History of World War Two Told Through Letters
I’m struggling to write this post because I’m not letting myself write about what I really want to explore, the fight that is building between my grandparents in these letters at the very tail end of this war. The minute details in these letters are often very interesting solely because they are historical. But, as a friend pointed out to me, they were meant as a communication between two people – not documents in which everything is exciting. I think that trying to figure out the significance of each detail puts unfair pressure on these letters. There was already so much pressure on these letters. They were already so loaded. So forgive me if this post doesn’t exactly have a point. I can justify it only as a method for beginning to think about my grandparents’ lives and that time period as a whole. Right now, I will focus instead on the other news that seems to concern Sylvia the most: Food and Education.
It feels comical how much Sylvia writes about Adrienne’s eating habits in these letters. Here she actually writes down exactly what Adrienne eats in the course of a day. The items are plenty interesting but her stereotypical “Jewish mother-ness” makes me chuckle as well. The oil that Sylvia lists first in Adrienne’s diet is actually cod liver oil, which – my aunt explained to me – was used to prevent Rickets (softening of bones caused by a Vitamin D deficiency and more common among children). I think that the pride that Sylvia takes in the nutrition of her child is telling. At a time when food was rationed, dietary staples were difficult to come by, and money was tight, being able to feed your child was a real accomplishment. Sylvia was clearly focused on watching her child thrive and something about the way she lists or describes food makes it feel tangible, luscious and delicious. (However, I’ll pass on the ground liver.) I also found it interesting that even a list of food can become so dated. My aunt had to explain to me what “oil” meant on the list and what “junket” milk was.
I was also surprised to see that Sylvia and Alex were trying to send Adrienne to the Bank Street school. For those of you who are not New Yorkers, the Bank Street School is a well-known private school (currently located on the Upper West Side but originally located on Bank Street – as the name suggests). Alex, though he writes better in his third language than I do in my first, had only an 8th grade education. Even with their monetary constraints Alex and Sylvia wanted to make sure their children received the best education possible. Adrienne and David both ended up attending the local public school near their home next to the Navy Yard while they lived in Brooklyn. Tuition at Bank Street today is quite a bit steeper than the $400 that concerned Sylvia. One conversion website tells me that $400 in 1945 is the equivalent to $4,852.79 today. Sadly, that won’t get you a private education in NYC these days. Having myself attended public school for my entire childhood I feel an allegiance to public education though I am aware of my privilege and luck in attending the public institutions that I did. My grandparents were… progressive, to say the least, and yet when it came to education they hoped for private schooling.