Wednesday, September 22, 2021
September 26 (part 2 & 3), 1944: Almost Feminist
Letters from Opa to Grandmother, September 26, 1944.
Sept. 26, 1944
I just am back from calling you and am using a typewriter which I can have here for rent; ten cents for half an hour. That period of time ought to be sufficient even for you. It was so nice to hear you again, and I do hope that we get to see each other Sunday. I shall try to remember including your mother's letter in this; keep it, as well as other letters which I may send you every once in a while. It is very difficult to keep stuff like that here, especially where our bags have to be packed at all times on account of the fact that we are now on shipping orders.
I haven't been doing much since this morning except shrubbing, digging deep into toilet bowls to clean them out, polishing brass, etc. It isn't half as bad as it sounds, though; I finished my job before noon, but knew enough not to let the sergeant know about it, for he would have given me some other job. SO, in the afternoon, I rearranged all my stuff, packed my bag, and reread your letters several times; also, I took quite a while to answer your folks' letter.
So Hubert showed you the letters I wrote to him. I don't remember what I told him about your folks; was it complimentary?
I guess I shall address your letters to Mrs. Thomas W. Doeppner. In principle, I don't like this custom so well; it implies a sense of ownership on the man's part which is in contradiction to modern marriage, but in little details like that, it means no harm to follow the crowd.
Have you heard from Marjorie (Kiefer) yet? Her silence really is strange.
Fortunately, Mac, Fred and I got into the same barrack again. This was sheer accident, for most of the group was split up, and all three of us are on completely different duties.
Can you imagine me having trouble finishing my supper? Tonight, some of our gang had K.P. and were serving in the mess hall, so they really filled up our plates. Double serving and more of everything: hash, tomatoes, spaghetti, tomatoes, beans, salad, spinach, cottage cheese, and pineapple. How's that for a wartime menu?
Honey, if you have a chance to get some sort of a bag for toilet articles, etc, please get it, for I have absolutely no place to put things like that. Get it small enough to fit into our bags, but large enough so there is some room for letters, stationary, etc.
Well, I guess I had better close; it's time to get back to work.
Sept. 26, 1944.
This is the third letter I am writing you today; one this morning, one three hours ago, and this one now. I have some time, though, and want to see you so badly that I resort to the closest facsimile possible: the mail.
Just got out of a show in the War Dept. Theater, called "Till We Meet Again." It was a fairly good show, picturing the escape of an American flier from France. Better than usually in this type of pictures, it gave some of the man's background. He talked about his wife Peggy, and in my mind, to the tune of his thoughts which he expressed to a young nun in France, he was talking about a girl called Margie. The little things he mentioned were like taken out of my heart. Things he remembered and missed: her hair and the way it flung in the wind; picnics; a swim; and, in the morning, to have her awaken next to him, curled up to him; the times she cried in his shoulder and the hours of crisis when she believed in him even though he had given up all belief in himself. He was away, far away; probably much farther and for a longer period of time than our separation will ever be. Honey, it made me realize how lucky we are, in spite of everything, that we know it won't be more than a few months that we can have at least some time together. How lucky I am to have you, like he had his Peggy, to give me strength and something to come back to; something which makes life worthwhile and beautiful, no matter what the odds may be.
Fred, Mac and I went to that show, and afterward I suggested to go up to the Service Club to write to "our wives." After this inspiration, the pen seems to flow freely and there was not much talk between us.
We will be going back to our barracks soon, taps will be sounded, and I shall be lying in my bunk. thinking and dreaming about the best girl in the world: my wife and my friend. Good night, darling; let's have faith. It won't be long, even though many months may go by. There will be a day and a time when we shall look back on these months as a period in which we learned to appreciate our happiness, and in which we were made to deserve it.
Opa pours out his heart to Grandmother. An Army film reminds him of how lucky he is to have someone he loves so dearly. My favorite part is how he addresses her: "my wife and my friend." This is the foundation of their marriage. He has no idea what they will see and do together, but in this moment, in a Service Club in Kansas, he knows that their relationship gives him meaning and purpose.
I have to admit I heard a little refrain from Disney's animated movie, Mulan, in the back of my head while reading that part. Do you know it? "A Girl Worth Fighting For!" The scene juxtaposes the overt masculinity in war-time propaganda and morale boosts, which of course become hilarious when a woman, Mulan, has to pretend she has some girlfriend at home that she's swooning over. It's less hilarious when you think about the fact that she's in danger of death, and protecting her father who would surely have died if he had reported for obligatory military service, being the only male in the family. The movie has within its theme an attempt to push against the assumed patriarchal power and assumptions. But, I would say it doesn't 100% succeed for a number of reasons, even though I still love the movie and have lots of nostalgia for it.
That's a bit like Opa's almost feminism. He sees clearly that addressing Grandmother by his name with a Mrs. in front of it is not quite right, or indicative of their equality in the relationship. However, he consents to tradition and nostalgia, saying that there isn't much harm in following the crowd. I disagree, wholeheartedly. But I guess better to be almost feminist than completely enmeshed in toxic masculinity?
To this day I will hand my husband Jason any letter that is addressed in this traditional way ("Mrs. Jason Snow") and say- "Hey this letter is for you and the Mrs. You." I refuse to open it, it is not addressed to me. I hate this tradition and there is literally zero reason for it to continue. It has no grammatical, logistical, or theoretical benefit. It is simply a function and result of patriarchy.
I'm intrigued by this letter from Grandmother's mother. Opa had to spend lots of time responding to it. Was this their "Hey- I guess you married my daughter, so here are our expectations now" letter? I don't know- we don't have it. I laughed when Opa asked if Hubert's letters from him were complimentary to her parents. Oops. Hope so.
I'm still very impressed by Opa's little secret "toilet duty isn't so bad" knowledge. He scrubs the latrine and has time to write three letters in one day. Wise guy.