Friday, August 29, 2008

September 23, 1929 - New York City


Jeanie Dear: -

If I was excited last night I am fully aware
of what I am saying now, I am really ashamed of
myself. If I said things insulting and of having your
mother [excited] so much, I am sober now, sober but suffering
immensely pangs worse than death, Never before did
I realize how close I am at losing you as I am now.
How I messed up things.

But can't you see that it was a fit of jealousy that
almost maddened me, and [upon] my word of honor this was
the first time that it ever occurred to me to get into
the situation I am in,

Picture yourself how completely I was taken by
surprise to find you alongside your other boy friend
with his arms around you, my heart almost flew out.
Every person possesses enough knowledge of human
psychology to sympathize with a person in my state of mind
I was in last night, You therefore should not condemn me

In order not to burst in tears in front of your father I went
home soon after you left, but I remember telling your mother
that I cannot give you up as a parting word. 1

No about your letter, It is true that I told you long
ago that I would step aside should you fall in love with
someone else, of course. I would have to, whether I like
it or not, but when one cherishes something I realize now ./.


that one has to fight for it,

I fully realize that you are entitled, more than entitled
to be happy with the one of your own choice, but I
misunderstood your attitude toward me it seems or
would not have dreamed and planned for our future.

Oh please I plead with you don't think me so rude or
bad, during the past 5 years you've had enough
time to observe that I am not as bad as I seemed to
be last night, There is no person in this whole wide
world that can say that I have harmed or wronged

I humbly beg forgiveness for my childish sort of
action last night.

Inasmuch as I hate to refute you, I must try to
bring back to you recollections of a conversation when
you still lived at 183 a short time before you moved. 2

You said to me then that I was just talking but don't
mean what I'm saying I then stated that I was ready
to buy you a ring, You asked how much I would spend
I said $500. You said that it was too cheap, that Sadie
had a better ring and that you would like to get one
like Yetta Hammers you also said what you're saying
in this letter that I haven't got at extra $25 for an
engagement ring, I said that at that time was was
ready to spend $500 -. Being cooly received with


My ring proposal I abstained from pressing the
subject any further, It is possible that you did not
take me seriously or you were not in earnest and so
it slipped off your mind. 3

And now please please consider of what I am
about to write.

I don't think that I need further illustrate my
great undying love for you We know very well each
others faults and weaknesses, to me it seems that we
have known each other for ages we cannot get separated,
the only way you can separate from me is when you
tear my heart out to remain with you.

Without you my dear I am doomed to stoop
into the lowest depths of destitude, with you the world
is mine to conquer, I am not writing this to influence
you in my favor.

I want to you to love me, I would try hard very
hard to be deserving of same, to slave away for
you would be a pleasure, I know what your feared most
if you had been with me it is misery, but you were
wrong, I am fully capable now to provide for
a family I would be more than capable to provide for
a household, and with one kind word of encouragement
nothing would stop me from going out to make money
working nights, etc. 4 At this moment I am thinking that



now would be the opportune time to open a dress
store with you without giving up my daily job
temporarily, with this project a success I can
see a number of chain stores ahead, of course all
this requires hard very hard work but most of all
insipiration, and you know what I mean, 5

And I have never given up my ambition to write,
more than ever I am thinking of it now, With God
Almighty's help I shall take advantage of every moment
the muse is with me and put down on paper any idea
I may get at any time or any moment. 6

No Jeanie dear concentrate, consult with your
innermost soul, you know you have your caprices which
I honestly believe that I alone can understand, and
here I am pledging to you a life of service, I do not
ask hasty action, can't you see that a turning point
has arrived abruptly when we have to show our cards
on the table, I am not so impatient as you may be
inclined to believe, All I am asking is please, please
do not reject me now consult your mother, father etc.
please don't be swayed by prejudice against me,
I welcome an opportunity for you to study other boy
friends, don't think (if you are) that because I
am not dancer I am passe. You my dear know very
well my worldly leanings.



My world is the one of literature and [the] arts, I
solemnly pledge myself to make you socially prominent
not only in my immediate circle of friends but into
foremost Jewish society, this is part of my great ambition
Again, with you at my side as my own nothing
could stop me I honestly believe to climb the narrow
ladder of success.

My diagnosis is that disappointments, setbacks
and fear of losing you have tended to keep me back,
I'll treatment on your past one dissolutions after
another have certainly contributed to my discouragement
the reject [text illegible] I am further way from success than
I was 5 years ago. 7

I feel that I could not have opened my heart
to anyone not even to my mother the way I did to
you in this letter,

Contrary to last night my eyes are dry now
I am [not] just writing impulsively, my mind and heart
are cooperating, I could write a lot more,

Please read it through carefully, over again if
necessary but no hasty action please pro or con
I shall call upon you Thursday as you desire
but please forget and forgive for what happened
last night should you desire me to stay away
for awhile please say it kindly without hurting

me, I pray that Allmighty shows you the vision
whereby you can see the right path on which
your future life depends.

Please do me this one favor tell your mother
that I feel that my action that got her so excited
will ever be a stain upon my character, She has
always been to me the impersonation of everything that
is noble and beautiful.

About your father you need not worry he has
plenty of his own troubles he won't know of mine.

Memories oh without you they will haunt
me and torture me a great deal is written down
in diaries until I discontinued them about 2 years
ago but they can never be eradicated from my mind. 8

I am again enclosing a stamped envelope
after baring my heart to you I expect a different sort
of reply.

I am awaiting your reply with trembling heart
I shall never act again like I did last night, Please
state the exact time you'll be home Thursday night.

As a parting word PLEASE let bygones be bygones.

Your tried lover



Matt’s Notes

1 - In his last letter, written a few hours before this one, Papa expressed the raw dismay he felt immediately after seeing my grandmother with another boyfriend. This would have been bad enough had he merely seen them on the street or cuddling on a park bench, but, according to this letter, Papa encountered “the other fellow” in my grandmother’s house while paying a casual call.

Then, it seems, Papa gamely stuck around until my grandmother and her interloping companion went off together, after which he made some kind of testy declaration to my great-grandmother, went home, and started writing. He sees this, his second letter, as more “sober” and reasonable than the first, but I think it’s even more disjointed and anxious.

For those of you just joining us, a little context: Papa foreswore all other women the moment he met my grandmother and had, at the time he wrote this letter, already courted her for five long years despite her serious efforts to dissuade him. We could chalk up this dogged commitment to the magic of Cupid’s arrow (he was a romantic with a proven capacity for feeling passionately smitten) but I think it was also the solution to a complicated emotional puzzle that Papa had been trying to solve for most of his adult life. I’m not sure I possess, in Papas words, “enough knowledge of human psychology” to be sure of this, but I wrote about it at length in my last post, so please give it a look and check my work.

2 - Papa refers here to 183 Hart Street, where my grandmother’s family lived for many years until they graduated to fancier digs. Papa sent this letter to my grandmother's work address (the law office of Louis Richman, where she worked as a legal secretary) because he was in a desperate way and wanted her to receive them quickly. (The mail came twice a day back then and she would have only seen his letters in the evening if he sent them to her home.)

3 - My grandmother had undeniable nasty streak and appears to have displayed it in full during the episode described here. First, she accused Papa of not seriously wanting to marry her; when he told her he had, in fact, put aside $500 for a ring (a hefty tab for a factory worker, equivalent to $6000 in today’s dollars) she told him it wasn’t good enough. I suppose, since her family had encouraged her to dismiss Papa and had even plotted with her to keep him at bay (as I’ve mentioned before, they used to dress her in glasses and ugly wigs when he’d visit so she’d look less attractive) she felt her nastiness was well-supported and sanctioned, but it’s still pretty shitty behavior.

Which leads us to point out, once again...

4 - ...that Papa could not have tolerated and persevered through so much rejection if he did not, in some way, want or need to see himself as someone who could remain generous, faithful and tolerant in the face of it. I think he truly loved my grandmother and saw her clearly, but because self-sacrifice was so important to him, he also found some abstract satisfaction in his ability to love her despite the costs to his pride and comfort.

5 - Papa may have been a romantic, but he wasn’t impractical. Even as he pens a letter full of impassioned rhetoric and describes his heady dreams of a retail empire, he lays out the baby steps necessary to get there and knows he’d have to work nights and keep his day job to make it happen. He doesn’t promise anything, he just promises to try, keeping in mind how important it will be not to risk what he’s already achieved.

I also think he’s trying to convince my grandmother, who came from a wealthy family and had wealthy suitors, that he’s not without financial ambition.  Interestingly, though, his plan to build a business includes my grandmother as an active partner; having her in his life was, I think, are more important dream to him than making money.

6 - He didn’t learn English until he was eighteen, but Papa filled his diary and letters with impressive and occasionally beautiful English prose. I suppose his talent for writing must have been genuine if it was strong enough to be visible through such a language barrier, but as far as I know he didn’t get to “take advantage of every moment the muse” was with him as much as he would have wanted. It wouldn’t have been like him to wish he had more time, but I like to think that, with this project, I’ve given him some.

7 - This passage is not an example of Papa’s best writing, though the strange phrasing and misused words show how distressed he is to discuss his fear of losing my grandmother, how held back he's felt by "disappointments" and "setbacks," and how desperately he wants to move on with his life.  His battle with emotional stasis, his inability to let himself build a full life in America was, as I’ve discussed on this site (and, again, most recently in my last post) the central struggle of his young adulthood.

It's clearly evident in his 1924 diary and had developed long before he met my grandmother, but he felt his passionate commitment to her would cure his inertia. She only had to marry him. As we know, and as the last five years of Papa’s letters show, it didn’t work out that way. It was unusual for Papa to blame someone else for his troubles, but in this case I can see why his “diagnosis” of his situation includes, among other things, my grandmother’s ongoing indifference. He saw her as his ticket out of limbo and couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to be.

8 - I realize I've convinced myself that Papa's 1924 diary was the last he wrote, perhaps because he seemed so weary by the end of it, perhaps because I can't read more of what he wrote.  Still, if he really discontinued his diaries two years prior to this 1929 letter, it would mean he kept them through 1927.

I’m not sure why he brought up his diaries here or why he thought the memories they contained would “torture” him. Perhaps he filled them with pages of agonized speculation about my grandmother’s behavior, detailed in them the romantic opportunities he turned down with her in mind. Perhaps, as he wrote this letter, he pictured himself spending the rest of his days poring over his diaries and reliving his failed relationship with my grandmother, wondering what little moments he might have changed or words he might have said or gestures he might have made to change the story’s ending.

But, as we know, Papa, this is you:

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