Friday, February 1, 2008

April 28, 1925 - Brooklyn

[Note: This is the fifth letter Papa wrote to my grandmother while she was vacationing at her cousin's farm in Connecticut. To see full-sized scans of the letter, click the thumbnail images on the right of this page.]


April 28, 1925

My dear Jeanie:

Another fine letter arrived
this morning, and the thing that delighted
me most was the intimacy in your writing.

Last night on the phone
your sweet voice sounded so clear
the short talk between us made a new
man out of me.1

Of course I went immediately
to your home where I met besides your
dear parents, Rose, Ben, Honey and
certain guests by the name of Mr.& Mrs. Swartz.2
Everybody is fine, and they all send you
their love and greetings.

I just want to tell you not
to worry because your people write little.
Sally is kind of lazy or she don't care,3 I
don't know which, and Bob is busy playing4
every-day and hardly has a chance to write
and here I am more than glad of the
privilege to write you all the news of your

By the time this reaches you will
undoubtedly have the black tafeta dress
with you, it will need a good pressing


As I explained to you on the phone, the
post office would not [accept] as registered and
insured a shaky package. 5

After Rose and Ben left, your mother
and myself took a walk around the
neighborhood and I enjoyed it immensely.

You want to know whether I went out
as you told me before you left. No dearest
how could I do such things when my heart
is away, and that's that.6

If I had wings I'd fly to you every day,
but I expect to fly to you by Express-train
this Friday about which I will call you
up Friday Thursday at 8:35 P.M. daylight
savings time.

Don't worry Jeanie, get fat, I shall
like you and love you always, no matter
how you are, you are second to none
in my heart, God bless you.

You must write every day Jeanie, I am
spending a few extra minutes every morning
waiting for the mailman.

Here someone is coming in and I
must stop writing.7

With love and kisses
I am as ever

Your faithful


Another letter tomorrow


1 - My grandmother could be a bit on the shrill side and she and her immediate family liked to scream at each other a lot, so whenever Papa mentions her "sweet" voice I can practically hear the laughter of my relatives ringing from coast to coast. Of course, real cross-country communication isn't a big deal nowadays, so it's interesting to note how Papa marvels at the clarity of his call to my grandmother in addition to the sweetness of her voice. The telephone was a well-established means of communication by 1925, but perhaps a good, static-free phone call was still treat.

Let's also remember that when Papa installed a private phone in his apartment back in June of 1924, it was an extravagance he indulged in because he felt terribly lonely ("I've installed a telephone in my house that I may in my loneliness talk to my friends direct from my house", he wrote at the time). To pick up the receiver, lean back, and listen to the voice of a woman he was falling in love was something new, something he'd been longing for, and something he'd savor no matter how clear the connection.

2 - Rose is one of my grandmother's sisters, Ben was her husband, and "Honey" was the nickname of their son, Harold. I don't know who Mr. and Mrs. Swartz are, but it should be easy to find out -- how many people named Swartz could have lived in Brooklyn?2A
-- 2A - About twelve billion

3 - Papa could find something good to say about almost anyone, so my grandmother's sister Sally must have really behaved badly for him to write such unforgiving words about her. We've gotten a taste of Sally's attitude ourselves through the note she included in one of Papa's previous letters in which she told my grandmother how nice it was not to have her around. Papa tried to ignore it at the time, but he obviously no longer found it practical or necessary to mask Sally and my grandmother's mutual antipathy.

I'm intrigued by Papa's grammatical mistake in this paragraph ("Sally is kind of lazy or she don't care") because he usually wrote in careful, formal English. The only other example of a similar mistake is in his August 26, 1924 diary entry, in which he swore off his affection for a woman who had disappointed him ("Well, she don't interest me anyway"). Did Papa's written grammar suffer when he was angry about something? Did some rule of translation from his native Yiddish make him conjugate the verb "to do" differently when describing a lack of care or interest? Or did he just swap "don't" for "doesn't" for effect?

4 - When I first read this I thought Papa was calling my grandmother's brother Bob a bon vivant by saying he was too "busy playing" to write, but as it turns out Bob was a professional violinist and was busy playing gigs. That's not to say Bob wasn't a player of a different sort; apparently he had quite a way with the ladies. All I really remember about Uncle Bob is that he used to entertain me by pretending to pull off his thumb. Perhaps the chicks dug that trick, too.

5 - This refers to the taffeta dress Papa mailed my grandmother and mentioned in his last letter.

6 - My grandmother must have asked Papa in her "intimate" letter whether he was dating other women while she was away. This would have been out of the question. But did Papa ever wonder why my grandmother needed a taffeta dress up in the wilds of rural Connecticut?

7 - Papa must have written this letter at work and stopped writing when someone walked into the room, which leads me to wonder what his job was in 1925. He referred, in his 1924 diary, to his work in the machine room of a garment factory (he mentioned it because the noise in the room made in difficult for him to flirt with a "dreamy girl") but he also wrote about selling ladies' gowns on the side for "Mr. Surdut," who was the owner of a garment manufacturing business on 27th Street called the Lion Costume Company.

So, here's my theory: The Lion Costume Company must have been the factory Papa worked in, and it must have had a storefront showroom for its wholesale customers in addition to a machine room. Perhaps Papa, by moonlighting for Mr. Surdut and proving to be a good company representative, had earned a promotion from the machine room to the showroom by April of 1925. The "someone who is coming in" to interrupt Papa's letter writing must be a buyer walking into the showroom. This seems like a reasonable conclusion, but I'll see if I can confirm it.

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