Wednesday, July 22, 2015

December 5, 1939: August Opa Dad

Original Letter from August to Tom

Translation by Rosemarie:

Amstelveen Dec.5th, 1939

My dear tall boy,

Yesterday arrived your airmail letter from McPherson, after I had waited for a week for one from New York.  We were so very happy (he uses a slang word DOLL, which means great, super etc.), even though there was no greeting for Emma in it and today I will forward it to Patti as soon as I read it again.
How come that my 2 airmail letters were not there when you arrived, while Mama’s which was mailed later then my first, was there already? Have they arrived by now?
When your telegram came showing your arrival the intense mine-war had just started, and one after one the neutral ships blew up into the air. Again I was so very glad, that you left at the right time, even though it has slowed down during these last days. In any case it is good that you are gone, because it certainly is not decided that Holland will not be invaded! And we have neither umbrellas or gasmasks for use against the bombs, only our sunny disposition which however by now has been seriously damaged.
I liked your letter a lot, old Tom. Now I am waiting for your log about the boat trip and many more about Mc Pherson. Will we ever be able to drive through these forests and plains, and when will that be? How is the climate there?
If your President can sell ice, it can’t be so dog-cold! (dog cold means very very cold, and august is referring to Opa's mention of Phil Myers, who picked him up in an ice truck.)

Good, that you took the bus and saved $10.00. Surely it was exhausting, but also more informative than by rail.

Also make sure to write me in time about your financial situation, because a postal money order will take about 5 weeks.

It would be great if you needed nothing soon, because I am saving up a little fund for Mama, but if needed I will send it to you.

Have you calmed down with Miss Salmon’s hope that the extension will be granted? (referring to the visitor's visa that is for only 8 months) Think about it in peace and quiet, and as soon as you are more at home there, discuss it in detail with more people.
How is your English?

Mama is yearning for all of you, and feels very lonely. If you can see any possibility for her to come to the US, grab it, but I am afraid you won’t.

After you receive your B.A. and after an additional year of special education, what will you then be? What kind of special education?

How long does a pre-engineer course run, how much of it would be recognized by the engineer academy, and how long would all that take?

I believe it will not be easy for you in the beginning, you will have to fight with yourself and feel very much alone at times.
But you will get through, especially when you think of how boys your age in Germany now must feel. And the knowledge that you have a chance to build up your own free life, and that you are so wonderfully young!

I just re-read your letter and have a great desire to follow you. If I succeed to save up a few thousand dollars, I will turn to you to find me a cottage place too. And then the two of us will take off like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn!!

How are you coming along with your studies? Are you surviving? It requires a lot of technic and training, because any little fly walking across the table, can be a diversion.
What does your room look like, does it face the street?
How have you organized your days, what do you do in the evenings?

Has Patti’s letter reached you?

When you have some time and know a little more, tell me how the prices are there, housing, food, taxes restaurants and clothing.

And write to me about your inner feelings. When you want to tell me very private things, meant just for you and me, send it to the office. That is what Patti does also.

Those are the letters I keep for myself, reading from them only selectively.

In your letter to Ella do not forget Annchen (August's sister).

Emma sends good greetings:

Write to Mama very often, leave a letter to me off, if you have little free time!

A strong (loving) pat on the arm, tall one.

Keep steady

August’s passive-aggressive reference to the lack of greeting for Emma in Opa’s letter only confirms the tension that exists between Opa and his step-mother Emma. 

August spends a little bit of time focusing on the impending war and his relief and gladness that Opa got out when he did. The war-talk is still distant, not too personal yet. I do feel like the realities are creeping closer.

This letter felt very familiar to me, very paternal. It reminds me of my Dad. If my Dad were writing me from Holland, this is kind of how I would imagine it
. Some dappling of sincere emotion of joy and satisfaction to hear news, mixed with humor, a little sarcasm, and school and financial business.  

August mentions the pending visa application, as we need to remember, that Opa has been struggling to maintain legal residency in America as a student. He was given a
visitor's visa for eight months rather than a student visa. He will have to apply for an extension soon.  Miss Salmon is Opa’s liaison from the Quakers, I hope she did help him gain some peace. It is also good to remember that Opa is still learning English. I’ve been trying to learn German recently, and I have countless resources, cds, online curriculum, and friends willing to help me learn. Opa had the most effective, and ruthless method: complete cold turkey immersion. I have a hard time imagining my grandfather struggling with the English language and having that kind of automatic vulnerability that comes with not knowing the language. By the time I came around, Opa’s English was better than most Americans. In fact, I remember my Grandmother saying that he often edited her letters before she sent them out.  

I think it’s kind of precious that August wanted to follow Opa and travel the American landscape with him. I think despite the tension that naturally existed between the two as a result of August leaving Opa’s mother for another woman.... they are actually very much alike. I see Opa in August, my Dad in August, and my Dad in Opa. It is interesting that some personality traits and even writing styles can span generations. I wonder if my Dad sees himself in any of these writings. I’ll ask him.  

August is respectful and genuinely aware of the importance that Ella receives the most support, the most letters, the most energy in communication. She is lonely, even August recognizes this. I wonder if August ever felt guilty or thought about his ex-wife in her lonely apartment. I think he must have- or else he wouldn’t encourage his son to write her with such genuine concern. He did seem to have respect and love for her as the mother of his children- and he kept her informed. I think relationships are challenging no matter how they evolve. Tension, love, promise, heartbreak, trust, commitment... all the way down to writing styles and parenting traits- relationships are made up of a complicated web of connectors that sometimes are strained and sometimes are comforting. August and Ella’s relationship was unique, but they did well to support each other and love their children in the midst of it all.

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