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.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sarah,
    I am wishing you a happy and healthy 2021!

    Thank you so much for sharing your Opa's letters! I always look forward to reading your blog posts.
    It is amazing that he had this modern view on a partnership/ marriage as equals. This is pretty rare during that era. Also, I am looking forward to getting to know more about your grandma Marjorie. She must have been exceptional!

    Also, I didn't know that people outside of Germany knew about the existence of the "extermination camps" :(

    Many greetings from Germany,


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