Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Bad Joke Department

In this letter Sylvia writes self consciously about the censor. She cannot get used to the fact that there is a third party reading about their private lives. Yet here I am putting these letters out for the world to read. I wonder when personal and private life becomes an historical part of public memory. Sylvia includes a few jokes in this letter that are meant for the censor’s entertainment as much as Alex’s. The first joke is my favorite. The third joke, I don’t understand. [Update, Shtik Drek means piece of shit in Yiddish] Anyone who has lived with me knows I make up jokes about inanimate objects. Sylvia calls these kind of jokes a poor attempt at wartime humor, where people are looking for “phony gaiety” wherever they can find it. I have no such excuse. None of this letter was censored, though it must certainly have been read. I hope whoever read it laughed or cried.

I am repeatedly astonished by how powerful these letters can be. Time and again I have chosen a letter at random (or one that happened to be written on the same date that I am writing a post) and Sylvia’s words feel like they were stolen from my own head. To me the letters are astonishingly relatable. I mean, I don’t have a child, but her letters have an uncanny ability to reflect thoughts that I relate to so strongly.

Sylvia writes sweetly about her apartment with Alex and their cooking habits. She reminisces about their courtship and makes her friends envious by telling stories about their relationship. Here, she also says that she knew she would marry Alex the moment she set eyes on him. Fact or fiction, (who’s to say?!) it’s lovely to read about.

Mommy did go out and is now back. It’s too late to use the typewriter, because although its supposed to be a noiseless machine, it makes enough racket to wake the household.

While making the formula this evening I was so engrossed in my thoughts about you, that I poured Cookie’s milk into the sterilizer instead of into the measuring cup! Isn’t that terrific?

But I’ll begin to show some sense soon sweetheart. In regarding this letter, it sounds a little slaphappy – but that’s because I’m so keenly aware of there being a third party (that censor!) who is introduced to our private life. 

And there are so many things I’d like to say, but can’t, as I can’t grow accustomed to the idea of a stranger knowing our private thoughts! I wonder how he feels about reading other people’s mail – guess if they don’t try to keep a sense of humor they become crabby old maids. So the following is for you as well as the censor.

Bad Joke Dep’t

  1. Did you hear about the moron who thought his typewriter was pregnant because it skipped a period?
  2. Did you hear about the moron who crippled his poor old mother because someone told him to go back where he came from?
  3. Did you hear about the moron who flushed himself down the toiled because someone told him he was a “Shtik Drek”?


I know they’re bad sweetest, man but that’s what is called ‘humor in wartime.” Anything goes. But its probably a hungry effort on everyone’s part to try and catch some phony gaiety.

Dearest, there are so many things I want to tell you but I’m so tired – and sleepy. It’s rather late- and having to crawl into a cold and lonely bed is nothing a gal looks forward to… but I’m not too tired to say you’re one grand guy! Lately, I’ve started telling interesting stories about the days before our marriage when you were courting me (or was I courting you?) and the stories are really amusing. Blanche was envious when I told her that the first time I set eyes on you – I knew I’d marry you – you lucky stiff! As it  — she’s envious, Virgre’s envious, Lida’s envious. All because of you and Adrienne. She’s such a doll – it’s the most —- sensation in the world

– babe – it’s because you’re not here with me and so all my emotions center around her! But I love that kid so strongly, [cut off] anything happens to her!!! Or to  you – I’d die.

 [cut off]  it’s late and I’m beginning to [feel] a little wacked  up (as usual – — meals) so I’ll close this letter [with a ] close embrace and a wish for your return (funny – I’ve got the [feeling] that you’re not far away from us.

Dearest darling –

Cookie and Mommy love you – so hurry home.

(Ripped off part of a note about Butch)




3 comments on “Bad Joke Department

  1. kinsman of mine
    January 21, 2012

    The first joke was also my favorite! It seems as though you have been finding a greater connection with Sylvia as you continue to post. It’s amazing what we share with those who are separated from us by time and space.

  2. Dad
    January 21, 2012

    To explain the joke: “Shtik drek” is probably a “stick of sh*t.” — that’s why he flushed himself down the toilet, my dear! Pretty bad joke! Now she assumes the censor understands Yiddish! THAT’S funny!

  3. Jo
    January 29, 2012

    Another amusing and touching letter from Sylvia – thanks for posting. I’m envious of your letter collection! Jo

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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