Thursday, October 22, 2020

July 12, 1944: It's Complicated


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 12, 1944

All the mailman brought me today was a postcard, and that wasn't from you. We worked pretty hard today (comparatively) but at our last hole, at about six o'clock, the universal on our truck broke, and we had to be towed in. It is about 8:30 now, and I doubt if this letter goes out tonight.

I guess I wrote you about Limper's letter yesterday and then forgot to enclose it. Well, here it is. 

If it ever gets to Lawrence, go and see the show "Once Upon a Time." A complete phantasy, but one of the nicest pictures I have seen. Without love story; just plainly cute.

I am reading now "Three Comrades" by Erich Maria Remarque; an excellent story of the postwar period in Germany, written by the author of "All Quiet on the Western Front." The translation is pretty poor, but that has to be expected.

Margie, there must be some way in which you can send that typewriter. I have those letters to the State Dept. and to Canada to write, and they have got to be typewritten.

Are you going home this weekend?


I love how Opa spends his free time: reading and theatre. It makes me wonder if I stripped away the other newer methods of spending our time, if I might read more. I know I would. I own the book Opa mentions and should read it. I haven't read a book straight through since I read the new Allie Brosh book recently, and before that I can't remember! 

I can tell through the books, poetry, and other material that Opa is reading that he is already trying to make sense of what is happening and has happened in Germany. He spent his whole life reading and searching for an explanation. I don't know that he ever felt he got the answer. I don't think there is one answer. Like all things in life: it's complicated, and each story is one small part of the answer. That's largely why I do this work. I'm telling one of the stories, providing one of the answers. I don't expect this story to solve everything. I just know that every story is valuable, and this one is mine to tell.

Not only is Opa searching for some answers himself, he longs to share his experience and perspective with Grandmother. He's hoping that she will understand more about where he came from. I imagine he felt a little lonely in his quest. Most folks were happy to paint the Germans as evil and leave the caricature as that. For Opa, these Germans were his grade school friends, his relatives, his neighbors, himself. 

Once again something breaks at work, I'm not sure if this was par for the course for any machinery in 1944, but they seem to have breaking parts as the norm.

Opa not only wants his typewriter for convenience, he now needs it to send official documents. This makes me wonder just how common owning a typewriter was, and if there were people who had to go out of their way to type up these papers because they had no typewriter of their own. How much of an obstacle was this minor detail of requiring forms be type-written?

Friday, October 16, 2020

July 11, 1944: Full Moon Wedding


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 11, 1944

You had better quit going to church, it has too bad an effect on you. Our wedding ceremony will have to be altered in such a way that your part will end something like this: " sickness and in health, and to solemnly swear never to wear pigtails."

Last night, we had approximately two yards of rain here; thunder, lightning, and hail added to it to make the ground so muddy that we cannot work. Wouldn't you like to have a job like that?

What do you think of this letter of Limper's? Pretty subtle way to find out when I'll be having enough dough to buy more insurance, ain't it?

Last night, I took Mr. Spence (that big shot from Dallas) to the show; we saw "Heavenly Body" and a Laurel-Hardy show and indulged in some beer afterwards. He is quite a guy; lots of fun and lots of brains and - last but not least - lots of influence.

What is that surprise you wrote about? I made ten guesses, but they were all wrong, so you will have to tell me.

This morning, I fixed my former land-lady's door chimes. I wouldn't take any money for it, so she invited me to chicken dinner. Pretty good deal, ain't it? If you could come up Saturday, you'll get in on it, too.

I just decided that I am going to be married on Saturday, September 2, 1944 A.D. That is a very convenient day; full moon (Eisenhower waited for full moon with his invasion.) How about you getting a white wedding dress, and me a white suit? I'm going to have it tailor-made. What kind of a bouquet do you think you are going to get? Tell your pop to sell that damn cow!

Consider yourself kissed,

Where in the hell is my typewriter, radio, etc??

Opa is off work for another day, this time on account of rain. I was feeling bad for his overtime and long days, but I think that those long days average out with the days off because of mud or broken things. 

Opa is smart enough to know the art of schmoozing, and took his big shot boss from Texas out on the town. He seems like he makes good first impressions, but of course this is all from his perspective. I wonder if he was as charming and friendly as I imagine. He made lots of friends and engaged in the community around him, so he must have been somewhat successful! 

I love how Opa feels like a good-ol-boy except he's from Berlin. He's fixing some lady's door-chimes (in exchange for chicken), taking the boss to the pictures, and dreaming of a full moon wedding with his church-going Kansas farm girl. I wonder if he sometimes stops and thinks: "How did I get here?!"

Thursday, October 15, 2020

July 10, 1944: Bad Driver


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 10, 1944

Instead of writing to you yesterday, I went to Wichita. One of the big shots from Dallas came up by plane and wanted us to meet him. I thought this was a good opportunity to make a contact to which might some day be useful, so I "volunteered" to drive down. It was a trip of hundred miles in our pick-up, lots of fun. The plane was late, and we did not get back to town until eleven p.m. On the way back I came as close to having an accident as I ever care to get. It was dark, and I blinked my lights for a car from the opposite direction. Some connection was loose, and my lights went out. It was pitch dark, and on top of that I was blinded by the lights of the other car and didn't have the slightest idea where that darn highway was. Somehow or other, I managed to stop the car; a little less than a foot from a 4-feet ditch, and about a yard or two from a telephone post. (Good driver; see?)

If you are going home next weekend, come through St. John on your way up or back; or if that's too far out of the way, we may be able to meet some place like Russell, or so. However, you probably need all the time you get at home. By the way, what's the matter with people in Western Kansas? Here everybody was through harvesting last week! Kind of backward you people out there in the desert.

This morning, our +l?*;=+:vo goddamn drill broke down again, but we were close to Stafford, so we went there and played pool for a couple hours, all on the company's time.

Probably, they are not going to send me to school for quite a while, because their observers' school has been discontinued "for the duration." This will mean that I shall remain a junior observer for that time, but hardly anybody gets to be an observer without two to three years of training anyhow.

Well, I guess I'll go uptown and see what the gang is doing.


So when we were growing up, we used to have a little running joke about Opa's driving. Basically: it was bad. We joked that he was used to driving on the autobahn so that's why he drove so fast and aggressively. Now I know that he learned to drive in the middle of nowhere Kansas, and the autobahn had nothing to do with it. I'm not sure who taught him to drive (the Shelley's?), but he did not fully learn. It doesn't help that he's always borrowing or using a less-than-stellar vehicle that's falling apart. It's a small miracle he was never in a major accident! (That I'm aware of anyway.)

His drill is broken again, and I can't figure out how anyone does their jobs in this company with things falling apart left and right. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

July 8, 1944: Voluntarily without Coercion


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 8, 1944

Dear Margie,

How anybody can voluntarily and completely without coercion chose Kansas as a permanent living place is something which my feeble mind cannot understand. It's about 95 degrees now, and the sweat runs down my chest, back, and legs to form a swimming pool around my feet.

We can't work today because some of our trucks broke down again, so this is considered more or less as a holiday.

Last night I moved. One of the boys was transferred to another party, so I took his room, a castle compared to my basement hangout of last week. Here, I have a first-floor room with private entrance, private bedroom, three large windows, and lots of closet space. The whole thing for $4 per week. The room is conveniently located, too: right at the main square; half a block from our garage, one block from our office, and one block from drugstores, pool halls, etc. Maybe I shouldn't tell you that two rooms in tis house are rented to girls...

IfI don't get that damn typewriter pretty soon, I'll divorce you. My poor little hand is getting worn out from the unusual task of grinding a pen, even a Parker 51.

I assume your trip to Baldwin was very interesting, especially your tete-a-tete with Miriam. The awkward subject was probably painstakingly avoided by both of you.

What do you mean there are more profitable ways to spend my time than playing poker? In the first place, you never played it. In the second place, what other kind of entertainment is there in which you make money instead of spending it? (Don't worry, though, for I don't care much for playing myself.)

Naturally, this postponement of wedding for the reason of two weeks vacation or any other reason is completely out of question. If you insist on changing the date, we may change it so it falls into August, but no other way. I mean that, too!

I saw a strange show last night, called "The Curse of the Cat People." A little gruesome and mysterious, but not bad.

For some reason or other, I can't remember your birthday. Is it August 14? Anyhow, I herewith most formally invite you to spend the weekend 12-13 and as long as you can afterwards, here in St. John; invitation includes travel expenses, etc. If some other week end suits you better, tell me, but don't postpone it. We will have to get together somewhere around that time anyhow, to make final plans for our wedding.

Write soon if and when you accept this most formal invitation.


P.S. Please return the clipping; I want to send it to Eileen.

Opa seems like he has more days off due to equipment failure than days on! The good news is that he is more certain than ever that Kansas is not a state to choose for long-term living, and the fact that he continues to live there shows his deep and abiding love for my Grandmother! 

He now has a much better living arrangement, and can now invite Grandmother to come visit. For her birthday that he can't quite remember. He's trying to set down roots, making friends locally and getting his typewriter now that he has a real room. 

Opa is used to being in between things and never quite settled, but this period of time feels particularly transient. He's not seeing Grandmother as often as he'd like, he's working at a job that can't quite promise where he'll live from one month to the next. And Grandmother keeps pushing their wedding date back and back. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that her parents were not yet on board with her relationship.

Opa is trying to make a steady life. I can see why he would be so anxious to set a wedding date and get married: to have one thing solid would be nice.

Monday, September 14, 2020

July 5, 1944: Smooches

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 5, 1944.


July 5, 1944

Margie dear,

Again, no mail from you; what's the matter, are you trying to get even?

We couldn't work very long today, for about 1:00pm the drill broke down. Bob and I fired some instruments, but at 2:30 we too were out of work. So I spend some time fixing up my room and similar things.

Little by little, I'm beginning to anticipate that I might some day get used to living in a small town, but I hope it won't have to be for very long. After the war, the company is going to send volunteer crews out into foreign service, and I want you to start thinking about whether you will like that or not. I would receive thrice the salary which I would be entitled to in the U.S., plus all traveling expenses. Anyhow, something to be thinking about.

By the way, didn't you go to the Kappa Phi convention last week end? Did you get to see

Just finished a mystery novel: "The Peacock Feather Murders." Quite a story, but I don't have anything decent here to read. If I knew for sure that I am to stay here till X-mas, I would have Eileen send my books and other stuff up, but I don't have the slightest idea what they are going to do with me.

Not much else to write from here, and no letter of yours to be answered. As I said in my last letter: There better be a letter from you in the morning!


Opa has gone another day without hearing from Grandmother. I imagine her days are a little more full than his. He's working, getting to know the small amount of people in town, and that's about it. Grandmother is getting a graduate degree and probably has a group of school friends to spend time with. 

Opa is already itching to travel again, thinking beyond war-time, wondering if Grandmother would be open to going overseas. I wonder if he's hoping for a chance to reunite with his family, or just hoping for a change of scenery. I suspect it's both. I can't imagine growing up in Berlin with trips to the ocean and mountains and then being in Kansas for five years. He's not complaining, but freedom in Kansas probably tastes a tiny bit stale after a while. I'm sure he'd like to try freedom in Switzerland. 

Opa appears to have left the letter mid-sentence and then unwittingly skipped right past it. Who knows who Grandmother may have seen at the convention.

I also have read (half of) the "Peacock Feather Murders," and so far it's a fun whodunnit mystery novel. Opa liked it but didn't seem to think it was as good as his usual books. I wonder what was in his favored collection.

He ends with smooches and hope for a letter to respond to!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

July 1 & 4, 1944: Broke, Stuck, Uprooted, Busted

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 1, 1944.


St. John


This is going to be a short letter, I shall write more in detail tomorrow. We didn't get off work till after seven tonight, and at 8 o'clock the crew throws a party which I want to attend in order to get acquainted with the gang. I'll write you about my work and so tomorrow.

Got your letter today. You dumb little baby, I wasn't unhappy with you at all. Furthermore, even if I were that wouldn't keep me from writing; if I don't like something I'll tell you about it; so the next time you don't hear from me, attribute it either to the fact that I'm working over-time (8:30pm is the deadline for mail here), or that the post office went haywire, or that I'm in jail.

Well, it's after eight now; I'll write more tomorrow.



Letter from Opa to Grandmother July 4, 1944.


St. John
July 4th, 1944


We worked till after eight last night, so I couldn't write in time for it to go out. It was quite a day. The drill broke down, and we couldn't do anything till it was fixed. Then the water truck got stuck, and the drill truck tried to pull it out. In the process, it got stuck. The shooter's truck tried to pull the drill out, and the shooter got stuck. We hooked a chain around a tree and tried to winch the shooter out; instead, the tree came down. Then, finally, we chained our recording truck to two trees, chained the shooter to our truck, pulled it out, and so finally, after busting one headlamp and scarring two tires, everything was set to go. Troubles like that take more time than anything else. One thing is certain: this not going to be a white-collar job by any means. I spent twenty minutes under the shower last night in a vain attempt to get grease spots off my arms and chest.

I said I thought that we would be here till Christmas. The party will, but I may be transferred before that time. Bob (the chief observer) thinks they will probably send me to Dallas before long to give me some extra schooling, but nothing is sure yet. Not much else going on around here. Outside of a picture house and two drug stores, there is not a blessed place to go to. I don't see what makes you prefer a place of this size to a big city, but I guess that as long as I'll be with the National, we shall be living at places like this. Bob says that the largest town he has been in while doing this type of work, has been a place with a population of 40,000. Well, there is a thorn to every rose.

I haven't heard from you for the last two days; will there be a letter tomorrow? When am I going to see you?


OK, so I'll chat about the first letter first, it's short and sweet and has the phrase "dumb little baby" in it. Bless it. Opa, a little 101 on how to make literally anyone feel better: don't call them a dumb little baby. 

I'm sure he got away with it, especially since after that his words were pretty good. As far as relationships go, he's not too bad at it. He's got the whole open communication thing figured out, and lets Grandmother know that if she doesn't hear from him, he's either working too hard or in jail. Ha!

But if you've ever been in a romantic relationship, you know this stage. You think you know and trust a person, but you haven't been with them that long and you start to second-guess yourself and them. It's almost like that expression when people are waiting for the other shoe to drop. They think that things are maybe going too well so they wonder if in fact the love of their life hates them.

The second letter had me rolling. The series of events flowed like a comedy. I read it a few times to understand what pieces of machinery were breaking, getting stuck, or pulling out trees. 

It reminded me of a story my husband and I tell every now and then about his move from grad school to his first job after graduating. We rented a U-Haul in Atlanta, Georgia, and planned to drive together to Virginia with all his stuff. His brother flew down to help with the move and drive a vehicle.

I have to prep the story to say that the house that Jason lived in with a few other roommates was a nice house with a *really* steep driveway. It was not only steep but a bit of a switch-back. Also, minor detail: it rained that day.

Jason got in the truck, put it in drive, and made it about half way up the drive before he was getting too wedged tight in a turn that he had to do some finagling. This resulted in the U-Haul sliding backwards off the driveway into the hill, and being stopped from falling over a mini-cliff by one tiny tree. 

We tried everything we could do to get the U-Haul out. We put boards and rocks under the wheels, people pushed behind it (this was really dumb), and other dangerous tricks I'm probably blocking out right now. By this point I had picked Jason's brother up from the airport and we had him on the phone with the rental company, making sure whatever we did wouldn't cost us more money in fines and insurance. Just what did the insurance cover? 

We dialed up a towing company. When the guy came, he said that there was a chance we would need a crane to lift the U-Haul out. But he had an idea and wanted to try it. The house and the neighbor's house were both owned by the church that Jason worked for, so the towing guy offered to gun his truck up the adjacent home's equally steep (and higher) driveway and lower his towing cable from there to the U-Haul and try to winch it up and then lower it slowly down the driveway... all while someone inside the U-Haul steered it. I volunteered Jason's brother for this job. Looking back, I may not have won any brownie points for that.

The tow guy asked one of our friends to hold the emergency break in place on the tow truck while he did the winching. Our "all else fails" plan was to cut the tree down and let the U-Haul fall onto the street below, and then get a replacement. 

We hadn't even loaded the truck yet.

I watched with half-shut eyes as Jason's brother hopped in the truck, gave the thumbs up to the tow-truck driver who was positioned up the hill to the left, at the top of the neighbor's driveway. He cranked up the winch and the U-Haul began to budge. Somehow, the plan worked! The U-Haul made it back onto the driveway and the tow truck slowly let out the cable as Jason's brother expertly steered the U-Haul down the drive. 

There was only a minor bump on the bumper where the tree had held the U-Haul in place, so we decided to keep the truck we had and keep going with the move. We drove the truck to the church parking lot which was adjacent to a wooded lot along the back end of the house. We put plywood down on top of the mud through the wooded lot. Then we finally dragged all of my husband's belongings through the backyard, up a retaining wall, and over the layer of plywood through the wooded lot into the parking lot where the dented U-Haul awaited. 

Then we drove through more rain all the way to Virginia.

At the time I was both scared and a focused on solving the problems of the day, but once we arrived to our place in Virginia, I pretty much collapsed into bed. Opa did the same after his comedy of errors, but with a shower.

I kinda wish I had heard Opa tell this story. I know my kids have heard our U-Haul story!

It looks like Opa will be moving around for his job, and to mostly small towns. He doesn't seem to thrilled about it but he knows it's what Grandmother prefers. I do think he's genuinely glad for Grandmother's sake and hopes that it makes her happy to know they'll be in small towns. 

I wonder what Opa was thinking overall about this job. Was he wondering if this was it, everything he had worked for? Or perhaps he thought it was one step of many. Or maybe he wasn't thinking that far ahead and had only Grandmother and a crazy day of work in his mind.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

June 29, 30, 1944: $0.60 Steak

Letter from Opa to Grandmother: June 29, 1944


Hotel Saint John
St. John, Kansas
Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Rains
Owners and Managers 
June 29,1944

I was disappointed that I did not get to see you before coming here, but I guess that can't be helped. Since I have thought I would be with you today, I didn't write, so you did not get a letter today.

Well, I left by train, with a delay of about three hours. Here in St. John they have no cabs, so I had the hotel owner came after me and my bag (suitcase, I mean). It is a typical country hotel, small but fairly nice.

So far, I haven't seen my "man" yet, but since it is after eight p.m., I'll wait till the morning with calling him.

I guess I didn't write you about why I'm here; I received a telegram from Dallas, saying nothing except "Report E.L. Fetzer, St. John, Kansas." So, here I am. For the time being, keep sending mail to General Delivery, for I may not stay at this hotel. I'll let you know tomorrow, I hope, what my future plans are to be.

There is nothing else to say right now; I hope you get this letter tomorrow, but I doubt it.


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 30, 1944.


Kansas State College
Manhattan Kansas

Friday Night

Little Honeypie,

The first day on the new job is over, but I haven't even started on my work yet. They changed my position from computer to observer (or recorder), which means that I shall actually go out into the field to run the seismograph. Needless to say that I prefer this to office work. Today, they only handed me a bunch of literature, manuals, etc. and let me browse around the office and learn what I can. Tomorrow will be my first "field day." 

From all appearance, I think I'll like it here. My boss is fairly young, fairly intelligent, and seems to be nice. There is another K-Stater here, Art Martens, with whom  I teamed up a little today. We have several things in common, among others, he too is engaged; a Van-Zib girl. They are going to be married in August, so I decided to do the same. Okay??

Another good news is that we shall stay here in St. John till about Christmas time; ain't so far from home, is it? I found a rather mediocre basement room for $3.50 per week, but don't intend to stay in it any too long. I shall be looking for an apartment for the two of us; wished you were here to help me look for it.

The boys have discovered a marvellous restaurant about five blocks from here, which they appropriately call the "Barn." It is a dirty-looking place, but run by nice people who serve excellent food, and really heap up the plates. Even I felt full when I got up. Every meal costs only 40 cents, a steak 60.
I came here with the determination to like the damn place, and I don't find it hard to do so. Naturally, there isn't much a person can expect of a place with a population of 1800, but the atmosphere is all right.

How are you and your kids getting along? Have you started yet to get them used to the idea that their best teacher is soon going to enter the holy state of matrimony?

If you can find somebody to crate the darn thing, I would like to have my typewriter. Also, if you think you can get along without them, radio, player, and records. You may be able to have them packed in a radio store, if there is such a thing in Lawrence. A better idea yet is for you to bring them up here, or if you think that's too far, for us to meet some place. I wished you could take off some Saturday and stay here over Sunday. Think about that, will you? I'm getting just a little too lonesome for you!

Love and kisses,

My new forwarding address:
T.W. Doeppner
National Geophysical Co.
St. John, Ks.

In two days and two letters, we learn a lot! About halfway through the first letter I was thinking, wait, what did I miss? Then Opa answered my question: he received a telegram stating to report, with a name and location. That seems like not a whole lot of information. But I guess it's enough! So Opa showed up at St. John and it's a small enough town I suppose he found the factory or office or wherever the place was. St. John is not far from Grandmother's home town, or McPherson, or Kansas State. Opa is sort of in the middle of all his American stomping grounds, which must have been some small sense of comfort to him starting out.

He is so excited to be going outside and working on the field rather than at a desk. I'm right there with him. I could not do a window-less cubicle for very long. He even gets to work with someone who went to the same school. They don't know each other, but I'm sure they had some of the same teachers, and Opa mentioned they had a lot in common. He uses that as a segway to nudge Grandmother about getting married. 

Poor Opa, he keeps trying to marry the woman and she doesn't seem to be settling down any time soon. I'm in Grandmother's corner on this one. She's busy. She is in Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, getting her Master's Degree in preschool education (early childhood development). For the 1940s, I appreciate her drive and that she is not slowing down on her own goals. I think even progressive Opa is a little slow to catch that drift. Opa mentioned getting an apartment for the two of them, but I don't think she's going to be there as much as he is hoping. 

I am definitely jealous of that $0.60 steak. He's finally at his first real job, and for all the newness, things are going well.