Thursday, December 31, 2020

July 31, 1944: Dammit Margie!

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 31, 1944.


St. John
July 31, 1944

Dear Margie,

Our damn drill broke down again and we have to lay off today. That probably means that all my overtime was in vain, and it also might mean that we have to work Saturday. However, if we do, I shall make sure that we quit early enough to take the late bus to Newton. (No train at that time.)

Why in the world did you ask Elna to come down that weekend? Not that I don't like Elna; she and her folks are awfully nice people, but I am not going to Newton to visit with them. However, we shall have to be in early Saturday night because it is "not proper" to stay out late when you are an overnight guest; in the morning, you will have to eat breakfast with them (around ten o'clock, because you probably will talk all night with Elna and not get up till then). Then, we shall have to go to church with them. They feel obligated to invite us for dinner, we feel obligated to accept, it will last till three o' clock, and then, maybe, we shall have a couple hours for ourselves. Well, I am not going to Newton for such a weekend. I hope Elna can't go this weekend; tell her I can't the next.

I guess I'll go to the library and see if they have anything besides Westerners and Ladies Home Journals, for this is a nice day for reading. Also, I can catch up on some of my love letters to the State Department. Just mailed a registered letter to my Employment Agency; things are going to get hot there pretty soon, for I think they will take it to court.

Give Yvonne my love and tell her I enjoyed her postscript. Ask her to send me one of those pictures. How are our graduation pictures?


When my husband's Grandfather, "Grampy," played games with partners, he was famously remembered for uttering the words: "Dammit, Miriam!!"  Miriam was Jason's grandmother, "Grammy," who was not especially good at paying attention during those games. She would miss something and her husband would utter this phrase, which my husband and I now repeat to each other if the other has missed something in a game. It cracks us all up, and reminds us of the sweet, and not so game-savvy mannerisms of Grammy. 

As soon as I read that Grandmother had invited a friend to her romantic weekend with Opa, I immediately heard in my head "Dammit Margie!" lol.

But seriously, what was she thinking?! In my best "give her the benefit of the doubt" scenario, I think she was trying to get around paying for a hotel room (or sharing one with Opa). I think perhaps she didn't feel comfortable sharing a room, and rather than have Opa pay for another room, she would stay with her friend's parents who lived there. And of course if you stay with the friend's parents, you should invite the friend too. 

Clearly she missed literally every signal Opa was sending about this being a nice romantic getaway for the two of them. It was to be a time for them to reconnect after not seeing each other for  a while, a time to plan out wedding details, and decide, once and for all, on a date. Or maybe she thought they could still do all this, she would just sleep over at her friend's house.

But Opa knew better (and I would venture that he's right in his predictions). He knew that they would need to turn in early, because it's rude to stay out late when you're a house guest (still true). He knew that she would stay up late catching up with her friend, that they would eat a late breakfast at the house and then have to go to church, and then be obligated for dinner (lunch). After all the social norms were covered, Grandmother and Opa would have a few hours alone together. This was not the weekend Opa signed up for, and he made that very clear.

I appreciate that he didn't make this about the friend, but really about the kind of weekend he was hoping for. 

Now, in Grandmother's defense (besides the weak financial one), when Opa opened his letter with "I might have to work Saturday, but I'll still be able to get there later," I thought, is she supposed to just hang out in this town until he maybe or maybe don't show up depending on the very unreliable instruments of his work? Maybe she knows something we don't and decided to have a back up plan in case Opa's work interfered. 

I don't know why Opa didn't just take the day off either way. Pretty sure that's a thing. 

Ah, bad communication in young couples, what a mess. 

I do love this line, though: "I hope Elna can't go this weekend; tell her I can't the next."

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

July 30, 1944: What is Grandmother's Deal?


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 30, 1944.


St. John,
July 30, 1944

Dear Margie,

As you see, my typewriter got here yesterday, and so did the radio. Somebody did an awfully good job crating them, for they arrived in perfect condition. The whole gang was in my room last night and we played records until my landlord complained about the noise.

Why can't you spend the whole weekend in Newton? When I was in Kansas City and we saw each other near every week, you could be there two days, and now, where we haven't much of a chance to see each other at all, you can spare only a day. What's the matter, now, Margie? You know what size town Newton is; there won't be a place where we can be alone, unless we have a room; also you know how much it means to be together in the evening and at night. Suppose it rains; do you want to spend the whole day in a drugstore or at the movies? I am going ahead to make hotel reservations for the night August 5 to 6; if you still insist, we can cancel them, but please get there on Saturday; it would be silly not to. There is a Santa Fe train leaving Lawrence somewhere around three, and one at about six in the afternoon; please find out theme when you arrive in Newton so I can meet you. I am pretty sure that I can get away on Saturday; one of our trucks needs to be taken to Hutchinson on Saturday morning, so I shall go that far without expense. I shall be able to be in Newton about noon on Saturday, so please get there as soon as you can. As I said before, we can always cancel the hotel reservations, but it certainly would be foolish to make a long trip like that for a few hours in cafes and picture houses. If we were sure of good weather it won't be quite so bad, but you know Kansas.

Three of us boys are contemplating renting an apartment for the month of August and do our own cooking. It would be quite a bit less expensive, but rather inconvenient since we work all day; we will have to cook at night and fix lunches in the morning. So far, we haven't been able to locate a decent apartment yet for such a short period of time, but naturally we cannot give any guarantee that we will stay longer than a month. One the other hand, my room is nice and cozy now; I dug up an old cardboard typewriter table, have my radio and phonograph right close to it, the K-State pennant and some pictures on the walls, and it approaches a home-like atmosphere as much as can be expected of a furnished room. My landlord is getting tired of my moving the furniture around every other day, but continuous improvement is the only way to perfection.

I have a notion I am not going to be here in St. John very long; they are transferring people from party to party, and Bob thinks they will probably send me into different territory, so that I shall become familiar with different types of shooting; possibilities are Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. On the other hand, I may remain here as long as our party does, which means till at least Christmas. I personally would prefer that, for I think that I can learn under Bob more than anyone else could teach me about the business.

Our party chief had me over for a game of poker, and I had a good talk with him. He is married and has a little boy (one year old), and I asked him how he manages to take his family along on the many trips they are making. He said it took both him and his wife quite a while to get adjusted to the great amount of traveling, but that now it has gotten "in his blood," and he prefers it to a desk job where he remains at the same place year after year. When his boy gets older, though, i.e. in about four or five years, he plans on going back to Dallas to work in the laboratories, so that the kid will have a steady home. I don't think that it will take us as long time to get adjusted, though, since both of us like to travel. Anyhow, if it shouldn't work, there would probably be a place for me in Dallas, too.

Let me know how much you paid for having my stuff crated, and I shall repay you. I surely appreciated that, honey; I know it was hard to find somebody who would do it.

No letter from you today, so I am hoping for tomorrow. There will be something to look forward to all week; and Saturday night, there will be many things to talk about and to get straightened out.


I know Opa was particularly happy to have his typewriter, but my eyes are also very happy to be transcribing typewritten letters again. Opa is very appreciative of the efforts that went into sending his things, and is sweet to make sure Grandmother knows.

Now we move on to another edition in the saga of "What is my  Grandmother's deal?" It is SO hard not to know what her letters are saying because all of this may be very clear with her side of the story. But from Opa's perspective, I'm at a loss too. She is acting weird. It's like she wants to marry Opa and be with him, but like maybe next year. I will say that Opa could have made the hotel reservations a long time ago if it was easy to cancel, there was no reason to put pressure on that part. 

I can't tell if Grandmother is trying to be frugal and it's translating poorly, or if she's genuinely acting weird. This is the weekend they are supposed to talk about the wedding date, so maybe she's trying to avoid it? Opa wants to know what's up, but it doesn't stop him from trying or forging ahead with the plan he wants. I'd love to know if Grandmother is being too subtle in her communication, or if Opa is oblivious in receiving clear signals. It may be somewhere in the middle.

Opa is slowly making a home in his little room in St. John, Kansas. A bachelor pad of the 40s with a cardboard desk, radio, and turntable for the raging tunes... I wonder what he listened to? I feel like it was classical music but maybe he had some more modern music in his collection.

Opa tells Grandmother about some potential traveling in their future, and shows that he cares about her and any potential family by asking his chief boss how he and his family manage the travel. It sounds like the answer is that they got used to it and have plans to settle when they need to. Opa is appeased by this, is Grandmother? Opa seems to be more and more invested in his job as the days go by. He's met lots of higher management folks and enjoyed getting to know them. He has the work gig in his room for record listening. He's settling, even though he knows his time in St. John is likely not very long.

Opa ends his letter with a little bit of foreboding language, depending on your perspective. This weekend is the weekend for them to settle on a wedding date one way or another!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

July 28, 1944: Junior


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 28, 1944.


July 28, 1944


"Only" thirteen hours of work today; reason: it started to rain, so I had to quit. I got a new helper today, a boy of fifteen years. A tough son-of-a-gun, smokes, spits, cusses, and works like a man; full of ambition and enthusiasm (neither of which will probably last very long.) On my question tonight how he thinks he's going to like it, he replied, "By God, that's the best goddamn job I've had for a hell of a long time." He really worked hard, though, and didn't get tired. His name is Bob, but in order to not confuse him with the other Bob, I re-christianed him Junior.

The records and player came today, thanks a lot. Radio and typewriter hasn't come yet, even though you had sent them earlier. It may be a good idea to call up the express office.

I had a love letter from my Employment Agency today; they threatened to go to their attorney if I don't pay immediately. In my reply I told them to go to the devil, in different words, though.

How about next weekend? Are you coming to Newton? If you haven't already done so, let me know immediately, for it may already be too late for reservations. Any objections if I reserve a double room? Tell me soon.

Had a letter from Winton, who is now in bivouac training and, naturally, hates it. He expects, though, to be returned to personnel and classification work before long.

Well, I guess I quit now and write a long letter again on Sunday.

Night, Honey,

P.S. Did you write that you almost dated you last letter "September?" You scratched it out then; anyhow, I am glad you give that month that much thought.

Bob, aka "Junior," is a character from the movies! What has this child been doing in his short 15 years to create a 38 year old seasoned sailor? Opa obviously is endeared to him, and doesn't begrudge him his salty personality, especially since it is paired with such enthusiasm and energy. I want to know so much more about this kid. I hope Opa talks about him more in subsequent letters!

Has Grandmother seriously not confirmed their weekend plans? Opa has way more patience than I do. I'd be like: yo- I've been asking you for two straight weeks!

Opa can't help but put in a little not-so-subtle hint about the date of their wedding. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

July 26, 1944: College Life


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 26, 1944.


July 26, 1944.


I guess you kids can start a K State Kappa Phi at K.U. now; Yvonne, Eileen, and who else besides you? Get Yvonne to have some prints made of those pictures! Also, tell her not to be a fool but to return to K-State in September.

Thanks for finding someone to crate my stuff. Do not try to find a second-hand radio unless you go with someone who knows his business. It is easy to get a radio with weak tubes or condenses; if they should fail, you cannot possibly replace them for the duration I shall look for a second-hand set for you; one, though, for pretty soon you will be able to use mine again.

Tonight, we got in at eight o' clock, and I worked on the equipment for another hour. By the end of the week I ought to have plenty of overtime!

I am about to fall in love with Bob's wife; by way of the usual stomach approach. Every week, I buy a dozen eggs, keep them in Bob's refrigerator, and his wife boils two of them for me daily for lunch. Quite a deal, ain't it? (Bob's suggestion, after he had found out how crazy I am about eggs.)

I hope I'll hear from you tomorrow concerning time and place of our meeting. If we get in a good week of work, we shall probably have Saturday off, but I'll get down there anyhow, just a little later.

How are your folks getting along with the harvest? They ought to be done for now. Has your dad had any kids on that cow yet? It's midnight; time to go to bed.

Good night,

Opa is happy to be clocking some overtime, perhaps saving for the honeymoon? Or just life in general. I wonder if those fabulous eggs he raves about are all he eats for lunch. It's an easy way to save money but I can't imagine he felt full after two eggs. Bob's wife didn't have to do much to earn Opa's love and admiration, ha. I didn't even think about the fact that Opa didn't have a kitchen, a fridge, a stove. He really had to eat out or get invited to dinner. 

I remember when I was first married and how wonderful it was for people to invite us to their homes for a meal. It was a night we didn't have to cook, a free meal, and a chance to eat better (because my husband and I are not the greatest cooks). If we were invited to a restaurant it was always a bit of a stressor because we knew we would likely have to pay for our meals and that could get expensive!

I actually love boiled eggs, I should do that for myself. 

Grandmother seems to have a lot of familiar friends at her grad school at the University of Kansas. Even though Kansas State and the University of Kansas were rivals in a way (do NOT get it mixed up with an alumni from either place!), the odds that you would go to one or both if you were pursuing higher education from Kansas was pretty high. Grandmother is enjoying an extended college experience. She started at Fort Hays, a community college and then transferred to Kansas State, where she met Opa. She graduated and now is getting her masters degree in early childhood development. I love how driven she is in her education. I know that is part of what Opa loved about her.

Opa is looking forward to seeing Grandmother. This letter is so normal, you'd forget what is happening outside their little sphere. For now, they're still living in the glow of college life and friends (even Opa, with his dorm-like situation).

Sunday, December 27, 2020

July 25, 1944: Remit Payment Please


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 25, 1944.


July 25, 1944.


I have been working fourteen hours today and am very tired, so this letter is going to be a brief one. (I am trying to get in some overtime, but I have to work at least 66 hours per week to do so.)

I hadn't thought about bus connections to Kanton(?), but the Santa Fe train gets through there and, I believe, at a convenient time for the both of us. Please check on that and let me know soon because of hotel reservations.

Now I know I'll have to see you soon: Eileen Carswell in town. I just hope she doesn't have as bad an influence on you as she did last summer, or else...

Will you do something for me? The St. John Post Office has none of those forms to have mail forwarded, so I had them order some. What I received was something entirely different from what I asked for, so I gave up. Could you get me about five of them from the Lawrence Post Office?

I just decided to make a final but drastic attempt to keep from paying my Employment Agency. I shall write him a registered letter, tell him that according to legal advice which I received (from Bob), I am obligated to pay only 10% of the money I earned at the Airport Restaurant, which amounts to $7.92. Since I already paid $10, I paid $2.08 too much, "which kindly remit at your earliest convenience." Naturally, I don't expect it back, but it might scare him. Bob suggested I should not pay him under any circumstances, but if needs be, let him go to court. I think I'll do that.

Nothing new around here, except that I like my work and Bob better and better.

See you soon!

P.S. I haven't given up September 2 yet. Have you?

I'm not up to par on my research of the employment agencies that existed at this time. I get the feeling that Opa's agent/agency turned out to be more of a scam than a good service. In the 1940s, the work force was looking for people to hire to replace the significant numbers of employees who were now fighting overseas or otherwise engaged in the war effort. This should have been a boon for Opa, but with his complicated visa standing, and the fact that his skills just happened to connect him with jobs that were potentially war-related and classified, he felt he needed some help from an agency to place him. After all, he'd had positive results from the Quaker agency, the AFSC. It turns out this agency just gave him a headache and expected him to pay for it. It looks like they wanted him to pay them for services rendered, and a portion of his pay he made at that awful restaurant (which I guess they helped him get that job). 

What he did as a last ditch effort to not pay a dime more for their unhelpfulness is straight out of the Doeppner Play Book. He wrote them using official language with words that could be assumed to mean things, but didn't mean much: "legal advice" (given by a buddy at work). The part that made me laugh was when he detailed the amount he felt he owed, and demonstrated that he had actually overpaid, and therefore would await them sending the change. 

A blanket memory I have growing up (that stretches across several examples) is of my Dad on the phone with the insurance company, or whoever provided the services whose charges he was contesting. 

Dad one time quipped to me that he was going to start sending the company a bill for his time on the phone to correct their mistake. In fact, I think that was the hospital for my second spinal surgery. I remember receiving a phone call to my hospital room the day after my surgery and I answered it, thinking it was a friend or family member checking in. It was someone from the hospital calling to let me know my insurance had denied my claim and would not be covering my surgery. Or something to that effect. I was hopped up on morphine and was only eighteen years old. I basically handed the phone over to my parents and thus started my father's long fight with the hospital and insurance company. I'm pretty sure eventually they paid, or at least found some resolution. My Dad fought with many an insurance rep over whether my newest pair of hearing aids would be covered. 

And honestly, we should be able to bill for our time spent advocating for our insurance to cover what it is supposed to cover. I know my Dad, like Opa, did not expect them to pay the bill, but rather hoped they would get the point and leave it. Who knows if it worked for Opa. I'll have to ask my Dad if it ever worked for him.

In the meantime, Opa is looking forward to seeing Grandmother, still trying to nail down logistics, and really hoping that Eileen Carswell doesn't mess with Grandmother's head. At least that's how I read into it. Maybe this friend was part of Grandmother's reason for being so wishy-washy about the wedding? Maybe Eileen wasn't a fan of Opa's? Who knows. Opa's still rooting for September 2nd, and he has no idea what Grandmother will say.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

July 23, 1944: Silliness as a Balm


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 23, 1944.


July 23, 1944

My dearest little Margie,

This was a quiet Sunday, the kind you don't often enjoy nowadays. I slept till ten o'clock, when I was rude awakened by one of the boys with whom I went to church. It was pretty bad; a young minister who looked smart enough to know better, claimed that the most essential doctrine of Christianity is to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. If you don't believe in that, you are a heathen and your soul will roast in hell. It was so difficult for us to keep a straight face when he advised us to disassociate ourselves from all books written by such disbelievers as Einstein (!), Marx (!!), and Norman Thomas (?), "lest our faith be weakened and our souls be lost."

I had a nice 40-cent dinner, then went straight home and read: "Three Comrades" by Erich Maria Remarque. It is a book of between-war life in Germany; I wished you could read it, for it gives such a true picture of a life I want you so badly to understand. I read all afternoon, ate supper, and read again. Now I have been writing letters: to Eileen and Winton; easy persons to write to, for I can say to them what I want to without disguise and without shocking them, almost as though I wrote to you, or to my dad.

Just went out to get a coke and watch the Sunday-night drizzle of boy-meets-girl in St. John's drugstore. Can't quite understand how people can be so continually silly when so much is going on in the world, but I guess that's what makes for happiness.

Coming back, it seemed as though you should be there, waiting in my room, but no miracle brought you; I guess I'll have to go and fetch you!

Good night, darling, and lots of love,

Opa is such a conundrum to me. He continues to attend church, seemingly against his will, although no one would have forced him. He could have easily claimed his Jewish heritage, or even Quaker tradition, and they may have left him alone. But he continues to try church. 

I think there are a few reasons why he keeps going. He is doing his best to assimilate, and in mid-western USA, going to church is high on the list of blending in. Grandmother is deeply religious, having grown up Methodist with deep roots in the church (her grandparents were one of the founding members of the Methodist Church in her home town), and Opa wants to understand this part of who she is. He longs for her to understand his past (as he keeps recommending books for her to read so she can have a glimpse into his childhood), so he does the best he can to connect with hers. And last, I think much like his venture into the Quaker Youth group, Opa always had a thirst for a spiritual and intellectual community. I think he hoped to find that in one place. With the Quakers, he did. I think he longed to experience that again. That group gave him foundational memories and experiences that fueled and inspired him when things were hard. Those memories were some of the only positive memories he had of his German homeland. He hoped to recreate that community in the US. In some way, if he was able to do that, I think he then would be able to let go of Germany completely. 

Unfortunately this church did not fit the bill. It makes me so... annoyed and angry, that there is so much ridiculousness in the space that should be open to spiritual growth, discovery, and journeying. This pastor takes a religion and faith full of mystery and profound teachings and boils it down to a map to heaven, and a ticket to first class of morality. This pastor would have their parishioners check their brains at the door, miss out on the opportunity to engage fascinating theories and ideas by some of the greatest minds out there. 

I don't know why so many religious leaders assume that to listen and engage in conversation with someone means to completely adopt their point of view or worship an idol. If your faith is so weak that you cannot hear any challenge, it's not a faith worth protecting. Opa may have been in the business of assimilation, but he never checked his brain at the door. I think the Quakers gave him the gift of time and space to explore without fear that he would fall off the edge of the earth as a result. It gave him the fortitude to recognize what this pastor was saying was bologna. Fearful and immature spirituality at best. 

Interestingly enough - I was able to look up this man Opa had never heard of: Norman Thomas. He was actually a really fascinating person that I think Opa would have loved engaging, and that he may have unwittingly already heard of. Thomas was a pacifist Presbyterian minister. He had some unpopular ideas, but from what I read, his intentions and heart were consistent and well-intended. Whether someone would agree with his methods or means, I think that most could agree that the end result he was hoping for was one of goodness and true Christian value. 

Opa is more contemplative in this letter than usual. Perhaps the preacher got him thinking. He mentions his appreciation that he can write Eileen and Winton letters without worrying what they might think. Eileen was the librarian that Opa worked for at Kansas State, and Winton was one of his first friends there. 

Opa said he had this same openness with his Dad and Grandmother. He leaves his mother out, and though I know that would have hurt her (and I love her dearly), I can see what he meant. Ella, though more open and accepting than even Opa knew (she was the keeper of many family secrets), was still one to correct when someone was not doing what she felt was right and good. But that was her role as mother. The fact that August could hear anything without shock was nice, but also shows that his relationship with Opa was a little different than purely fatherly. August wanted to be a friend and intellectual comrade. Ella was mother only, and they needed that.

Opa ends with the reflection that it seems wrong for there to be so much silliness with what is happening in the world, but then he concedes that perhaps that silliness is part of the happiness that keeps everyone going. He knows that, because he himself was the happiest recipient of silly love through his relationship with Grandmother. Instead of being an affront to what is happening in the world, it was a balm.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

July 22, 1944: Courage to Try


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 22, 1944.


July 22, 1944

My Dearest,

It was so nice to get your very long letter today. Let's hope that nothing gets in way on August 5-6 for our get-together. There is no use now to talk about our wedding date, we shall do it that weekend. Just one think: it wasn't only my idea to have it go off on September; remember that we decided on the first weekend in September? All I did was to look in the calendar to see what day that would be on. Well, we'll discuss that when we are together, and I hope we won't have to postpone it again.

There must be a first time for everything, so today I had my first real good accident. I was driving our recording truck with $60,000 worth of equipment in it, came to a crossing, going south. A car approached the same crossing from the east, but since I had the right-of-way and also arrived first at the crossing, I didn't stop. To my surprise, the other car, an Essex coupe, model 192, didn't even slow down. I tried then to dodge him, but it was too late, he hit slam-bang into my left side. I stopped, got out and looked at my instruments: thank goodness they were alright. The other car: right front wheel torn off and hurled 200 feet away. Right fender broken off and cast 40 feet away. Right headlight broken, left headlight broken, left fender bent, radiator turned to scrap iron, motor smashed, hood through windshield, right door jammed, windshield glass to pieces. My truck: two little scratches. I was furious, went up to the other driver, who, by some inexplicable luck escaped injury, and asked him, "what the hell is the matter with you; ain't you got no brakes?" He said, "Oh, my brakes are all right; I must have been asleep, for I didn't see you." I wrote down the names of a few witnesses, and got the party chief. The hell of it is that I only have a driver's license, but no chauffeurs license.

So Kenny is going to have a sister. How much do you bet me that it's going to be a boy? How is Edna doing? Have your folks started harvesting yet?

Tonight, I had that chicken dinner at my former landlady's. I hadn't realized it before, but it was the first time since I have been in St. John that I had a chance to dress up. The dinner was good, and there wasn't much left of that chicken by the time I got through with it.

What do you think of that "revolution" in Germany? In my estimation it's just a bunch of humbug. Even if the Army should have staged a putsch, those damn Junkers aren't any better than the Nazis are. The only difference is that the Nazis want to fight this war to the end, while the Junkers want to quit now, save what can be saved, and start all over again twenty years from now. Well I hope I'll see you soon. 


Oh Opa, I guess you did have a big accident. It sounds like this wasn't your fault, but it's hard to tell. The mean German in him comes out on the road, though. Poor guy just about obliterated his vehicle and barely escaped death himself, and Opa is yelling at him. I think this was where Opa allowed some of his emotions to escape: on the road, via the horn. 

Luckily everyone was OK, except the Essex Coupe. Poor, pretty thing.

It looks like we won't get to be privy to the wedding date conversation, as they will be seeing each other over the weekend and getting to talk about it face to face. This is better for them, but a bummer for us. 

Opa finally cashed in on his chicken dinner, and it sounds like it was a nice event! He got to dress up, got a home-cooked meal, and likely had at least a little conversation that was different from his typical work day banter.

Opa's mention of the attempted putsch (coup) reminds me of where we are in history. We've been so focused in on Opa and Grandmother that the war has faded into the background. I should know better that it was never background for Opa. He always had his finger on the pulse of what was going on in the world, especially this war.

Opa refers to the junkers: these are the so-called upper-class Germans who descended from the land owners; sort of royalty of the Prussian era. They seem to want their power back now that Hitler hasn't made things better. 

Opa rolls his eyes at them. I agree. 

There is a conspiracy among them and the higher military ranks of the army to assassinate Hitler and end the war before more is lost. As Opa said, "...the Junkers want to quit now, save what can be saved, and start all over again twenty years from now."

Here's what happened on July 21st: a plot to kill Hitler which had been in lukewarm effect since the beginning of Hitler's rise to power, was again attempted with a time bomb planted by a high-ranking official with fancy background. This bomb went off, killing and injuring many, but not killing Hitler. Hitler was injured, and then angry. Executions of many suspected anti-Nazi army officers were ordered, and the war just kept going. Now the army was truly a tool of Hitler's with very little sign of resistance.

Opa's assessment of the morality or altruism of the army putsch was right on the money. These royal conspirators consistently showed that their motives were to save their own skin. They did not have the moral or political fortitude to save the country. 

In accounts of the German underground, I see similar assessments: that the fortitude to really stand up and say "no" against the clear horrors that Hitler brought were few and far between. The royal Prussians only pulled the trigger when it looked like they, too, would lose everything. Many religious groups were either too little or too late in their resistance. In fact, the most powerful resistance came in the form of small acts, small organizations, and unimportant people. 

The Quakers (especially the Berlin Quakers) were actually one of the more productive resisters there were. Not because they had power and might, but because they had clear moral objectives and the courage to try.

It's challenging for me to read about this and reflect. What moral focus do I have? Do I have the courage to try?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

July 21, 1944: Dreams not Nightmares


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, July 21, 1944.


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.



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.




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.


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.


July 17, 1944


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?


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.