What is "the Hiatt Project"?

I began work on the project in the fall of 2009, when I went out west on sabbatical. I had already talked to my cousin Bette about collecting letters and journals of her father, Robert W. Hiatt, in order to write a biography of him. I took home 5 bins and began organizing by decade. Then I found a box of letters to and from my mother that I didn't know existed, under my son's bed where I stored her things after she died in 2001. Since I'm working chronologically, the bulk of what I've transcribed is to/from Betty. That is changing as I move forward through the years.

At time of posting this blog, I've transcribed letters from 1938-1944 (and one from LR to his 2-year-old daughter, when he was in Siberia, in 1921). Isabel has died. LR has remarried Oije Koltenbacher. Bob has married Lois Buvik and joined the army, and Bobbie Jr. is born. Betty and Bob have both graduated--she from Eastman School of Music, he from Optometry School in Chicago. Life looks good, and family tragedy has pulled them closer.

As someone experienced with family tragedy, having lost my youngest son in the fall of 2009, a mere month after I returned to Kentucky, I have discovered a new urgency in understanding who my family is, and "why." I may talk more about this, as it relates (perhaps more to the point is if and when death and loss will no longer "relate" to everything I do). --Jane Olmsted

Friday, April 15, 2011

April is Poetry Month

In honor of poetry month, here is one of Mom's poems and some comments along poetic lines, and one of Casey's...

From April 9, 1945, Easter-time:

Two Easter services were well attended this morning. A brass quartet and typani from the symphony played the prelude Unfold Ye Portals and Thanks Be to God—as well as accompanying the choir in the Christ the Passover, Worthy Is the Lamb that Was Slain from the Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus. The second service was quite inspiring. Two girls who were more or less bachelors for the day found Wilma and me for ham-sweet potato-gingerbread.

Easter Harbinger

The twilight was gray, was rainy
When from the gloomy cold
A throbbing, poignant songster
Sent out his call—clear, bold.

It was the night before Easter,
When men’s thoughts lowly fall
That a glimpse of the morning gladness
Was given by this redbreast’s call.

His song was hopeful, ecstatic:
Out of that desolate day
He breathed a fresh spirit of life,
And streamed through the gloom, God’s ray.

So in this world of terror
When kindness and virtue seem rare
The glory of Christ’s resurrection
Embroiders with gold our despair.

This came to me in one of those moments this afternoon as I remembered a Saturday night’s impressions. I’m very happy—now that income tax, tuition, and insurance are paid, I can begin to get into stride again. Much love, Betty

And in another, October 1946, she notes, on the impact of an autumn day on her spirit:

"What thrilled me most was the vivid magic of Minnesota’s autumn. Honestly, the almost heart-breaking warmth of the leaf colors—Chinese reds, flaming orange, gold yellow, deep green, mulberry—seemed to cry out against the gray overcast sky. The amazing part about it was the seeming completeness of each vivid view—all the colors blended, not just one or two. It was truly glorious. I felt somewhat responsible for the quiet tenor of the day—since it had been my idea—but the other...s didn’t seem to mind too much, at least they said they enjoyed themselves. It’s hard to describe the life and warmth which that glowing landscape burned on my spirit. If I were only a poet."

As Heather noted, when I posted this passage on Facebook, "poet and didn't know it."

And, because I am missing Casey, himself a poet--especially in the form of rap songs--here is one of his. I transcribed it from where he'd written it: on a wadded up napkin, which we found in the our car after we got it back from Impoundment, about 3 weeks after he was killed (I don't know why I have such a hard time with the "m" word (murder) but I do. I can't bear to say that's what was done to him, though it was done to him, and to us).

Metamorphosis
Casey Olmsted

I went from a crackpipe to Bible study.
One gave me life while the other took it from me.
My real friends stayed with me through it all.
The fake ones peeled away like old paint on a wall.
I first got blinded by mary jane.
When I was twelve years old it helped me hide the pain.
The drugs got worse down the road.
Frantic and desperate were the only mode
that I lived in if I didn’t have any.
THE WHOLE WORLD HAD IT IN FOR ME.
Too busy with my head up my own ass
that I slept, cheated my way through class,
didn’t think about God and failed to realize
that taking the easy way out was feeding into lies.
Like a politician you could tell I was lying when my mouth moved.
Stabbing loved ones in the back to get me what I wanted prove
that I’m in need of serious help and a new lifestyle.
So now I turn my back to love and give into something worthwhile.
Jesus, help me in everything I do
so I can be less like me and more like you.
I’m a caterpillar, turn me into a butterfly.
This is what I ask of you, let me live ‘cause I don’t want to die.

Chorus
And when I said this the chains broke.
Now I’m free and I don’t have to smoke
like I used to when I used to use,
and all the things you gave me that I abused.
Restore them back to the way they were before,
before I messed up, give me one chance to even the score
so I can be at a level of ease
and give what you gave to me to people with the disease.

First things first if you’re an addict.
Admit your problem and get back at it.
Swallow your pride and ask for help till the time
when things get stressful, you don’t have to smoke to unwind.
Just say your favorite prayer or take a walk.
We all know I hit one line or whatever and we’ll ball up and won’t talk.
Don’t let things get bad like it once was.
You’ll end up in hell in this lifetime because
Before you know it you’ll do things you swore you wouldn’t do again.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Clean, Clean, Clean

One thing is clear from reading Lois’s letter: she worked extremely hard, may have been a fanatic about cleanliness—or it may be the changing standards of cleanliness between then and now, but the references in her letters to scrubbing, washing, and ironing are frequent. Between January 1 and May 11, where I am right now in transcribing, she uses these words with this frequency:

Scrub, 9
Iron, 16
Wash, 59
Clean, 33

Here are two typical examples, often accompanied by comments, as in these, about exhaustion:

4/16/45
My dearest Bob: Little Butch must have some sleep before we go downtown and that’s what he’s getting at the moment. I’m too tired to sleep. Washed again today – never was there a more windy day in N. Dak’s history. Not too big a wash – still plenty for 2 – Have them in, folded, sprinkled, floor scrubbed and house cleaned a bit. Thought I’d write now if I planned to see a movie tonight.

4/23/45

I’m really a mess tonight. Have a terrific headache and that bed is going to feel good. Came home from Mom’s early last night intending to sort clothes and get in bed early. At 8:30 Dorothy came and didn’t leave until midnight or after. I was too tired to look at the clock. Up at 5:30 and through washing at 11:30. Scrubbed the kitchen and cleaned up a bit. The clothes lines are in such an ideal spot the wind dries the wash in record time. Had everything in by 2:30 then went over home. We walked downtown for lunch. Saw Uncle Harry – says “Hi to Bob.” Phil Patterson asked about you, “How’s Bobbie?” eeeck!

And this fascinating account of visiting an acquaintance’s home and finding it filthy and the children unwashed, which leads her into a testimony about her thoughts on child rearing.

April 4, 1945:
I’ve got our baby asleep and a messy house. But I wanted to see Park before I began to look disgraceful. She came home Monday and I just got around to calling this p.m. Dressed Bobbie around 2 o’clock and dashed otherwise I’d have fooled around and never made it. Clothes strewn all over but it won’t take long to pick them up. Especially now that Butch is away for an hour or so. He slept in the buggy over at Grandma’s but was too cramped, I think, because he didn’t rest well at all. Gee, has he out grown it in a hurry. I’d fit in there almost as well – (well not quite) – He sobbed nearly all the time we were in the show and how glad he was to see me. He’s so precious and by being with him constantly I can keep him that way. He’s my everything when you are away. Keeps me busy, company and provides all the entertainment I care for. I’m getting to be a regular old stick. I hate to go out. Our walks and moments for play etc are all I care about. I’m so thankful to you for him and proud (?) golly, there just isn’t to be had a more proud mother. The night before we moved I had Bobbie out walking. Stopped in to see Betty Leppart and honey the sight was shocking – Dirty!! Filthy!! Messy!! She put those 3 innocent babies to bed in the worst looking rags – P.J’s – they looked worse than my scrub rag! Never as much as washed their faces. She’s so busy walking the streets and living in the cocktail lounges she hasn’t time for her children. I thank God that I haven’t that “disease” namely interests other than my home and our baby. Gee, think of how spick and span Bobbie goes to bed, never without a bath, clean underwear and PJs – I felt so sorry for her kids I just bade a hurried goodbye and god out. What a sinful crime to raise children under such conditions. But our efforts put forth now on Bobbie will pay dividends, I know.

You have to admire her work ethic. You see a number of topics weave into this passage, in addition to the emphasis on cleanliness. For instance, the “street walking” of some of the women while their men are away in war comes up fairly often. Lois is just as happy to stay home, which shows up here as well. She frequently thanks Bob for Bobbie, as in “Oh, gee, again may I thank you for such a superb child? xxx"

Reflection

How many times have I used the following words in the last 5 months:

Scrub, 1
Iron, 1
Wash, 10
Clean, 8

This is not including when we get the two girls going with the little song, “Clean up, clean up, everybody does their share. Clean up clean up, pick up all the little toys.” I am pretty sure that Lois would be disappointed in her niece’s dust bunnies (for starters). Sigh……

The Story of a Stroller and a Name for “Sharon”

With my cousin Bette’s birthday coming up next Tuesday, I thought I’d share that at least for a time, Lois at least and perhaps both she and Bob had a different name in mind. Though I wonder if it was Bob’s doing to name her Bette, in recognition of his sister Betty. Perhaps the letters will tell. Here are a couple of references. The first is from a long paragraph in which Lois tells Bob about her “P.G.” scare:

April 2, 1945: By the way, your asking about the pregnancy condition brings out a confession: Ever since “it” began when I was 12 or 13 I could figure each month out to the day, practically the hour. For the 1st time (since the beginning) in January (after the 8 day leave in Dec.) “it” came a week early; in February to the day but in March four days over. I felt bloated and even imagined I felt life so without mentioning it to anyone, not even Mom, I consulted my appendectomy doctor, Dunn, in Mpls. Underwent a physical. As near as he could determine I wasn’t p.g. but the irregularity could be blamed on the fact that I wasn’t as strong as I should be and carrying and caring for a 28 lb boy was too much of a strain. He like you advised lots of rest and suggested I make Bobbie walk as much as possible and that I pick him up as little as possible and that I take my time with work, suggested a vitamin builder and full diet of vegetables, etc. Again yesterday “it” happened four days early but despite the earliness I’m quite sure we’ll have only 1 until the War is won and you come home. Then “Sharon I. Hiatt” can come. Relieved? Me too.

The second is in reference to the new stroller Lois has had to purchase, since the old one has fallen apart:

April 20, 1945: Also had to make another investment today. $6.25 for a new stroller. They (Penney’s) had one durable, sturdy deal in and I grabbed it. Each time I took Bobbie out in the one I have now something would drop off, an additional squeak, handle would come off and the wheels were ending every which way. He’s too heavy for it now and being out here I have to have something in which to transport him for airings. Plan to polish up the old one and get 3 or 4 dollars for it. The new one I put $1.50 on to have it placed on lay by until the 1st. Always something but strollers are good sellers, and if we don’t save this new deal for “Sharon” I’ll be able to resell it for what I paid.

The story she tells about losing a wheel is pretty funny.

April 27, 1945: Yesterday Park and I wheeled the “boys” downtown. Lovely day for a change. About 3 blocks from home (234) the 4th wheel on Butch’s stroller decided to go elsewhere and we finished rolling home on 3 wheels. What a sight: In the middle of the road, Park with Jerry’s buggy, trying to hold Bobbie up while I chased the 4th wheel. Course, we’re just crazy enough to get a bang out of sech [that’s how she always pronounces “such”]. However, we borrowed another five from Grandma ($15 – now) and got the new stroller out of hock. It’s really a peach and Bobbie loves it. I’d like to promise you a picture of it soon but my camera is broken and I haven’t been successful in locating a 120 deal yet.

Update on Project

Maggie (the Wood Grad Assistant who’s helping with the letters) and I are closing in on 1945, though there’s still a 4” stack of letters from Betty to her dad and Bob. I’ve asked another student if she’s interested in moonlighting to help us get through some of the letters. 1944-1947 are the largest year, but I’d love to get through the 1950s by the time my Wood Professorship runs out, June 30. The funds are there till then, so now’s the time.

Still no missing letters from Bob except the fantastic but small collection I've got from April – July 1945. The letters are good on their own, but his would complete the “conversation.” By the way, 1944 is about 260 pages, single-spaced!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eavesdropper on Love

What am I thinking about today? A number of things, and this blog is one I’m trying to urge to the surface—let those other images and words, phrases, ideas drop back. My graduate assistant Maggie and I have finished 1944 (about 260 pages—the longest year so far) and are in the midst of 1945. Next year is another significant year—these war years when Bob is away form a huge bulge in the collection.

I guess what I’m struck with as I look at what I’ve been reading since about 3 weeks ago is the powerful love that Lois and Bob had in the beginning. They were so confident in each other. Their letters account their daily lives in intimate detail and not a single one is without affirmation of their undying longing for and appreciation of the other.

So here are some examples.

July 13, 1944

Lois to Bob: "To rest my uneasy soul I baked a batch of salted peanut drop cookies this afternoon. Wish I could send you some but it wouldn’t be wise not knowing. However, Moms baking some more tomorrow so if you think you’ll be there indefinitely we’ll fix up a box. Do you want some?

I said the baking was to rest my uneasy soul. By that I mean trying to get you, the furlough and wonderful pipe dreams out of my mind. Since I gulped down the “the possibility” of do your coming home soon that’s all I’ve been able to think about. My own fault I know because you certainly stress the point of such information being merely hearsay. But, like you, I’m so darned anxious to sleep on your arm and cuddle up close it’s hard not to be optimisticxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx"

January 17, 1945, after a long-overdue visit together in Tacoma, Washington:

Lois to Bob: "I’m much happier now that I’ve been with you again. It’s difficult being alone but our recent 2nd honeymoon has given me that “certain something” necessary to keep me going. Never go by our picture on the dresser without glancing at it and feeling assured."

Feb 10, 1945

Lois to Bob: "My dearest Bob: Gee, honey, we’ve been married 20 months (right?) today. Doesn’t seem that long and yet it does. So much has happened to us in almost 2 years – hope the rest of our lives won’t be so exciting and over-jammed with events or we won’t be able to stand the pace and live to that “ripe old age” we want to see together. So many nice things have happened to offset our troubles, tho’ and we have been fortunate in many ways."

Probably early March, 1945 (it was great to find these--the only letters to emerge (so far) from Bob back home. All the others are from family to him.)

Bob to Lois: "It was so good to hear your voice again Sunday morning. You do something to me. You always have, darn ya. xxxxx Remember how I’d tell you how “I just can’t get enough of you”? It hasn’t changed a bit, and I don’t think it ever will. No other girl ever approached the extent which you draw my admiration, and we can safely expect that no other ever will. Perhaps it’s because I have you and Bobbie that I’m the happiest man in the outfit."

May 5, 1945


"Now Monday, dear family, and yours truly having completed his third 2-hr siege of censoring mail he’s now in the mood for writing to him and her who mean so much to him. Methinks that wise old Nick is the author of ensuing verses. It’s so hard to get a confession out of him, though. He advised me against sending it to you. I couldn’t understand and had quite a time pumping him for such consul. Says he, “Women are funny about such things. They read into it.” I judged that he supposed misinterpretation and suspicion would seep into your thinking as you read or reread the lines. As much as I respect his judgment, I had to assure him that such advice to the average married couple was excellent, but that my Lois and I needn’t fear any challenge of, or suspicion toward the faith that so tautly binds us. At any rate I hope to know the lines by heart in case any unforeseen or unsuspected temptations should ever chance to face me while we’re physically separated by thousands of miles of sea and land. I can rest rightly assured that memory of this poem along with my (our) wedding ring will be symbolic of an infallible defense against any of man’s normal temptations which might tend to lead me astray.

Two loves have I that haunt me,
And I must choose between.
One of them is the new love,
That laughs with eyes of green;
And one of them is the old love,
In placid pools of blue;
And one of them is emerald danger,
And one is strong and true.

Now if I take the new love,
I know that I shall go
Upon a path of splendor
An ecstacy and woe,
Girded by flame and laughter.
Winding through veils of fear.
Losing itself in questions
Beside a gulf of tears.

But if I keep the old love,
I know that I shall be
Forever bathed in beauty
And clothed in sanity.
And I shall have the gladness
Of arms that hold and hold,
And truth and peace and candor
And tenderness untold.

So I shall keep the old love,
The love of peace and rest;
And that will be the true love,
And that will be the best.
Yet I dare say in the darkness
Will sometimes come again
The echo of lost laughter
And temporary pain.

I copied it from Nick’s recitation, so the punctuation is my own. I trust it doesn’t hinder the flow of thoughts. The last two verses are a positive expression in rhyme of our life—as it has been, as it is and as it always will be. It’s so comforting to know I have so much. I feel so sorry for some of our young (they’re anywhere from 3 to 13 years older than I, in calendar years only) nurses and doctors whose little “love spats” are already in the offing. You could almost call them the Betty Johnson Leppart type. One could almost describe it as disgustingly amusing. Were it not for a few he-man doctors in the unit, my personal respect for MC’s (Med Corps officers = MDs in civ life) would be rather low. They’ve probably never had to “rough it” or “go without” much. Timidity and conceit perhaps have gained a stronghold during college days and affected probably find it difficult or embarrassing to try to rectify the resultant complex. (Old psyco-analyst Hiatt lecturing now, eh? Enough of that.)"

May 28, 1945

Bob to Lois: "Nights are cool and sunrises and sunsets as well as moonrises are just something out of this world Honey, I’ll bring you here sometime if only for your opportunity to witness those magnificent sights. They’re, yes, almost of unimaginable grandeur. They give me a most peaceful state of mind and send my thoughts thousands of miles east and north. I feel even closer to you now, Lois, than I did in the States. Te amo so……Y’know, when I think of how stable our family relation is, it makes time and separation so much easier to bear. Security is the most important factor in the success and happiness of any venture. No other family’s security is greater than ours, darling."

June 17, 1945


Bob to Lois: "The pictures of Bobert, alone and with Cheryl, are very sweet. They’re tacked at the bottom of my two special portraits on the inner side of the foot locker lid—like so [drawing]. Proudly so I display them. Everyone stops to scrutinize and everyone’s an admirer. I get my share of “How in the hell do you rate a girl like that,” “You must’ve hog-tied her” and “I’ll be damned if I can imagine what she sees in you.” And I agree wholeheartedly, stating that you were born on Friday the 13th. The two frames in the figure are those of the Bobbie-2-mos-old portrait, one encasing our December family pic, the other the original. Many a gaze and thought are directed to them during the day."

Reflection:

Isn't that poem something? Hand copied to make a point. Do I feel like an eavesdropper? Not so much. I wonder what Bob would think, sometimes, about these old love letters being open and pried into, but they're so beautiful that it's hard to imagine that he'd mind. Except that they're private. I don't think either one ever thought of anyone's reading them but the one to whom they were written.

So why do people keep letters like this? So many families have lost the record of parental intimacy, and so they become more precious, these letters, by the year. Did Bob think of the journals and letters as for himself only? Was there any thought of immortality or history?

I don't think so. I think they kept the letters because they are symbols of love. He kept journals for the same reason--whether it was recording the flora and fauna of Makoshika Park or his daily routines and interactions with people, it seems like an affirming gesture, to keep what's written. Not to dash it away, to throw it away as "so yesterday." It's respectful.

Perhaps there's an extreme that's a little strange--keeping receipts for the most mundane purchase (cigarettes, Mello Yellow) and yet perhaps there's a glimpse into the life, an opportunity to see what's beneath the mundane, that makes even these worthy.

I'm a thrower-outer and have lived to regret some of the thrown-away. And yet I have my childhood journals (not very many), letters written to Mom, old school papers, other stuff. I can't help but think some enterprising young family member in a hundred years will look back and say, "My great- great- great- grandmother wrote a closet drama for her poetry class and got an A." Or, "My g- g- g- g- grandmother had a blog, how quaint, and she kept the posts in a Word file and had them printed."

Anyway, I appreciate what people leave behind in a caring way.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Philosophy of Life

I thought I'd share a little from the wonderful stack of letters I've just finished transcribing, written by Bob to Lois. They're love letters, war stories, and philosophies of life, all wrapped up together. I think the complete collection of their letters alone would make a fine publication.

Life and Monopoly

7/13/45:
"This morning I took out the monopoly set that Chaplain Connell gave me at Stoneman. And believe me, it started another new craze in our play pen. Some four games have been played all day. Some fun. Bob seems to be the hardest man to beat. That’s one game where the businessman-gambler beats the hell out of the intellectuals. A couple PhD’s are playing now, but Bob’ll make short work of them in the present final stage of the game."

7/15/45
"I’ve just returned from an invigorating shower, following perhaps the poorest played game of monopoly ever played. Did you use to play it much, sweetheart? Tonight while Bob, Ed (Crone, Capt, MAC, mess officer) and I tried our best to dicker for property with the old man (remember? An old army term of affection for the CO) who had an avenue or place of nearly every color, Joe Schubert (Capt, Su C) was just lucky enough to get one monopoly. That’s all he had, but it was more than any of the four of us others had. While the colonel continued to be unduly suspicious and reluctant about our proposed transactions, Joe built houses until his single monopoly sported three hotels. Each time we hit his piece, it socked us a $1000, and gradually we went bankrupt one by one as Joe cornered all the money. It seems the colonel was going to see to it that nobody was going to screw him. But he failed to bear in mind that “united we stand, divided we fall,” that when suspicion and bickering among the majority rules, the cautious, ever-alert, underdog minority will soon take charge once he gets a break. It’s actually amazing what one can learn by playing or even watching the game. You can fairly well analyze one’s character and sense of value, too. I learned to know several officers better during my days at the poker table, too. Thus my increasing knowledge of people carries on."

My own "monopoly" metaphor. Here's a version of a poem I wrote during one of Ken's and my poetry prompt sessions--which we haven't done for a long time and which we should resume, as I have about 4 that have turned into "real" poems.

Confession by Proxy


I arrive early, hands jangling pieces
from another game of Monopoly
I couldn’t bear to finish. I pull them out, familiar
as my failings, and line them up on the ledge
on my side of the confessional. Leading the way,
no surprise, the silver Scottie noses into places
he has no business going—
look, even when he’s lying down, stiff as a stiff . . .

Next, the iron thrusts that blunt chin,
frowning starchily . . . You clear your throat, though
your face is hidden and I can’t tell how much you see.
Hold on, I say, I think we’re getting somewhere—

Look, the sports car has screeched to a halt,
and the little plow pulls up with a wobble,
card-carrying member with a dirty little secret
about who does the real work
and who spends half a day covering his tracks.

You clear your throat again. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning
and I’ve been moving pieces around for 30 minutes.
Things are heating up as the line of penitents reaches
the outer door, or maybe they’re just sight-seers
tapping their hymnals against the backs of pews.
I think, maybe, we should talk
another time, I say, perhaps this evening

when the lilacs have closed and the crickets
begin their leg-rubbing—or do they go at it all day long?
Could we stroll around the cemetery where the old nuns
swing their rosaries, chanting in syllables so low
you’d think it was rocks in the creek tumbling toward the rapids—
I hear it takes one pebble 7 years to make its way from the bridge
at the big clock to the bend outside the window there,

where the red Jesus has lifted his hammer and stands ready
to let it fall into a pile of gold and blue lumber. I always liked
that window best, you know, the one where he’s working
with his hands not raising them over the children’s heads
or lowering them to someone’s feet, where he’s looking up
as if someone’s just called him to dinner, or he’s just
remembered something more urgent he needs to do.

Reflection

Was there ever a more capitalistic, self-aggrandizing game than Monopoly? Maybe Risk. Both of the take-over-the-world, king-of-the-mountain worldviews. And yet, how we used to love to play them. I remember a certain Risk game with my old friend Nancy Putnam. We'd pledged to each other only to attack the others, thus bonding like nations in a treaty agreement. When it was clear that we were near to running everyone else out of the game, I took my turn and attacked her. After she went down, she left the room, probably in tears. I felt terrible and still think of that as one of the betrayals that I would never live down and would try never to repeat again.

In my poem, the persona is sort of me and sort of not me, but I like the way the poem begins with monopoly (another game I couldn't bear to finish) and ends with a rumination on time, the movement of a pebble--how "inconsequential"--and the identification with Jesus, in the stained glass window, arrested in time, always wanting to answer that call.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Two Brushes with Greatness

The first is Betty's account of an afternoon's work at her bookstore job, 11/13/44:

Top personal experiences of the past week occurred Thursday night. The Weinbergs, attending a reunion dinner, had left me alone in the shop. In the course of the rather busy evening, three middle-aged and up gentlemen came buoyantly into the store. One—a particularly vital-appearing and acting silvery haired man approached to ask whether we would have a Penguin edition of Edman’s Philosopher’s Holiday (“No") and either Carlyle’s or Migne’s French Revolution, of which we were able to find two volumes of Vol I (Carlyle). I suggested he come back when Mr. Weinberg was there. Just as the trio went out, a doctor (head of an Optometric Ass’n, I discovered by the check he sent over next morning) informed me that I had just been “hopping around” for Fritz Kreisler [Austrian violinist, “one of the most famous violin masters of his day,” according to Wikipedia]!


The second is Bob's account of an episode from about 1942, though it's in a 1967 letter that I just stumbled on and decided to type up this anecdote:

"Did I tell you how a quarter of a century ago as a college student parking-lot attendant I brought down Frank Sinatra's black Cadillac and held the door open for him? At the moment I didn't know it was he but learned so immediately upon returning to our little cell station. My disappointment of not being tipped was considerably exceeded by my disillusionment of his scrawny physique. Apparently his photographers had all shot him from below and close (General MacArthur insisted on this to give himself height), and I thought his baritone voice came from at least a six foot frame, but I believe I could have picked him up off the ground with one arm! At that time he was warbling with J. Dorsey across the alley at the Chicago Theater."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

References to Letters I Don't Have (Yet)

I haven’t posted on this blog in so long, I’m probably in line to have it removed. I’ve worked on the project, but last fall not as much as I wanted to, due to the consuming power of two courses and running women’s studies and the rest of it all . . .

1944 is the biggest year. I’ve been pounding away all this month and am still only in August. I’m currently at the tale end of a small stack of Betty’s letters, having finished with a large stack of Lois’s, and have next LR’s. Still no letters from Bob, who must have written a huge amount this year, while in Texas, as everyone speaks of his wonderful accounts, and I don’t think he was photocopying his letters home.

Here’s just a sampling of what they say about his letters:

From LR, 6/15: Dear RW—Thanx for your fine letter received today. I trust your final week of basic before the bivouac or whatever the grand finale is, has gone by with colors floating vigorously upon the warm summer breezes.

From Lois, 6/19
: My dearest Bob: Bedtime rolls around again. Right this moment I’m supposed to be waiting tables at Mrs. Doc Hansen’s Guild Meeting but Mom had to go down to the office and S. didn’t show up. So, with only Trix to leave Bobby with here I sit. Golly, darling, I don’t know what I’d do without your letters. Two wonderful editions arrived today or perhaps my “bluest” day since your departure. They made me feel a lot better but there are times when I feel so lost. Heaven only knows I have enough to do, but it’s just that you are gone and there’s nothing I can do but hold tight. Maybe I’m spoiled, but I do love my husband dearly.

From LR, c. 6/20
: Dear Bob: Thanx for letter received, including the AIR. Your congratulation to me on MY birthday is four months late, but it is appreciated just the same. MINE His on March 20, how well do I recall that chilly, snowy spring day back there in the log house in Illinois when in 1891, I made my first bow to a chilly world. You doubtless were remembering your mother’s birthday, which, as I recall, was on July 18. She had 50 birthdays, most of them, all, in fact since we were together, where pleasant ones. We never set much store by expensive presents open parentheses you can begin to guess why by now, no doubt), but many happy birthdays proved that they were not necessary. However, she did appreciate greatly any gift, no matter how small its commercial value, especially from her children. Incidentally, the card table which you gave her and me has certainly than in daily use since it came into the house. Your greatest gift to her, however, with yourself and the affection you showed her. I’m sure you and Betty brought her more genuine happiness than all else that ever occurred in her life. [Isabel]

From Betty, 7/3: Dear Bob, Your dramatic account of happenings since the first bivouac site, struck me as being very poignant. Somehow it seemed to typify all young fellows and their feelings on there “nights out,” that you represented a specific soldier’s sentiments in beautiful language. How you could find just the right words very late in the evening I don’t quite know. Maybe they came, because the letter had been riding itself for many hours; it just lacked that pen and paper. I am ever grateful to you for your ability–no matter what your state of mind or body–to sit down and pen a fine and significant message. Naturally I am terribly anxious to know the result of your confirmation or otherwise of the rumor and how you will be affected. [With his letter we’d know what this is in reference to!]

From Betty, c. 7/10: Dearest Bob, Your literary style and the concomitant character of what you say improved with every Barkeley postmark. Funny, how the art of letter-writing grows and develops from something prosaic and stunted too–with practice–an object of glowing, epigrammatic vigor and beauty. Beauty in the sense of the worth-while and straightforward. Anyhow your rare phrases from recent letters about a moon playing on a bunk, fireflies over a creek-cliff bivouac, and zephyrs on a moonlit Texas morning have made vivid impressions and give witness to a fine appreciation and imagination.

Someone say, “she sure lays it on,” but if it’s what I sincerely think why should I conceal it? Life’s too short to keep “what little good we can see in others” away from them. Pessimistic, eh, the quotes. My mouth fairly watered for the melon, apple pie and other savory dishes.

From Lois, 7/22: My dearest: Guess our supper is underway and Bobbie is sleeping so this is the opportune moment. Thanks 1 million trillion times for your 2 letters of yesterday, one “free” and to air males. They are wonderful: your letters and Bobbie keep me alive. Shouldn’t have sent you that “down-in-the-dumps” letter yesterday. When I got to thinking the situation over we certainly have a lot to be thankful for. Coming out of Chicago with a scant $200, if that, in facing expenses etc., and 2 (?) think you’ve got to take your board and we lived good until you left, all the aid and assistance I’ve had. I hate to think where we’d be if things hadn’t happened as they did.

From Lois, 8/15: Dearest Candidate Hiatt: Congratulations, and all that sort of stuff. T’was good news but never-the-less the bottom of my heart fell out. Gee, December seems like years away. We used to think 3 months no-see was an eternity, but, this way it’ll be too close to a year’s separation. Oh, well, I’m only one of many man-less. Your wonderful letters of Thursday and Friday arrived yesterday. I’ve been rather negligent getting out letters every other day. The company we had upset schedules pretty much so I promise to do better in the future. Xxxxx


From Betty, c. 9/10
: Seriously your letter yesterday was a dandy. The postmark—your identification—was Co A 57 etc. For a moment I was concerned lest your course had blown up, but your first paragraph reassured me. It is quite thrilling, really, to hear of your comparatively smooth progress in both studies and conduct. You must gain more strength by that fact alone. And the more strength and calmness you have in the face of any kind of obstacle course the clearer you are going to see the goal and the most expeditious way around. Congratulations!

From Betty, c. 9/13
: My dearest brother, The veritable volume of Sunday night’s penning is indeed a treasure. I have just re-read it for the third time; doubtless I still haven’t all the details. I enjoyed every item from the $1.35 veal steak dinner to the tragedy of the white handkerchief. Of course, the Snelling possibility topped them all.

From Betty, after her birthday (10/9): My very dear Brother, Two perfect letters on my birthday—the one written on Thursday and also the Sunday at 12:40 P.M. one. The message they brought was sterling in quality and precious in intent. I fear that you were looking through very ros(e)y glasses when you wrote some of those golden, but none the less appreciated, sentiments.

From Betty, 10/22: Dearest Bob, Having re-read again your excellent account written last Monday at 8:40 AM, I am ever more proud of your accomplishments— physically, mentally, and philosophically. Surely it wasn’t intended to be a very philosophic letter, but the related activities of house-cleaning and movie-seeing (not that I think they’re related) plus your consequent satisfaction of having turned thumbs down to army optometrics all add up to a well-adjusted planning and thinking, a very important think [sic] ever the the [sic] Army where your chance to expand the same seems limited. I do hope your physical condition is normal again. After fifteen minutes with the dictionary (go ahead and laugh), I was able to just about realize your malady. Again, I hope all is well now.

And here is a glimpse of page 2 of that letter, in which she wonders why she is so contented (you can click on it if you can't read it at this size, then click your "back" button to return to the blog):
Bette continues to look for the missing 1944 letters. I have some from Uncle Bob for 1945, but this big year must be hiding in a very large box somewhere. If we don't find it, we certainly have a very rich collections of responses to them. I'll talk about the different daily lives that emerge from these almost daily (or 2-3 times/weekly) letters to "Pvt" and "O/C" Bob/RW/Dearest/Robert/Bobert, in Texas. But for now, you might get a sense of the thrill his letters brought to his wife, sister, and father, back home.