Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Money Grubbing

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As the weather cools down and summer draws to an end the company of letters becomes all the more comforting. This letter illustrates the importance of sharing the small, seemingly mundane details of everyday life with the one you love – even when you have precious little time and your correspondence is anything but instantaneous. The question remains, as always: What merits recording? What is worth writing in a letter to someone an ocean away? Sylvia spends the majority of this letter describing the items of clothing that she has bought, or will buy, for Adrienne. What seems like a collection of day-to-day details turns into a broader, more historically significant document very quickly. Sylvia acknowledges the sacrifices that Alex is making in sending her money. She is consciously reciting what she spends each dime on so that he knows the money is well spent. Sylvia allows Alex to take part in some of the happiness that the money is helping to provide. While she may come off as simply a consumerist, spendthrift wife telling her husband about frivolous purchases, Sylvia is really comforting Alex by applauding his ability to provide for his wife and daughter.


With the time that has passed, and the fact that these letters were saved, these tidbits become weightier. While these words were dear to Alex, their value has changed over the years, becoming an historical record, a personal diary, and a rich descriptive picture of a day that Sylvia spent with Adrienne. 

Ohrbach's Department Store

*Ohrbach’s – the store that Sylvia refers to in this letter – was a department store originally located in Union Square that stayed in business from 1923 until 1987. I like that this shop existed from Sylvia’s youth and survived until my lifetime. I guess sometimes businesses and shopping habits can be a great historical record.

I don’t know what editorial board Sylvia is referring to in this letter. But I do find it compelling that Sylvia mentions her very active life only in passing. She the goes on to write pages about her day with Adrienne and her little white shoes. I could read Sylvia’s description of Adrienne’s flushed “darkish” complexion in overalls and white shoes over and over again. The words are filled with such a deep, motherly affection. She ends her description of the day with the line “Some fun, eh kid?” I imagine she is referencing the Disney movie, “The Three Caballeros,” which was released in 1944. It was a follow up to  “Saludos Amigos,” an even more blatant propaganda Walt Disney film that was commissioned by the U.S. State Department as a part of the FDR’s Good Neighbor policy. This was an effort to promote unity in the Americas to counter German and Italian propaganda.

Lastly, Sylvia addresses the disappointment that they both felt when they discovered Alex would not be returning home as soon as they had expected. But Sylvia, as always, remains both affectionate but optimistic. As she says, otherwise they’d both end up in the nuthouse.

Talking with my aunt (Adrienne) the other day, she mentioned that what struck her so much about these letters was the idea that the war would be coming to an end. There was a general feeling of homecoming in 1945, an knowledge that there was a definite end point that would mark a time when the bad guy was defeated. How different it is from the wars we live with now in the post-Vietnam era.

Monday night 3/19/45

Darling,

I’m scribbling this note to you while I have the opportunity. There’s an editorial board meeting at our house tonight and we’re all busy on the paper. This afternoon I received your money order for 20.00 – darling you’re wonderful! I feel guilty in accepting it as I’m sure you’re being deprived of a great deal. I love you all the more dearly for your sacrifices, dearest – but it still makes me feel like a money grubbing wife. However, now that it’s here, I’ll spend part of it to buy Adrienne a pink bonnet and a few pairs of outdoor overalls and maybe a few dresses which she now needs as she’s quite a young lady. I’ll buy myself a pair of shoes too, as all I had was a pair of mocassins [sic] which I told you about – and I got a pair of high heels (finally)

…when Anna gave me a check for $22 which she received from her woman’s (?) sick benefit fund. No, she’s not sick – but they give these checks to all their members.

            Friday I bought Adrienne a new pair of shoes – white – and they’re adorable. Her last pair I purchased in Ohrbachs – size 7 ½ – and when I went to Silenfelds (?) where I usually buy her shoes, they told me Cookie had developed weak arches because of Ohrbachs shoes. They gave her a size 7 ½ too – but their 7 ½ is almost an inch larger than Ohrbach’s was! They built something into Cookie’s shoes to fix her arch – and she’s more active than ever. She looks adorable in white shoes.

            Darling, if you had seen her today, you’d have loved her. You know her type of complexion – darkish – well she had a delicately warm flush on her cheeks and she wore a pink sweater and pink bonnet with her curly hair coming out and blue overalls and white shoes.

She looked like a little doll.  We spent the afternoon in the park and she just couldn’t get her fill of the “see-see, Mommy” and of the swings. I not only had to push her, but her doll too, who was in another swing! Some fun, eh kid?

            Dearest, your letter sounded a bit depressed and I can understand why – since you had expected to come home. Sweetheart, you tried to write to me in encouraging tone, telling me it’s better for our future plans if you’re away a little longer. Darling, I believed what you wrote! And although it hurts dreadfully to know that we won’t see each other as soon as we expected, I think that looking at things as optimistically as possible is the only solution…

… for both of us, otherwise we’d both end up in the nuthouse.

Sweetheart, remember always how dearly I love you – and how anxiously I await your return. There’s nothing I won’t do for you on your return – I’ll even get up to make your breakfast! (Just picture the three of us around the breakfast table. Sounds swell, yes?)

            All my love, honey –

                                    Sylvia

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Written by Molly

September 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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