Saturday, January 12, 2008

April 23, 1925 (7:00 AM) - Brooklyn


April 23, 1925

8 a.m.

Dear Jeanie:

I called up your folks last
night, and I am glad to inform you that
everything is o.k.

Sally must have been very lonesome
without you, and with you miles away
Hart St. is without sunshine, and moonshine
rules supreme there, of course you will
guess whom I mean.

Please dear pal write me how
you are enjoying the country life and what
kind of company [you] have there.

Knowing how anxious I am concerning
your welfare, you will readily understand why
I want to you write me all about you.

I am sending you a package
of candies and tomorrow some new magazines.

Hoping to hear from you soon
I am ever your devoted friend



Matt's Notes

Papa wasn't kidding when he said he was anxious about my grandmother's trip to her cousin's farm in Connecticut. According to this and his previous letter, he had, in the last two days, seen my grandmother off at the train station, called to make sure she arrived safely, visited her family's home, (where he wrote her a letter and convinced her sister, Sally, to write as well) called her family afterwards to check in (making good use of the telephone he'd installed in his apartment the previous June) and written another letter the next morning. I guess he didn't think he'd win her heart by acting aloof or cagey.

My eighteen-year-old grandmother must have found all this attention from a thirty-year-old man she'd only known for three months to be a bit overwhelming, but I suppose no young woman of the day would have objected to receiving letters with lyrical sentiments like:

...with you miles away
Hart St. is without sunshine, and moonshine
rules supreme there, of course you will
guess whom I mean.

I'm not completely sure for whom "moonshine rules supreme", though this probably means he was "mooning" for her while she was gone. How much the rest of Hart Street shared in his suffering is questionable. "Sally must have been very lonesome without you," Papa reported, but let's look again at what Sally had to say about my grandmother's departure:

Just a few lines to let
you know how nice & quiet it is
since you went away believe me
kid, it's a pleasure…

I just can't wait to go to
bed as I will have the whole place
for myself…

I am not any to anxious to
write but being that Mr. Sheurman
asked me to write it don't look
nice to refuse.

Papa undoubtedly read Sally's note since he asked her to write it on the flip side of his own letter, so why did he even try to tell my grandmother that Sally missed her? Did he intend to protect her feelings? Did he try to paper over Sally's nasty remarks because he thought they might keep my grandmother from returning to Brooklyn? Perhaps he just didn't pick up on Sally's tone because he couldn't imagine anyone disliking my grandmother, so blinded was he by her shining brilliance.

But how brilliant was my grandmother, really? She was attractive, but wasn't noted for her curiosity or creativity or joie de vivre (she once told my sister and me that walking down to the water from the Brighton Beach boardwalk on a cool day was a silly idea because "it doesn't pay"). As an American-born child of well-off parents, she had not seen much at eighteen and had no particular interests. As a thirty-year old who had left Tsarist Galicia when he was my eighteen, Papa had struggled to support himself and his family in the old country on his factory worker's salary, all the while working passionately for his beloved Zionist and labor movements. He had written in his diary of his desire to "find a girl (of my dreams) with a vision to see also the good things that are in me." Could he have really thought my grandmother was that woman?

He was smitten with her, though, and this letter, however brief, carries hints of all his romanticism, protectiveness, jealousy and gentleness. I find the expression "package of candies" especially evocative, and I'm trying to figure out why. Perhaps it's because I can so clearly picture Papa as he picks the candies out, wraps them up with a little note, and mails them on his way to work. It's a small gesture, not any more unusual or original than the thousands he would make in the coming years. But still, it touches me because I know how long he'd been waiting to make such gestures, waiting to show someone, with letters and gifts and reassuring messages from home, how little he deserved his loneliness, how worthy of love he was, how many "good things" there were in him.

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