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

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.


  1. Amazing (amazing, amazing), Jane. If you ever want to talk through (or have me read anything) this unbelievable project, I would be honored to do so. So expressive and beautiful.


  2. Thanks, Kathryn....I will need to do that. I am not sure what to do with the 40s and 50s (1938-) but I think there's something in the letters that get them through school, war, first jobs, and families started....Collection of letters? (editing out the repetitious stuff?)