Thursday, June 26, 2008

July 31, 1928 - New York City


N.Y. July 31, 1928

My Dear Jeanie. --

It is now Tuesday afternoon and no news from you
as yet, I have looked in vain for the mailman to deliver
your precious letter.

This morning I called up home and nothing new
everybody is well and happy, dad was at business
and Sadie was preparing to go to Rose and then to C.I.
Sadie says that she was going to write you a nice long
letter (I hope she does).

Oh Jeanie dear I wish I knew when I could get you
on the phone I am not interested to talk to strangers
but to you only you know what I mean.

It is hard to get used to the fact that your are away1
it is lonesome and dreary, but what does it matter since
you're having your vacation and soon we will be together again
but that soon seems to be like a year off.2

Sunday night after having called Lake Huntington I went
to a Stadium concert3 but the sweet music could hardly make
me forget the dissappointment of not being able to hear your sweet
voice on the phone, Yesterday I saw a ball game at the Polo
grounds4 and this afternoon I'm attending to my accumulated
correspondence, tomorrow again to business.

Three days is a little to much without words from you
and should I not receive something by tomorrow morning



I'm afraid I won't be able to do my work.

It seems that the writing muse has left me, it is due
perhaps to the heat which is annoying me, you see Sunday
and Monday were cool and balmy days but today it is
hot again.

In spite of my great love for you I don't seem to be
able to get going in writing what I call a real nice
sentimental letter, I hope to have more luck in my
next try.5

In conclusion I again wish to greet your
companions the very charming Wise girls.

And remain as ever

Your devoted



Here is a poem by Robert Browning

Summen Bonum

All the breath and the bloom if the year in the bag of one bee:
All the wonder and wealth of the miner in the heart of one gem:
In the cove of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea:
Breath and Bloom, shade and shine, -- wonder, wealth, and -- how -- how far
above them ---

Truth, that's brighter than gem,
Trust, that's purer than pearl, --

Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe -- all were for me
in the kiss of one girl.


The above poem fits in so well
with your farewell kiss, dear.6


Matt's Notes

1 - As she had in previous summers, my grandmother was vacationing for a few weeks at a Jewish resort in New York’s Catskill Mountain region (a.k.a. the “Borscht Belt”). She stayed this year at the Viola House (perhaps it was more commonly called the “Viola Hotel,” as Papa wrote on the above envelope) in Lake Huntington. Thanks to the Internets and Google Books, we can see a photo of the Viola here as it appears in Irwin Richman’s Catskill Hotels.

2 - Doesn’t it seem like this letter, with phrases like “soon we will be together again”, “only you know what I mean”, “three days is a little too much without words from you” is written by a man who knows the recipient longs to see him as much as he longs to see her? Had Papa and my grandmother, at some point between the summers of 1927 and 1928, developed a stronger commitment to each other that’s now evident in this letter? Or do I just imagine I see signs of such a development because I know how the story ends?

Perhaps I want to hurry things along because I just can’t stand to see Papa extend his self-imposed limbo for another year, pretending, against all evidence, that he and my grandmother were already companions, living, because he preferred to, in an imaginary relationship with a woman who would remedy the displaced and lonely feelings of his youth. The fact is, it would be another two years before my grandmother agreed to marry Papa.

3 - As discussed in our last post, Papa attended a performance of the New York Philharmonic, guest conducted by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Frederick Stock, at City College Stadium at 138th and Amsterdam. He had planned to go out of town with some friends, but decided not to in order to keep a phone appointment with my grandmother. Alas, my grandmother did not keep the appointment herself and Papa wound up going to the concert because it was “the only place to go alone.”

4 - The Giants-Cubs game at the Polo Grounds provided only an hour and a forty minutes of escape for Papa, but ended happily with a 4-1 Giants win. (I continue to marvel at how much longer baseball games are today than they were in the 1920's. The he Mets-Yankees game I attended on Friday lasted three hours and eleven minutes, though I uncharacteristically left in disgust before that Yankees finished their 9-0 win.) We haven't looked at the New York Times' baseball coverage since Papa last mentioned a game in his 1924 diary, but it looks like the Giants beat writer still had his sense of humor in'28:

[Giants Pitcher] Lefty Faulkner wasted no time in
proving himself master of the situa-
tion and he didn't allow the Cubs
any excuse for not hurrying. In
fact, they must have realized that
the sooner they got it over with, the
better it would be for them.

Pat Malone proved no mystery to
the Giant hitters as they belted him
and flayed him for ten hits in the
six sessions he toiled.

As a result of all this bombarding
the Giants climbed back into third
place in the National League scram-
ble for the first time since they
reached home, except for a few
short minutes on Sunday when they won
the first game of a doubleheader.
Still, they are not so far in front
of the Cubs that they can afford to
sit down with their feet on the fur-

5 - Papa would not have consciously acknowledged such a thing, but I’d wager he felt like “the writing muse left” him and prevented him from composing “a real nice sentimental letter” because he really didn’t think my grandmother deserved a nice letter. Even if he did, as speculated above, feel like he was getting closer to winning her hand, he still had to contend with her tendency to ignore his letters, blow off phone calls, and allow her family to treat him poorly. Perhaps Papa suffered a little writer’s block because his angry thoughts were too close to the surface and he risked letting them loose if he put pen to paper. It makes sense, then...

6 - ...for Papa to have sought relief by transcribing the above Browning poem (Papa wrote the title as "Summen Bonum," though the actual title is "Summum Bonum", a Latin term for "the greatest good") though I wonder if it accurately describes a romantic goodbye kiss between Papa and my grandmother or if it is Papa’s attempt to romanticize a more ordinary peck on the cheek. It’s particularly hard to tell from this letter what’s true and what Papa just wants to be true.



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