Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

You Smelt of Ether and I of Booze

This letter, written in February of 1945, is one of the most emotionally wrought of the letters that I’ve come across yet. After pages of describing his love for Sylvia, Alex talks about Adrienne’s birth in an honest but winsome way.

Feb 27 /45

My darling sweet wife,

I just finished a few letters to the folks and here I am back with you.

            Darling I can’t get over your two pictures, you look so lovely it just breaks my heart having to miss all this time, by not being with you.

            I am terribly in love with you and how I want to make you happy I can’t describe. Perhaps its sadism on my part, but I am almost glad of this long wait for you. How much more will I appreciate your loveliness and kindness when war! Darling this is a good lesson, perhaps a hard one, but I am sure it will make a better man and husband of me when I get back. I always tried to be somewhat considerate to you, but I have been many a time impatient, picky on small things and many ways also inconsiderate. That is all over, knowing what fine girl you are, there is nothing in the world that I would deny from you. When we will be together after the war is over, there is no power on earth that will be able to take me from your side, not even for a few days.

            Believe me darling, I do regret every moment that I did not spend at your side.

So if they tell me that the streets of Chicago are filled with gold for me to pick, you’ll have to be with me to do it! Do you remember how flippantly I threw away a whole year almost of our married life? Doing things worth while yes, but no matter how much they were, it wasn’t worth to miss all that love you could have given me.

            I’ve read the story of Zlatko , and he is the same old boy, full of ego, but really good at heart. I am glad he is in ??? and doing well. I really take pride in him. When I go to England, I am going to send him a little contribution I know he will be glad to hear from me.

            Darling you and me how I felt when Cookie was born. I was terrified. When last seen you in the ?? my room I went out feeling so empty so full of fear that I can’t describe it. The reaction next day, and the same evening was the result. I don’t think I ever been that drunk. Do you remember? You smelt of ether and I of booze. Darling, I wished it were the opposite (that sounds funny?). The day we took Cookie home was a real day of happiness, I never was so glad to pay the bills than that day. Funny, but you were the only woman on whom somehow I never noticed that you were pregnant. You always looked beautiful to me.

Darling, I am glad the folks liked the perfume. Of course, I tried to remember everybody. It was time that I should. I wish I had just a little more money and I could bring you a few more things, but everybody will have to be satisfied to see me, because my funds are low, and this souvenir business is a big drain, if one has to think of everybody. Now don’t get brighter ideas, I don’t want you to send me money. I have some coming to me but I am not drawing it out for the time being.

            When I get to England I’ll try to buy some material for my mother, but don’t tell her that as yet, because I might change my mind or won’t have the stamps, I just want to know if you approve of it, although I know you will.

            I hope you will make up that suit for spring. I’ll see how much I can draw and if sufficient I’ll send you a money order, to pay the taylor [sic]. At the same time don’t be afraid to spend out of eighty dollars because I have quite a little money in the Armed Guard Center. Let see, I have about $250 coming to me when I come home or more. Darling, then the sky will be the limit I’ll spend it all on you. Clothes,

good entertainment, shoes, and the things you want for the home. Love and lots of it free… just for the asking – Oh I hope this time flys[sic] away fast and I can be home to take good care of you.

            We won’t be long here so if there is any interruption in the mail you know why. I hope that when in England we get our orders to go back home, what joyous day it will be!

            I am going to answer your sweet letters all of them one by one that will give me something to write.

            Tomorrow I am going to town to see some of the sights. There is an old castle I want to see and a cathedral both 800 years old and a few museums.

            Tell mom not to mind if Eugene does not write often. It is really difficult for him. Its cold in his quarters and all the facilities to induce one to do so are missing. I gave him my fountain pen because his was broken. He gave me the “Cross and the Arrow” so if you didn’t mail it yet, do not do so.

            Darling, I am so happy that the baby is well but I hope you will from now on tell me if some thing is wrong at home.

If I know you will write me about, than I won’t be worried about. How did she catch the chicken pox? Did you have the house quarantined? I am so glad you had mom to help you. It is swell of her really. I hope someday I can make it up and do something worthwhile for her.

            Darling, it is so hard from such distance to advise you, but makes me feel so sad tat you go without so many things. Like having to buy shoes for 3.25 and feeling it in the budget. If I am not coming home yet, I’ll make another attempt to change my pay card and allot some more money to you. I do want so much that you should be well dressed, and a little more carefree.

            In one of the letters you mention you had the doctor to see the baby. Was it a Navy doctor? Darling, this is the season for it, because of the flue to yourself and Cookie. The least sign of it demand real attention, they got to give it to you, you live near enough the hospital that they can send a doctor to see you. I am not really worried, but I will be, if you don’t reassure me, that you are not neglecting yourself.

            Dearest, my emotions are so pent up that I could cry from sheer frustration when I think that

It may be some time before I see you. The only thing that restrains me is the knowledge that the war cannot last long. I think we would all go crazy if the outlook wouldn’t look so bright.

So my sweet wife, we just got to hold our horses and be patient for a little while yet. There are a lot of joyous days ahead, we just have to get over this difficult period.

The two beautiful sweethearts, I love both of you dearly. Take good care of yourselves, I am going to be home soon, and I want the whole fleet to envy my beautiful family.

            A million kisses and huggings,



Although this letter is quite personal, there are a few references that Alex throws in that put the letter in its era. Alex mentions how “flippantly” he “threw away” the first year of their marriage. He feels he should not have traveled so much for the Russian War Relief. This leads him to reference a man named Zlatko. I believe that he is referring to a Croatian violinist and political activist during World War II who fought for medicinal supplies to be sent to resistance forces abroad. He was also a chair for the Russian War Relief.

Alex also mentions that Eugene (who he excuses for not having written to his mother so much) gave him The Cross and the Arrow, a book by Albert Maltz. Maltz was one of the Hollywood Ten, writers and directors who were blacklisted in 1947 after refusing to give testimony to front of HUAC. Alex mentions the book only to tell Sylvia that she need not send it to him because he already got a copy. I like the idea of books being traded during the war.  Alex gave Eugene a fountain pen and Eugene gave him a book – an endearing and thoughtful trade that also tells us that they saw each other recently. This letter was written two and a half years before Maltz was blacklisted.

I was tickled by the line “this souvenir business is a big drain, if one has to think of everybody.” Alex is proud to have remembered to buy gifts for his family but admits that it takes a toll on his funds. While the instinct makes sense, and souvenirs are meant to tell someone you were thinking of them, it strikes me as just the slightest bit strange – to buy these gifts when traveling for reasons of war. When Alex mentions the sites he will be visiting, they seem a poor consolation prize for having to be away from home. Just as fabric is a poor substitute for a son and perfume a poor substitute for a husband.

The end of the war was approaching but in this letter, even one day seems like too long.


One comment on “You Smelt of Ether and I of Booze

  1. Sheryl
    August 19, 2011

    Thanks for sharing! It is such a wonderfully, rich letter (I read every word of it!)–and gives so many clues about the personality of the author.

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This entry was posted on August 15, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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