Friday, April 27, 2012

Ken Neal Letter to Madalene Danklef
September 26, 1998 

Dear Madalene:

It’s early on a Saturday morning on my 63rd birthday. I got a terrific birthday card from you with a couple 
of pictures of a beautiful girl in the swimming pool. Since you are not yet 18 months old, I highly suspect 
this was your mother’s doing!

Your mom has suggested that I write to you from time to time. It is a very thoughtful suggestion. Forgive 
me if I have told you why in previous notes, but she and I both think it would have been terrific if our 
grandparents had written down more of their thoughts and remembrances for our benefit.

I, for example, have only sketches of handwriting or other written material even from my father, and 
only a few impersonal words taken from work documents from my grandparents.

My mother, as you probably know, put down a lot of material. Much of it religious and wisdom 
literature that appealed to her. It does offer a direct insight into her personality and the kind of a person 
she was. I recommend you read it for that purpose.

My grandparents lived in a time when it was not easy for people of modest means to write. Writing 
materials were scarce and their educational levels were such that putting thoughts on paper was not 
easy for them. My dad, for example, was a terrific story teller. I hope you will read of some of them 
in other writings on which I am working. But although Dad consumed newspapers, he did not read 
much more than technical material. A truly smart and wise man, he simply did not feel comfortable 
putting the stories on paper. He expressed his feelings freely in person, but putting them on paper was 
awkward for him.I, on the other hand, have no such excuses. I have, as you probably have been told, 
been hammering away on typewriters and word processors all my life. Putting my thoughts on paper 
(computer?) is natural for me. It is awkward for me to put my thoughts down in longhand.

There are details of my relatives(and yours) in other material, so I will not get into that here except 
to tell you that I believe that we honor our ancestors and learn much about ourselves by getting 
acquainted with them and the times in which they lived and strived. Of such, of course, are the basics 
of history. I have found that knowing my immediate relatives in this way enables me to have a good 
feel for the really important figures in history.  An example: Having heard my father tell many funny 
stories – many of them with barnyard language and expletives – I can read of the anecdotes that Abraham 
Lincoln told and close my eyes and hear that great man dispense humor and wisdom that flowed out of 
a good mind and a loving heart.

Perhaps more than any other attribute I wish for you is that of empathy for others. It is difficult to 
truly define and difficult to acquire, else this would be a far better world than it is.

It is empathy (understanding compounded?) that makes us cry and laugh at the antics of others, rage at 
the unfairness of life and curse politicians who turn our human follies to their advantage. But you can get an idea 
of what your grandpa was thinking about government, politics and society from his editorials and columns 
printed over the past 27 years in the World. I don’t like to go back and read them myself because I see too 
many examples of wordiness, plain stupidity and a generally low level of competence. But they were produced 
under deadline conditions and always against a set of conflicting, sometimes overpowering, pressures of the 
public, my colleagues, and at times, my publisher.

Your mother has a good share of the empathy I discuss. Her card to me, as usual, was able to convey in a 
special way her love for me.  I, more than anyone, am accutely aware of my failings and limitations. My 
regrets at not always being the best father. But I long for her and the other kids to tell me they do not see the 
many blemishes. She always does that.

I mention this to you to tell you that the reward that she deserves for letting love blind her where her dad is 
concerned is for you to love her in the same way. Remember, one of these days when you are put out with 
her (maybe as a teen-ager) that you can wrap her around your little finger by treating her and your father 
like she has treated me. I am sure your mom can remember great injustices perpetrated on her by her father 
(all children can) but my memory of our relationship does not bring up very many conflicts. (Well, there 
was that time with the boy friend who wouldn’t go home. Maybe you should ask her why he kept hanging 

Obviously, this little note is going nowhere. I am headed into my 64thyear. It will be a long time before you 
begin to grasp the enormity of that simple statement. I am of course planning for a  very long, very productive 
old age. And, at this moment, it seems likely. I am in extremely good health, physically fit ( I plan to be the 
star of the office softball game next Sunday) and blessed with a good job, great family and a lot of people 
who care for me in varying degrees.

But I know that long life is to a great extent a matter of chance. Did I inherit the genes of Grandpa and 
Grandma Ingalls, who died at 94 and 93, or Grandpa Neal, who died of leukemia at 57? Or my own father, 
who died in his 64th year? Some would consider these morbid thoughts. They are not. They are simply facts 
that come to the mind of a man headed into the final stages of his life, whatever the exact number of years.

I have resolved that I will leave you and the other children and grandchildren as much of a record of your 
own past as I can. I depend upon family artifacts from several sources for that. Your Grandma Fannie saved 
a lot of material and that will be the core of the record. But I will put down my memories and thoughts as 
best I can.

Madalene: We should not put down our family histories and such with the idea that somehow we are different, 
or unique, to other people. Indeed, much of it probably will strike you as accounts of unbelievable poor, 
often very ignorant, people.

But it is experience that we share with other people of our day, and by extension, with mankind since he first 
stood upright. I know of no other study that is more fascinating, by the way, than the history of the comings 
and goings and development of man. Is that anthropology.

Enough for now.

Papa. By the way, it was pronounced “Pap-paw” with the accent on thea first sylable, as opposed to “Pop-paw” 
or “Poppa” in the Ingalls family. I imagine that is a Southern pronunciation brought here from Mississippi by 
my grandmother, Ethel Lee Clemens Ingalls. I believe that because as a young reporter I interviewed a black 
Tulsa man who was being honored by the Pope and all his grandchildren called him “Pap-paw.”

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