservation to see how many beaver pelts they will bring.

Meanwhile, all the best.

Sincerely, Roald Tweet.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.