Thursday, November 26, 2020

July 21, 1944: Dreams not Nightmares

 


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 21, 1944.

Transcription:

July 21, 1944

Margie, dear,

I didn't know that you were going back to Lawrence so soon, so there is probably a letter or two from me still in Selden.

Today we expected our checks to come in, but they didn't get here;  I am on my last dollar (except for a silver dollar which I save), so I had better get that check tomorrow. It will be a pretty big one, so I can borrow on it if needs be.

Since we won't be able to be together on your birthday anyway, let's meet sometime before that. How would the weekend of August 5/6 suit you? Salina is a bad place to meet, since I would have to change trans in Hutchinson which ordinarily is not one without considerable loss of time. I suggest we meet in Newton; both of us can get there with-out changing trains. Find out about train connections and let me know soon so that I can make hotel reservations. Another bad deal about it is that I won't know until the last minute whether I can get off that Saturday, but we can take a chance on that. Anyhow, let me know immediately whether time and place are agreeable with you, for you can't make reservations any too soon these days. I am getting so lonesome for you, I'll just have to see you.

Today, the work was pretty easy; we apparently hit soft clay, and on most holes the very first shots gave beautiful records. I pulled an awful boner, though, by taking three records with a wrong switch on. $120 shot to hell. Bob was nice about it and even tried to convince me that it was not my fault, which I know it was. Well, what are hundred twenty dollars to the National?

By the way, how did those pictures come out? They must be molding by now; also have Ivonne send us a copy or two of the Bluemont Embrace.

Write soon, so the mailbox will never be empty when I get off work.

Love,

Tom.

P.S. Would Hutchinson be too far for you? I could meet you there even if I should have to work on Saturday.

P.S.(2) I dreamed all night about you last night, and it wasn't a nightmare either.

Looks like we'll have to wait to get Grandmother's response from Opa's "do you really want to get married," because that letter is in Selden and she's back to grad school. Oof, that had to have been hard to have such a disjointed conversation!

I have empathy for Opa waiting for his check to come in. I imagine in a time when direct deposit isn't a thing yet, checks were inevitably delayed a few days or more here and there. I once worked for a company that for whatever reason insisted on paying by check (my suspicion is that they had cash flow problems, which is one of many reasons why I stopped working for them). So I was never sure exactly when my pay would come in, and that was extremely frustrating. One of my paychecks was over four weeks late and I was so thankful that my income was our secondary income, but it was still a race against the credit card payment. 

Reading about Opa's silver dollar that he saved just made me chuckle. That was exactly how Opa was financially. He might think he was on his last dime, but he always had managed to save money just in case. He passed this talent to my Dad, and now I'm cursed with frugality and the need to save. I'm not mad about it.

So let's clear something up really quickly here, when Opa writes "pulled a boner," it is not what you think it is. I giggled but knew that he meant something else. I looked it up, and sure enough, this is a phrase more commonly used in the 1930-40s to mean making a costly blunder. Unfortunately it has racist origins, as it is modeled after a common skit in minstrel shows. They depict a person of color who carries two bones as instrument/tools, and is asked questions that they respond to with silly and nonsensical answers. I'm not sure whether or not Opa would have known these origins since he did not grow up in America.

Opa continues to try to plan a time for he and Grandmother to get together. I wonder if he is the main instigator of these reunions, or if she was trying as much. Either way, he is definitely not shy about it, or about sharing his dreams (not nightmares) about her. I love how in love he is.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

July 19, 1944: Hesitant Bride

 


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 19, 1944.

Transcription:

7/19/44

Margie,

Another busy day; we worked till about eight, and then I had a two-hour conversation with another official from the War Department. More about that later.

I got your letter today, and I didn't like the contents. Why do you want to postpone the wedding again? You have had your experience in your field, we have had a "vacation" from each other, as you so academically called it, and I got a good and steady job, so what are you waiting for? If you just don't want to get married, why did you get engaged? I am serious about this, Margie, and I do wish to know just what you are hesitant about. As far as I am concerned, I keep insisting on a September wedding, if you want to get married at all. If you don't want to, tell me so.

The War Dept. guy bothered me for two hours with questions which some darn fool from Omaha gave him. Somewhere, some time, I was supposed to have said that England's economic policies of the early twenties were one of the causes for Hitler's uprising. Omaha interpreted that as meaning that I believe England caused this war. Several other nuisances like that, plus a host of detailed questions concerning my life in Germany. All of it in connection with my application at Hammett's. Gosh, I am glad I didn't wait for that job. The guy who interviewed me was nice and intelligent; we had dinner together afterwards; he has studied law at Dartmouth College, and we had a good argument on the dis-and advantages of lie-detectors.

Had a letter from the Shelley's today, and the impossible has happened. Mr. Shelley has bought a house in towns he is going to retire. He should have done that ten years ago. Hubert didn't write anything except the note "nothing has happened in my love life." 

Take care of your sore throat; just don't talk so much, and it will be all right.

Love,
Tom.

Please see what you can do about the typewriter; I need it badly. And remember: September 2 is the day!

Opa writes a very nice, normal letter with a bit of a whiplash in the middle. He talks about work, about a conversation with the war department, the Shelley's retirement plans, oh, and whether or not Grandmother wants to marry him.

Let's start with the easy topics. Work is about the same. His conversations with the War Department, I forgot, were mostly connected with his job application to the companies that were heavily involved in producing for the War Department. He has to be fully vetted to work for these companies, else he trade secrets with the enemy. It's interesting, as I'm pretty sure there were bona-fide Nazis who were put on pretty top-secret war efforts. They were top in their field, so if they gave their brains to the American effort, it didn't seem to be as important if they used to be Nazis. Opa is in that cliche position where the stakes are so low they end up investigating him to the fullest extent. 

I appreciated that Opa was empathetic to the interviewer, even eating dinner with him after the interview. He didn't shoot the messenger, but understood that this man was instructed to ask the questions. Opa would have been decent at diplomacy work, he seems to be able to connect and find common ground with so many people. This interview likely prepared him a bit for the McCarthy era to follow. 

The Shelley's, the family he stayed with and worked for in McPherson College, is finally retiring from farm life and settling in town. I love this image, as I didn't really think farmers retired. I love the idea that retirement means they get to move closer to the town center, connecting with their community, and leaving their toil. Poor Hubert, the son who Opa befriended, he doesn't seem to be having much luck in love. But don't worry, I have the self-published autobiography that he and his wife later published of their love story, which is so lovely. Love is coming to Hubert soon.

Now for the whiplash. I imagine Grandmother was a little startled by Opa's paragraph on their wedding date. Maybe not surprised so much as not expecting him to put it so blatantly in the middle of his other-wise well-mannered letter. Opa most definitely has a point. I think they have not quite figured out how to communicate effectively, but I can't blame them. They're young, but they're also communicating via letters. Opa basically calls Grandmother out and asks her point-blank "do you want to get married?" I'm very much looking forward to Grandmother's response when she can no longer hide behind suggestions and postponement. What is her concern? I know Opa is upset, but I also appreciate that he's asking and clarifying. He obviously doesn't want to get married to a hesitant bride.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

July 17, 1944: Patriarchy and Decisions

 


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 17, 1944.

Transcription:

July 17, 1944

Darling,

It is now 10:00p.m., and I just got off work; fourteen hours of it, I had to fix a cable break. This was my first day of taking shots, and I liked it. Bob supervised the job and probably thought he would never make an observer out of that dumb fool, but the dumb fool enjoyed it.

Yesterday, a National crew came through that will be stationed at Lyons, Kansas. They just came from Dallas with brand-new equipment, the latest in electronic research; I sure would like to work there sometime.

Remember that I told you about the two girls who stayed in this house? One of them was seen in an embarrassing situation the other day; an army truck was parked off the highway, one soldier stood guard, and inside the truck was this girl, taking in soldiers, one by one. She had to leave town in order to save what's left of her reputation.

Too bad you can't come through St. John on your way back; I guess we won't see each other till the weekend preceding your birthday?

Went to the show last night: "No Time For Love." After about ten mites I discovered thatI had seen it before, but it was good just the same.

Have you decided yet whether you want that wedding on 9/2 at Wesley Hall or at the Temple? I like to indulge in worrying about little details; I'm going to have a deuce of a time finding myself a second-best man; Winton I probably too far. Why don't you get Swan for a bridesmaid and Mrs. Paustian as flower girl?

I hope I get off work earlier tomorrow night, so I won't be so darn sleepy writing letters. How long are you going to be in Selden?

Love,
Tom.

Well, if any of you know me you know I can't leave that story about the woman and the army men alone. First, I am a little horrified and hope to God that everything was consensual. Second, it's a little bit "exhibit A" of the reality of a patriarchal society that this story only shames the woman ("girl"), and does not mention the responsibility or morality/reputation of the multiple men who participated. And it is also "exhibit A" of our cultural habit to shame and hide sex and sexuality. I wish I could say we've seen amazing progress in the nearly 80 years since, but we have not. Progress, but not enough. 

Opa is still pushing the September 2nd wedding date, and I get the sense that he hasn't gotten a definitive confirmation. Maybe he has, but he's definitely taking the initiative in planning location, etc. They are looking to do the ceremony on the Kansas State campus. The Wesley Hall is the location where the Wesley Fellowship (the Methodist College Ministry) holds its meetings. This is the group that connected Grandmother and Opa. Grandmother was a life-long Methodist and Opa was a life-long seeker of intellectual and spiritual engagement, even if it wasn't a full commitment. The Temple is the chapel on campus for religious gatherings. I've been to both, and the chapel is definitely prettier, but it may not have held has many memories for them. We'll see what Grandmother decides. If she decides.

Monday, November 23, 2020

July 15, 1944: Arms-Length

 


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 15, 1944

Transcription:

St. John 
July, 15, 1944
Little Sickled,

How's your sinus today? Are you getting the rest for which the doctor sent you home? Are you staying in bed, like a nice little sinus-infected girl should? 

Something sad happened today. Joe (Recording Helper who works closely with me) received a telegram from home that his father died. The poor boy, who is only 18 years old, took it awfully hard; just lay down on his bed and cried. We put him in a train and sent him home to Dallas.

Otherwise, the day ran extremely smoothly. No serious breakdowns, it was lots of fun. I think I'll be reasonably happy in the kind of work. Bob gave me a lot of dope on how to make a good observer, but also told me that the company practically never advances a guy to the position of observer without at least a year or two of training.

It's just starting to rain; probably will pour down in a minute. Dark clouds are coming up from the northwest, from Selden, I bet. Don't they have anything worthwhile in Selden? All I have seen so far that comes from that place isn't worth looking at.

Were your folks pleased about our getting married on September 2?

No news, no brains, no words, no letter.

Good night, and dream about 9/2.

Tom.

Before I write the blog, I want to let you know that the word "dope" in this context is 1940s slang for "information the scoop." I learned that today!

So, it just hit me, Opa was sarcastic. That was his humor. So is my Dad. So am I. My sisters actually aren't and so I've learned that not everyone understands or appreciates sarcasm, and it actually can be rude. Ha. I am glad my sisters tempered me, because I think people thought I was mean, and I really didn't know how I came off. I would bet money that August was also sarcastic. Ella, not so much. The friends I instantly connect with are the ones who can bite back with sarcasm in witty ways. They know who they are. 

Here's my quick little analysis of that sarcasm. It's how we shield ourselves from intimate connection. I know, I know, I may be going too far with this. Sure, it's humor, but I think excessive sarcasm at the base can be a way to sort of keep people, or reality, at arms length. It's a way to keep things light and not serious. Sarcasm is predicated on not taking things too seriously. So when someone has sarcasm as a foundation of communication, I think there may be a layer of avoidance there. And sure enough, if I were take a litmus test of people in my family who are a little more "at arms length" type folks, I would start with myself and then go back to my Dad, his Dad, and I bet his Dad's Dad. Genetics/nurture and all that. 

I thought about this because of Opa's sarcasm, but also the big picture of how Opa seems to be coping with the trauma that he has endured over the last several years (I mean, if we're counting, it's been his whole life that's been tumultuous). He tells this heartbreaking story of sweet Joe who learns of his fathers death. I really appreciate that he sobs in his bed. That seems an appropriate response. Opa feels for him, but does not connect. He does not open the portal to the loss in his own life (known and unknown). He holds it at arms length. 

I think in a way this was the gift that Grandmother gave him. She didn't pry, she accepted him at face value but could receive whatever emotions he wanted to express. She was born and raised a mid-westerner, which is about as close as you can get to being German. She, too, was not an emotional person. She was a safe place for Opa. I think she helped him keep sane. My only caveat is that I think they continued that arms-length policy for most of their lives, and it became harder and harder to face the trauma. I think this was the tension he felt with his sister Patti after the war. She didn't have the luxury of holding the trauma at arms-length because it was happening right there. She may have wondered if Grandmother kept Opa from facing it. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Grandmother didn't force Opa to face it, and he was grateful to just love her and move forward. 

I don't know that Opa ever fully processed his trauma. He began  to reflect when he was diagnosed with Alzheimers and started talking about his life before. He wrote his autobiography, but even that was full of facts without much emotion. 

I found this to be across the board with most of the people I interviewed from Opa's life in Germany. They all spoke facts, even about their own despair, it was: "that happened, and then I got better." We all process our grief and trauma differently, and I just can't help but wonder if Opa ever got to do it at all. Is there trauma that is too hard to face? 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

July 14, 1944: Love Shield

 


Letter from Opa to Grandmother

Transcription:

July 14, 1944

Margie, dear,

When I got your last-but-one letter, I knew something was wrong with you. (Letters and words written all over the place; I had to use my hieroglyphic dictionary to make something like sense out of it.) Anyhow, Patti's card did not (or at least shouldn't have) come as a surprise. On the phone last night, your voice sounded pretty good; I am glad I called, for I was a little worried about my sweetie pie. Are you having a nice rest at home? I bet your mother is cursing the day you were born; she has her hands full feeding harvest hands and you come home, not as an appreciated and welcome help, but as a patient and a damn nuisance. Well, your mother has the one consolation that from September 2 on the responsibility for you will be in my hands.

Don't you ever say the National has easy jobs. This morning we left at seven o'clock and got in tonight at eight thirty; 13 1/2 hours of work. Gradually, I am beginning to learn what it is all about, and Monday I shall start handling the recording myself, under close supervision of the observer, though. Anyhow, it's going to be a thrill. We drill about 10 holes per day, and for every hole there have to be taken about three records. Each record costs approx. forty dollars, so you can see how important it is that they come out okay.

A few words in commenting on what you braggingly call a letter. September is not too warm for anything, and if you insist, I promise not to buy you that fur coat for our wedding. While at home, you have a good chance to get your folks prepared for that upcoming event. It probably is not necessary to tell you that another postponement of the day is not going to be approved. Also, I informed my party chief and my observer about the great show, and there is just no holding out. It may just fall at the time of my being transferred, so there is just no better date.

How long are you going to be home? Give my regards to your folks, Ray, Murray, Marie, Mrs. Richards, and - last but not least- that damn cow about to be butchered. As to yourself, take a bunch of kisses.

Love,
Tom.

It appears Opa received some letters or at least Red Cross postcards from relatives (a card from Patti, his sister, is referenced in this letter) during this time. I'm not sure why they aren't in our collection from what he saved. Were they deemed unimportant since they were just short 25 word updates with not much information? Or were they a painful reminder of some of the darkest times for his family? It does appear that he kept everything from his mother. 

Poor Grandmother is sick and Opa is teasing her and making her feel perhaps a little worse. That was his sense of humor, and she was likely used to it by the point. He defends his honor, responding to what I'm sure Grandmother noticed (as I did) that Opa did a lot of sitting around and waiting on broken things for his job. He was right, though, his job was sort of a routine of feast and famine. When everything was working- they worked long hours to capitalize. 

Grandmother seems to be again trying to delay the wedding date. It feels very much like there's something she's not telling him. I think she does honestly want to get married, but every time the date creeps nearer, she gets cold feet and gives a reason to delay. Does she agree to the dates to begin with? I kind of get the feeling that Opa is a little bit like a kid rushing out the door to Disney and the parents are like- um- we never said we were going. I also wonder if her parents are on board. If they aren't, that had to be hard for her. She had a close relationship to her parents. 

Hopefully Grandmother feels better soon, and hopefully she communicates a little more straight-forward her feelings about the wedding date. Opa, well he's still a happy lark in love and fully employed in the free United States of America. Love was quite the shield for him.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

July 12, 1944: It's Complicated

 

Letter from Opa to Grandmother

Transcription:

July 12, 1944
Margie,

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?

Love,
Tom.

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

Transcription:

July 11, 1944
Dearest,

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: "...in 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,
Tom.

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?!"