Wednesday, April 14, 2021

August 20, 1944: Temporary Effect


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 20, 1944.



Another week is over, a quiet, uneventful week; just a typical St. John week; BUT: a few things happened anyhow. Now I know, and I am afraid Fetzer knows, that Tom Doeppner will never be worth anything in truck-driving. Last night, I took the pick-up to Stafford for the sole and only purpose to get a bite to eat. Knowing that the radiator was leaking, I filled it with water before I left, took a three-gallon can of water along. Before reaching Stafford, I had emptied this can and still the radiator was thirsty as though it had been in the Sahara for three months with "nor any drop to drink." Arriving in Stafford, the motor steamed all over like a singing tea-kettle, so I proceeded to fill it with water at a filling station. It had gotten too hot, though, and the cold water caused strains in the engine with the result that the motor head cracked at five different places and all but one exhaust gaskets were broken. Water kept running into the motor, and only with the help of the gods and of the all-the-way-pulled-out choke did I manage to return to St. John. To fix the thing cost the company over fifty bucks. Later I found out that, had I filled the thing with water slowly while the motor was running, the whole thing could have been avoided. Fetzer wasn't exactly happy about the deal, and he had no hesitations telling me so. I offered to pay for the deal but he won't let me.

Glory hallelujah!! Our checks came today. Let me know immediately if you need money, and I will send you anything you want (up to sixty bucks.) If you need it right away, I can wire it to you.

I felt a little blue last night after that deal with the pickup, so I decided to take myself feel better. Possibilities were (1) to get drunk, (2) to go to Lawrence, (3) to go to the library and get a book on philosophy. The first choice was rejected on account of its only temporary effect. The second choice was rejected on account of its practical and mercenary impossibilities; the third choice was accepted, and I got Plato's Dialogues, a work which I used to enjoy in my younger days. It really is good, though, even though I heartily disagree with many of his ideas. You ought to read it sometime. I also found another of Bertrand Russell's books, "Why Men Fight." I haven't started reading it yet; just glanced through it; apparently a thorough investigation of the human and sociologic sources of war in general. Ought to make good reading for next week.

How's Skunkie? Did you tell him about his future master yet? Better give him a good warning so the shock won't be too great.

I spent most of the afternoon going through my files and rereading old letters from way back; makes you feel a little dizzy; especially when I read my mother's letters. Suppose there will again be a time when I can write her once a week like I used to when I first came here? She used to worry when my letters came one day late. Wonder how much she worries now.

Also, I wrote another letter to the Canadian consul (or rather American Consul to Canada) and sent him some of the dope I received. Things are going to take pretty long I fear, but there is plenty of time.

Some of the restaurants have opened again, but I'm getting awfully sick of restaurant food. Guess I'll either rent an apartment, or get married, or go on a hunger strike. Haven't decided yet.

Outside it's raining and storming and thundering and lightening and... no, 'taint hailingyit. Anyhow, it seems as though Sunday is the only day at which it rains in St. John. Bob and I had planned on painting the inside of our truck and repainting it's hood today, but I guess we have to postpone it.

No letter from you today, but I can't complain because I know that you didn't get any from me two days in a row. (I had a good excuse, though.) 

I think I found a second-best man for our wedding: Buck, our surveyor. He is an awfully nice kid, even though not favored with an excess of brains. However, he is the only one on the crew outside of Bob with whom I have become a little more personal.

A slap for Skunkie, a kiss for you,


So many good little nuggets in here. 

Poor Opa, he's not had much luck with driving and auto-care. This letter gives me some insight to his life in a way some of the others haven't though. When faced with a crappy day, what does Opa choose? Philosophy books. I thought that his reasoning behind not choosing to get drunk was surprisingly profound. What if I applied that principle to most of my choices? Does it only have a temporary effect? Obviously some good things come in temporary form, but it is a helpful gauge when seeking out comfort. Will a gallon of ice cream or alcohol help, or will a good long talk with a friend have more permanent effect? 

The fact that my Opa was so into philosophy is so unexpected. I grew up thinking he was more of a math and science person, which he was, but he was in the class of folks who explored those concepts philosophically as well. Folks like his hero Einstein were also dabbling into metaphysics and the like. I wish he had been able to engage in philosophical conversations with me when I was majoring in it in college. 

In the process of going through and providing the necessary documents for the Canadian consul, he's pulled up old letters. (He's trying to leave the US and come back via a Canadian port so he can change from a temporary visa to a permanent one that has the possibility of eventual citizenship.) The old letters include those from his mother, who he said would worry if his weekly letters were one day late. He speaks of his mother with a certain level of confidence that she is still alive. I wonder if he even gave himself the space to consider that she may not have been.

He's still talking wedding, but we don't have much of an update on that yet.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

August 19, 1944: Skunkie the Dog


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 19, 1944.


National Geophysical Co.
St. John, Kansas, U.S.A
August 19, 1944, AD

c/o Miss M.A. Sloan
1236 Oread St.
Lawrence, Kansas

My dear Mr. (I hope) or Miss (Heavens Forbid) Skunkie:

I shall be grateful if you will advise me as to which of the two sexes renders itself more applicable in your case. If you should fall into the male category, your application for admission in the future Doeppner family will be given fullest consideration. If, however, the opposite should be the case, I deem it my duty to warn you that only an outstanding number of other qualifications can make up for this deficiency. It may become necessary to have you undergo the process of sterilization which, if nothing else, would deprive you of a major share of the joys of life.

Modern, objective, and unprejudiced as the future Doeppner family will be, it will not be necessary for you to trace your pedigree even one generation back. It will be fully sufficient guarantee if you, either by photograph or by a full description which is subscribed by you and countersigned by your new mistress, verify a state of above-average looks, irreproachable manners, superhuman intelligence (I am sure this qualification is easily fulfilled by any species which, unlike the human, have sufficient intelligence not to engage in wars), and the ability to know within a fraction of a second whether an approaching human being should be ignored, barked at, liked, or bit. It follows, of course, that you have the full permission to act immediately according to this knowledge.

It had been my intention, my dear Mr. Skunkie, to write to you a day or two ago, but sad circumstances, typical of a small town, have hindered me from doing so. The (one and only) restaurant which still was open in this burg decided to go on a little vacation, which required the entire National Geophysical crew to board the pickup and be transported to the town of Stafford every evening to indulge in the culinary art of the Stafford cuisine. This being the case, the hands of the clock on top of the First National Bank Building had advanced to the twelfth hour of night when the crew had returned, and because of the strict and irrevocable requirements of Mr. Morphus, the above named intentions had to be altered. In order to remain in good standing with your mistress, this letter is sent by special delivery and I do hope that you receive it by Sunday.

Today, according to the Part Chief, is the last Saturday of work. This is the result of a general griping campaign which recently reached a climax as two of the boys quit on account of too long hours. At present, I am not concerned about the number of hours I spend working, but after your mistress, you and I have started the new family, I, too, shall join this griping club. By that time, however, I hope that we have left St. John for new fall and winter quarters. There have been no more rumors concerning our moving, however, and the general feeling now is that we may have to spend the winter, or at least the fall, here. Ask your mistress whether I may borrow her code to give this fact the due expression.

Tell your mistress that I love her and that I am just a little too lonesome for her. Be a good dog and appreciate the privilege of sleeping in the same room with your mistress, getting patted for fussing and moving, and chewing her fingers.

A humble member of a race inferior to yours, but yet soon to be your master,

Opa has decided to address the new family dog that Grandmother has obtained: Skunkie. I'm going to guess that the name is either reflective of the coloring or the scent. Let's hope it's the former. I may be both.

I love Opa's humor here, keeping in character for the whole letter, writing to the new dog and giving expectations for being a part of the family.

I was struck by some of the quips, and how closely related to Opa's own life experience they are. In an odd way, Opa is writing to skunkie almost as if he is writing to himself (or hoped the world would). 

Skunkie does not need to provide pedigree. Opa's world not only required his pedigree, but did not approve of his: in Germany he was too Jewish, and now in America, he's still too Jewish AND too German. Skunkie won't need to worry about that.

Skunkie has already been named the wiser species as one who has "sufficient intelligence not to engage in wars." Opa wishes humans could be that smart.

Skunkie is also of great privilege, getting to lounge around and with Grandmother, the woman whom Opa is missing terribly. 

Opa's company is making changes due to complaints (overworking), and I get the impression that Opa is just buying time until the next thing. He understands the complaints, but he's so dis-invested from the company that he doesn't even try to make an effort to transform it. He's grumbling about staying in St. John (things still aren't right), and he just wants to move on (with Grandmother). 

I don't think I have any pictures of Skunkie, wish I did! But good to know that dogs have been held in high-regard by the Doeppner family.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

August 16, 1944: Used Only by Spiders

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 16, 1944.


St. John
August 16, 1944


Today I had two letters from you, which sort of made up for the last two days. Thanks for the pictures; they aren't any too good, but mean a lot just the same. I would like to have three prints each of the following three: you, Elna and I; you and I in cap and gown, and I in cap and gown. (To be sent to Winton, my friend in Chile, and that lady in New York.)

Sterling looks awfully nice, but I think the decimal point is too far to the right on those prices. I only partly agree with your choices, I marked mine in pencil so you can erase them if you want too. Your first choice is all right, but I don't care much for your second choice. (I can already see us give each other salad forks and butter spreaders for Christmas and birthdays.) Don't let my choice influence you, though, for you are the one (and only) who has to wash and dry them after every meal. (handwritten note on the margin:) I suggest we take your first choice, since both of us like that.
I definitely agree with you that anything like that should be used every day. I had an aunt who kept an entire room full with so-called good furniture, silver, chinaware etc. in complete mystery, used only by spiders and, after one week of cleaning, such happy occasions as 75th anniversaries and funerals. The old lady died a few years ago, and as long as I have known her, her funeral was the second time the room was used. Nothing like that in our family!

Maybe you got something in not buying a winter coat till January; I doubt, however, if there will be a sale this year worth going to. Will it be appropriate for me to buy one as a wedding present? If it costs 60 bucks, though, don't answer that question.

I am glad you like those pearls. They are supposed to be genuine, but anybody could sell me a piece of window glass for a diamond and I won't know how I got screwed. (Maybe now you know why I was late to meet your train in Newton. I was awfully scared you would ask me what I had been shopping.)

You should have seen our trucks going home from work yesterday afternoon at about five o'clock: first the drill, in full power, pulling the water truck which had broken its transmission and couldn't move an inch by itself. Next, the surveying pickup which sounded like a B-29 with its water pump broken, its radiator leaking, and its muffer busted. Next, the shooting truck whose right hind wheels were hanging dangerously on just two little bolts on account of a broken axle and spring. (The shooting truck was loaded with 30 pounds of dynamite and several caps of TNT.) Then, finally, our recording truck with a broken idler gear and a busted motor support. A sad looking caravan. Nothing particularly exciting had happened, it just happened that every truck had something busted the same day. Fetzer, when seeing us pull into town, looked like he was being taken to the electric chair. We worked darn near all night fixing stuff, now it is about noon and still we aren't ready to go. Well, that's part of the game and makes life interesting. 

Bye, darling; I miss you!

Grandmother and Opa are in the business of picking out silverware and china, a sort of rite of passage for many engaged couples in America. Opa isn't so sure they can afford to ask for or buy the sterling, I honestly don't know what they ended up with. He made me laugh with all his commentary (and I'm assuming a joke when he said Grandmother would be cleaning the flatware). I laughed because as he soon realized with his handwritten note: they agreed on the first choice. Not sure why the rest of the conversation was even needed. 

I did find his story about the aunt with the room and dishes "used only by spiders" quite fascinating! I don't know who that aunt was, but I do know that this commitment to using all the nice dishes and silverware was upheld. When we were growing up, if the weather did not allow us to eat outside (which, my mother would say was quite a broad criteria, we ate outside most of the time) we would eat in the dining room. My Grandparents' dining room was what you might consider formal in the mid-century modern way. The room was long and narrow with a bay window looking out into the back yard (the view was Grandmother's amazing terraced garden). The table and chairs were all part of a nice dining room set, with a black china cabinet (which I now own and painted white). There would always be a table cloth, cloth napkins, and a full array of food (to include vegetables and rolls) arranged on the table. We were expected to sit throughout the meal and engage in conversation, with very little outside entertainment available other than staring out the window. Oh, and there was almost always desert on the menu. That was nice.

Opa's broke-down work caravan sounds hilarious, but also I think it's a small miracle he hasn't injured himself on this job. All the machinery always breaks. And they have dynamite. Seems like a bad combination. 

I'm glad I don't have a room used only by spiders in my house. They're all used by spiders, and dogs, and children, and the regular chaos of life. Wouldn't have it any other way.  


Thursday, January 28, 2021

August 14, 1944: Happy Birthday Grandmother!


Birthday Card from Opa to Grandmother, August 14, 1944.


It's hard to put in words, Sweetheart,

The things I'd like to say,

The many loving thoughts of you

That fill my heart today,

But I hope you will understand

Just as you always do

And know the love unspoken

That this greeting brings to you.


and my eternal love!


What a sweet card. I know this is not much of a blog post, but it's lovely and sometimes we all just need something lovely.

Friday, January 22, 2021

August 13, 1944: Small Town Hypocrites


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 13, 1944.


St. John
August 13, 1944.


My plan was to spend today writing letters and reading, but none of that was done. I knew that we had received a new motor for our drill, so I made the great mistake of going to the garage to look at it. There, Mr. Fetzer spotted me and said, "Tom, how would you like to help put the new motor in?" Innocent and unanticipating as I am, I told him I would, thinking about a two-hour job. Well, we started working at 9:30 in the morning, took half an hour for dinner, and worked on. It is now twenty after ten at night and I just got cleaned up. Well, this will give me some overtime anyhow. 

Thanks for your sweet letter, honey, and for the poem. You know how much such things mean to me. I just hope it won't be too long now.

Last night, I spent quite a while reading; mostly Bertrand Russell; I never had anticipated how good he was; reading him was like talking to an old friend. That guy has such a clear mind, logical approach, and brutal frankness in his conclusions -- it is hard to believe that he is so generally disliked and frowned upon. (Naturally, his best trait is that his and my ideas on religion, politics, and philosophy are so nearly alike. No kidding, though, he is the first modern writer I have encountered who thinks in my lines and does what I never could: to think it out.) I wished you were here so that we can read things like that together, and then talk and argue about them.

A man and his wife got arrested here today for prostitution. The man had hung around soldier camps and got the "customers" for his wife, and even took them in his car to his home. The entire town is now all excited about it, stories spring up everywhere and gossip is flourishing all over. Certainly, things like that should be stopped, but it gripes me to hear people talk about it the way they do. They act as though these people had committed a cardinal sin, while they themselves are as pure as lambs and as clean as our recording truck. People are so terribly hypocritical in these small towns. All I can think of in connection with this couple is that they are now spending night after night in jail for a crime which thousands commit without being caught. Also, it may be that things are completely different from what the papers say; like it was in my case. Did you ever read Stephan Zweig's "The Eyes of the Eternal Brother?" A good story on this matter of gossip and slander and calumny.

Well, it's time for us to get some shut-eye. Tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I give you your birthday kiss; if not in body, so in spirit. We need to be together, darling!

Always yours,

I really need to read more. Opa reminds me once again of the family legacy of reading, and I once again am determined to clear my mushy mind and read like I used to. When I was a child, nearly every evening you would find me huddled up against my night light, long after I'd been tucked in, with my nose in a book. I miss those nights. The feeling you have when losing sleep over a good book does not include the same shame and guilt you feel when you stay up late watching movies or scrolling endlessly through social media. I long for that feeling again of losing sleep for a good story. 

Opa felt a kinship with Bertrand Russell, which makes perfect sense. Russell was a bit of a mathematician meets philosopher meets theologian (only to say he didn't believe in God as far as I can tell). This tracked with Opa's mind which was full of math and distrust for religious institutions. I will say, it seems like it was commonplace for thinkers of the day to be mathematicians and philosophers. Today it seems we have created silos for our great minds now, where you are either a scientist or a poet, but you can't be both. It's too bad, because I think it's less about knowing a lot about one thing and more about, what Opa calls the ability to "think it out." Maybe we just need to give people more space to think it out. 

Grandmother's nice letter included a poem- did she write it? I never knew Grandmother to write poetry. That would have been cool to know about.

Opa's story about the husband and wife who were arrested for prostitution was really interesting to me for a handful of reasons. First: it seems like this was a recurring issue in St. John, and perhaps the proximity of a military base being a magnet for this kind of crime should have alerted people to a larger issue. I wonder if the military participants faced any charges. My guess is that they did, but within military courts (which is weirdly separate). I appreciated Opa's take on the whole thing. He wasn't so quick to judge, especially with his own experience of being wrongfully accused. It seems less likely that this crime was fabricated. Still, Opa seems to be less and less patient with the hypocrisy of the townspeople who act shocked by something, yet behind closed doors do just as bad if not worse deeds. Opa is really over this small town altogether, and I can tell he's ready to be done with them, to move on up and out with Grandmother by his side. 

Hypocrisy is not a small-town phenomenon, but I imagine the small towns function(ed) much like the "echo chambers" we talk about in social media today. The human ailment of hypocrisy is given voice, platform, and support in a community who above all, wants to belong and fit in.

Friday, January 15, 2021

August 12, 1944: Birthday Love


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 12, 1944.


St. John
August 12, 1944

Dearest I'm-twenty-two-now Margie,

I wished I could be with you now and give you a thick, fat birthday kiss to tell you how much happiness I want you to have. Life is still young, and we have a great chance to find the very best in it. When the difficulties are great, the joy of conquering them is still greater. I believe that the coming year will bring plenty a change and many events into your (our) life; marriage, a new home, possibly peace, may be even a baby? Anyhow, let's make it the happiest year yet!

How are you spending your birthday? I guess in the morning and afternoon, you will be working; the children and the other girls may know about the great day and probably keep reminding you of it. Are your folks sending you a birthday cake? If I knew that you had hammer, ax, and pliers at your house, I would have baked one, but you could not have eaten it without those tools. And the evening? Are Yvonne and Pat taking you someplace for a celebration? Next year, we are going to throw a big party on the fourteenth!

Just before writing this, I listened to Roosevelt's speech; you may have heard it too. I was a little disappointed; not in what he said, but the way he said it. There was no longer the great, powerful speaker of even three years ago; it was the voice of an old man who had to hunt for words; he started a sentence over and over again, and the pause between words came close to being embarrassing. I guess everybody would loose his vitality after what that man has gone through, but yet it was quite a surprise.

Did you get my letter in the mean time? I don't know what delayed them; possibly you got several in one bunch. Your idea of a dog is really a good one, if you find a way of taking care of him while at work. If you get one, though, (and I am serious about the deal) get a pup to which you know at least the mother; if possibly also the old man, and thereby have a general idea of what the beast is going to look, sound, and smell like. Also, get a he-dog, so we can let him run around uncastrated. (After all, he should have some fun out of life.) One reason why I like the idea of getting the beast now is that he will be house-broken by the time he has to live with me. (It shouldn't take you more than a month to get the beast trained.)

Today was my lucky day. We stopped in Stafford on our way to work, and I tried my luck on a punchboard. I saw that there were only a few punches left. The last punch on each board receives $2.50. There were 45 punches of five cents a piece left, so I couldn't possibly loose. I punched out all 45, and won on top of those 2.50 a sum of $1.40, to a total of 3.90. Thinking that this sounded so good, I put a nickel in a slot machine, got nothing; put in another nickel and won the jackpot: twenty nickels. I decided that was an excellent place to quit, so I quit. The fifty-five cents I won in a poker game afterwards, didn't even count. Don't worry though, honey, I'm not going to be a gambler.

Received a letter today from the American Counsel General in Winnipeg, Canada, asking for more red tape. Those dxxxxd democrats and their bureaucracy!

Bye, darling, and start the new year off right! I hope nobody gives you a locket for your birthday this year! If they do, I'll send it back, and a bullet with it.


Grandmother's birthday is August 14th. Opa is planning his letter to arrive on her birthday, as he and his family tried to do with one another in their letters across the Atlantic. He has such sweet wishes for her celebration, and hopes for their future. He treats her birthday almost like New Years: with resolutions and hope for the coming year: marriage, a home, even a baby. He knows the next year will bring a lot of change and challenge, but he is buoyed by his love for her. 

When Opa joked about sending her a cake that would require heavy tools to eat, I remembered something. 

Opa's mother, Ella, had just celebrated her 55th birthday on August 4, in Theresienstadt. I actually know a little bit about how she celebrated, thanks to the recollection of Renate, Opa's cousin. Renate was Kurt's child, and Ella was one of few people who knew her little brother had a child. Even the rest of Ella's family was in the dark about this surprise baby. Ella adored Renate, and Renate's mother, Lotte. Lotte was so kind and caring towards Ella. Lotte was not Jewish, and technically her daughter had not been identified as having Jewish "blood," so Lotte was taking great risks to be in as close relationship with Ella.

Here is a memory that Renate shared with me (Mrs. Ruhstadt was Ella's neighbor):

Once my mother and Mrs. Ruhstadt sent her a small package for her birthday. They barely had enough themselves, since the food rations were very meager.

But they did send her some soap, a candle and ”coffee substitute” (Bluem’chen Kaffee is slang for it might smell like coffee, but it is not), a small well washed NIVEA tin filled with margarine and a small home baked cake. 

The cake was so much examined, by totally it (was cut) into pieces (something could have been hidden in it) 

Ella wrote to my mother:

Everybody in camp got only a tiny bite of my crumbly cake, but it was a celebration and my most beautiful birthday since a long time. 

I could still cry when I think about it, how very cruel!

Birthdays were something Ella made special efforts for, and for some reason seeing Opa mirror that for Grandmother, and knowing that Ella had a birthday package even in a concentration camp, it warms my heart. 

Opa goes on to share his thoughts on Roosevelt's speech, which of course caused me to go search the speech (it's not that exciting in transcript), and to check about his health. Opa was right, Roosevelt was not healthy. In fact, Roosevelt died in April, 1945. His health had declined over the years, but he also had been through quite a lot. He led the United States out of the Depression, and through (and almost out of) the war. In January he would be sworn in for his fourth term, which he only served a short time until he died. Yet, his death was still a shock for many, but folks like Opa noticed he was fading. 

Opa encourages Grandmother to get a male dog, train it, and let it roam the streets, lol. He and Grandmother had dogs on and off their whole married life, but once they retired, they favored ease of travel over dog-ownership. I never got to meet any of their dogs, but my Dad remembers them fondly.

Opa had a lucky day at his miniature gambling streak. First he wins by favorable odds, but then he makes a little more with luck. He writes a whole paragraph about it that ends with "don't worry, I won't become a gambler." Good news, he was true to his word on that.

He is still working on his immigration paperwork, a field he is becoming expert it. 

He mentions that if anyone sends her a locket, he'll send it back with a bullet in it. He's half-joking, but I suspect there is something behind this joke. I wonder if Archie sent Grandmother a locket for her last birthday?

The reason why I suspect that is because something similar happened to me. I had a boyfriend who I was very on-again-off-again with (mostly my fault). The first Valentine's Day I was dating Jason (who is now my husband), I received a beautiful bouquet of roses. The main problem was, it was from the on-off guy. Jason asked who the flowers were from, and I was like "um, so, we broke up, but he sent me flowers." He brushed it off and it was a nice bunch of flowers. He did tease me about it and the next year he asked if he should expect any other past boyfriends to send flowers. In my ex-boyfriend's defense, I had only just started dating Jason. But no more flowers came. Or lockets. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

August 11, 1944: Hoping for Change

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 11, 1944.


St. John
August 11, 1944

Dearest Crystal Ball,

Almost a week has passed since last week end; it doesn't seem that much. If every week will go this fast, it won't be very long...

Today was pretty difficult work, we only shot ten holes. On some of them we had to take four shots and more before we got a decent record; I shot 2 1/2 pounds of dynamite in one hole; average is a quarter of a pound. The smoke creeped out of the hole and the ground shook dangerously, but I did get a record finally. We were out till after six o'clock, and I worked another hour after that on the usual stuff: fixing things.

Here is something that may be good news: Fetzer (our party chief) indicated today that the chances are very high for our leaving St. John in the fall, may be for Texas. Wouldn't that be swell? It still is not official, though, and I don't believe it until I see the transfer black on white, with John A. Gillin's signature in the lower right corner.

Yvonne's troubles are too bad. I sort of liked Bob, even though I don't think he has much character. If things don't turn out right, however, it won't be too great a loss. Give her my deepest sympathy if you think she needs it. (Also give her my love while you are not listening.)

136 more shopping days till Christmas. Reckon we will spend it together this year? One thing is sure: it can't be much more fun than our pre-Christmas celebration last year; remember? At that time things didn't look very bright between us, did they? After we are married, I would just love to tell old Zim about some of the things that went on in his room at certain nights. I bet he would have a hemorrhage or two. By the way, I wrote to Mrs. Zimmerman the other day and asked her for my ration book. No answer so far yet. (I sent your regards. Okay?)

There is what's supposed to be a good show on tonight, but I wasn't in the mood to go; rather stay home, write letters, and do some reading. Guess I am getting old.

I enjoyed your code; I showed it to Buck, who passed it on, and I believe the entire crew now has it adopted and is using it on letters to their girls. If I were you, I would ask royalty on it.

This letter won't get the night train, so I guess you won't get it till Monday; I'll write again tomorrow, though, for Monday is a special day.

Dream again that you can fly, and fly to me!

Lots of love,

When I was a kid, I had a recurring dream of flying. All sorts of occasions to fly: for fun, escape, to rescue someone, or just to show I could. Some mornings I would wake up on the floor, my dreams transferring into my limbs and flying me off the bed! 

I like to think of Grandmother also enjoying dreams of flying, exploring and soaring above the clouds.

I think we get a little more insight into the kind of thing that Grandmother writes to Opa. I don't know why I felt like it would all be fairly serious, but hearing Opa refer to her flying dreams and some type of code she made up for letters, brought me so much joy! She was a young woman in love, not too serious.

I guess things were worse than we thought over that Christmas break the year prior. When Opa refers to "Zim," he's talking about Mr. Zimmerman, the landlord of the place Opa lived in. I guess Opa is referring to some arguments, which I weirdly wish I knew more about. I never saw Grandmother and Opa argue, so I would be curious what that would even look like! 

Opa is hoping the rumors of being sent to Texas are true. As much as he says the window-peeping incident seems to be fading away, he's ready to leave town altogether. I know he said he was getting old, but I wonder if his hesitancy to go out on the town had something to do with not wanting to be around people. 

Opa is hoping for a change, sooner would be better.


August 10, 1944: Skinny Opa


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 10, 1944.


St. John
August 10, 1944

My Dearest,

I just finished stowing away a pint of ice cream and two glasses of ice water, but even that did not cool me off. We had an awfully hot day and almost broke a record by shooting fourteen holes and yet gettin in before six o'clock. I spent an hour after that, though, fixing some cable breaks.

So they are kidding you about last weekend? Just what do they think is up? Are they right? I am being kidded a little, too. When I told Bob that I had reserved two rooms, he said "don't feed me that stuff." Well, I enjoy being kidded like that; don't you?

Buck came back today from a brief trip to Dallas, and we had quite a talk tonight. He is in a similar fix as we are; wants to get married and settle down, but realizes that this is pretty hard when staying with this company. We decided it would be best to stay long enough to make good and then look for another job. We might do that and, if the twins should arrive ahead of schedule, leave the company earlier.

How are the pictures coming? Don't forget to make Yvonne get us prints of the Bluemont shots; they ought to be pretty good. Do you know that I have only one picture of you? Not a single snapshot!

Tonight, for the first time since the trouble I had, I went to the pool hall; mainly to see how things are standing. Outside of the fact that Buck beat me in pool every time, everything went fine. I ignored some people, and the rest of them were as friendly as before. I guess the town has forgotten the incident, even though I haven't and probably won't for a long time.

To make you feel good, may I admit that you had at least one good influence on me? Ever since your pep talk Sunday morning, I have bought myself some fresh fruit for lunch; peaches, cherries, etc. So far, they have not had any visible effect though, for when I weighed myself last night, the foolish scales stopped at 146 pounds. That's not enough, and less than I used to weigh. I bet our kid is going to weigh 2 1/2 pounds when born.

I played your record over again today and certainly enjoy it. The second part especially is particularly powerful; also better known, I believe. Let's get a good collection of records when we are married; maybe sometime we can afford a real record player. (In fact, a record player has priority over your fur coat.)

I wished I could kiss you good night now!


Opa ventured back into public to test the waters, and other than ignoring a few folks, it seemed to go well! He is hoping that the troubles are behind him, although his own soul has been bruised by the event and he is still healing.

He mentions chatting with his co-worker Buck about plans for the future, very typical of folks new to their jobs. They want to get married and settle, and this company isn't the place for settling. So they figure they will "make good" and move on. 

This idea of working in a place long enough to sort of "pay your dues" is one that is fading a little bit. I think it's OK that it is fading. Companies no longer invest as much into their employees, and often don't invest enough. In the current job market, you really can't afford to stick around and pay dues. If you get a better offer for better pay and benefits, you take it. Raises are more likely to come from a new hire than within your own job. This is not universal, but I've seen it anecdotally with quite a few friends. 

People don't work for companies for long tenures anymore. There isn't much reward for loyalty anymore. Many companies have shown poor form by firing or "letting go" of people just before they were to retire. Now that my husband and I are starting to look more carefully about what it means to retire (miracles), we can appreciate more the kind of loss it is when someone is laid off so soon before they are fully vested in their retirement program. Retirement used to be an assumption, but now for my generation and especially those younger than me, retirement is a very privileged option.

Back to Opa. I want to call attention to where he mentions if the "twins" arrive soon. He's joking, but it's a joke based on some truth. Grandmother's family was full of twins. I think there were two sets in one family of cousins. She was convinced she would have twins (she didn't), and I think she suspected one of us would have twins (we didn't). So maybe it skips two generations? I'm not sure if there is hard evidence about genetic tendencies towards having twins, but she had a lot of twins around her growing up, so it became a part of their idea of what their future may hold. (Side note, my Dad and his brother are 13 months apart, so in a way, they're pretty close to being twins. And Grandmother was adamant that it was on purpose.)

Opa is maybe taking better care of himself because Grandmother told him to; but I'm not sure why he thought fruit was going to help him gain weight. That conversation where Grandmother tells him to eat fresh fruit rings very true. Grandmother loved fresh fruit and vegetables. She grew up on a farm! Opa was about 6'2'', give or take. And he said he was 146 lbs. That's really skinny. His mother would have a fit if she knew! Grandmother was a tiny, tiny woman, so it did kind of crack me up when Opa said they would have tiny babies.

Opa once again paints a lovely picture of their future together: sharing their love of music around a "real" record player when they could afford one. I can attest that they did get to share their love of music in many wonderful ways.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

August 9, 1944: Good night, my dreamgirl

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 9, 1944.


St. John
August 9, 1944

My dearest Margie,

When I got a ten-page letter from you, I had a fairly good idea of the contents. You know a little about the way I feel from my last letter, but I didn't go into details then. 

I guess the old custom of giving the bride the privilege of setting the wedding date has more meaning than that of fitting it into a biological period; feelings, rather than arguments are dominant in matters of love, and women are stronger and surer in their feelings than men. I know now that your feelings do not permit an early marriage, but I also know that I can be completely sure of you and of the fact that the future will, probably not before long, bring us together. Therefore, I wouldn't do anything now to make you get married.

Thanks for telling me so much about you, darling; in this letter you told me things I never knew, and you know how much it means to hear them. I knew that you had a little inferiority complex, and I do believe that you did not fail in your first two jobs, but just expected too much of yourself. Also, I know that in this job, you are fully succeeding. I don't want to drag you out of it if you feel you have not quite prove yourself yet.

You give many an argument for postponing our marriage. Naturally, it would be simple for me to give you a contra-argument to each of them, which you again could answer. There is no use in that, for matters of the heart cannot be argued out.

It may be that a few weeks from now you feel different about the matter than now, it may also be that your present feelings will have gained in amplitude; anyhow, I suggest we keep our tentative date until the end of this month when it would be time for you to give your notice that you quit your job. At that time, we will either keep the date, or set another date, or wait: it will be completely up to you, and I won't urge you any more. You know my feelings on the subject, but I want you also to know that I shall not be mad, no matter what your decision will be. I won't even mention the date of October 14 to anybody, not even Winton, until you confirm it.

I would like, though, to talk about one thing you mentioned in your letter; not necessarily in connection with our wedding date. You said that you wouldn't want to use my money for paying back a little to your folks. Honey, when we are married, it will no longer be my money but our money, and you have just as much right to dispose of it in your way as I do in my way. Also, debts should not bother us. If I have a monthly income of 175 now and plan on paying back 25 per month, it just means that I make 150 per month and have no debts. As to having a little ahead for emergencies, they will always be taken care of; they always have, so far, and we can be reasonably sure that no large emergency is going to come up till at least nine months after our marriage. (I hope.)

I made a nice little investment today: at 3:30, J.C. Penney Co. received 20 imitation sheepskin winter costs, reduced from $16 to $5. At 6 o'clock, Fetzer and I went into the store, and there were two of them left; one size 36 (Fetzer's size,) and one 38 (my size?). After we left the store, the sheepskin sale was over. It is a swell coat for that money and will help me keep my tummy warm on the truck this coming January.

The Red Cross brought me a letter today which I am afraid is bad news: from my aunt. It says as follows: "Mother had to leave like the rest of them; I hope, though, to be able to see her again, for she will be with Therese." I just know it means that my mother has now really been taken to a camp. We used to use girls' names like Therese for countries in our family code, but I can't think for the world of it what country we christened "Therese." Naturally, I had one false alarm from my aunt, but I am just afraid that this is the real thing. I am going to use the Red Cross Inquiry Service in an attempt to find out some more details. I just cannot think of my mother in one of those camps; they are often called "Extermination Camps." There is a possibility of course, that my mother just had to evacuate Berlin, but in that case she could have written a letter herself. Please don't tell anybody about this until I know for sure. I also receive a letter from Gis through the Red Cross; I deem it best not to answer it at all. 

We worked pretty hard today, got twelve holes which is better than we have been doing for a long time.

Rumors are getting high about us living for southern Oklahoma for the winter. It isn't certain at all, though, for nobody could possibly know about it except our president, John A. Gillin, and he won't talk. I would like to leave St. John for various reasons, but I am not believing in rumors yet.

I disregarded your warnings and principles today and made a bet for five dollars. I bet that Germany will give up before November 1, 1944. Think I'll win it?

After having seen you this weekend, I am getting to be just a little more lonesome for you yet. For the last two nights, I have dreamed of the way you looked when we kissed good-bye at the depot; it was such a sweet little face, both in dream and in reality. When do you think I'll see it again?

Good night, my dreamgirl,

So, there's a lot going on here. 

I want to confess that the first time I read this I was sort of in a defensive frame of mind, so I wasn't able to absorb how legitimately kind and open Opa was being. 

When he said "feelings, rather than arguments are dominant in matters of love," I thought he was being cheeky, like, downplaying the feelings and playing fake captive to Grandmother's strong "woman" feelings. Especially when he said that women are more sure of their feelings. 

But then I read it again. And I realized that this was quite profound, and that Opa was communicating in a way that was very sophisticated for a man in the 1940s. He was genuine. He recognized that setting a wedding date was not a "put it in the planner" kind of experience. It was one that was full of emotion. He wasn't dissing feelings, but he was affirming them. He meant it was more important to listen to feelings rather than the process of arguing whose logic was most valid. And, he was right that women were (and still are typically) more aware of their feelings. This was not an insult, but a compliment. Why and how that is a true statement is another matter. Opa stated that Grandmother's feelings were the most compelling and important factor in deciding when they could get married. And then he told her he would respect her wishes.

I mean. That's pretty damn awesome. 

He was so respectful, and rather than deride her for her ten page letter (which I confess, I came close to doing), he embraced it for what it was: a revelation. Grandmother was finally able to tell Opa more about herself; she was vulnerable. This was hard for her. And Opa received it with love, respect, and appreciation.

I'm grateful that he recalled some of her letter, so I could read and relate to her insecurity. I remember once while I was in a particular job and situation that was not best suited for me, I truly felt like I was unemployable. I had failed and would never be able to be gainfully employed because that's how terrible I was. Now I've had other jobs that I've succeeded in, and my confidence has increased. I needed those positive experiences to build my confidence, so I totally get where Grandmother is coming from. Also, I adore how committed she is to her work. Not that work is everything, but Grandmother was a little unusual in her pursuit of career and success academically as a woman in the 1940s. She's working on her graduate degree! And she used it! She's so inspiring, and as a young person, she's slowly finding the confidence that matches her ambition. 

Opa sees it, and respects it. 

Opa is setting the stage for the kind of marriage they will have: one of equality. He reminds her that marriage for him means that their money is communal, and she has as much rights as he does to spend it. This is sadly kind of revolutionary! He will not wield the power of his income in their marriage. If I were Grandmother, this letter would be another moment of confirmation that I had found someone who would be a kind and good partner in life.

Now I take a quick turn to the next part of the letter: Opa has now heard confirmation from his aunt Annchen (his Dad's sister), that Ella was deported. He can't figure out Annchen's code "Therese," which is for Theresienstadt, the concentration camp that Ella was deported to (which is in modern day Czech). Opa finds out she is no longer in Berlin nearly eight months to the day after her deportation. He doesn't know it, but she is still alive. The hope Annchen has is because Theresienstadt had a reputation for being a "less harsh" camp. Many "important" Jews were sent there, as well as elderly Jews who were not immediately sent to "extermination camps" as Opa named them. (This also is a very good reminder that the world knew about the camps, and their purposes.) Opa plans to send a Red Cross request for more information (something people did, even years after the war was over). I doubt he got a lot of information other than her deportation. There were literally millions of missing people. 

He also got a Red Cross letter from Gisela, his friend and sorta girlfriend from the Quaker group. He decides not to answer it out of respect for Grandmother, but I wish that he would have. I can only imagine that trauma Gisela is experiencing in Berlin, trying to save as many people as they can and never knowing when it will be their turn. I bet she could stand to hear a word of encouragement from Opa.

Opa finishes with some work updates, and a very bad bet he placed on Germany surrendering before November 1, 1944. I wonder if he really thought that was possible. 

The last note of his letter is about Grandmother's smile and face as they kissed, and he signs off: "Good night, my dreamgirl."

What a love they had.