Monday, August 30, 2021

September 11, 1944: As Soundly as Never


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 11, 1944.


Kansas City
September 11, 1944.


For some reason, I am rather sleepy today. I give you three guesses why.

Winton and I had a perfect weekend. He got here at eleven Saturday night, we met at the Piccadilly Room. There was only one hour left till closing time of the bars, so we couldn't even get drunk; even if we had wanted to. We went to Town Royale for a while, then had coffee (!) and cake at the Muehlebach, and then went home. We talked till three o'clock in the morning but then, in spite of the presence of an army of mosquitoes, went to sleep. You know what time we had breakfast. After a vain attempt at boating, (boats are shelved till next May) we strolled through the zoo, dined at the Plaza. Next Saturday or Sunday I'm going to take you there; it is a swell section of the city with beautiful apartment houses. In the afternoon, instead of going to bookstore as intended, rain kept us inside, so I showed Winton how to play poker. He is a good student, as you know. At night we ate at the Continental Coffee Shop, pretty good but just as expensive as ever. It was worth it, though. At about 10, Winton left again. I went right back home and slept as soundly as never.

I hope the doctor got you fixed up now. Isn't that going to cost you a fortune? Operation and everything?

It was nice that Marjorie was there that day. I know now why you wanted her to go to the Waves so badly: it was just so you could have her clothes. If that doesn't beat anything; and here I thought you were such a patriotic girl. Shame on you!

I imagine Dorothea and Miss Miller were very much pleased when Skunkie showed up again. I'll get him that harness, rope, etc. as soon as you send me his size. As far as I know, he can stay in any K.C. apartment, if we get one in the first place. It may be a little difficult to find one, but that's the least of our worries. If we know we'll have time and money to use one it will be fun to even spend weeks looking for it. 

Well, I guess I'll go to the library for a while, and then to bed. It feels good to be sleepy again. I'm counting the days till weekend. When are you coming; Saturday or Sunday?

Your would-be hubbie,


Opa must have struggled with some bouts of insomnia due to all the stress he had. He got to have a long weekend with a good friend, filled with staying up almost all night talking. But finally he was sleepy.

I love this intimate insight into a male friendship. Often in movies and other fictional (or even real) depictions of friendship between men, you don't see this kind of "stay up til 3am talking" storyline. It's "got drunk and passed out playing poker." We should know that the talking is happening, but I swear we only think it's possible if they are drunk or playing a game. Sounds like Opa and Winton were neither. (Not that there's anything inherently wrong with a game and drinks.) I wish there were more "bro-scenes" like this. 

I'm wondering why Opa has an army of mosquitos inside his home. Maybe that's why he's had trouble sleeping. 

Opa's mention about Grandmother's operation costing a fortune, I about spat out "you think that THEN!" I have good health insurance and I just had two MRIs (at basically the same time) and I now am on a payment plan to pay for them. AFTER insurance I owed around $1200. It's frustrating. 

It sounds like everything worked out OK with Grandmother's surgery, especially since she should be well enough to travel to see Opa the next weekend. 

Opa better catch up on his sleep while he can sleep "as soundly as never." 

Friday, August 27, 2021

September 10, 1944: Rummy Dummy!


Letter from Opa to Grandmother (and from Winton), September 10, 1944.


Kansas City
September 10 1944


This has been a nice day with Winton and your phone call this morning added a great deal to it. I'll write to you more in detail tomorrow when I'll be more at leisure. I am glad that your operation turned out all right, for I had been worrying about it.

Your and Eilleen's letters came today; as you see, there is Sunday delivery for me. I was so glad to get them. Eilleen's letter is enclosed, for I thought you would enjoy reading it. You should have opened it in the first place. Remember you may open all of my letters.

It is raining now, and I wished you and I were sitting by the fire, reading Faust or playing romme (or poker?). I guess we'll just have to get married soon, no matter what's going to happen.

I'll be looking forward to next weekend, there'll be so many things to talk about and think about.

Yesterday, I went to a book sale and bought two books: a novel for 25 cents, and an engineer's handbook, brand new, for 3.75 (original price 5 bucks.) I needed the handbook anyway, so I decided to take advantage of the sale.

Winton and I went out to Swope Park in order to get a boat, but the boat house is closed for the winter, so, after getting acquainted with the monkeys in the zoo, we took a stroll over the Plaza, ate there and went back home. Plans for tonight aren't definite yet, but we'll find some enjoyable way to spend it, I am sure.

What have you been doing today? I hope you got some of your well-deserved rest. Goodbye till tomorrow, when I'll write again.


Dear Margie,

Tom and I have spent a quiet but very pleasant day together so far. It was a disappointment, however, that you could not be here to share our enjoyment. The army makes seeking pleasure very difficult and planning for it in advance almost impossible. There will be a time, I hope, when that is no longer true. Tom said that you had read and liked my poem for which I am very glad. We shall spend time in the book store, eat dinner together, then very soon I shall have to leave. Sunday I hope we can all be in Kansas City together. In the meantime do take good care of Skunky.


Opa must feel relieved in many ways. Grandmother's operation went well, he got to hear from her, and he's enjoying the company of a great friend. I bet that went a long way in light of his tenuous situation, while he watches for what immigration will do. 

I love how nerdy he is, and my Grandmother. I didn't fall far from that tree. Romme is "Rummy" the card game that I played a lot growing up, with both sets of grandparents actually. Opa and Grandmother played the Gin Rummy version more. My maternal grandmother and I had a long-running rummy game, and I can still hear her voice in my head when I accidentally discarded a card that could be played: "Rummy Dummy!" Ha. You have to believe me when I say that she didn't hurt my feelings when she said that, it was like a rule that you had to say it. I delighted calling "rummy dummy" on her. 

I appreciate that Opa gives Grandmother open season on any letters that come in for him. She is managing his mail while he is in transition. I think they purposely did not leave a forwarding address beyond Grandmother to make it just a little more difficult for the FBI/IRS/or whoever might not like Opa, to find him. So Opa is saying to Grandmother that she can open any letter he gets before forwarding it to him. That's total trust! Also, knowing my Grandmother, she did not open a single letter. I feel like she would consider it rude even with permission.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

September 9, 1944: Writing so Freely


Letter from Opa to Grandmother September 9, 1944.


Kansas City
September 9, 1944


Just a brief note to let you know how much I am thinking about you right now. It is too bad you have to be operated on, but the anticipation of some such complication was one of the reasons we went to the doctor. I am certainly glad you did go; a neglect of it might have been just too bad. I only hope now that the operation won't cause you to suffer and that everything will work out okay. I'll try to be an understanding husband anyhow, and no matter how things should turn out, remember that sex life will be only one of a great many of parts in our married life.

I had always suspected that something was not quite right, because you were so very sensitive, and I am only too grateful that you are being taken care of under competent hands. Thanks for writing so freely about it, darling. I guess there is no subject we hesitate to talk about, is there?

If and when you get up, get a tape and measure around the neck of your skunk hound, holding the tape as tight as you would like the leash to have. It seems as though this information is needed for Skunkie's tuxedo. Due to priority difficulties, the cage with iron bars will have to wait for Skunkie's grandchildren.

Tonight Winton is coming, and I am really looking forward to seeing him. It would be so much fun if you could be here too, but I know that you can't. You should get some rest this Sunday anyhow because you'll probably be tired and won't be feeling so good. I only hope that you won't have any pains now. Did they give you local or total anaesthetics? 

In the office, I am working now on something else. We are making a report on electric utility rates for the town of Shelbina. They have different rates for different kinds of electric power, and we are supposed to design a rate which, when generally charged, will yield the same total income but yet not hurt any ion the major customers too much. The work is directed by an M.I.T. graduate in electrical engineering, a swell guy. I am doing only the most unimportant, routine, mechanical parts of the job, but at least it's something in my file, and I am learning plenty.

I would like to sit by your bed now, hold your hands or pet your face, but as it is, I'll just cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Lots of love,


In sickness and in health. Opa is doing well in his practice for his future vows. This is a personal letter and a personal topic, but I think it's worth sharing. 

It shows me that Grandmother and Opa were able to talk about things that were considered taboo. Their relationship was intimate, caring, and respectful. I wonder if Grandmother had fibroids or something. If she needed surgery it was more than just discomfort. 

I actually googled common obstetric disorders that caused discomfort and google wasn't super helpful. Almost everything that pulled up at first was about pregnancy- which is pretty typical of women's healthcare. If it doesn't happen during pregnancy, we don't really care. When I finally got narrowed down enough that I had some usable information, one article mentioned that it was hard to know how many women suffered from some of these disorders because they were embarrassed to mention it. It occurred to me how ridiculous that is. We are embarrassed, but why should we be?! It's frustrating that we are still struggling to write or speak freely about the female body in ways that affirms, cares, and respects. 

I'm so glad Grandmother had Opa and felt comfortable with him. If you knew their personalities, you would know that this vulnerability was not intuitive for either of them. The fact that they found this with each other is special. I am surprised to learn  how many women cannot be so free and vulnerable with their spouses. 

If you can't talk about your vulva, you might want to keep looking. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

September 8, 1944: Nothing but a Smile

Letter from Opa to Grandmother September 8, 1944.


Kansas City
September 8, 1944


Skunkie's return needs a celebration. When are we going to have it? Honestly, I had given up hope that you will ever see that beast again. I guess I had better get you a steel rope for him, and a cage with iron bars (not as a prison, but for "protective custody.") Anyhow, it gave you a good chance to visit one of those PT houses, and don't tell me you didn't like it. 

The letter from the Red Cross was nothing but some inquiry blanks I had ordered. That was quite a disappointment, for I had hoped it was some good news.

Your mother's letter was what we had expected, wasn't it? The trouble with waiting until the matter has cleared up is that it may never clear up. Anyhow, we weren't planning on getting married now unless I got called, in which case the matter would be fairly clear. What should happen if I won't be called is another matter which we don't have to decide right now. Probably, your mother is right: in that case we should wait at least until I can forecast my personal future for at least half a year or so. Well, we'll talk that over. I send your mother's letter back, since you probably want to keep it. How about Keifer's letter; you want that back, too?

Surprise: last night, at about eleven o'clock while I was just dreaming about something awfully sweet (what?) someone knocked at the door. I got scared, but opened it: just a telegram from Winton, announcing that he will be here Saturday night. I was mighty glad; it will be good to see him again, also to hear what he may have to suggest in our little troubles. I don't know whether Winton can stay here over Sunday; I surely hope so.

I wished I knew a soul in Kansas City with whom I could talk freely. Right now, I am just waiting for the weekends to see you, but I rather have it this way than lots of company and no Margie at all.

I don't know what's going to happen, but lots of little mysterious things are going on which make me nervous. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I'm nervous anyhow. Well, five years from now we'll probably have nothing but a smile for these days.

My work is still lots of fun. This afternoon, I ran out of things to do and just read, for my assignment won't be ready till tomorrow morning. 

I still don't know if you are coming this weekend, but will probably hear in tomorrow's mail. How was the doctor? Did he behave himself? He better!!

Lots of love,

So many hidden gems in this letter, and a reminder of why it's helpful to read all these letters through in sequence. I can follow the line of thought and understand the references almost like I'm a part of the conversation. Of course I'm missing Grandmother's side (man I wish we had those), but I can follow along like anyone eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation. (Yeah, I know I'm eavesdropping.)

Skunkie the dog has been missing for a while now and he has miraculously returned. I'm with Opa, I was pretty sure that dog was gone. We have a local neighborhood group online where a family continues to post about their missing dog. It's been a very long time since the dog went missing, and every now and then the family will update with "sightings" to the point where I'm wondering if this dog is actually Bigfoot. I'll be just as surprised if they find their dog as Opa was for Skunkie's return. 

Opa mentioned getting a Red Cross letter hoping for good news, but then learned it was just inquiry blanks. The Red Cross was the only source of communication for people on opposite sides of the war. Opa and his mother, Ella, communicated through Red Cross postcards until the war made even that impossible. Opa does not know that his mother has been taken to a concentration camp. He hoped this letter would reveal some good news: word from his mother, or maybe his sister, Patti. Instead it was the inquiry blanks he requested. 

People would fill those out with the names of people they wanted the Red Cross to find or get information on. It was like a search engine for missing people. At this point in the war, there were literally millions of missing people. The Red Cross did not have access to the information they needed to find most of them, but they were able to sometimes get information of their deportation or otherwise. 

These inquiries continued well after the war, as folks were trying to find their loved ones after they had been separated (at camps or fleeing in different directions). So many inquiries were returned with only deportation dates and no known data after that. There was no internet search, no social media, this was the main venue of finding out what happened to your family and friends. In fact, now with the internet and other newly digitized archives, some families are finally gaining access to records or confirmation of what they had only ever been able to assume happened to their loved ones. It doesn't sound sexy to support the digitizing of archives- but this is how some people finally have access to the information that can give some closure.

OK- that was my little history lesson. Now we move on to Opa talking about Grandmother's mother's letter. (I know, that sounded weird.) It appears they tried to get some parental approval or advice around their upcoming marriage. Opa isn't surprised that the answer is: wait til you get your crap together. (I'm paraphrasing.) Opa even concedes that it isn't bad advice, they should at least know what his next 6 months will be. 

Opa mentions "getting called" which is in reference to the military. He registered for the military as a last ditch effort towards citizenship. His dilemma with the peeping tom case makes him less likely (he might have assumed not possible) to get citizenship the regular way. The only way for him to follow his dreams and work and live in the US as a citizen was to join the military, or find some other way that was sure to be long and tenuous. 

The longer Opa has to wait for his next steps, the more nervous he becomes. Every knock on the door, every unfamiliar person asking questions, all of it makes him worry that the FBI is showing up again, maybe to take him into "protective custody." He doesn't know what's going to happen, and he doesn't have a definitive next step.

Opa, the optimist, predicts that in five years he and Grandmother will have "nothing but a smile for these days."

Friday, August 20, 2021

September 7, 1944: Happy When?

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 7, 1944.


Kansas City
September 7, 1944


So you still haven't found Skunkie? It certainly is a shame. He may turn up someday all by himself, but it is rather doubtful.

While I was gone last night, some H. Miller called me, but left no message. I was a little worried, for I don't have the slightest idea who it is. Who knows my address here?

Kiefer's letter is typical, just like a 16-year old girl's. Naturally, the best for her is to go into the forces and find out the hard way. Who knows? She may even like it. If she does get a commission, so much the better. Yes, I would advise her to do it. (You probably have done so already.) Thanks for sending her letter. Also, for sending the bill of the Life Insurance Co. I'll wait a little with paying until I know what to give for a permanent address.

You should see the show "Seventh Cross." It's a picture of the German Underground, and good. It shows the trouble a guy has escaping from concentration camp and making his way through Germany, to Holland. I wished we could have seen it together.

Honey, your mentioning of the apartment you have seen brings tears in my eyes. It seems as though we are as far from settling down now as ever, unless a miracle happens. I do believe in that kind of miracle, though; I must, to keep going!

I suppose you are at the doctor's now. I hope he won't hurt you and that it won't be embarrassing for you. The presence of the nurse will probably help.

Guess I'll go to the library tonight and do some reading. I wished you were here and we could go together. Remember the nights at Manhattan? I came over at 6:45, we walked to the library, studied, joked, bothered each other studied again for a while, and then went to Dad's for coffee. Just a minute or two before ten, we left in order to please Sophie. Goodness, weren't those careless and happy those days? I know we are going to be happy again; but when? And what's going to happen in the meantime?

Good bye Margie; when do I see you again?

Always yours,


Opa's reference to the movie about the man who escaped a concentration camp and traveled across Germany into Holland makes me ask again if he ever did escape from a camp. He seems to want to share these specific details (everything else is similar to his story) with Grandmother. A question I'll likely never know the answer to.

It sounds like Grandmother is at the gynecologist, and by the way Opa is talking, she's nervous about it. I hope everything goes OK.

Opa is reflecting on easier, blissful times, studying at the college library with Grandmother. 

I remember studying with my sister in college. We would go to the local Books a Million; we affectionately yelled "BAM!" when referring to it. Very little studying was ever done. I don't know what we talked about, but I know that it was lovely to have those  sister dates, to feel connected and to have the freedom to meet up at any time. We haven't lived in the same town since leaving college, and our relationship has seen its ups and downs, but the foundation of time together on our own has been one I am always grateful for. Now my sisters and I have weekly zoom sister dates, memories and moments that make these challenging times feel so much easier.

I'm realizing that when we reflect back on "good ol days," most of the time what we're really remembering is not the absence of responsibility or challenge but the unencumbered access to life-giving relationships. (Fewer challenges help, sure.) Most of the time we're thinking about a time when we felt connected to a community, connected to a person, connected. 

Opa is talking about better days, but really he's just remembering the bliss of being with his love. 

To that he says: "I know we are going to be happy again; but when? And what's going to happen in the meantime?"

I think that question sums up the worry and anxiety of anyone in those in-between times. Opa's optimism that they would be happy again is what kept him going. 

You can borrow his optimism if you need it. I know I do many days.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

September 6, 1944: Humble Focus


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 6, 1944.


Kansas City,
September 6, 1944


No letter today; you probably returned to your old mail box again and I'll get the letter tomorrow. Today is my sister's birthday; I can hardly believe that she is already 26 years old. She was eighteen when I saw her last. There are good chances though, that I may see her or at least be able to write to her by the time of her next birthday.

Work was fun today; I had to work out some functional charts which (in my estimation at least) were rather complicated. Probably routine work for the rest of them.

I am wondering about Skunkie. Suppose he has taken out for Kansas City to see me? Does he know my address? No kidding, though, I do hope you got him back. Do you think we should take him along on our honeymoon?

Today, I got my first paycheck; for a day and a half: $10.56. The girl who gave it to me said "This is just a sample; we'll do better next week." Getting payed every week definitely has its advantages, especially in my case, where I don't know how long I'll be working here.

One of the girls in the office is going to Kansas State this year. She asked me for a rooming house for girls, and I gave her Mrs. Polson's address. Think Sophie will appreciate it? The girl looks pretty wild; maybe, after a month of two, Sophie will pray to have some girl like you back.

Tonight, I'm going to see "Seventh Cross" with Spencer Tracy. Tell me if you are coming this weekend. If you are, I'll wait with seeing "Wilson" for you. It starts Friday.

Well, there's none of your letters to be answered, and there is no news today. (The fact that I am very lonesome for you is no longer news, is it?)


I love to see the hint of humility in Opa in this letter. He talks about doing some complex work that was challenging, but likely routine for others. He had pride in working on it, but humility that he wasn't the smartest guy on the block. 

That humility is not really a part of my family tradition, for better or worse. I want to pretend we don't all suffer from a case of superiority, but it's true. Well, not for my whole family, but let me just say that the Doeppner gene is strong on the confidence. It's done us well many times, but I have definitely had moments of humility that threw me back hard. I'm amazing at being humble now, though, so don't worry. (Lame joke - I couldn't help it.)

When Opa wrote that he hadn't seen his sister since she was 18, I remembered that she had left Germany about a year before he had, for college in Paris. So it has been eight years since he saw her last. Opa is hoping for a reunion by her next birthday. Or at least to be able to write her. I think he assumes she is OK. Does he wonder? Or does he just assume the best until he knows otherwise? 

Opa seemed good at not worrying, or at least not showing his worry. This is a good trait to have in this time. Opa had specific goals to help him focus on the things he could manage: school, job, staying in the US. When he lost his job and was threatened with deportation, I can see why he really got depressed. He hadn't just lost what he was working for, he lost a focus, his distraction. Once he could not control his steady progress toward citizenship and life with Grandmother, everything spiraled. Everything that was hard and frustrating and out of his control - it all resurfaced. He was helpless without anything to pour his energy into. 

That's why this challenging task at work was so life giving. It kept the heavy burden of the unknown and uncontrollable out of his mind.