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."

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