Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia’
Thank you for your patience while I got through my exams. I’m excited to have them behind me and to finally be able to revisit my own work once again.
As I revisit the letters that are the focus of this blog, I am struck by some of the ways my family narrative has shifted over the past year. I began this blog in part to understand my grandmother, whom I never met. This notion implies that she died prematurely. Last year, I shared that the family believed Sylvia died from an infection like strep throat – likely caused by an infection at the dentist – that moved to her heart at a time before antibiotics were available and effective enough to stop it. Infections like this are usually treatable in the United States today. It is now one year ago this week that I had open heart surgery for a congenital condition that we now believe may be the same condition that Sylvia had. After a few years of writing this blog there was suddenly a new way that I am tied to her. But this new link is also what kept me from ever meeting her and what prohibited my father and aunt from knowing her longer.
I want to re-start this blog with a reposting of the entry I wrote just after my surgery. It includes postcards sent from Sylvia in the hospital not long before she passed away: See it here.
Please stay tuned for more regular postings again.
This the stationery I mentioned I had ordered for myself and your mother about three or four months ago. It was delivered just the other day. It’s not as classy as the advertisement stated it would be. But one gets used to anything.
Anyway, Cookie and I are just fine – especially Cookie. She HAS A NEW TOOTH! THE FIRST. To me it looks like a little hole in her lower gum, but Mom says that that’s because the tooth has pushed through finally. She isn’t too cranky or feverish. She has only one disturbance, and that is that she won’t go to sleep until about eight in the evening. I’ll have to continue this in pencil as Cookie isn’t quite asleep and I don’t want to disturb her.
This is just a very short note, but I’ll write you at greater length tomorrow. Did I tell you that Leon’s on a weeks furlough? I think I did. Betty Lampel is coming to dinner tomorrow Bertie Schneider wrote asking what happened to me?
I received your pictures and they’re wonderful. You’re beautiful on all of them. Especially the large one which is tinted. It’s framed and stands on our table! I sent 4 of them to your mother. One for her, 1 for Pauline, 1 for Anna and 1 for Serena. Haven’t heard from her so far, but probably will tomorrow. I’ll send you a long air mail letter tomorrow. Did you receive the package I sent you? Baby darling, there wasn’t too much in the package, as I mailed it before I received the check which came today. I’m going to insert an ad with the NYTimes for work. I also wrote to Jimmy G., A. (?) -, and Nila – a short friendly note and mentioning that I was looking for manuscript work or any typing. Hope you haven’t any objections? Please forgive my haste, but Cookie is stirring and I have to shush her. Please hurry home, and don’t worry about any gifts – this is war and people don’t expect any. All my love, my darling,
This is a short and simple letter that serves mostly to give us a glimpse into the daily life of Sylvia. I’m sorry I don’t have the photos that Sylvia mentions here. Money continues to be a prominent theme in these letters. I really like the line, “Please hurry home, and don’t worry about any gifts – this is war and people don’t expect any” because it so succinctly links the personal lives of everyone on the home front with the war. Sylvia wavers between expressing her wishes for new furniture or a new item of clothing and her pragmatic fiscal responsibility. Did she just ask if Alex had objections to her looking for manuscript typing work? I suppose any smart independent woman knows not to bruise a man’s ego by taking too much initiative!
My computer is back in hand and we can continue our time traveling!
Let’s take a trip back to the fall or winter of 1943. The last letter you saw was a heated one from the end of the war in 1945. In this letter Alex is still in training and based in Virginia.
Here I am at my new base. We arrived this morning early, and we’re terribly tired. Up till now we had work to do with our gear welcome speeches and being assigned to our company and barracks. Now I am very tired and won’t write lengthily.
Out of the men who came down a group of us has been selected for special training and instead the usual 4 weeks we shall remain here for 5.
I’ve been appointed as the captain for my crew. I hope I’ll do well. We are six in the crew among whom a former member of my old company at Sampson.
The place is a new one, formerly an infantry camp, and the navy took it over, the barracs [sic] are not so nice as the ones in Sampson. When we got here we all felt pretty bad because we were hungry, dirty and cold, but now I feel in much better humor because my good luck in having been assigned to the special training, which is an experiment for future sailors to follow if we make good.
This is my address:Alex Rosner S 2.c Gun Crew Polaroid #6 Arm guard School Camp Shelton Norfolk (11) Virginia
The officers treat us nice and usually ship out with the group, which they train, and are courteous. I think I like it. They give us here too some statistics which I am sure would make you feel good about us and the enemy.
Darling, I am very dull tonight because of weariness, so forgive me if I am not long in this letter. I am including a few lines which I jobbed [sic] down on my way but which I was prohibited from mailing from the train.
Tomorrow I’ll write again.My love to you my dearest sweetheart
A two-year jump is a big one in these letters. They read so differently. First of all, the war is still an abstract idea. Alex says he was told some statistics about “the enemy” which are encouraging. Alex takes pride in his appointment to captain of the gun crew, and they are still getting settled and hearing “welcome speeches” at their new base. Alex even says that he thinks he likes it at the barracks.
I don’t know if it is because Alex is tired, as he says repeatedly, or because Alex’s English actually improved as he wrote over the next two years. His sentences are constructed as if they were translated from another language. They are not written as if he is thinking in English. He writes, “we are six in the crew,” and “forgive me if I am not long in this letter.”
Having known Alex so much later in his life – when he had reflected on his experiences and become quite staunch in his political views – it is fascinating for me to see that he was not always so set in his beliefs. The Grandpa Alex I knew was strictly opposed to war and the stories I heard about the Navy were rarely positive. When I was in 7th grade he gave a copy of Mark Twain’s “A War Prayer” and wrote in it that it was a “most precious book.”
In this letter Alex seems young and idealistic. Even though he went through a tremendous amount of hardship before this time his words sound youthful: “I’ve been appointed captain of my crew. hope I’ll do well.”
It is clear that when Alex began his naval career he hoped to be a successful and valuable member of the crew. While this letter is caring and loving, I would imagine it was difficult for Sylvia to read about Alex’s hopes for the navy from her home in Brooklyn with her less than 6 month old daughter by her side.
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.
Alex darling –
Your mother paid me a surprise visit tonight, and then in came Anna and Edward. It was pleasant to have company this rainy night. this note will be short – but I am enclosing some of the Saratoga pictures to make up for it. By this time you must be close to home – so I hope I’ll see you very soon.
All my love, dearest,
Love and many kisses from your Mother
Dear Alex, I hope to see you very soon. We are here at your home, the Baby is very lovely. Eugene is in Belgium.
Love your sister,