Monday, June 7, 2021

August 30, 1944: Dependent on You


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, August 30, 1944.


Kansas City
August 30, 1944

My darling,

It has been raining all day today, that slow, perpetual, hopeless drizzle that seems to fit Kansas City and these days so perfectly. I am sitting in a small room on the eight floor of the Frederic Hotel, which I hope to leave tomorrow.

No luck yet, no job. I still hesitate to take an ordinary laborer's job in a packing plant, but will probably end up in something like that. However, I just haven't looked very hard yet. I tried first to locate Johnny, who has moved away without leaving an address. The jobs as a draftsmen are in war industry which I can't take without special permission, and we know what it means to get that permission. I gave up looking in the early afternoon, just didn't have the strength any more. If I should every get out of this mess (which I doubt) I shall leave this cursed town and never come back again. Right now, I am hoping that the night won't be so long, so I can have your letter in the morning.

Marjorie, I guess I am awfully weak. I know that I should not write to you like this, for you feel lousy yourself. I should write you a nice letter and cheer you up, but I can't do it. Pardon me, honey. You are engaged to a coward. There are thousands and millions of people who are in positions much worse than mine; think of the starving peoples in Greece; think of the bombed-out families in China, in Japan. I always have to think of my mother, who had lost one thing after the other till everything she had held dear was taken away from her, and she still kept going. And here am I, in a situation which, objectively, is far from being desperate, and am without ambition or courage.

No, that isn't quite true either, for I still have the ambition. Last night when we were sitting on the park steps, I realized, probably for the first time in my life, that I am no longer independent and no longer able to direct my own fate within the limits which nature (or God?) has set; and also for the first time, I was glad for this dependency. Honey, I am dependent on you. It's you who gave me my ambition, my goal in life. Like the soldier, who has an ideal or a happy home to come back to, fights better and more efficiently than the one who fights because of hatred, so I will now somehow get my strength back, because I have you to fight for. Also, I know that you will stand by me and help me. Words of thanks are vain between two people who love each other, but I only hope, darling, that there will be a day when I can make up for all help and support and love which you are giving me now. I have been terribly selfish in my love for you, and I know only too well how much more you are giving me than I can ever give you.

It is getting dark now, and I am thinking about yesterday. Every little detail stands in my mind so clearly and beautifully, that, were I a painter, it would make a picture as wonderful as one of Raphael. There were clouds over our happiness last night and the night before, but they made the few moments of laughter stand out in more glorious brilliance. The moment we bought the ring; the way you looked when you sipped the Martini at Price's; your new coat; the orchestra and music in the Penguin Room; your face coming close to mine and your body at the Snyderhof -- these and so many other, smaller things will now shine out and mark themselves down deep inside me, while without the clouds and darkness around them, they would be lost among the thousands of little things we did together. It seems to be a law of living that suffering is necessary to create beauty and happiness; I am only afraid that happiness and days like yesterday, on the other hand, do their part to make suffering even deeper.

An awful thought came to me today which, like other things I wrote today, I should not mention to you: imagine that the thing we fear most should happen really soon, so that we shall not see each other anymore. If this should be the case (and it might) I'll give you here my word of honor that I shall do everything in my power and shall neglect no way, legal or illegal, to get us back together again. Again, this is selfish, for I know that under certain circumstances you would be happier without me; nevertheless, that's what I'll have to do.

For the time being, you should still send my letters to me at General Delivery, to Thomas Walter. I hope that tomorrow I find a job and a place to stay.

I wrote to Winton today, and to his folks, thanking them for their hospitality. Also, I felt in the mood of doing a little writing and started on a short story which sort of tells the life of my mother. It's not going to be anything, though; will probably end in the waste paper basket before it is half done.

Good bye, my darling, and good night. I wish that some day I can see you really happy.


Opa is at the bottom of a dark hole, with very little energy to find his way out. The only light he can see is Grandmother, like a faint, swinging lantern above. Dependency on another human was something Opa once scoffed, but he sees that this tethering gives him strength to keep going. 

Opa can't help but think of his mother and countless others who are suffering right now, which only adds to his shame for how he is feeling. He doesn't deny his despair, as much as he'd like to hide it, he can't hide it from Grandmother. 

How I wish he had kept that story of his mother, even if it was just notes in a margin. 

Is this scary to Grandmother? Is she seeing a side of Opa she never thought she would? He has been steady and optimistic throughout continual challenges. I don't know what Grandmother is feeling. I know when my usually steady, optimistic husband feels down or defeated, it's unsettling. He is not perfect, nor do I expect his optimism to be untouchable, but his optimism is a consistency I rely on. I don't notice how much until it wavers. As we've grown, we've learned how to carry each other through when we aren't ourselves.

For Grandmother and Opa, this moment is a true test of their relationship more than outside disapprovals or cultural expectations. Can they shoulder the times when the other person is weak and weary?

For Opa, the art of hope shows up in their small, sweet moments of connection - like a painting by Raphael.

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