Thursday, October 22, 2020

July 12, 1944: It's Complicated


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 12, 1944

All the mailman brought me today was a postcard, and that wasn't from you. We worked pretty hard today (comparatively) but at our last hole, at about six o'clock, the universal on our truck broke, and we had to be towed in. It is about 8:30 now, and I doubt if this letter goes out tonight.

I guess I wrote you about Limper's letter yesterday and then forgot to enclose it. Well, here it is. 

If it ever gets to Lawrence, go and see the show "Once Upon a Time." A complete phantasy, but one of the nicest pictures I have seen. Without love story; just plainly cute.

I am reading now "Three Comrades" by Erich Maria Remarque; an excellent story of the postwar period in Germany, written by the author of "All Quiet on the Western Front." The translation is pretty poor, but that has to be expected.

Margie, there must be some way in which you can send that typewriter. I have those letters to the State Dept. and to Canada to write, and they have got to be typewritten.

Are you going home this weekend?


I love how Opa spends his free time: reading and theatre. It makes me wonder if I stripped away the other newer methods of spending our time, if I might read more. I know I would. I own the book Opa mentions and should read it. I haven't read a book straight through since I read the new Allie Brosh book recently, and before that I can't remember! 

I can tell through the books, poetry, and other material that Opa is reading that he is already trying to make sense of what is happening and has happened in Germany. He spent his whole life reading and searching for an explanation. I don't know that he ever felt he got the answer. I don't think there is one answer. Like all things in life: it's complicated, and each story is one small part of the answer. That's largely why I do this work. I'm telling one of the stories, providing one of the answers. I don't expect this story to solve everything. I just know that every story is valuable, and this one is mine to tell.

Not only is Opa searching for some answers himself, he longs to share his experience and perspective with Grandmother. He's hoping that she will understand more about where he came from. I imagine he felt a little lonely in his quest. Most folks were happy to paint the Germans as evil and leave the caricature as that. For Opa, these Germans were his grade school friends, his relatives, his neighbors, himself. 

Once again something breaks at work, I'm not sure if this was par for the course for any machinery in 1944, but they seem to have breaking parts as the norm.

Opa not only wants his typewriter for convenience, he now needs it to send official documents. This makes me wonder just how common owning a typewriter was, and if there were people who had to go out of their way to type up these papers because they had no typewriter of their own. How much of an obstacle was this minor detail of requiring forms be type-written?

Friday, October 16, 2020

July 11, 1944: Full Moon Wedding


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 11, 1944

You had better quit going to church, it has too bad an effect on you. Our wedding ceremony will have to be altered in such a way that your part will end something like this: " sickness and in health, and to solemnly swear never to wear pigtails."

Last night, we had approximately two yards of rain here; thunder, lightning, and hail added to it to make the ground so muddy that we cannot work. Wouldn't you like to have a job like that?

What do you think of this letter of Limper's? Pretty subtle way to find out when I'll be having enough dough to buy more insurance, ain't it?

Last night, I took Mr. Spence (that big shot from Dallas) to the show; we saw "Heavenly Body" and a Laurel-Hardy show and indulged in some beer afterwards. He is quite a guy; lots of fun and lots of brains and - last but not least - lots of influence.

What is that surprise you wrote about? I made ten guesses, but they were all wrong, so you will have to tell me.

This morning, I fixed my former land-lady's door chimes. I wouldn't take any money for it, so she invited me to chicken dinner. Pretty good deal, ain't it? If you could come up Saturday, you'll get in on it, too.

I just decided that I am going to be married on Saturday, September 2, 1944 A.D. That is a very convenient day; full moon (Eisenhower waited for full moon with his invasion.) How about you getting a white wedding dress, and me a white suit? I'm going to have it tailor-made. What kind of a bouquet do you think you are going to get? Tell your pop to sell that damn cow!

Consider yourself kissed,

Where in the hell is my typewriter, radio, etc??

Opa is off work for another day, this time on account of rain. I was feeling bad for his overtime and long days, but I think that those long days average out with the days off because of mud or broken things. 

Opa is smart enough to know the art of schmoozing, and took his big shot boss from Texas out on the town. He seems like he makes good first impressions, but of course this is all from his perspective. I wonder if he was as charming and friendly as I imagine. He made lots of friends and engaged in the community around him, so he must have been somewhat successful! 

I love how Opa feels like a good-ol-boy except he's from Berlin. He's fixing some lady's door-chimes (in exchange for chicken), taking the boss to the pictures, and dreaming of a full moon wedding with his church-going Kansas farm girl. I wonder if he sometimes stops and thinks: "How did I get here?!"

Thursday, October 15, 2020

July 10, 1944: Bad Driver


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 10, 1944

Instead of writing to you yesterday, I went to Wichita. One of the big shots from Dallas came up by plane and wanted us to meet him. I thought this was a good opportunity to make a contact to which might some day be useful, so I "volunteered" to drive down. It was a trip of hundred miles in our pick-up, lots of fun. The plane was late, and we did not get back to town until eleven p.m. On the way back I came as close to having an accident as I ever care to get. It was dark, and I blinked my lights for a car from the opposite direction. Some connection was loose, and my lights went out. It was pitch dark, and on top of that I was blinded by the lights of the other car and didn't have the slightest idea where that darn highway was. Somehow or other, I managed to stop the car; a little less than a foot from a 4-feet ditch, and about a yard or two from a telephone post. (Good driver; see?)

If you are going home next weekend, come through St. John on your way up or back; or if that's too far out of the way, we may be able to meet some place like Russell, or so. However, you probably need all the time you get at home. By the way, what's the matter with people in Western Kansas? Here everybody was through harvesting last week! Kind of backward you people out there in the desert.

This morning, our +l?*;=+:vo goddamn drill broke down again, but we were close to Stafford, so we went there and played pool for a couple hours, all on the company's time.

Probably, they are not going to send me to school for quite a while, because their observers' school has been discontinued "for the duration." This will mean that I shall remain a junior observer for that time, but hardly anybody gets to be an observer without two to three years of training anyhow.

Well, I guess I'll go uptown and see what the gang is doing.


So when we were growing up, we used to have a little running joke about Opa's driving. Basically: it was bad. We joked that he was used to driving on the autobahn so that's why he drove so fast and aggressively. Now I know that he learned to drive in the middle of nowhere Kansas, and the autobahn had nothing to do with it. I'm not sure who taught him to drive (the Shelley's?), but he did not fully learn. It doesn't help that he's always borrowing or using a less-than-stellar vehicle that's falling apart. It's a small miracle he was never in a major accident! (That I'm aware of anyway.)

His drill is broken again, and I can't figure out how anyone does their jobs in this company with things falling apart left and right. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

July 8, 1944: Voluntarily without Coercion


Letter from Opa to Grandmother


July 8, 1944

Dear Margie,

How anybody can voluntarily and completely without coercion chose Kansas as a permanent living place is something which my feeble mind cannot understand. It's about 95 degrees now, and the sweat runs down my chest, back, and legs to form a swimming pool around my feet.

We can't work today because some of our trucks broke down again, so this is considered more or less as a holiday.

Last night I moved. One of the boys was transferred to another party, so I took his room, a castle compared to my basement hangout of last week. Here, I have a first-floor room with private entrance, private bedroom, three large windows, and lots of closet space. The whole thing for $4 per week. The room is conveniently located, too: right at the main square; half a block from our garage, one block from our office, and one block from drugstores, pool halls, etc. Maybe I shouldn't tell you that two rooms in tis house are rented to girls...

IfI don't get that damn typewriter pretty soon, I'll divorce you. My poor little hand is getting worn out from the unusual task of grinding a pen, even a Parker 51.

I assume your trip to Baldwin was very interesting, especially your tete-a-tete with Miriam. The awkward subject was probably painstakingly avoided by both of you.

What do you mean there are more profitable ways to spend my time than playing poker? In the first place, you never played it. In the second place, what other kind of entertainment is there in which you make money instead of spending it? (Don't worry, though, for I don't care much for playing myself.)

Naturally, this postponement of wedding for the reason of two weeks vacation or any other reason is completely out of question. If you insist on changing the date, we may change it so it falls into August, but no other way. I mean that, too!

I saw a strange show last night, called "The Curse of the Cat People." A little gruesome and mysterious, but not bad.

For some reason or other, I can't remember your birthday. Is it August 14? Anyhow, I herewith most formally invite you to spend the weekend 12-13 and as long as you can afterwards, here in St. John; invitation includes travel expenses, etc. If some other week end suits you better, tell me, but don't postpone it. We will have to get together somewhere around that time anyhow, to make final plans for our wedding.

Write soon if and when you accept this most formal invitation.


P.S. Please return the clipping; I want to send it to Eileen.

Opa seems like he has more days off due to equipment failure than days on! The good news is that he is more certain than ever that Kansas is not a state to choose for long-term living, and the fact that he continues to live there shows his deep and abiding love for my Grandmother! 

He now has a much better living arrangement, and can now invite Grandmother to come visit. For her birthday that he can't quite remember. He's trying to set down roots, making friends locally and getting his typewriter now that he has a real room. 

Opa is used to being in between things and never quite settled, but this period of time feels particularly transient. He's not seeing Grandmother as often as he'd like, he's working at a job that can't quite promise where he'll live from one month to the next. And Grandmother keeps pushing their wedding date back and back. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that her parents were not yet on board with her relationship.

Opa is trying to make a steady life. I can see why he would be so anxious to set a wedding date and get married: to have one thing solid would be nice.