Sunday, August 2, 2015

December 28, 1939: Bad Sister

Original Letter from Patti to Tom

Letter transcribed:

My dear little henschenboy,

You have a bad sister. In spite of my promise to write you every week, I did not do it, and so weeks will pass between my first letter and this one, but I shall improve. I was so much pleased with your two letters you sent to Putschi and Papa (Ella and August) and I read them over and over again, to myself and almost everybody who came to see me. I am so glad you feel well, you have had a nice crossing, you are with nice people among whom you feel at home and you can finally continue your studies. I think you will not work so much as you wrote, but I trust you will succeed.
How many beautiful things you have seen on your travel! I am so very glad for you, my dear. Your description was so alive that we all enjoyed reading it. Continue writing about everything that happens to you, will you?
I have been ill for some weeks, a little influenza, and if it is not an excuse, it is at least a kind of explanation for my long silence. Now, I am very well again, and I intend to go skiing for some days, at the end of this week. I wanted to return to Paris, but I was not allowed to, and I shall make another demand.
What did you do at Christmas? I think it is much more celebrated in America than here in France, and I am sure you have had a good time with your fellows. So had I. We made a very nice excursion to the mountains, first on bicycles and then on foot. One of our soldier-comrades has come back for a permission (Urlaub), and so we were a merry company. We made some photos and when they are developed, I shall send them to you. Today I send you two little identity photos, but not very good either. Do you recognize your sister of two years and a half ago?
As now there is little happening here, at least little I might write you about, your letters will always be much longer than mine. Formerly, when I wrote about my impressions of France, it was just the contrary.
I had news from Putschi. She certainly suffers very much and feels horribly lonely. What could we do for her now? This idea keeps me always worrying. Mrs. Ruhstadt seems to be very good for her, and she has many good friends, but what will be the situation of the land after some time? And what will then happen to the Jews? Do you write regularly to Putschi?
Now, I will wish you a very happy new year, good success and everything you like.

yours Patti

Sometimes our best intentions get distracted by life. I think that might need to be written on my tombstone. Patti apologizes for her lack of writing, with her bad bout of the flu as an excuse (I think a fairly valid one), but not good enough for her. She seems to be enjoying life. And really, who can blame her? She had the flu, and as soon as she was over it she was traveling, skiing, etc. Good for her- I hope she did all those things because the war would soon take a lot of those carefree pleasures away.

I think about the letters Opa wrote, and I can’t help but wish so much that we had them. Both Ella and Patti mention the detail, how his trip and arrival in America was described so vividly as to come alive! Dang it- where’s my other box of undiscovered letters? I will say with the gift of Gisela's letters, we do get a glimpse
into what his letters to his family must have been like.

Getting back to the distracted life. I do think there is something to be said for living your life- even in the distractions. I used to get so bogged down with guilt over unfinished things... actually, I still do. But I’m better than I used to be. Confession: I never finished my wedding thank you notes or my baby gift thank you notes. I promise my mother taught me better and I sincerely cared and thanked every person in my heart. But life started happening. And it was too hard for me to do it all. I agonized over the guilt for a bit until one day I decided to close the box. Put the list away, thank God for the blessings and pray that others could forgive my impolite miss-mannered self. Because honestly, at some point, you have to just live. So to all you who were un-thanked by me reading this: I sincerely apologize. I sincerely thank you for your gifts and kindness, and I am trying to live each day in the present as best as I can, which means letting go of the guilt of unfinished things. When I had my sons, I had no idea what I was doing. Writing thank you notes was the furthest from my mind, as I was reeling with a healing body and a living, breathing child dependent on my every movement for his survival.

Life distracts us sometimes from what we “ought” to be doing, and maybe sometimes that’s OK. Grace is a great balm for when we get it right by our soul and wrong by society. Patti was enjoying life (other than the flu, of course), but I think in part it was simply her living her life to the fullest. And the other part was to keep herself from thinking of the darkness creeping...

“I had news from Putschi. She certainly suffers very much and feels terribly lonely. What could we do for her now? This idea keeps me worrying... And what will then happen to the Jews?”

This refrain is on everyone's minds. It's what causes Ella to suffer- her loneliness and fearful isolation. Both Patti and Opa are feeling hopeless in their attempts to help her and find a way out for her. I love their little nickname for her, I wonder where it came from?

I hope Patti had many ski trips and many pictures of her friends enjoying happy times to share with her family.


  1. It's hard to read the letter because even when enlarged the words are small. Could you type it out?

    1. Will do! Thanks for the tip- I was on the fence and went the lazy route. I'll transcribe it soon.


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