Wednesday, June 4, 2008

July 2, 1927 - New York City


[This letter has no envelope]


New York July 2, 1927

My dear Bright Eyes:

I received your letter and was
glad to hear from you.

I was a bit surprised that the
idea of writing letters was not so pleasing,
The end of your letter was like this "The
true fact is that I am too lazy"

Of course my dear I do not doubt
that this is actually the truth, since you
stated it, but I do not agree that is was
at all necessary to mention.

Believe me I was one of the busiest
men in Atlantic City1 and yet I managed
to find enough time to write to you and
to others. There is no such thing as being
too lazy with me.2

Last night I visited your home
and I am in a position now to write
you a little about every one.

Everybody was there but Rob and
Ben, Rob left Thursday morning with



his inseparable companion the other
half of his WE (a la Lindbergh) his
Rolls Royce for the country, and Ben
was absent in business with his own WE.3

The evening was fine and when I came
to the house, Mother, Father, Gertie and
Rose were sitting very comfortably on the
new white bench enjoying an early summer-
nights breeze, Sally was inside the house
during the two and one half hours I was
there, and trying to find out the reason
for her not coming out I found her engaged
in reading a thriller entitled "Secrets"
Well she hat to put the secrets on the table
and join the gang outside.4

Your friend Millie came over for a few
minutes to say good bye as she was leaving
for the week-end for a certain camp, where
she will later in the season spend her

Rose is all prepared to leave this
coming week with Sally, and by the way
your niece Miss Shirley is getting smarter
and smarter every day.



Imagine at just one mere request to sing
she gave us a nice little concert which
we enjoyed better then a Galli Curci concert
on the radio.5

We tried to make merry but your
absence was clearly felt not only by me
but by every one.

It is not my intention my dear to get
sentimental in this letter, so I am trying
to avoid my sentimentation as much as

Asking everyone what sort of greeting
they have to send you through me so
here it is as much as I can remember:

Father: he is longing for you.
Mother: Take good care of yourself
Rose: Don't let that guy you met on the
train get away from you, the one with the
mustache. (My personal remark: I don't like
this business)6
Abe: Sends you his love
And Gertie thanks you for the card you
didn't send but she excuses you at
the same time for you don't know her


I am first planning now to get
away for the Fourth, for around my place
they have already started off the fireworks
and the noise is deafening and I don't
like this sort of noise, if I can get company
I will surely go.

As you see I tried my best to fill
out my letter, for I know that no matter
what I am writing it will be interesting
for you when you are far away from

I expect you in return to make
an effort to write me all about yourself
I am quite sure that you won't be lonesome
there, you have that winning way of making

Oh yes my dear, remember whenever you
intend to come home I will meet you
at the station, just write the exact time
of your arrival and what station.

And now my dear, wishing you
a most enjoyable Fourth of July.

I am as ever your devoted



Matt's Notes

1 - Papa had recently returned from a Zionist Organization of America conference in Atlantic City. While there he had written my my grandmother several letters.

2 - Papa’s letters to my grandmother invariably contain some kind of good-natured entreaty for her to write him longer, more frequent letters, though this is the first time her indifference toward correspondence has resulted in an overt expression of his frustration. What Papa’s really expressing here, of course, is his frustration over her continued indifference toward his two-and-a-half years of courtship efforts. Her attempt to stop his requests for more letters (“I am too lazy to write”) clearly offended him and probably scared him a little, too, because it demonstrated exactly how little effort she was willing to put into their relationship. Perhaps it even made him wonder if he'd wasted his time on her. No wonder why he found her sentiments “not so pleasing” and not “at all necessary to mention.”

3 - This passage quite nicely captures a moment in the American popular culture of 1927. Charles Lindbergh had, on May 20th of that year, completed his monumental solo crossing of the Atlantic in his single-engine monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis. I’m sure it’s hard to overstate how ubiquitous Lindbergh and his image had become in the ensuing weeks; huge crowds, adoring press, and heads of state greeted him wherever he went. On July 2nd, the day Papa wrote this letter, an article in the New York Times reported that Lindbergh was about to finish a well-publicized effort to crank out an autobiography. Its title, "WE", referred to Lindbergh and his plane in the first person plural and must have been a bit of a cultural buzzword.

So, when Papa says my grandmother’s brother Bob’s car is “his inseparable companion the other half of his WE (a la Lindbergh)” he’s making a joking comparison to Lindbergh’s well-documented relationship with The Spirit of St. Louis. (Papa makes another little joke when he calls Bob’s car his “Rolls Royce for the country.” The car wasn’t a Rolls, but Bob must have treated it like it was.) Ben, who “was absent in business with his own WE”, was the husband of my grandmother’s sister Rose, and obviously a car owner himself.

4 - Sally, one of my grandmother’s sisters, was well known to be a grouch who never got along with my grandmother and certainly wasn’t friendly to Papa. Papa had expressed his impatience with her in an earlier letter (he accused her of being too lazy to write letters which, as discussed above, was a serious criticism) and must have felt, thanks to my grandmother's own antipathy toward her, that taking her to task for her antisocial behavior was fair game. (In fairness, we should remember that my grandmother’s family originally tried to set Papa up with Sally, but he fell in love with my grandmother instead. As rude as Sally might have been, I can understand why she wouldn’t have liked to hang around with Papa.)

I can’t find a book from the 1920’s called “Secrets” in the Library of Congress catalog, but perhaps Sally was reading the 1927 novel “House of Secrets,” a thriller by Sydney Horler. (The 1936 film adaptation is now on my Netflix queue.) Maybe the book’s cover emphasized the word “Secrets” in large type, like this...

House of
SECRETS Papa only caught the word “secrets” when he found Sally secreted in her reading nook.

5 - Shirley, my beloved cousin, is the daughter of my grandmother’s sister Rose and her husband Ben (he of the "WE" car). She would have been a baby when Papa compared her cries and giggles to the voice of Amelita Galli-Curci, who was at the time a major star with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Here's a photo Galli-Curci, improbably posed with a goat and a sheep:

And here's a clip of Galli-Curci singing "Caro None" from Verdi's Rigoletto, via

Anyway, Shirley would later serve as a flower girl when Papa and my grandmother got married. Though she did not pursue a singing career, she continues to get smarter every day.

6 - My grandmother’s family didn’t take kindly to it when, as mentioned above, Papa fell in love with my grandmother (a young beauty pursued by an army of wealthy suitors) instead of Sally (who was no great prize and therefore needed to settle for a man of modest means like Papa) and they tried for years to discourage his courtship efforts. It looks like Rose was in on the game, too -- she couldn’t possibly have thought that asking Papa to convey a message about one of my grandmother’s other boyfriends was anything other than an insulting way to marginalize him.

7 - I love the phrase “Gertie thanks you for the card you didn’t send,” an example of Jewish guilt-giving in its purest form. It looks like Papa wasn’t the only one got annoyed with my grandmother for her poor correspondence habits.




Image sources:

The photo of Galli-Curci and her four-legged friends comes from the Library of Congress catalog.

WE book jacket appears on Wikipedia, which makes a case for its use qualifying as fair use under U.S. copyright law.

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