Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘Apartment

Beauty Parlors and Weddings

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We are going back a few years in this letter, to the time before Sylvia moved into her apartment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard projects. This letter is particularly gossipy and entertaining. There is no mention of anything here except the beauty salon and a wedding that Sylvia attended. I wish we still had the pictures that Sylvia refers to here. I’d like to see her and Adrienne in front of the Hudson River, the water that I looked at everyday growing up from my apartment.

Sylvia talks about going to get her “hair set” in this letter. I’m not even sure what that means (though I can imagine it involves a lot of hairspray and chemicals). Her referral to Alex’s mother as “Mom” and her attachment to Serena comes through with clarity in this snippet of everyday life for a woman who’s husband is away but who has, in his stead, a whole new family.

September 10th, 1944


Received these pictures today and am mailing them to you. Doesn’t Adrienne look adorable? The water is the Hudson River. The calf we ate a few weeks later. Horrible thought.

I have a lot of work packing. Oh how I wish you were here. As it is, I’m anxiously waiting for your cable assuring me of your safety.

I’m expecting 2 more rolls to be developed and you’ll see the results as soon as I.

Your mother and Serena were here and

Serena gave me $15.00 for the rent. Isn’t she wonderful? They were here Saturday – and when I went to the beauty parlor to have my hair set for Emma’s wedding, Serena and Mom came along. Mom had her hair set and Serena had her nails done. I looked wonderful darling, and how I wished you could have been there with me. It was a nice wedding and my cousin Emma good, for her. Charlie Winter says she’s the only ugly bride he’s ever seen.  I’m enclosing the menu .The liquor was lousy- but the food was good. The groom is skinny and gawky and ugly. But they will be very happy.

Cookie is downstairs with Mom and I’m supposed to be packing. It’s such a headache! But once I’m settled in the new apartment, it’ll be O.K. Darling, kiss me as long and as often as you can when you come home. And dream of me tonight.

I love you, sweetheart.

All our love,

Sylvia and Adrienne

The note that Serena gave Sylvia money for rent caught my attention. There are any number of mentions of the family giving each other money but today what I noticed is that this $15 was for rent. America is at war during this time and in just a few years, with the return of the G.I.s, America will enter of economic prosperity and the expansion of the white middle class. Yet here, just a few years earlier Sylvia cannot even afford her rent while her husband is away at war. Sylvia is lucky to get an apartment in the projects — the housing shortage in New York will not be addressed for a few more years — and the letters just after her move are filled with concerns about the cost of moving. I particularly relate to this letter because of my own spatial (but seemingly temporal) relocation. It seems that I myself have moved to the 1950s. More on that in another post.

Written by Molly

September 12, 2012 at 10:51 am

The Impatient Years

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This letter touches on a number of important topics. Sylvia is living in her new home. She visited her in-laws on the Lower East Side and then took Adrienne home on the train which was exhausting even though the transportation is fairly convenient. She is looking forward to – and planning – Alex’s visit home. And she shares a bit of gossip about women getting pregnant, living with in-laws and starting jobs.  What I found most striking in Sylvia’s last letter was the detail in which she described the movie “The Impatient Years.” She recites the plot in its entirety – this being her argument that they should go see the movie.

I haven’t been able to see this movie (Netflix doesn’t have it) but, as Sylvia and IMDB tell me, it is a movie that looks at relationships that are interrupted by the war. It is about being married and still being strangers. It’s also about how the war rushes and then stalls relationships. (The tagline of the movie is: They found the answer to WAR-TIME MARRIAGES in the middle of a KISS!) The couple in the movie know each other for only three days before they get married and the husband leaves for war. Sylvia mentions that Alex wants to go to the hotel where they went for the “first night of [their] acquaintance.” (I’m not sure if this is a euphemism or not, or if it was commonly used). This leads Sylvia to talk about the movie and how the couple re-live their courtship. The poster for the movie claims to hold the answers about War Marriages. This, I imagine, held great appeal for the general American audience.

Sylvia lived with her parents when she first met Alex and it isn’t hard to believe that couples often got married quickly in the 1940s because it was otherwise difficult to find the time and space to be alone together. To me it seems both romantic and quirky that Alex, having never seen his new home, wants to take Sylvia to a hotel when he is on leave. Interestingly, this is the same idea that the judge has in “The Impatient Years,” when he wants to remedy a couples’ strained marriage. Like Sylvia, I don’t wish to draw a direct parallel between the movies’ broken relationship and that of my grandparents but reliving the courtship days seems to hold romantic merit. I, too, tend to reminisce about (or wallow in?) the early days of a relationship once it is ending.

So often, these letters are about finding personal space, finding a way to connect with family and spouses, learning how to be alone and together, and figuring out how to stay close across great distances.

Written by Molly

July 11, 2010 at 7:00 am


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