Saturday, September 5, 2015

April 20, 1940: Don't Be a Stranger

Letter from Patti to Opa


Paris, April 20, 1940
My dear little Hunschenboy,
It’s been so terribly long since I’ve written, and you haven’t sent me anything since the nice “congratulations on your engagement” letter either. While I have many valid excuses, you don’t have any at all! You still haven’t once answered the detailed letter I sent about two months ago, in which I reported on my and Maurice’s life in Grenoble. But I do hear about you from time to time through Papa. Not long ago he sent me your letter to Putschi about your nice road trip. (it reads "nice road trip with Eirkochen (egg-boiling)) I also sent it to Maurice, so he knows how one has to help oneself along the way, and he thought this trip sounded right up his alley. In that way you two are like two peas in a pod, but if so you have to save a space for me.
I also have to congratulate you on the fine results of your written work. You do that all so well, my little Hunschen, that you make me proud of my brother (you are still the little boy I played with as a baby.) For the holidays you’ll surely find something better than being a truck driver, which must be very stressful after a while. But if it’s at all possible, don’t interrupt your studies. Of course, it’s easy for me to judge badly from here, especially given your meager reports, but it’s very important for you to get a good education as quickly as possible.
I’m so glad you have so many nice distractions outside of your work. Write me in detail about your friends—and girlfriends! Some of them must have become even closer to you in the meantime. What kind of boys are they whose parents you stayed with over the holidays? Is your “wife” still just as nice, what kind of a girl is this girlfriend who you went on the road trip with? Even if she’s as old as me—she’s certainly not as nice. How did you two brake without a tree, or were there always some? The landscape must be beautiful. Don’t you want to send me pictures of the country and the people, and a decent picture of you, for once? What do you think of that picture of us in the mountains, or didn’t I send it to you? When did I write you last? That was well over a month ago. All excuses aside, that’s a shame, but I’m simply so busy with work, and you, you sloth, don’t write anyway.
Now I want to tell you a little about what I’ve been up to. Up until the middle of March I was still in Grenoble with Maurice (we had a whole 6 weeks in our “palace!”) Then I traveled with him to his parents’ in Chalon, which is on the way to Paris, and stayed with them for a week. His parents have a leather goods shop and can’t worry too much about taking care of the household, but if kids come home for the holidays, they get spoiled. His mother told me immediately that it was my second home, and I felt like a small child again. It’s been three years since I’ve known any kind of family life, it was so strange, you know?
Since I began my courses four and a half months late, and since exams are coming up in June, so I have a short three months in total, and since the third year program is monstrous, I have to work like crazy. The others are far ahead, already speaking half fluently, while I’m still making elementary mistakes. The summer holidays, with all possible personal and general excitement, weren’t exactly geared toward my work, so I’m up to my ears in things to do. So it is that I now have many old friends to catch up with, many letters to write, and the worst thing is, I can’t even work nights. If I try with all my might to stay up late, like I was trying to at first, then I’m half asleep all day. You definitely have a stronger constitution than me. I’m studying some with a private tutor and still hoping I’ll be able to do it.  
Little Maurice writes me terribly sweet letters and is so just so awfully sweet, that it gives me courage. Over the holidays we’ll probably go camping in the Alps. A friend lent us his tent, and we’ll have sleeping bags made (down, so it’s warm), and if Maurice isn’t called up to duty before then, which is unlikely, and if nothing else comes up in the meantime, then nothing stands in the way of our plan. It would be so wonderful. Anyway, we’ll also get married soon after our exams in June, and then I’ll be a “respectable woman,” as Maurice puts it, to tease me. 
What do you hear from Putschi? Even concerning her entry? I’m not supposed to write to her, not even indirectly, and that pains me a lot. Our dear, sweet little Mamaputsch! It seems like things are going very badly for her. I just hope there’s nothing especially wrong. I’ve gone too long without news, even from Papa, and the last news was somewhat unsettling. I don’t want my Mama to become a stranger to me; if only I could see her soon! If only we knew she was safe! And my little Hunschen also shouldn’t become a stranger to me!
Do you have news from Ellen? Neither she nor Uschi have written me a single time, either. Maybe they’re waiting for a formal engagement announcement. But Ellen never wrote to me either when she got engaged or when she got married, and I congratulated her anyway. Besides, she must know that I’m dying waiting for news of Putschi, and she saw her last. A person should have a “family sense” there. Luckily Maurice doesn’t have any either, to the great regret of his mother.
My Huschenboy, don’t completely forget your sister, and write her a nice long letter.
Many sweet kisses,

What is it about Germans and long sentences?! Whew. This is a great letter from Patti- it gives us a little bit of everything and some weird funny details (egg-boiling on a road trip? Was this an inside joke??). This letter gives us insight to what is happening in the world, the little things that Patti and Opa are writing to each other about- and the growing fear and mystery around their mother's condition. (See- I have a little German long-sentence gene in me!)

Let's go through this letter a little bit at a time. This recurring theme that Maurice and Opa were a lot alike surprises me. From the stories I heard of Maurice and what I know of Opa- I wouldn't have put them in the same pea pod. I do think there might have been a few things going on here... One, I think Patti is still trying to put Maurice in a good light for everybody- especially Opa- and what better way to do that than say they are alike? Also, I think that they were probably a little alike in that they were both young men, same age, perhaps with similar humor. 

The translator, my Dad and I puzzled over why there would be mention of the egg-boiling on the road trip. My Dad offered the idea that he had heard of people cooking meat on the hood of a hot car- maybe they did the same with eggs? I thought of the old saying that it is so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk. Who knows- this is the fun and hard part about reading the personal letters of someone from 1940. 

It sounds like Opa had a lot of fun in his spare time- even if he was studying so much. I think he is talking a little bit about his break time (Thanksgiving, Christmas, maybe even Spring Break). He seems to have caught up a little bit on his work load and is able to relax with his "wife" (roommate), and even make time for road trips with girlfriends! We may even know who this girlfriend was- because we met her a couple of weeks ago!
So that's a side story: Lucile. She was a student at McPherson and dated my Opa for a little while (6 months?) and for her it was all fun and games until Opa proposed (?!?!?!). She politely declined and they went their separate ways for a few weeks before he was fine with being friends. She said although she really wasn't interested in him romantically- it was a very special friendship. I learned this just recently after this 94 year old emailed me and told me she knew my grandfather. Life is amazing, isn't it?!

Back to Patti's letter... the comment about Opa driving and braking with a tree -we think might be a joke about his bad driving- and I have to say - even as an adult his driving was questionable. I always thought- oh he drives like that because he grew up driving on the audobahn. Now I know the truth. He drove like that because he learned to drive by himself, and with Kansas roads (flat and no cars). Best case scenario- a farmer taught him to drive!

Patti offers a compliment on Opa's English which really shouldn't be taken lightly because she really was a linguist even at this young age. I'm sure that gave Opa a boost.

Patti's plans for her life after exams and for the summer are so sad. Here she is in Paris, the end of April. We know that Paris is host to Hitler in June, and that the campaign to invade begins on May 10th- just over two weeks away. Patti is hoping for a wedding, a vacation in the Alps, a stall in Maurice's draft. Who knows what the future holds, but we can be sure that it won't be what she plans here.

I loved how Patti described being in her in-laws home- like being a child again, spoiled and loved on with home cooked meals. I remember that feeling when I came home for the first time after being gone for college. The smells of home, the familiar food, the comfort of my bed... it felt so cozy- like I could relax and be a child again. It's been three years since Patti got to experience that.

News for Ella is not good- no one is being specific so everyone is guessing. The sense is that things are bad, and only the imagination is providing the information. Patti can't write to her (why not? who ordered that?). She just wants to see her again, and no one seems to know exactly what is happening or if she has any chance of escaping. I can't imagine having a finance, near the end of my studies, and not knowing when I would see my mom again. Patti says "I don't want my mama to become a stranger to me." 

What will happen to these tenuous lives? The globe is about to be shaken- and all the people will be thrown around... where will they land?

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