(September 22, 1929)
Jeanie Dear: -
It is heart filled with grief that I'm writing these
lines, believe me the greatest physical pain would
not have caused me one millionth part of the agony I
am undergoing now after I've seen the other fellow again
Oh my Beloved maybe I am naive but I cannot
understand you, how in the world could you concienciously
play me the way you did?
But I will forget it all never to mention it, just
come back to my arms, to the one how has proven [to] you
by word and deed that he he loves you above everything
else in this or any other world, Do you know that
only genuine love can make a fellow humble himself like
I'm doing in pleading with you my cause, Just ask your
brother or any other fine fellow you know if they'd ever
care to see a girl who'd do to them what you did to me.
But my case is different, During the course of five years
my love has turned from mere friendship into the most
ardent affection, I have already been making plans
for you, only recently we've been conversing about an
engagement ring, Haven't you encouraged me beloved
to dare hope? I have already begun planning for our
future, mapping out a life plan which would be ./.
ideal for both of us, The sun was beginning to
cast its rays for me too, Although possessing not
riches I pictured our future life an idealistic one
with a cultured background, I even told you a few days
ago that I was ambitious to see [you] become a leader in the
Junior Hadassah, Do you think that If I am not rich
now I'll have to remain this way for the rest of my life?
Why, the right thing to do is to stand by me inspire and
encourage me, and believe me you can never tell what the
results will be.
I don't know wheather the other fellow is rich or not, but
one thing I'm sure no one can love you as I do, you know
that in the five years I've gone through thick and thin for and
with you, have gladly shared your troubles and burdens, please
don't say that you did not encourage me, you did in many ways.
It was my great love for you that caused me to leave many
chances -- I shall mention at least two, Miss Schneiderman
a daughter of my lodge member a fine type of girl loved
me dearly, I gave her no occasion to do so but she declared
her affections to me both verbally and in script, she is
The other one you remember very well when
I have returned a picture and letter of a fine girl (I did
it as Roses house) Why did I reject both these
proposals and others you don't know of, just because
I loved you and always will love you to the point
Was there ever anything that I have hidden from
you? Haven't I always been square with you and
Haven't you been introduced to all of my family as
my girlfriend and if there were in Bridgeport
some that didn't know of our friendship, our visit
there acquainted them with the fact.
Don't all my friends know you as my "girl friend"?
You went with me everywhere, everywhere, when
I pleaded with you two weeks ago please don't go
up to my place of employment unless you can be
introduced officially as my sweetheart? You did
not object to being introduced as such.
What do you call encouragement? May my soul
be accursed if I am trying to bring up the subject of
money, in the first year of our "keeping company"
you remarked time and again when I offered a gift
a little gift that you cannot accept anything from a friend
that it was proper to accept from a sweetheart only
so I abstained from offering things.
But from the second year on you have been accepting
little gifts regularly from me, I hurts me [to mention it] beloved but
I had to mention these facts to prove my contention
that I was encouraged to consider myself your
sweetheart, At many occasions you have suggested
what I should bring you, Even yesterday after I told
you how miserably I felt seeing the other fellow with you
you accepted a gift, and [you were] mentioning other things you would
like to have.
Perhap I should not have written this long letter [at all]
but I am suffering so, and feel that I must write to you.
Am I really so bad in your eyes that after 5 years
you have to experiment with other young men? Please
think it over don't act hasty, If you drop me
now know that you will have wrecked a life for my
life will have no meaning [for me] and be a burden.
In this moment however I'm still hopeful that the
little spark of love you have for me (I am more than certain
that you love me [at least] a little) will develop into a flame that
will never be extinguished.
I shall call at your home this week Jeanie Dear
I will forget what happened, just be mine only before the
Eyes of God and Man.
Please forgive if I wrote wrote anything offensive
I wrote these lines I may say in a state of excitement
Please write me a word encouragement in the
enclosed stamped envelope by return mail.
I think I have some idea of why Papa foreswore pursuit of all other women immediately upon meeting my grandmother in 1925. I’ve discussed it before, but I don’t mind revisiting it because I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten it quite right. So, let’s try again:
Papa's did not arrive in America as a young child with no memory of the old country. He was eighteen, already built for life in an Eastern European hamlet where he enjoyed some prominence as the local Torah scholar's son. Though he knew why he had to leave an increasingly anti-Semitic and inhospitable Europe, and thoough he did his best to establish himself in New York, he found it hard to finish growing up without his beloved father's guidance, found himself longing instead for the simple comforts of his boyhood and the familiar old world.
Instinctively caring and naturally generous, he hoped to marry and have a family of his own, but the disorienting whirl of life as an alien in America, the crass and clanging existence that took him daily from the tenements of the Lower East Side to the factories of the garment district, pushed him to escape, pushed him into daydreams of the world he'd left behind. He began to idealize his childhood companions, the woods surrounding his little hamlet, the way his neighbors embraced Judaism. His father, who raised a family despite his "crippled" arm, took on heroic proportions. The more Papa experienced New York’s cacophony, the more perfect, quiet and safe his past seemed, the more vital an emotional refuge it became. He taught himself to believe his old life was still there, waiting for him to return, and this dream became precious to him, essential to his survival.
To lay down roots in America would mean he’d have to give up his dream and sever his connection to the old country; to fall in love would be the first step. This unacknowledged thought drove him, I think, to avoid settling down, to feel unenthusiastic about perfectly acceptable women and to chase only those who would disappoint him. (The Miss Schneidermann mentioned above appears several times in Papa's 1924 diary, one of a long line of women for whom, to his own dismay, he couldn't drum up much enthusiasm.) He was frustrated and he was lonely, but, unknowingly, he was unable, even uninterested, in the alternative. The months and years went by, and Papa found himself in limbo. By the time he started his 1924 diary, he was, I think, somewhat aware of what had happened to him, but limbo is hard place to escape; perhaps he was reluctant to leave it because he didn’t want to look back on how much time he’d wasted there.
His father's death in 1924 was a terrible shock to him, but it also helped break the old country’s spell (Papa observed that he experienced "something like lost paradise" as he mourned, a biblical and literary reference to the end of dreamy innocence and the beginning of adult reality). Catapulted from limbo at last, he developed an urgent need to make up for lost time, to become a caring and committed family man, to belong somewhere again. He was twenty-nine.
Papa met my grandmother shortly after this urgency struck, and she was perfectly suited to his newfound purpose. At eighteen, she was mature enough to be an object of desire but young enough to require a paternal sort of care -- that is, she could be both wife and child to someone who wanted both immediately. She was faithful, from a successful family, and as an “American” (as Papa called Jews who were born in America) she was someone who could help him feel more rooted to his adopted country. She was also a difficult person who could be glum, dissatisfied and confrontational, but this was attractive to him, too, for living with such a person would offer him a fine chance to express his capacity for self-sacrifice and empathy. In combination with my grandmother’s physical beauty, all these things made her seem perfect to him. He was smitten, he was committed, and he vowed to marry her.
There were, of course, a few of problems with his plan: At eighteen, my grandmother had no intention of marrying anyone soon; ter family saw her as their treasure, and did not want her to be with a man of such modest means (as we have mentioned before, her family actually tried to set Papa up with my grandmother’s far less desirable sister, Sally, figuring she couldn’t do much better); the difficult qualities that Papa found so alluring in her also made her exactly the sort of person who would not succumb to a whirlwind courtship; as flattering as Papa’s sudden and passionate attention surely was, my grandmother may have found it a little creepy; she undoubtedly had her share of desirable and successful suitors, and she enjoyed their attentions. Finally, she had a mean streak, and would have taken some pleasure in making him wonder and making him wait, so make him wonder and wait she did.
So much of what I’ve mentioned above was going on under the surface, of course. Though Papa was quite insightful and introspective, neither he nor my grandmother lived in a post-Freudian world in which people regularly questioned the “real motivations” behind their decisions and choices. Their day-to-day relationship unfolded much as we’ve seen it unfold in their letters, with Papa a bit on edge as he waited for my grandmother to return his affections, and my grandmother taking him for granted while she played the field. This seemed reasonable to Papa for a while, I suppose.
Which brings us to the state of things as of September 22, 1929: For five years, Papa has courted my grandmother to the exclusion of all other women, maintaining his loyalty to her as if their eventual marriage were a foregone conclusion. For five years he has been distressed by her lack of interest in communicating with him, though he has tried to show good humor in the face of her seeming indifference, as if each excuse for not writing, each missed phone appointment, was some sort of lapse, out of character. For five years he has parried her family's attempts to steer him toward her less desirable sister, ignored their low-key insults and disrespect for his modest station. For five years he has portrayed her contact with other suitors as a private, if uncomfortable, joke, nothing more than a little game designed to keep things interesting, a way for her to make a show of due diligence for formality’s sake.
Five years is a long time to live like this, though, especially since Papa had so pointedly committed himself to my grandmother in order to yank himself out of the very sort of limbo in which she now held him. At thirty-four, he must have thought none of his accomplishments at work or in the labor movement or in Zionist circles mattered because his impatience, frustration, and unacknowledged anger toward my grandmother made him weary, depressed, benumbed. Papa’s letter also implies that my grandmother had even hinted at her intention to marry him, had rejected her other suitors. Finally, we should remember that, when Papa wrote the above letter, the fifth anniversary of his father’s death had just passed, and the late September season, laden with Jewish high holy days, made him miss his lost loved ones, and the old world, more keenly than usual. It's no wonder, then, that the dam finally bursts when he sees my grandmother another man.
I won’t comment much on the contents of Papa’s letter, since it speaks for itself, though I will say I’m intrigued by the way he’s saw hints and signals in her actions over the years when she probably had no intention of delivering any. For example, because she said she wouldn’t accept gifts from a platonic friend, he was sure she’d wordlessly declared her affection for him by accepting gifts two years into their relationship. Did Papa really think this was true, or was it something he only put together in retrospect, perhaps to comfort himself when puzzling over her continued indifference? And how many other little facts and quotes and actions had he catalogued to convince himself that his commitment to my grandmother wasn’t a waste of time? How often did he turn these things over in his mind? How much time did he spend obsessing over them, and over her?
Papa, this letter is difficult to read. It is hurried, impassioned, ill-advised (in your concluding words, you even seem to regret writing it, though obviously you still sent it). It’s hard to watch you -- who were so steady, wise, and inherently optimistic -- panic so completely, convinced your life is on the verge of ruin. It is almost impossible to think that you, who had been through so much, who knew your world was your own to make, who understood so well the hearts of others, would presume a sheltered twenty-three-year-old could destroy you when she had, in reality, done nothing but unknowingly become the person you privately considered your savior.
I can do no more than remind you again that, Papa, this is you: