Monday, June 29, 2020

May 26, 1944: Jittery

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, May 26, 1944.


Kansas State College
Manhattan, Kansas
May 26, 1944

My dear little Monkeytail,

I am glad you are kept busy at home; it keeps you out of mischief and from thinking too much. I hope the pigs enjoyed seeing you in your pigtails; did anybody else?

All quiet on the Manhattan front; no more news from either the immigration officials or any of the companies. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do after my library work is over if I haven't heard from either company yet; probably service radios, either here or in Kansas City. One thing I am going to do, though, is start packing today. Your bad example convinced me that this might be a good thing to do. I'll dig up some card-board boxes some place and pack my books. By the way, try to get some lumber for your file cases in Selden; when I asked for it here I had the same result as though I had asked for silk hosiery.

I read some of Dorothy Parker's short stories last night; they are asinine, but not as bad as I thought they would be. One of them pictures a couple in that precarious situation after the wedding ceremony, but before the wedding night. If you are going to act the way that girl acted, I'm going to sing you a song for every meal. Remind me that I show you that story when you are here.

Are you still afraid of catching the Measles? Our neighbor boy got them now; please do not tell Sophie about it; she will have me put in jail for contaminating the whole damn town. I saw her the other day, and she gave me that happy-go-lucky smile, as though she thought, "thank God that's over with now."

Three and a half more days, and that 4:00am train gets here. Are you sure it won't be late? It better not! Did you write Mrs. Polson when you are coming, or are you not planning on staying there? If you want me to, I'll dig up some dinner invitations for us for Tuesday and Wednesday, but we'll probably prefer to have that time for ourselves. Anything special you want to do those days?

I'm kind of jittery these days; I think invasion may be coming up this or next week end, but I'm not going to bet on it. Quit picking your face! Quit scratching them mosquito & chigger bites!


I keep being reminded of the strange ability we have as humans to hold the mundane and everyday life in one hand and the drama of the world in the other. D-day is around the corner, everyone knows it. It's just a matter of when and how successful it is. And yet, Opa is in Kansas, packing up and preparing to move on to his next thing after his library job is up. He's getting ready for a visit from Grandmother and reading short stories by Dorothy Parker.

I kind of agree with Opa, Dorothy Parker's short stories feel asinine, but I think that's her point. The wedding night story is a series of circular arguments between a newly wed couple who can't really believe they just got married and clearly have not learned how to communicate as a couple yet. They both take everything the other says in the worst way, and nit-pic and fight about it. When Opa said he would sing Grandmother a song if she acted that way, he was being funny because he wasn't a good singer. 

I don't know how Opa isn't more nervous about his job prospects, but his optimism seems to be keeping him afloat. I don't know what happened between Opa and Sophie, but Sophie clearly does not like Opa, and he does not seem to like her. I wonder if there was some animosity towards Opa fro folks who were uncomfortable with his German-ness. At Kansas State, the college doesn't have quite the same investment and intimate knowledge of Opa that McPherson had. Opa is just another foreign student. At McPherson he was their foreign student that they rescued. Especially now that the United States is in the thick of the war, anti-German sentiment must be at an all-time high.

I wonder what Opa is feeling under those jitters about the coming invasion. Is he thinking of his family? I can't imagine he isn't. He ends by fussing at Grandmother not to pick her face. I'm sure it's a joke, and it reminds me of what his step-mother Emma would say to him. She said this to "help" him keep from getting acne. I don't think he loved it.

Jittery is about right when there's a chance that the war will shift in such a way that could change everything, and potentially give him news about his family. Good or bad.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

May 25, 1944: A Pound of TNT

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, May 25, 1944.


Margie, dear, 

I thought that one of the few advantages of your absence would be an increase in the amount of sleep I get, but somehow or another, this is not so. Last night, after typing letters for a couple of hours, I got tired of watching that typewriter ribbon spin around its axis, so I took out for a show; went down to the State, threw my legs over the seat in front of me, and watched four gangsters kill four other gangsters, with a bunch of private detectives imitating Dick Tracy. 

I don't like the way you treat our good friend, Euphrosine. In the first place, Euphrosine is a female name, and you should therefore call her "she;" in the second place, I don't believe that one ant is sufficient in vitamin B for her, and, last not least, in the third place a worm spelled with an "e" has not nearly the nutritive value as a worm spelled with an "o." 

News is rather scarce these days; eight hours in the library do not furnish a fraction of the excitement that eight seconds with Marjorie do. These days, we are getting volumes ready for the bindery; a monotonous occupation with definite lunatic tendencies.

I am so glad you can get here a little early. I shall try to get my work in the library over with, so that we have all Tuesday and Wednesday together. You will probably have to leave sometime around noon on Wednesday, won't you? 

If RCA should really make me another offer, I shall go east, at least to see what it is all about. They will furnish transportation and hotel expenses on the way up, so there won't be any risk in it. If I should go though, I would plan to be prepared to stay. However, the Kansas City job is still very definitely among the possibilities. I wish somebody would throw a pound of TNT into the pants of whoever is working on my permit. It's ten after seven, time for the mailman in Aggieville. 

Lots of love, honey:


I have been looking back at older letters from 1940, and I know that he no longer has communication with most of the people he wrote then. He no longer even knows for certain who is alive. But yet, he still has many letters to write, the two hours he mentioned were probably to the INS and the places he applied for jobs. 

I wonder if he's keeping up with friends from McPherson and the few folks he knows from his family connections in the US. Either way, he still writes away. I love his impression of the Western movie he saw- it sounds about like most western movies.

He still has the energy to tease Grandmother about the mouse he has named (I'm assuming it's a mouse). 

He would much rather spend time with Grandmother than watch westerns or do tedious library work, but he has to keep at it so that he can get the job he needs!

I reminded myself that RCA and other companies that Opa was applying with for jobs, had much of their work involved in the war effort. That proved to be particularly tricky for Opa, as many companies either would not hire foreigners (as a policy), or had to go through a process of getting permission to hire one. Not only was Opa a foreigner, he was the worst type. What company would go out of their way to hire him?

This is a big bummer since Opa's skills and training (education) are in areas that are all pretty much tied up in the war effort right now. There was no avoiding it. 

Opa remains optimistic, and notes that the RCA might throw him a bone and pay his way to the East Coast to check things out (maybe an interview?). Opa is ready to make it a move if he can. Was Grandmother ready to move with him? He didn't seem to make any mention of that, but he did say that the Kansas City job was still a possibility, so maybe that was his way of showing her he was trying to stay in Kansas.

I love the expression "throw a pound of TNT into the pants..." I'm going to use that some day.