Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘Health

Polio Vaccines and Cottage Cheese

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Below is a V-Mail from this day 69 years ago. Sometimes, what I can learn from one casual line in these letters simply astounds me.

Jan 26, 1944 V-Mail Back

This V-mail was sent to Alex via the Fleet Post Office in New York on January 26th, 1944. Sylvia sent it from her family’s home on Jerome Avenue.

Jan 26, 1944 V-Mail

Dearest husband,

Cookie was [sic] to the doctor’s today – and she weighs almost 22 lbs. and is almost 30” tall. For a seven ½ month old baby, she’s a little horse! She can take plain milk now – no more formula! Hooray!! The sterilizing of bottles keeps up for another few months. Slowly I’m to start her on chopped foods – she’s to get cottage cheese three times a week. I’m to return in 4 weeks and that’s when she’ll start getting her Diptheria injections. And baby, am I scared of that. I wish you were here to hold my hand- or to hold Baby while she gets the needle. Your mother and Edward were here today – and mom brought Cookie two dozen fresh country eggs. Wasn’t that sweet and thoughtful? And it’s so timely, because it’s the end of the month, and it’ll be a week before the check arrives. Your mom is very thoughtful, honey. She and everyone else is well. They’re all going to an affair for infantile paralysis this Sunday. You remember, the drive is on again and it’s the President’s birthday ball too. Mom watched Adrienne clap hands in two languages and then she sang her a little Hungarian rhyme and Adrienne clapped hands at that too. (cont’d) Sylvia

Unfortunately, I don’t have the attached continuation of this letter but this one page alone is full of so many interesting details. The check arrives at the beginning of each month. Adrienne will eat cottage cheese three times a week! She will get multiple Diptheria injections. Alex’s mother brings fresh country eggs. Where was she coming from? I love the idea of Adrienne clapping in “two languages,” and clapping along to a Hungarian rhyme.

The mention of the “drive” and President’s ball refers to the origination of the March of Dimes.  In 1938, Roosevelt created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. According to the FDR Library website, “To increase awareness of the campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in ‘a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.’ Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised 18.9 million dollars for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis…” The Birthday Balls helped raise financial support that led to a polio vaccine. “Although the Birthday Balls ended in 1945 with the death of President Roosevelt, both of their legacies live on in the March of Dimes.”

This is an amazing example of how a nationwide movement, spurred by one inspiring leader, can have an enormous effect. Even when many Americans awaited the checks at the beginning of each month for their survival, as Sylvia did, people attended these balls. Even immigrant families in Brooklyn donated what they could to finding a cure for Polio.

The organization continues today to promote infant health:


Eleanor at FDR Birthday Ball at the Statler Hotel in Washington DC, with Red Skelton, William O. Douglas, Lucille Ball, John Garfield, and Maria Montez. January, 1944. FDR Library Archives, NPx. 72-18:325

Written by Molly

January 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

That’s me pushing a broom

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This letter is from the U.S. Naval Training Station in Sampson, New York. Alex wrote it to Sylvia in 1943.

My darling

A week from today I’ll be in your arms at this time. Sweetheart, forgive me if I don’t write you long letters, believe me I am going in circles from work. They gave us another Battaglion (Battalion?) Standby watch and where ever they need work to be done they send us. Today we shined the administrator’s buildings floors, and besides that we have our own work to take care of, particularly because we have had our extra work taken away from us. I received all your wonderful letters, I can’t do justice to them and I am sorry.

I wrote mom and told her the time I’ll be home, I think we still should do as planned and go over to her home when I arrive. I don’t know what will you do about the shows, but honey I really don’t care. The only think I want is to be with you, near you, to kiss you and make love to you. Everything else is really secondary. So don’t worry about that, if worse comes to worse you will go by yourself after I left and will try to console yourself. This will sound lousy, but honey don’t worry we together and nothing artificial will be needed to stimulate us. I’ll be so happy in the Cookie and Mummy and Daddy combination. What else can a guy want?

It is very nice that the girls wanted to present you with the tickets to make our get together so pleasant, that is really friendship.

Poor Cookie, so she has a rash, I am glad you are taking her to the clinic and I hope her cold is a thing of the past by the time this arrives. You can’t imagine how hard it is to imagine her, because I could believe she is as small as when I left her and I can’t imagine her any bigger.

So mummy’s clothes can already be remodeled, that is splendid, and so cheaply too. I always knew that my wife was an artist.

Don’t feel badly about my castigation, I’d suffer hell for your sake!

Don’t send any mail after Sunday, but Sunday send a long letter so that I’ll be to hold out till Thursday.

That’s me pushing the broom.

That’s me sleeping on my watch.

That’s me dreaming of you and Cookie.

That’s me and you at the station next Thursday evening.

My love to you and Cookie,



This letter from Alex, written in 1943, is particularly interesting because it goes through such a wide array of sentiments in its short four pages. Each page seems dedicated to a different side of Alex and a different part of the life he is leading. Alex begins the letter in a tired voice, apologizing that he cannot write long letters like Sylvia does. He talks about the work he is doing and how he feels like he is going in circles. None of it sounds particularly rewarding.

On the second page Alex becomes sweeter – focusing on his trip home. Sure, it’s kind of uncomfortable to read about my grandpa wanting to have sex but once we get past that this page is a fascinating display of what kind of man he was. He is a little forceful in his opinion that he and Sylvia should go right to his mother’s house when he returns and spend the rest of their time doing whatever they want together. He does not want to go to a show that Sylvia has been planning to attend. He simply says he doesn’t care about the show and she will have to deal with it. He is  also saying this as a loving father who couldn’t ask for more than to be with his wife and child. The page ends with a kind sentiment that Sylvia has good friends. Alex is aware that he is being a little rude and this is the most tension I have seen so far in one of these letters.

The third page is Alex as a father and husband. He addresses Cookie’s cold and rash and then sadly relates that he cannot imagine Cookie any bigger than she was the last time he saw her. This leads him to tell Sylvia when she should and shouldn’t write to him. His somewhat bossy instructions just show how  important the letters are to sustaining his morale. I am not sure what castigation he is referring to his letter. Is there a family member out there who can shed some light on that?

Finally, the last page is comical and romantic. Alex draws little cartoons of him working, sleeping on the job, and dreaming of his family that are playful and wistful. I love that Alex is always wearing his sailor hat in the drawings and we also find out that he slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed! In this letter he is looking forward to a visit home and think of himself in his family role, signing the letter Daddy.

On a more general side note: I really enjoy reading Alex’s letters because of the way he writes in English. For the most part, he writes so well that you wouldn’t realize that English wasn’t his first language. But every so often you can see that he phrases something oddly and I am able to hear his accent and remember a small bit of how he spoke. In this letter he writes, “I don’t know what will you do about the shows…” There are not many solid examples in this letter but you can see that his letters sound formal sometimes because he doesn’t organize sentences in the same order, or speak as casually as a native English speaker might. It is just something to note and I will try to point this out when we hear more from Alex.

Written by Molly

July 29, 2010 at 11:09 am

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Happy Mother’s Day!

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Happy Mother’s Day!

I really mean that.  I like to think that I refrain from giving in to commercially based holidays but once they arrive I can’t help but get swept up in the mushy family love fest. There is so much to say about mothers that I’ve decided to make this week Mother’s Week on the blog. Over the next week I want to pay some true respect to mothers, grandmothers, and women in general. But while it might get pretty corny soon, allow for some of the skepticism included in today’s post.

Me and My Mom

My mom is pretty great, if I do say so myself. Her numerous professional, academic and personal achievements are certainly what I admire her for the most as a woman and a role model. But it might also be mentioned that she is a three-time cancer survivor. Today, much more than in years past, it struck me that Mother’s Day has become a vehicle for talking about breast cancer. Today, even the Yankees were batting with pink bats and wearing ribbons. Because it seemed so much more prevelant than ever before I began to wonder about what it means. Are we, as a culture, more comfortable talking about illness on a national level? I hate to be too cynical but I don’t think this is the case. Our “discussion” of breast cancer is still painted pink and made as feminine as possible.  The talk about finding a cure is couched among words like faith, love and hope. These words are fine in their own right. Everyone can use faith, love and hope every day of their lives. But breast cancer is consistently linked with the domestic, not the scientific.  (I will add that I’ve seen some sassy and creative breast cancer awareness slogans of late that I quite like.)  Are cancer rates rising to such a degree that when anyone in the country thinks of mothers they also think about cancer? Or is this solely a product of excellent branding of the Susan G. Komen foundation? Whatever it is, breast cancer is second only to lung cancer in the deaths of American women (I won’t address the disparities in mortality rates based on economic class and race). For now, I’ll just say get mammograms and stay healthy, ladies.

Celebrating mothers can be traced back to the most ancient civilizations but – according to our reliable friends at Wikipedia – it was Anna Jarvis who is credited with “creating” the holiday to honor mothers in the United States. Woodrow Wilson made it an official holiday in 1914.  Ms. Jarvis herself, however, soon came to deeply regret the commercialization of the holiday and vocally criticized the greeting card industry and the people who bought those greeting cards. This is what I find most interesting: Mother’s Day is the most popular day of the year to dine out (National Restaurant Association). What does this say?

Moms still do most of the cooking. So when it is their day off, we all go out to eat.

Written by Molly

May 9, 2010 at 11:53 pm

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