Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters


Dearest –

I love you…
And if you love me-
Come to the hospital
In a 1-2-3!
Gone to Beth Israel –
Be calm, daddy. – (I am not!)

Love –

(First I’ll call the doc from the drug store.)

2 o’clock.

This note, scribbled to Alex on June 8th, 1943, the day Sylvia gave birth to my Aunt Adrienne, encapsulates Sylvia’s spunk and charm. On my best days I can only hope to be as clever and lovely as she when she was in labor.

This rhyming, calming, joyful message isn’t the beginning of the story and it isn’t the end but it certainly is one beginning and I’ve got to start somewhere. As this blog unfolds you, imagined reader, will read the correspondence between my grandmother, Sylvia, and my grandfather, Alex, as they navigated through one of the nation’s most trying times.

These posts will focus on their letters, the historical context of the letters, and my experience learning about Alex and Sylvia’s lives. Alex and Sylvia lived in the Fort Greene Projects of Brooklyn in the 1940s and 50s. Alex, like thousands of men, was in the Navy and sent abroad during World War II. Sylvia, like thousands of women, stayed at home with a newborn child, Adrienne – most often referred to in the letters as “Cookie.”

I never met Sylvia but I hope to begin to understand who she was as I read and write about her. She has long been a mysterious presence in the family history. She is someone who is never forgotten but hardly known by any living family members. These are the two protagonists in this unfolding story. The progenitors.

This week marks the 6th anniversary of Alex’s death at the age of 91. At a Passover seder that my roommates arranged I realized that the last seder I attended was just days before Alex died, my senior year of high school. I am looking to understand who Alex was as a person long before he was my grandfather.

This blog is about discovering who these two people – who are both typical and unique – were and what their relationship meant. I never knew Sylvia, but she and my grandfather wrote hundreds of letters during the years that Alex was stationed abroad – letters that I cannot adequately describe with a few trite adjectives.

This is the story of one part of the nation’s history filtered through one well-documented relationship. I think this is a journey that should be shared and valued.

8 comments on “Birth

  1. Adrienne
    April 7, 2010

    It is wonderful to see this blog and to feel part of world and family history.

    Molly, thank you for doing this. This is a beautiful blog and shares what one family went through during the Second World War. Probably not so different from what young service men and women are going through now with the wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Just to add a little….

    Sylvia had to go to the drugstore to phone the doctor because, like most people at that time, we had no phone. It took a few years for us to get a “party line,” where you shared the line with several other families.

    Family lore has it that I was born in a blackout and that when my father got to the hospital all he could see were my eyes.

  2. Brooklyn Buff
    April 7, 2010

    Amazing. a husband at work; no phone — cell or otherwise. This was certainly a different time. I look forward to more! Can’t wait to learn more about Alex and Sylvia, Brooklyn and Baby!
    Brooklyn buff

  3. Elena
    April 7, 2010

    Molly – I am so excited that you are doing this!!! I’m glued to the screen and can’t wait to read more. I also love that by doing this, our descendants will not only get to know Alex and Sylvia and Cookie (Hi MOM!) they will also get a glimpse into who you are. Mason, Cecilia and I all truly welcome your perspective and comments.


  4. Zach
    April 8, 2010

    Dear Molly,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this! This is a beautiful tribute to two people who stand tall in our family’s history. I am eagerly looking forward to more of their letters and more of your notes. What an exciting journey this will be.


  5. Pingback: Let’s talk about talking… « Brooklyn in Love and at War

  6. Shelly
    April 27, 2010


    What a wonderful undertaking to share with all. You are so lucky you have all these letters written between your grandparents. I hope it gives you the insight you are looking for and that it helps you feel closer to both Alex and Sophie.



  7. Jamera
    June 4, 2013

    Wow! These are amazing posts. I have one question: What happened to Sylvia? Did she die? If so, when?

  8. Pingback: Brooklyn in Love and War | Text Transformations

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This entry was posted on April 5, 2010 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .


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