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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

June 26, 1944: Family

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 26, 1944.


Monday Morning


For some strange reason, I am up before breakfast, so I have time at least to start this letter. I am anxious to get your letter today, partly because I like to know what you called for.

Had a good time yesterday, went to Spohns. Charlie picked me up here, then Mrs. Spohn, Shirley and I went to church, then the four of us to Hutchinson. We met some other people there to form a whole congregation, but Shirley and I managed to slip away. We went to the Swimming Pool, but could not get suits for rent, so we just bought pops and talked. Her husband is in Italy, right now in a hospital with a shot-wound in his arm, nothing serious though. He sent her a beautiful bracelet with genuine camellias (?) and corals from Naples. Shirley thinks married life is just it, even though (or because?) she hasn't been living with her husband more than one month during ten months of being married. Charlie is still the old rascal; right now he is fighting a battle with his family; he wants to quit farming this year and move to town, while they want him to stay another year. From the result of previous battles, I judge that the women will get their way in that family; that's different in our family for I shall always have my way. Gerry is in Frisco, her husband somewhere on the Pacific.

Well, it won't be long now till I start going South. I still don't know whether I'll be able to go over Topeka or not, but I surely hope so. If not, we'll just have to get married sooner.

Nothing else to report except that Hubert still sends you his love, which I still refuse to send. I will send you his regards, though.


The pace of these letters are so different from what we had before. Now instead of dates spread out through the year with various voices, we just have Opa's voice in clumps of days. Every time he and Grandmother are separated (which now that he's graduated and has a job, looks like it will be longer), there is a slew of letters almost daily, if not more.

We don't hear much of what is happening with Grandmother. Opa is still making his rounds, visiting folks, doing some farm work and attending church even though he doesn't really want to. 

Opa is waiting to hear where he will actually report for work. All this nomadic living and uncertainty might be challenging for most people, but Opa has plenty of experience in this department. He's confidently spending his days, waiting for the next thing, and knowing he can sleep just about anywhere. 

It was interesting to hear in little snapshots about the lives of people during the war. A wife receives a gift from an injured husband who is recovering in Italy. A son wants to move out and down town, leaving the farm life behind. Another wife is living independently while her husband is somewhere in the Pacific. These are all typical of the time.

Opa made a little quip about him being in charge of his family, which I found hilarious since Grandmother always got what she wanted. I did find it endearing that he was thinking and talking about the two of them as a family. He had been so long without a family. He's adopted (or been adopted) by some along the way: the Shelleys and Spohns. But what he wants is the real deal, and Grandmother is the first chance he has had in a long time for that.

Even though Opa cracks a couple little jokes (Hubert's love being withheld), I can sense a weariness in his letters. I think he's really missing Grandmother. He doesn't quite have the energy in his letters that he does when he knows exactly the next time he'll get to see her. He is used to missing his family, but that's not a feeling that has gotten any easier.

Monday, August 31, 2020

June 23 & 24, 1944: Waiting to Work

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 23, 1944.



Something was the matter with the phone last night; I could hardly understand you, but it was nice to hear you anyway.

I left Dallas Wednesday night at 9:30, got to Wichita Thursday at eleven, bought myself some working pants and a hat (!), and took the 1:00 bus to McPherson. They did not seem very surprised to see me here, even though they didn't think I would come till today.

It's nice seeing Hubert again; Lula's sister Nora seems to be a nice girl, too; very young. Hubert seems to be especially glad to have her here, and from all appearances, she treats him very nicely; fully disregards his handicap as far as possible.

Probably, I'll go to Spohns' on Sunday. I called them last night, but it was practically impossible to understand; I don't know what's the matter with this phone. Anyhow, send letters to Spohns from now on; I shall stay there till Friday, when it will be time to go out to Oklahoma or wherever the may send us.

Well, I had better go to to shuck some oats. What isn't ready to cut yet, probably won't be till about Monday or Tuesday.

Bye , honey; write soon!


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 24, 1944.


My dearest little Monkeytail,

I didn't get around to writing to you last night, was awfully tired. What did you try to call for, honey? This rural phone is just impossible.

Thanks for forwarding all the mail; I certainly got a bunch of it today. Winton sends you his best regards; he thinks he may have to take basic all over again; still he does not know what he's supposed to be doing there.

I wished I could see you before leaving; there may be a chance of my going via Topeka because of the permit; in that case, could you come there on Thursday afternoon? If you can take Friday morning off, we may have that time, too. Don't plan anything definite yet, though, because I don't know where I am to go. Also, I may not have enough dough to make the detour over Topeka, for I'll have to pay my ticket and have to keep enough money for living expenses till the 15th of July, first payday. I shall let you know as soon as I hear.

The last two days I have been shucking oats here at Shelleys; today it was just awfully hot; makes a guy know he has been working. The reason I sat here is because Charlie's harvest won't start till Wednesday or so; so I work here. I'll spend tomorrow (Sunday) out at Spohn's, though. I wished you could have come down to go with me and meet them!

Shelleys send you their regards; Hubert even his love, but I won't let him. I am just terribly lonesome for you!

Lots of love,

Do you still want to go to Texas with me? If you do, pack your suitcase and let's go!!!

Opa is buying time, working at the farms of friends from his McPherson days, until he reports for work. I'm not sure why he didn't start right away when the folks who hired him wanted him to start. Did he want a little time with friends (and maybe Grandmother) before he left? Maybe he promised the families he would help with the harvest.

I assume Grandmother is at home during this time. I'm not sure what her flexibility is for traveling, but it seems she can't easily go off and see him. She's working, so maybe she's still at Kansas State. 

It occurred to me that Grandmother doesn't know everyone from the McPherson days. She likely met the folks who transferred to Kansas State, and whoever visited. 

Opa mentions Hubert's disability, and I'm not sure I've mentioned it here yet. Hubert had cerebral palsy, and for the time period, I'm quite pleasantly surprised that he was able to accomplish so much (go to college, etc). People with cerebral palsy have brain damage that affects their motor abilities to various extents. I don't know very much about this condition, but I do know that the people I know with this condition are very capable mentally. 

Opa barely has enough money to make an extra stop on his bus/train trip. I hope these families are paying him for his labor!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

June 21, 1944: Two Suitcases

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 21, 1944.


Young Men's Christian Association
Dallas, Texas
June 21, 1944

Margie, dear,

The train ride was rather tiresome, but might have been worse. I had to stand up till Emporia, but had a seat from there on. In Oklahoma City we had to leave the nice streamliner, for some unknown, mysterious reason, and board a train that was built at the time of Methusaleh; accordingly, we arrived in Dallas with a delay of three and  half hours.

Well, I got the job; at $175 per month, minus deductions. They needed a guy very badly, for they wanted me to stay right there. I did promise, though, to start working by the first of July. I don't know yet for sure where our first trip will take us; somewhere in the South, though. The job should be interesting, and the chances for advancement at least fair.

Dallas is a much larger town than we had expected, and considerably nice and clean for its size. It's just awfully hot here today, but they told me that this was a comparatively cool day. I don't like to see what they call "hot."

From here, I'll go right down to Shelley's; please send my suitcase and typewriter to Hubert, expenses collect. It may be wise to tie a rope around each of them first, since I have no key to lock them with. Write to me at the Shelleys' too; I may not even go to Spohns. 

Well, do I get to see you before I leave? I may go by the way of Topeka to get a permanent travel permit; in which case I'll let you come down there.

Write soon!

Love and kisses,


It occurred to me that it is quite possible that Opa's two suitcases (I assume he has one with him too) contain everything he owns, plus the typewriter. He's been in the United States now for almost five years and I bet he still only owns two suitcases worth of stuff. 

All the wealth he has collected has been intangible, but valuable. He now has an engineering degree from Kansas State University. He has met his future wife. He has been safe from untold horrible possibilities of what life in Germany would have offered if he stayed. He has friends, fluency in English, and now, a new permanent job. 

His job does not pay much but it is a start in his next stage of life in America. He's been a student collecting knowledge and experience, and now he's embarking on his first step towards the grand "American Dream."

It seems he has to travel for work, or at least relocate. What does this mean for Grandmother and Opa? I think she's still in school. This is the beginning of what many folks call "the real world" for Opa. How will he do? I love that he still has a "home" with the Shelley's. They've been such a support and steady place for him since almost the very beginning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

June 20, 1944: Charm

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 20, 1944.


USO                            Topeka,June 20


The U.S. Attorney was out somewhere, but I got along swell with his secretary. After 10 minutes, I had the permits for Dallas and Conway, both. I also found out the reason why I never received my permit to go to K.C.: They received the application too late. As far as they know, I never was at K.C. (The way I found out was by looking through my file while the secretary was out of the room.)

I'm leaving for Dallas this afternoon at 6:24 and shall be there at 11:30 in the morning. I hope I get a seat. Stood up most of the time in the bus from Lawrence to Topeka; finally, an old negro lady took her brat on her lap, so I got that seat.

Had a good dinner at Kresge's for only 35 cents, but am still hungry. Right now, I am at the YMCA, shall try to do some sleeping, for I may have stand up in the train all night.

It was fun to visit the nursery school; how did Lancy and Elsie get along?

Next letter from Texas.



I'm not entirely sure why Opa is going to Texas. Is it about a job? Maybe, I wasn't paying close enough attention. Either way I learned something new: Opa had to get permits for every place he traveled. I did not know that! I wonder if that was standard for all immigrants or just "enemy-alien" immigrants. 

Opa complains about standing up on the train (I can't imagine buying a ticket for standing room only for such a long ride). I was annoyed with his comment about the woman, but I will say as a caveat for him that he regularly (in his letters) called other children "brats," so that was a blanket term he used for all children. 

I did laugh as I imagined his meeting with the secretary of the US Attorney. There's Opa being charming and cracking jokes, and also looking at his file while she's out of the room. Cheeky.

Whether we like it or not, charm helps.