2 Chapter 2 – Between India and Poland – Autumn 1943, Letters 41-73
#41. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
Censored – Chicago
September 17, 1943
I am now safely ensconced “Somewhere in India” along with Fred and the Col. Made the last leg by plane arriving yesterday P.M. Got a cable off to you this morning. Couldn’t tell whether you had moved or not so I sent it to 9 Beverly. I figured that that way – everyone would know simultaneously.
There is no mail from you here. What cooks?
As yet I have no permanent billet and haven’t been able to unpack. Will settle down within next few days and get off a long letter. I have some extra money – about $200 which I won wagering on the boat which you will get shortly. Have fun.
Will get off a relatively descriptive letter soon. Bought a sun helmet today and was issued a GI bicycle.
Felt quite odd riding back to the billet in my O.D. bicycle wearing my helmet. Everything so far looks wonderful – good food, work, people and quarters. Love to you and the Pencil. I sure need a letter.
#42. JDM to DPM (ALS, 2pp.)
September 18, 1943
I will try to give you the daily life as she goes on here and save all the impressions of the trip until I can get them down in carbon copies for appropriate distribution. Don’t be afraid that they will fade away as I have scribbled a few of them on the boat.
I am not yet properly outfitted, but am well on the way. Stopped in and bought bush jacket material and shorts material from the British post exchange -15 yards of bush jacket stuff and 8 yards of shorts material plus some rubber soled shoes and two pair of high wool socks, all for 20 rupees, or less than $7. The bush jacket is a semi-Hollywood affair like a blouse with an open neck, belted back etc. No shirt needed underneath. I am getting three of them tailored to order for a buck apiece – and 50 cents apiece for the shorts. In the little tailor shop the Indians sit on the floor and run little Singer sewing machines by a hand wheel on the end. They also thread needles while holding the needle between their toes. In fact today when Freddy went shopping in the market place he found a man slicing meat by holding the knife between his toes and pushing the chunk of meat back and forth against it with both hands – imagine trying to hold a knife that steady with your toes?
I sent you more money than I had previously anticipated – $450, but don’t worry about my having enough left. I get an additional $90 a month per diem. My longevity pay and overseas pay added to that gives me a total of $452 a month, so I will be able to send you some every now and then. Save a part of it for the post war binge when I hit the states.
My day – the bearer, Endar, comes and wakes me at 7:30 with hot tea, bread and fruit. Then I can get breakfast – if necessary downstairs in time to ride off on my bicycle and get to the office by 8:30. Lunch hour is 12:30 to 2:00 & I ride back to the hotel where we have our private table and Ali, our private waiter. Lunch is heavy – then up to the room to read or nap until it’s time to ride off again. Work is over at five – then volley ball until your clothes are soaked until about 8:00. Then shower and dinner at 9:00. Then to bed when it seems cool enough.
Yesterday a very nice young Hindu from Kashmir, up in the mountains, came in at tea time. He has dealt with the Col. before, and laid all his bright wares out on the floor. I bought you what I think is a beautiful shawl, hand embroidered border on soft white ibex wood. He has a shop in the mountains and a worker took 9 weeks from dawn to exhaustion making it. I paid 100 rupees for it – or $30, and when you get it, – about 4 months from now, I want you to see if you can find anyone who can tell, by comparative prices, whether or not I was stung. I also bought us the brightest tea set (18 rupees – $6) imaginable – you will get that along with the silver bracelet I bought a long way from here – an antique – well – early Victorian, reconditioned, with a delicate thistle design lightly worked in gold (for less than $5.)
All in all I like it here. There is a lot of malaria and dengue and dysentery – but I am being careful and feeling swell – except for the dread disease of athlete’s foot picked on shipboard. More soon.
Love to you & the Pencil
#43. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 19, 1943
This is a Sunday afternoon – and damned hot – in fact the word hot doesn’t properly express it – it is blinding and there is no movement at all – no traffic. We work Sunday mornings and have just finished lunch. It is very peculiar why, in this heat, you get an urge for hot heavy food. But believe me, you do – and it is the custom to eat it in quantity. I had Mulligatawny soup, curry of rice, curried mutton, veal, spaghetti au gratin, iced tea, mashed potatoes and vanilla ice cream – served by Ali in his red and white turban, white gown, broad red belt and bare feet.
The finances here are something amazing. A tin of shoe polish costs 75 cents. A bottle of scotch about $20 and yet all the laundry etc. you can turn in is accepted at 90 cents a week. It is hard to think of their crisp little bits of smelly paper as money – so I guess one has to either lose it in a poker game or run out of it before realization sets in. These rag heads though have an eagle eye out for it.
I am beginning to speak a very Americanized version of basic Hindustani. It is sort of fun – but I don’t ever expect to speak it due to the numerous clicks and odd gutterals used by the boys.
This whole place is filled with two items that are rapidly becoming very closely identified with the country, one – thousands of four bladed quiet fans that hang down from the ceiling and are almost as great a necessity as food and water–second- thousands of two-wheeled horse drawn taxis called tongas. Fare is 8 annas or 1/2 a rupee or 15 cents for a half mile.
Heard today that my mail is in another town and will be forwarded to me soon – You have no idea of the conjectures you can make about what has happened when you don’t hear for two months.
#44. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
September 19, 1943
It isn’t any use to try to tell you how happy I am to hear from you, but it’s the best news I can think of until we hear you’re coming home. Your cable arrived tonight, and Dorrie had them give her the message, then phoned me, as they sometimes have trouble getting us from Utica. I was beginning to be rather uncomfortable about the whole thing, after the false alarm via the Millers, and had decided that direct word from you would be the only thing that would satisfy me.
I’m terribly sorry you didn’t find mail when you arrived. I was sure you’d find such a pile of letters awaiting you that you’d probably never read them all. Things have always happened to us so fast that we might either of us expect that almost anything goes in two months.
Penny’s foot has healed on both ends of the cut, and yesterday he started walking. He was slow to walk, but I knew that once he started he would be hard to stop, so didn’t rush him. He walks everywhere without help, even from church to the house today. Of course it is very carefully strapped, and he is a little stiff-legged, but it is so wonderful that he has had only this short time with it, as it just missed being serious.
I feel a little restless about the apartment problem, but don’t see any way to press the matter. But I think it best to just keep living here as comfortably as we can, and keep hunting – eventually something will pop up.
Nana’s birthday is the 29th of this month, and Pop and Dorrie’s the next two months. Of course I will get them presents from both of us, but I thought you might like to communicate with them in some way about that time. If you can get any green tea, it would be swell to send Rita some for Christmas – there won’t be any here for years, probably. Coffee is no longer rationed here, you know.
(Editor’s Note: coffee rationing ended in July 1943 after beginning November 1942)
You are there! It seems like a million years since you left, and once letters start coming I will be so happy. There is no one like you, no relationship like ours, and it makes a lack that nothing can fill. Sometimes I think “Oh, two years are like a wedge, driven in a human relationship,” yet if the relationship is like ours, as close, and based on so much common feelings and tastes and desires, and developed in so much of common experiences and mutual respect and most of all, love, why shouldn’t two years or whatever, be just a sort of waiting and enduring, and life be all the fuller when it’s over. There are so many people one feels really close to in a lifetime, and it doesn’t matter if they’re not always around – they stay just as real, and just as unique, and just as irreplaceable all through your life, once they are an accepted part of it. Once you see your life in perspective, as I have done in this spell of comparative quiet since you left, you see that only a few people belong in it forever, and all the people and things in between are just part of the background and the color. You and I are the fabric. Nothing that happens can really take you away, because there’s only been one John in my life, and he has been the strongest and the best and the most real. What is a year or two or more compared to the vividness and reality and the enduring friendship and love of a human being who is right for you? All the other things fall away in time.
I love you, my husband, Dordo
#45. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 21, 1943
Rode off into the evening last night at 9:30 and saw Judy Garland in “For Me & My Gal.” OK except for the flag waving – you have no idea how disgusting and discouraging home consumption movies full of war talk can make you when you are visiting them for purely escapist reasons. All of my reading material since I left the US has been pretty escapist except for four books –
Caribbean Adventure – Ivan Sanderson
White Sails Crowding – Ed. Gilligan
Blackout in Gretley – J.B. Priestly
The Killer & The Slain – H. Walpole
– all of which I enjoyed. I bought the last two in the pint size form English publishers are now forced to use. The first two were borrowed on ship board.
I am dying of curiosity to get my mail from you, The last letter I had is dated June 27th, you know. There should be at least three, & maybe four in transit.
Drove a staff car today & nearly got onto the wrong (right) side of the road once. It is very confusing to have the shift at your left hand.
There is a lot of dirt that I could tell you were it not for military censorship – but some is GI rumor & some is depressing so I’ll save it until I get home & looking these letters over will remind me.
#46. JDM to DPM (ALS, 2pp.)
September 22, 1943
I have a little touch of upset stomach from the Indian food – so I have stayed in the room this morning. I have been going over your letters to me to determine what I am missing.
One of them must have given the dope re Pencil’s operation. But you have averaged about one letter every other day since I left – thus I gloat when I think there must be at least another 60 letters for me in transit somewhere -please write with the idea that we don’t get news except BBC rebroadcast over Radio India – we don’t see magazines or newspapers less than a month old – that I am most hungry for personal news – but could also stand a little home front stuff.
In looking over the time I have been away it also occurs to me that I have drawn an even $500 pay and sent an even $500 to you – that is a source of great self-adoration to me. Aren’t I wonderful?
Enclosed you will find a hand-made Indian silver knife (it comes out of the scabbard) which is a replica of the knife the Ghurkas use. They are the toughest little men in this part of the world – and all live up in the border hills. The little notch they sight with, and prefer to use a backhand forward scooping motion with it, catching the opponent just below the belt buckle. I have purchased a full size one which I will get off with the other stuff which I haven’t actually sent yet. It is a Ghurka tradition that you never show the blade of the knife without drawing blood with it. If among friends you merely nick yourself in the arm.
It is possible to buy a can of grapefruit juice here for $1.25.
My expenditures, fixed, for a month are as follows – (figure at 3.3044 rupees per dollar.
Room & board– 170 rupees
Bearer 30 rupees
Dobee (laundryman) 12 rupees
Waiter 12 rupees
Misc. services 10 rupees
Pay 830 rupees
What sort of stuff would you like to have me buy?
I can’t think of anything at all that I need. If anybody insists on buying me a Christmas present – have them make it a war bond, and turn it over to you. There is no point in sending me anything because I may get it in six months and there is a good chance I won’t get it at all. So please don’t ignore this plea. Send snapshots, but that’s all.
Take care, and write often. Please give the facts in here in which 9 Beverly would be interested to them, because it is too damn dull writing the same stuff twice.
#47. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
September 22, 1943
Everybody in this joint decided to take a bath tonight, so while I wait for more water to get warm, I catch you up on what, if any, transpires with us. In the first place, great peace descended after I knew you were safe, and I am furtively watching for letters, tho I know it is too soon. Mrs. Bowlin gets some of her letters so quickly that it seems as if some of the ones that leave here via “airmail” should get to you, but no doubt there are many more things to be sent in your direction than in ours.
Last night I sat up until two, tearing the last of the back issues of “Time” apart, and I sent you some hodge-podge. Any suggestions for future clippings are welcome, – really timely stuff would be old when it reaches you, so I have concentrated on the Departments, science, music, post-War, and so forth.
Pen had his foot dressed tonight, and it seems to look progressive. You would probably see quite a change in his looks in the six months you have been away. He is much taller, of course, and his face looks different because his nose is larger. I can’t tell yet whose it will resemble, but it’s plenty big enough for his face, – his right profile is very handsome, really. He won’t look like such a little bundle as he did in his snow suit last Winter, his lines are long. He has the nicest hands, too, more like a small adult’s hand, slim and strong, rather than chubby and sticky.
The farce (to me) about Pop’s permission for Dorrie and Bill has finally ended. Pop can pull his head out of the sand now, since Bill has written to ask if he and Dorrie may be engaged. Permission granted, so your friend Dorrie is very happy. I assured her that you wouldn’t have countenanced anyone else, once they were together again, and that pleased her, too, tho she must know how you and I approve of Bill as a very right person for the group, as well as for her.
I finally called Kay about her apartment, and they have come to the point of discussing their moving with the landlady, so it looks fairly possible that they will. Kay is going to suggest me as a successor to them, and I will talk with her (Mrs. Coonradt) about it tomorrow, so at least I will know whether if Tom goes, I could get the apartment.
In an article in the Post about India, by Edgar Snow, he spoke of the place of your present abode as the “mediocre Hotel Imperial, where the American Officers are quartered,” . . is it? Are they all there? Can you tell me whom you meet, if it’s a social, rather than a military occasion? Don’t forget that we know the least possible of your daily existence and surroundings, and quite commonplace things about your life there will be most interesting to all of us. Do you feel like staying for a long look or like dusting out on the first boat after the Armistice? Not that you may have much choice, but what are your personal reactions? If the correspondents can express their view through censorship probably yours would be as discreet, and they are as pertinent to me.
Before I say goodnight, I’ll tell you the compliment your son paid my cooking tonight. Having found a recipe by the Pepperidge Farm woman for cheesecake (which I remember you don’t like), I decided to try it. It was an arduous procedure, and after the results were presented at dinner, Penny tasted his and said, “Mother, I don’t think I like cheese cake.” He started scraping the filling off the crust, which turned out to be rather crackery and brown, and said “I think I’ll just eat the wooden part.”
#48. JDM to DPM (ALS, 2pp.)
September 23, 1943
Another day and no mail – well, it should be quite a batch of data when it catches up with me. The mail orderly estimates another 6 weeks before I will have it all.
Enclosing a menu off of the ship. Don’t be misled – it was almost good – thus making it 50 times better than the usual run. We got two meals a day, but there was a filler at noon, of stale bread, cold sliced spiced luncheon meat and cocoa made with water. Food was served cafeteria style for the company grade officers, and at the tables for the field grade boys. Colored navy mess attendants slapped the food onto the partitioned trays with too little emphasis on hitting the right portion, and too much emphasis on keeping quantity to a minimum. They always had an overstock of inedibles and a minimum of anything you could eat. Words are inadequate to describe the taste of scrambled eggs made from egg powder, served cold.
24th Sept. 43
RED LETTER DAY – Received two letters from you – no’s 40, 41 & 42, dated Aug 12 & 17th. You certainly make Piseco sound attractive. I would like to have been there with you guys. You are right about the feeling of inadequacy you get from living with people who are, essentially, strangers. It inhibits many forms of expression which do not grow rusty from lack of use.
Marguerite should have considered twice before she placed a call for you. You didn’t tell me the most important part – did you get the apt?
Now for some instructions – as you know air mail is preferable to V-Mail. However we must plan on letters being lost every once in a while. Therefore, when you have something important to tell me, type out an original and two carbons, and stick them in three different letters. Then I will be sure to get it.
The radio was finally hooked up last night. It doesn’t work so good due to noises in the power source – but we had London, Java, Tokyo, etc. When we can finally get the states we will be satisfied. You would be amazed at the paucity of things to do for amusement. A movie once in a while, read, exercise – that is about all, and working seven days a week tends to make it a little monotonous.
I’m mailing you under separate cover a copy of our weekly newspaper in this theatre. It is far superior to any other Army publication I have seen. I understand that the Army wanted our editor to come and take over the big paper in the states, but Uncle Joe wanted to keep him here.
I suppose that in every letter I ought to give you some local color, so here goes for today. There is a race in India called the Parsees (spelling questionable). They are the Jews of India. Small in number, you see them off and on in the streets wearing spotless white robes and black hats. They are originally from Persia, and handle a lot of the commercial business of India. They have the same knack of taking care of any indigent members of the clan as have the Hebrews. Their burial ceremony is distinctive. Their dead are taken to a high Tower of Silence and placed up on there for the vultures to eat. We sat in another city and watched the slow circling of vultures high over the tower. The man in charge at the tower said that when a body is placed out there the birds won’t descend until he claps his hands. Then the oldest, toughest bird comes down first and gobbles the eyes. The rest descend a few seconds later. Then, after about an hour the bare bones can be gathered and thrown into the sea.
Coming into an India port is like coming into no other port in the world. Sunshine usually turns other ports into bright vistas of blue water with white gulls wheeling around, and the dirt is not evident until the ship is within a few yards of tying up. In India, however, the bright sun cannot alter the brown water. There are no gulls. The ship is met by a peculiar type of bird slightly larger than a gull. It is brown black with hawk wings and a very small head, swallow-tail and something very unclean looking about it. Debris floats around in the water and the distinctive smell of India is faint but definite at least a mile out. Some Indians practically live in dugout canoes – I think they are called dhows – and dredge various garbage and stuff out of the filthy water. I watched an Indian on the garbage boat tied up to our ship grinding meal for his bread in a crude mortar while GI cans were being emptied into the scow so close to him that every once in a while a piece would bounce off of him.
Yesterday I saw two beggars that were sort of interesting. Once was so far gone with leprosy that what was left of him was being pulled around in a little bit of a cart by a small boy. You wouldn’t believe there was enough left to contain the organs to sustain life. No legs, hips, buttocks, arms, – even one shoulder missing – no nose, ears, hair, and part of the chin gone. You would give him about one more minute to live, but another officer told me the same guy was being pulled around here months ago. Another one is interesting only because of his means of locomotion. He goes along in a sitting position with his legs stretched straight out in front of him, toes in, and soles down. He just raises his fanny off the street with his hands and slides forward about two feet on the soles of his feet and then plunks down. Process repeated right down the gutter, through manure, dirty water and anything else you are liable to find in an Indian gutter.
One thing that is hard to get used to here is the attitude of the flies. They look and fly around like common ordinary house flies. But when they land on you and you brush them off, they get sore as hell and come buzzing back and bite like bull dogs. They get so damn belligerent that it is safest to treat them like bees or wasps. I think I have already told you about the dive-bomber, who circles above you, selects a spot of uncovered flesh and then screams down (actually making a whining noise in flight) and takes out a chunk sometimes as big as a pea. Fred H. bled like a stuck pig from a hole one of them made in his thigh.
As yet I have no permanent billet and have been unable to unpack. That is beginning to get very annoying.
Enough for now
#49. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 25, 1943
This is a note which I am scribbling to keep busy while waiting to go out – I think – with Col. Seavers to have a drink at the apartment of a Britisher – a captain in a Punjabi regiment somewhere on the border. These Britishers really know how to live in this country during peace time – they still do all right – but you can detect evidence of the life that used to be…. four months of the year up at Simla in the mountains – peace time office hours 10 am to 12:30 and 2-4. Everything as cheap as dirt – and bearers to perform every single disagreeable physical labor.
26 Sept. 43
Well, I went. Because of upset stomach I could only take one drink. Had an interesting evening – with the Britishers (a Col & a Capt.) telling about the types of Indians in their command.
Rode over on my bike today and got my completed bush jackets – work type. The material for three tailor made jackets & 3 pr. shorts cost about $5 and the tailoring charge was about $5.50 for the works. That is one field where the prices have remained relatively constant. Home, the same deal would be at least $50, wouldn’t it?
I haven’t had any additional letters from you – but I am waiting patiently.
Reading material is relatively scarce. I have found a book store, but their stock is limited. Just to make my mouth water, you might tell me our most recent acquisitions under the Book of the Month & the Reader’s Club.
I am not in a mood for writing so I will end this & mail it.
P.S. The Britishers billet was in a cubicle off of a fine veranda. 3 stories up over a main drag. French doors open, ceiling fan going, phonograph scratching away – clouds of bugs around the lights and about three busy 4 inch lizards stalking and gobbling bugs off the plaster walls. On the floor one 32 yr. old leopard skin with head in which, for affectionate reasons, they had had a new set of teeth installed.
#50. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 27, 1943
At last I have a permanent room – not with the Col. because it can’t be worked yet – but the bearer just finished helping me get all my stuff unpacked. I am now sitting at my writing desk with my pictures, my books, my clock, eating my tootsie rolls (the only candy that didn’t spoil).
I am going to take a chance and glue a small star sapphire to this letter in the spot designated here → (Editor’s Note: there was a small circle about 1/2 inch in diameter just beyond the arrow.)
The letter may get lost at sea, or some eager soul may pry it off, but it was only 45 chips – $15 and you ought to have it. Do anything you wish with it.
Give it to Marguerite for a Christmas present if you can’t do anything else with it. Take it into the sun to see the star.
Enough for now.
Tell Penny that the little boys here wear silver bracelets on their ankles.
#51. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
September 28th, 1943
Alone again. Perhaps all these interruptions keep me from getting lonely, but it is awfully nice when Pencil and I get a few days or hours by ourselves. When we came from Piseco and Elmira the weather was so cold that Rita stayed here for quite a while, and after a slight pause to clean house, we had Nana. Harvey is here Mondays and Wednesdays, and Rita intermittently during the day time, or evening, so a pause long enough to think, or write to you, or read, is a treat. Perhaps that’s as it should be, it’s the way most people live, yet I think of these times as a sort of refuge, and luxury. And of moving, with hope.
I didn’t have to be alone to get a kick out of your first letter, tho. It came early in the morning when I was getting a spark plug replaced, preparatory to taking Nana back to Utica, yesterday. The letters from the boat, and the cable, were reassuring, but this letter, even tho it didn’t tell much of your trip or of you, seemed just wonderful. It’s been a long strain, getting you there, not that I had much to do with it, but with your first letter that strain ended, and the promise of a slightly more normal kind of communication with you began.
Thursday I went up to Kay and Tom’s, found the apartment all that I could possibly hope for, and had a long talk with Mrs. Coonradt, who owns it, and lives in the other half. If Tom is drafted, she will give me preference over all the other applicants. Kay understands what little chance I have of finding a place otherwise. Their place is so desirable that I should be most contented to get it. I am most fortunate to be first on the waiting list.
We about finished the Christmas shopping, and I am sending them off right away. Later I will send you a list, so you will know what to expect in case they don’t arrive ‘til April, or in case you don’t receive what you think are all of them.
Penny wants to know if you’ll bring your bike home. In fact, he asked if you’d come home on it! That reminds me – this morning we met one of the more sedate church ladies on the street, and she said politely, “My How he grows.” Penny spoke up quickly and proudly, “Yes, and I have hair on my legs, too.” Oh boy.
It will be fun to go to the post office now. Remember that everything about you would probably be new to us, and we won’t know unless you tell us. OH, Honey, I’m glad that trip is over… More soon..
#52. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
September 30, 1943
I hope we will get some pictures of you in your new outfit, with props, – you must look quite British. Have the Colonel and Fred changed much? Do you room alone, and near the others? Did you grow fond of Freddy Albiani on the trip, or find him difficult? He must think everything quite different from the way he started out after debarking the last time.
It was good to hear that you get per diem and overseas pay; I was afraid you’d find living much more expensive there. It was nice of you to send me the money (it hasn’t arrived yet); things seem to be creeping up here all the time, tho I get along very nicely. This is the expensive time of year, tho, and the necessity for a coat, labor on the car top ($22.50), and Penn’s doctor bill would have made Christmas rather embarrassing, so a little extra will be more helpful now, especially. I probably won’t have to use much of it even at that, and it will be more fun to spend together later. Penny’s bills will all be up to date after October 1st, except for the foot, and he has had dressings every two or three days for several weeks. I can’t see any end to them for a while, either, as it doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last ten days, tho it is no worse. The ends are healed, but he is so active, the center, where it’s deep, is very slow. We have to let him use it to keep it from getting stiff, so of course it opens up and suppurates, and the doctor has to keep a close watch on it.
I think I will resume the small payments to Pop, which I had to drop until the car payments were done, (because of the tonsillectomy,) as they are good for his morale, and keep whacking the total down a little. And I think I shall pay Margie the hundred dollars we borrowed from her, in larger chunks, as her situation is different. I can say that your accumulated pay made it possible, in her case, and I think the understanding was that it wouldn’t be so long before we reimbursed her. I know Dad is planning to send you a check for Christmas, which you probably expect. They don’t know how much either of us has, but seemed to take me at my word that you were most generous with our allotment, as they never offered to help when Penny had his operation, and the little chits that used to come from Margie stopped when you went. Which is OK, of course, only I’d like to know what goes on in their minds about us. Of course the only reason why all our relatives don’t know how much money either of us gets, is because people only remember what you say comes in, and it sounds very well, – they never remember Rita’s cut, or what we have owed for different periods, or how long some of our doctor bills take to pay…. Anyway, the contract for the car came a little while ago, and looked pretty good. I didn’t realize that we had really paid off nearly $500, with all the moving, and clubs, and commuting and sickness last Winter, on that contract alone. Damn good.
Life sounds pleasant there. I’d like to try it for a while, someday, but not because of a War. Are there many English wives there? Lucky dames.
Keep well, my darling, and keep writing, and good luck to you.
#53. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 30, 1943
Today I received your letter No. 37, dated Aug. 11th. It certainly is strange receiving them in such peculiar order. Sounds as though your coat would be attractive – I hope it’s well cut. It’s funny to think that when you were writing that letter back in August, I had been at sea for just about 15 days.
Our anniversary was not unwept and unhonored. It was just unsung.
Let me know how long this letter (not airmail) takes to reach you.
Got paid today – will empty my pockets and wire you what’s left at the end of the month. It probably won’t be too much… maybe 40 or 50 bucks.
Enclosed are some pictures taken about a week ago. Some are to show you modern construction methods in this country. Use a magnifying glass for detail on how they carry stuff. Every bricklayer has his woman to carry bricks to him. The others are of our evening volley ball. I have marked me with an X in picture No. 2. One shows our barber cutting our Col’s hair on his sleeping porch. Note mosquito bars.
Last night Col B, both Freds, Lt. Col Sievers and myself had dinner at a Chinese restaurant as guests of Col Frank Merrill. You can read about him in “Retreat with Stilwell.” He was also the guy responsible for the destruction of land lease stuff in Burma (It was well destroyed.) He has been over here for many years and has spent time in both China & Japan. Consequently he knows how to order a meal. We had crab meat soup, spring rolls (dough stuffed with vegetables & rolled up), fried prawns, baked rice with more prawns, and Sukiyaki. Wonderful. I stuffed myself. Enough for now.
Love – John
#54. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
October 2, 1943
I hope you got all the cold dope from Mrs. B. You mention the ring the Col sent her. Well – don’t expect jewelry from me, because my compatriots have boosted the price through demand way up out of all reason. Little bitty stones that sold for 14 to 20 rupees a year ago now sell for 300 to 500 rupees. It ain’t sense – and unless I can get to some virgin territory – there is no point in wasting money.
I don’t see a hell of a lot of point in Sammy trying for another job at this time. His draft board friends might catch him on the bounce between jobs.
Hearing that Sammy had spoken to a “Post War Conference” strikes me as being a bit amusing – no reflection on Sam, of course – but it is a bit like cardboard figures being yanked around on a stage by bits of string. More and more I realize that the flesh and blood of post war plans is in the heads of the guys in this and other theatres of war. No surge of “public opinion” of, by and for the people in the states is going to matter a damn beside the pronounced “public opinion” of 5,000,000 G.I.s when they get back on honest to God sidewalks.
I re-iterate my wish that you get out of Poland. I think it will be better for everyone.
I now have a new disease which I am trying to get rid of. It is called DOBI itch … pronounced DOUGH-BEE. A dobi is a laundry man. Over here he makes the ink with which he marks your clothes out of the sap or gum from same very distant relation to poison ivy. Consequently you get it in the back of your neck and the small of your back where your underwear is marked. Lovely country? I have had to cover up the marks with adhesive and put a lotion on the little itching blisters. Albiani got a swelling in the back of his neck about an inch high and three inches across. He can’t raise his head and goes three times a day to the hospital for hot packs. Mine is under control, however, Fred has hives and prickly heat to go with his itch.
So long for now. Love,
#55. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
October 3, 1943
Listening to “We the People,” and wondering if you ever get any American programs that used to be our favorites, thru the BBC. Jack Benny hasn’t started his season yet, but Fibber and Molly started last Tuesday, and Bob Hope, just back from Africa and England, started two weeks ago – with Crosby on his first program and Orson Welles on the second. Did the Col. get his radio?
There’s one Christmas present that I’ve ordered already, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get it, and I’m glad you can, as I know what it means to both of us to have it, – that’s the Pony Edition of “Time.” As far as your instructions about sending no gifts, thank Heaven we’d sent most of them before your letter came. Can you imagine any of us, but particularly Margie and me, consenting to such a request, if there was even the slightest chance of your getting them?
Speaking of war bonds, which you mentioned as your only desire at Christmas, – here’s a real surprise. I phoned Margie and she said Pop just bought quite a few bonds, and he included five thousand dollars worth for us, and for Dorrie! Quite a help some years from now, n’est-ce pas? That alone would secure Penny some kind of education, which is probably our greatest financial concern for the future.
I love the tiny knife you sent. Penny does, too, and I have let him wear it, but only when there was no chance of his losing or damaging it. The rest of the time I’ve worn it. Penny is anxiously waiting the big one, – he has your interest in knives, but don’t worry, I’ll probably keep it under the eaves, or some such place, so he won’t get it. At best my letters are repetitious, and there is so little change in our daily life that it takes a bit of thinking to provide anything to make a letter about. My literary abilities are so much less than yours that I thought a pile of letters for you to read when you arrived would bore you so that you’d probably read only the most recent ones.
Incidentally, I thought your literary ability was being a bit neglected before the letters from India started coming, but they are wonderful now. I’ve read them dozens of times, and will always enjoy them. A person who knows how well you can write feels rather a reaction to a very short, un-descriptive, uncommunicative letter from you, because it implies a lack of interest in the receiver. This isn’t a reproach, either, it’s the price you pay for your talent. Small enough price, when you see how most of us fumble with facts or thoughts… Let me add, when you run out of facts, your thoughts will always be interesting to me, it would be the best way to keeps us from being strangers when next we meet.
I didn’t realize you were that hard up for home-front news. I will continue to cut up magazines, and will begin to look for items about what goes on in this part of the world to write. I blithely mentioned the “father draft” a number of times, assured that you knew all the latest Senatorial quarrels about it. They have already started drafting pre-Pearl Harbor fathers, altho Sen. Wheeler has made a desperate effort to arrest it, and a movement is started to have them take those under thirty first. Gen. Marshall testified before Congress that it was utterly essential.
I don’t know how much the Censors will let me tell you about the trouble in the State Department, but Sumner Welles has found it necessary to resign, due to trouble with Cordell Hull, and Edward Stettinius has replaced him. Welles is now being given much more credit for a good job than he was when he was in office, but “Time” is conservative about that.
Many train wrecks, including the 20th Century and Philadelphia-Washington’s best train, which latter Dorrie just missed. The Penn. R.R. worst hit. The sub War is on the pickup: the Germans have a new magnetic torpedo. Clifton Fadiman has resigned from the New Yorker and book reviewing to make more money. More later.
Love, Dearest – Dordo.
#56. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
October 4, 1943
Received your letter of the 15th today. Before I opened it I knew that it would start off by saying “Why haven’t we heard from you?” I knew it would – and it did. I will be glad when I start getting letters in answer to my letters. I was 800 miles out in the ocean when you wrote the letter.
How the hell did our revolutionary forebearers ever correspond intelligently?
Paid my Sept. hotel bill – 94 rupees, or about $30 for 15 days room and food. Not too bad, hey?
Prices outside are rough though, and getting rougher. One box of Corn Flakes for one buck. See ad enclosed. $4800 for a Chevrolet.
You have probably read about snake charmers. Well, you see them on the side-walk here. The snakes are so damn dopey that the guy squatting and blowing his horn has to stop every once in a while and shake the snake awake. Very dirty, smelly, pointless procedure. I suppose there are better shows, but the sidewalk ones are terrible.
P.S. Tell Penny that, like the airplane pilots, he better get right back on a bicycle.
#57. JDM to DPM (ALS, 3pp.)
October 5, 1943
I will assume that by the time you get this the last letter from California will be old, old stuff. That camp was certainly something that I wouldn’t want to do again. The ground was baked just as hard as concrete – & the camp itself sat right in the middle of what might have been an old lake bed. Mountains on all sides, but so far away that they might as well have been non-existent. The food was awful, and the last two days it was 113 and 118 respectively – in the shade. There was some nice station complement personnel, however, – a Capt. Chambers particularly. We remained on the alert an ungodly long time. I don’t know what the hold-up was. It got to be pretty monotonous – only activities were staying out of the sun & drinking cokes & ginger ale at the Officers Club. No hard liquor or beer sold or consumed during an alert – & when one unit is alerted they alert the whole camp. Very good system by me.
It turned out that I was the Senior Officer of our shipment, after they all arrived – but, due to the fact that some were missing, I escaped the job of being in charge during the processing for overseas shipment – processing being shots, equipment, etc. for the 32 officers and 12 enlisted men.
Finally came the day and I was put in charge of the very large truck convoy, from camp to the port. It was exciting, and you can’t imagine the mixed feelings I had riding in a staff car at the head of a long column of trucks heading for ship side. We hurried along through the crisp California sunshine and I tried to see and remember every little bit of Americana en route. We wheeled through the port streets and out a long curving causeway to ship side. There the scramble of getting men, barracks bags, luggage and one’s-self on board.
That ship certainly looked good – that efficient looking gray color – & the rail already lined with men from advance parties of M.P. & K.P. that had gone down the day before. She is bigger than the last boat I was on. We had, of course, been expecting the very least in the way of quarters, so imagine my surprise at being guided to a cabin for four of us – two double bunks with adjoining private shower and bath, and a nice corridor opening onto to a weather deck outside – A deck and about in the middle of the ship. Very comfortable. The rest of my group were due to arrive at night, – & since I got there just before noon, I had a good chance to go all over the ship and get acquainted with the geography. That night I sat up on the boat deck and watched another convoy of trucks come in, long rows of lights, spaced nicely, reflecting across the water from the curved causeway. The next morning we shoved off….without the cheering crowds. The only formal farewell I had was the camp band playing beside the company street as I left with the truck convoy.
I suppose the best way to describe what is cooking is to give you a sort of typical day on the ship – Meals in the troop officers mess at 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. – with a sandwich at noon to fill in. Walk around the deck, read, play cards, etc. A vacation. The food is wonderful – they have a public address system which can be heard throughout the ship. Over it, all day comes an assortment of bugle calls, whistles, announcements and more whistles such as I have never heard. The boat deck is reserved for officers. There isn’t a single female of any description on board. All other parts of the ship are waste (sic) deep with enlisted men. There are G.I. lines for everything.
I haven’t been leading this normal life, however, because I just got up yesterday after an attack of flu. Sweat, fever, stuffed head, aches, pains, etc. I am now cured. Don’t worry – I am really healthy.
Today we crossed the equator. That may not sound like much to you, – but, my friends, I have graduated from a pollywog to a shellback. This is a Navy transport and it is an old Navy custom to initiate everyone on board crossing the equator for the first time. All the officers had to line up – and this is what happened to us – inflicted by the Navy, and on the stern end of the boat deck in full view of the whole after part of the ship covered with enlisted men – first some little men in costume kept jabbing us with electric pitch forks to keep us in line. Boy! One jab & you sure jump. Then to the judge who made you sound ridiculous over a loud speaker while your behind was being jabbed with more electricity and you still remained at attention. Then to an electric chair, where you were strapped in with people yelling at you “What are you?”, to which you tried to answer “ A dirty slimy pollywog.” But the current going through you makes it very difficult to talk. Then you are jabbed over to a coffin which you lie in while they go work on you with wooden electric saws and paint your face and head purple and red. Then you are given some of the most vile-tasting stuff I have ever tasted, four different kinds of it. Then over to the stocks which you stick your head in and they removed large chunks of hair right down to the scalp. Then up into a little platform – still being jabbed with those electric things so that you dance all over the place. The platform hangs out over the deck below. You sit in a wooden chair on the platform, and they smear you with big brushes and a solution of sea water and flour – taking special pains to get most of the brush in your mouth. Then, – the big finale – they tilt the chair over backwards and you fall a sheer drop of about ten feet face down into a big wooden container full of salt water. You clamber out of this and slide down a ramp on your belly with assorted citizens, in costume, taking whacks at your posterior with socks loaded with sodden grain. You dive like a rabbit into a long canvas tube about 20 ft. long and 3 ft. in radius, surrounded by more citizens who beat at your outlines as seen through the canvas. Crawl out, one final spurt and you are free and a shellback. It really is an experience – it lasts only about 10 minutes and is an on a mass production basis – but I can say those were the busiest little old ten minutes I ever spent. I have now scrubbed the paint off of my sunburn, and had the barber fix my hair – “fix” in this case being a gray skull thinly covered with 1/8 inch stubble. I look awful.
#58. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
October 5, 1943
Writing to the tune of Dinah Shore, and waiting for Fibber and Bob Hope. I hope that by now you people have been able to get them. I don’t write you about things you may miss, to make you homesick, but because I think you like to hear about them, and be reminded of them. And I don’t write you about things we don’t get, like gas, and apartments, to complain, but because I know you’d like to know what the realities are here, and don’t need your news sugar-coated. We are well and happy, – as happy as we could be without you, and our days are full enough to keep the anchor from dragging, even tho they don’t make exciting letters. I figure you’ll want to know if Penny cuts his heel, or someone is quite sick, as long as I let you know in such a way as not to leave you in suspense.
So far, thank goodness, we haven’t had any sickness to report, but there is something I’ve been planning to tell you which I think you should know and would want to, and which, now that the worst is over, should cause you no great worry. It may be that Pop has told you – Margie says he writes you every week. It’s about Margie.
Just before we went to Rochester, (July 19th), she started bleeding, vaginally. As you know, there should be no cause for this. She saw Dr. Murnane immediately, and Dr. Parkhurst was consulted. Whatever they decided was the cause, we don’t know, but they gave her a 3 hour radium treatment, and took specimens from the walls of the vagina to send to Albany and Buffalo, for examination for cancer. As far as we know, nothing malignant was found. She was kept off her feet for a week, no golf, etc. for a while, and suddenly they gave her the go-ahead signal for all activities. That is all I know, and I don’t make any conjectures – she acts much better, and we hope that’s all there is to it, but probably only the doctors know.
Perhaps she had suspected something before you left, and that’s why she seemed so unlike herself since about February, but if that’s the case, getting it out in the open, and having good care, has relieved her mind considerably.
I’m glad Pen was old enough before the War to have acquired a few of the wonderful little cars, trains, and gadgets he did. There isn’t a toy, especially in the dime store, where there used to be such a lavish assortment, that will last a child two minutes. They’re all made of paper, now. Penny has a few of the old ones left, tho most of the wheels are off, and as long as he really plays with toys, I’m glad he was born soon enough to have acquired some.
By the way, not one of your letters has been opened or censored in any way that I can see. They are certainly discreet, but I like thinking that every Joe in the army hasn’t read them. Are mine to you censored?
Goodnight, Johnsie, and love,
#59. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
October 8, 1943
You silly old bear – Scotch-taping a sapphire onto a letter from India! But it got here! And it’s lovely, and please can I keep it? I couldn’t really tell whether you wanted Margie or me to have it, but you can bring me one if you’d rather I’d give this one to Margie now (for Christmas), so say the word. Watch out when buying that sort of thing, tho, as I read somewhere that the Japs had made a lot of (imitation) stones being sold to Army people in India. Not that I don’t think the one you sent is real – it’s lovely, and I’m sure it’s genuine, and you’ve probably been warned anyway. The method of sending it adds interest to it, to me – it was so startling to open a letter and find it.
I’m so glad you sent the Army paper. It is most interesting, and gives me a much better idea of what you would lack from the assortment of news we get. Apparently “feature” stuff, and semi-local news is what you don’t get, aside from Time’s excellent observations, analyses, and conclusions, – which later the Pony edition will bring you. I think the paper was excellent – it’s about the same as we get for war news, and covers a good variety of other things – somehow it shows how much smaller the world is, now.
Of course we’re wondering what Mountbatten’s arrival will mean to your set-up, but of course you won’t even be able to mention it, probably.
Much love from Pencil and Dordo.
#60. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
October 10, 1943
Received two gadgets from you today. The first was your letter of July 9th. It gave me some dope re Penny’s operation. That is the most explicit news I’ve had regarding it, in that I never did get the basic letter which announced the results.
The second gadget was the Xmas present – Time. Thanks very, very much. The copy you mailed me is the newest one out here at the moment and will, course, have to be passed on as soon as I have devoured it.
Today I went on a bicycle picnic. It was sort of fun, only it was just about 10 miles outside of town, and that is kind of rough. To top that, there was a tower 376 steps high with the stairs in continuous spiral staircase form. It was built a long time ago at the whim of the daughter of a wealthy man. She wished to be able to see a nearby river, so up goes the tower. The countryside around there is full of the ruins of tombs. From the top you can see miles of that flat country with long rows of trees to mark the roads. The inside of the tower was hung with thousands of bats – which we had to climb very close to in order to get up and down. I went with a new man here, Major Willis Bird, and a Capt. Bill Brewster who is stationed in China and down here on temporary duty. Brewster took some pictures which I will get prints of later. Gen. Stillwell was there – looking very fit.
Enclosed you will find peacock feathers off a bird shot by Fred Lehner this afternoon. They are pheasant size, good eating, and hard to hit with a gun – don’t feel sorry for them because of their beauty – they are so numerous that they are pests. The Indians don’t kill any living things.
Also enclosed are some more pictures. Two shots of a three horned, three eyed cow, a local switch engine, and a tea plantation.
Enough for now.
#61. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
October 20, 1943
The more I look at your pictures, the thinner you look. Your bout with the flu on the boat must have really taken you down – don’t lose any more. What a place to have flu!
This noon the news broadcast contained an account of the new Jap-puppet-head of India in Singapore. I suppose you boys have some very interesting information on all that, but from here it looks as if one more group waving a political flag in India won’t make much difference. But I hate to think of what it might be like for you if the Japs decide to retaliate for the air raids from New Delhi on Burma.
We are in the process of acquiring new ration book no.4 for food (it has some stamps in it which might be for electricity too, from the looks.) and a new gas ration book. I have to have the tires inspected, as we went 10 days over 6 months from the time you had them done, in order to get it. – We still are riding under the top you sewed! It might as well take the beating until it goes, so long as I have the new material.
I sent Margie $25 from what you sent, and she returned it. I’ll enclose her letter. What a mother-in-law! I’ll get started in on Pop, now. It would be nice to get him paid up a little, tho I shan’t overdo it as I know it’s against your policy. I don’t send them all your letters – if it seems wiser not to send one, the interesting parts are read over the phone to them. It’s nice it’s so cheap to phone Utica – we keep in touch easily that way.
Mother thinks the site of your bicycle picnic is described in “Passage to India,” which I am about to read. I always get E.M. Forster and C.S. Forester mixed. Will send a condensed version of the latter’s new book “The Ship,” soon.
Lots of love – Dordo
#62. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
October 29, 1943
This morning there were no very interesting prospects, but we had to take Margie downtown, as she was late. Coming back we happened to see an empty-looking apartment on State Street (runs from Oneida Sq. a block behind Genesee, and paralleling it for a ways, you know,) so in desperation I got out and asked if it were rentable. It is, and I have ‘til Sunday to let them know if I want it.
Everything about the place is what I was looking for except that it’s absolutely filthy! It needs cleaning and redecorating thru-out, and the rent ceiling is so scandalously low that the landlord won’t do a thing. That produced a fine quandary, so I fetched up Margie from the hairdresser’s and we spent about an hour in there thinking what could be done.
It’s on the corner of State and Cottage Place, a stone’s throw from the place I didn’t get, and is a second floor apartment, which I wanted, as I’d feel a little safer not on the ground floor alone. It has a fair-sized yard, and a garage – rare in that section, and has six rooms, bath, and front porch, attic and closets. The arrangement of the rooms is unusually nice, there are lots of windows and the sun just streams in every room, and from the inside it looks out on a well-kept apartment on the side and a cute little old church across the street. It’s two blocks from downtown or Oneida Square, and a block from a good market, the library, and art school!
A good scrubbing for the wood work and floors and windows, and some Kemtone slapped on the wallpaper, and all would be well. If I can just find someone to do some of the work, – it’s really more than I can do, and move, too. I’d have to get a gas stove (I know where I can – apartment size), but there’s an instantaneous hot water heater, and there’s a possibility that they’d hold it a whole month for me. The landlord is very much absentee, thank goodness, and the man downstairs rents it, and would be willing to take care of my fires. It has coal heat.
I really forgot to tell you the price. It’s unbelievable for that location – thank God for rent ceilings. $22.50 a month! So it would be 22.50 rent, 8 janitor, care of fires, 12 per ton, coal; 42.50 in Winter, 22.50 in Summer! Rentable on a monthly basis, unless I want a lease which it might be well to postpone until I see how it works, – but that isn’t decided yet.
We hope to get together and make it final Sunday, and I will take steps to move as soon as possible if I get it. There will be plenty to do! Margie knows the people downstairs, and they’re OK, and out a lot during the day. So, Darling, here’s hoping the next letter you get will inform you of the new address. Isn’t that something?
#63. JDM to DPM (ALS, 2pp.)
October 29, 1943
I returned from my trip last night, which covered about fifteen hours by air, or about 3,000 miles, and about 13 hours by truck, which covered about 220 miles. I will not mention much about the trip on this sheet, as I want to make some carbons so that it will save some letter writing.
For many reasons including censorship and living conditions I couldn’t very well write letters while away, so I now have a job further complicated by the fact that I have the grand total of eleven letters of yours to answer – but don’t think I mind. Send thousands of them and I will answer every one.
At last I get the intimate details of Penny’s operation. I have been waiting for that for a long time. Also I was pained to hear of the battery cable trouble. How is the darned old car anyway? I would like a minute description of its current status; tires, brakes, motor, squeaks, etc. And how is the Pencil about sleeping nowadays; does he still sound like gravel in a tin cup?
Your talk about the cold weather amuses me a bit, as it has just gotten cool enough here for me to sleep under one blanket out on the porch. The afternoons are still so hot that a bicycle ride of two blocks will leave you dripping.
I have giggled many times over Pen’s comment on the cheese cake. If he does say anything bright once in a while, for God’s sake write them to me – and if he isn’t too bright, send me some dull comments of his. Christ knows I have to listen to enough dull comments from people I don’t even know. Freddy Albiani is now a Captain. We are all very glad, as he is one guy who can be made a BG without my breaking any commandments. A definitely good egg.
Resume payments to Popop. We know what the angle is on that anyway, so it isn’t like feeling it was going down a hole. If pop sends me a check for Christmas, I can send it right back to you in a quiet kind of a way. Maybe this damn war will put us in the upper brackets before it’s over.
The Sapphire was meant for you. But if you can’t think of anything to do with it, give it to Margie.
Thanks for the suggestions on what to buy. You are correct that I can’t fill the list for Christmas, but I will try to gradually accumulate stuff. I sent a Moslem knife in the box that you might give pop for a paperweight and letter opener. It is as sharp as hell, with an Indian Jade handle and a Damascus steel blade. 21Rs and worth it. It is unusual enough to give him a lot of chance to create conversation when people ask questions about it – which they will.
My room is just down the hall from the Col. One of my roommates is a good guy and a chess player who was in my outfit at Anza and on shipboard named Capt. Fred Smith. About 36, with 17 years of service. The other ones are Lt. Haynes, a tall droopy Special Services officer from the aircorps who writes constantly to innumerable women that we can’t understand how he ever met as he doesn’t go out at all, Lt. Jerome Jacobs, a porky little Columbia lawyer who is in Army Insurance and will argue on anything at the drop of a hat, and Lt. Ree Rubira, a dopey ordnance officer who is not with our outfit – a permanent lieutenant.
Maybe I was an oaf about that Christmas present business, but couldn’t you send stuff that would go in a regular envelope to get here on Christmas. On Christmas I may be out of this country on temporary duty to return early Jan, but nevertheless I can get some stuff somewhere near the time. As long as you have already sent stuff, I am, of course, pleased – but I am not displeased in having made the plea for none, please.
I gather from your letters that you thought I was sort of unpleasant about that business about letting you know I had arrived. Let me clarify. I was unpleasant, but not about you or anything you wrote me, but rather about the damn length of time it takes to write to you and get an answer back. That is the rub. I haven’t misunderstood anything you have said, and your letters are really good.
I haven’t gotten a letter from Dad in a hell of a while. What is all this about bonds. It must be a good amount if you have to go look at them like you would look at an animal in a zoo. What cooks?
I am about writ out. I feel healthy, sleep good and am only slightly bored. Write lots.
You are getting big enough, I guess, so that every once in a while I will have to write you a letter all for yourself rather than just little bits hooked onto the end of Dordo’s letters.
I understand that your foot is all better now. It doesn’t really seem to me as though you had a bad foot because I wasn’t there to watch you limp around.
I took my bike over to the repair shop today and had the Indians clean it up, oil it and blow the tires up hard. They ride easier if the tires are hard.
I think I remember hearing in a letter from somebody that you have a new sled. You couldn’t use it over here because it never snows. I was riding in an airplane the other day though, and saw snow on top of some mountains. They are too high and too far away to go to, and much too steep to slide on. In fact one of them I saw is the highest mountain in the world.
I won’t ask you to be a good boy because I imagine that everybody asks you that, and you can be good without having to listen to people talking about it all the time.
#64. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
October 31, 1943
New address: 1109 State St.
This was to be a letter of complete jubilation. We had our little half-hour, and we’re still relieved and happy, but home front problems have intruded a bit already, thanks to the coal miners.
Mr. Devall phoned a little while ago and said we could have the flat on State Street. I’m to meet the landlord Tuesday morning, and he will go over the place with me and see what there is that he can afford to do. He will furnish paint if I will use it, and will hold the place until December 1st, which will give me time to get it in shape for moving in. The rent is $22. Instead of 22.50! – I don’t really see how the poor man can put a penny into repairs – he has a $12,000 investment, pays over $400 taxes, and there are only two apartments there – probably not over $45 a month income from it.
He lives in Bouckville, and runs the hotel there. Mr. Devall is the man who lives on the first floor. He is going to take care of my fire, too, and seems to have quite a bit to do with the care of the place, but the landlord’s being in absentia is OK with me. Devall had a motorboat business, which is now about washed up, because of the War, and makes about $25-$30 a day in Summer guiding fishermen up at the St. Lawrence (I spotted him for a French-Canadian immediately – all those guides look similar), or hunters in the Fall, so he will be around to do little jobs that I can’t manage. It is a good thing to know a little about who lives below when the Pencil and I will be alone there, and as I mentioned, Margie knows the Devalls.
The little hitch – and I hope it doesn’t become big, is that they’ve frozen the coal supply to 1/2 ton per delivery, and Mrs. Anderson suddenly got very elusive when I called her, to order some. She knew when she promised to supply me that upon her word depended whether we took the apartment or not, so it wasn’t exactly cricket of her to assure us and then welch on it. But there’ll be a month to get it somewhere, and she may make good, and they’ll have to do something about the miners in spite of the election, pretty soon.
We will make sundry arrangements tomorrow, see the landlord on Tuesday, and go back to Poland Tuesday afternoon to get ready to start moving. Friday I’ll be back to work at the place, and from then on the month will fly, I suppose.
Aren’t you glad we’re moving at last? I am so relieved, and once it’s done, the apartment will be very pleasant and convenient. We’ll be moving in exact parallel to last year’s move from Rochester to Albany. What a year!
What a year.
Lots of love, Dordo
#65. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
November 4, 1943
Dear Dordo –
There are two major difficulties inherent in writing a letter while supposedly on duty. The first is the feeling of guilt, and the second is the interruptions. I am proceeding nevertheless.
The saddest portion of this month will be those moments when I stop to count my cash. You see I have gone hog-wild on the clothes department, in the absence of anything else to spend money on. According to a suggestion in Dad’s letter, I wired him so he could send me $100. That will more than cover it. First I bought a pair of chaplis. They are sandals – open toes! – I shan’t paint my toe nails. In addition I have been measured for a tailored tan greyish gabardine bush jacket and trousers with embroidered insignia, and tailored cap and overseas cap to match. It will really be the nuts, and I will send you a picture when I get it in about 3 weeks. I am so anxious to keep it nice so I can wear it in the states & have people say – “What army is he from?”
One of the interesting little side lights on the trip was looking at the names and pictures on the sides of the bombers. It is a thrill to see the little rows of bombs, indicated missions, the little jap flags to indicate pursuit ships shot down – and the formalized stencils of sinking ships. These appear on the left side of the forward hull of the ship just under the cabin window. Then the names are really something – here are some examples:
HOT AS HELL (with picture of naked babe)
MY ASSAM DRAGON
Usually the names of all crew members appear on the outside hull opposite the place where they sit, stand, or curl up… and each motor is named for a lady friend of a crew member.
I am starting next Monday to take Hindustani lessons one hour each day. 1 PM to 2 PM.
Enough for now – Love, John
#66. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
November 5, 1943
What a week this has been – After spending Wednesday at the dentist’s and planning to spend the next three days working on the apartment (while the fire was going), yesterday was to be my only day home. It was an anticlimax to all I’d planned to do, to spend it in bed, but something, sick-headache or grippe germ that’s prevalent, got me in the head and tummy. I took so much medicine there wasn’t a chance to find out what it was, it went away so fast. Nevertheless, I would have spent a very quiet day today if it hadn’t been that a man was coming to clean, and a painter to give estimates on the apartment in Utica, so I had to be there at the crack of dawn today.
The man never showed, so after eleven I went to Liggett’s for some breakfast (no time to eat this morning, my anchor was dragging as usual,) and to call Margie. She was dressing to come down, and so I went after her. She said she wanted to be there when Mike, the painter, came, but it didn’t mean anything special to me, except that he is her painter. I planned to do all the painting but ceilings and kitchen myself, and it seemed to me she was being awfully confusing when he was figuring estimates, asking how much to do the whole works, and stuff.
Well, maybe I was too tired to be very smart, but when she said “go ahead and do it all,” to Mike, it really was a surprise! Whatever the landlord won’t allow me on the rent, (and I figure 2 months, $44, is the best he can do,) they will make my Christmas present! Now what could be nicer – there won’t be a day that I won’t enjoy it every minute, and the place needs it so, and it will be darling, once it’s done.
So we hied ourselves out to lunch, and then to the wallpaper and linoleum departments of Sears’ (bless ‘em), and if we didn’t pick out the smoothest “library-blue” wallpaper for the two main rooms – plain for two walls, and figured for two, in a tiny old New England design, which turned out to be almost as cheap as ceiling paper!
I’d planned to Kemtone the old paper, but they (Margie and the painter) decided new paper would be nicer. His estimate for the job was $115 – so you see it’s quite a present. But think how it will last, and what it means to have a place we can be proud of. It covers two coats of paint for kitchen and bathroom, from top to bottom, and papering two rooms, and three ceilings, cleaning and repairing woodwork, painting 7 doors and a mantel white from dark varnish-color, painting Penny’s playroom walls and bedroom floor, and several small items, like closets. Of course the landlord will pay for part.
All that work I’d planned to do, and now I don’t even have the scrubbing! It will mean a lot just for the next two days alone, because I got out of bed too soon, and now will have a chance to catch up again. And time to get things here in shape before moving them. I’m thrilled to tears.
It is very warm, too – Both my half-ton of coal, and a half-ton of coke, came, so that’s a start, anyway, and gave me an idea of how well the place heats.
We found a pretty gray marbleized linoleum with black and red and gay border for the kitchen, and black marbleized for Pen’s playroom and the bathroom.
Now I hope there will be no reason why we can’t just settle down there, and when you come home it would be a good base for mapping out future action. I’d love to have you see it.
#67. DPM to JDM (ALS, 6pp.)
November 6, 1943
I sent one of these to EA & one to Sam & Evie–with pictures
The transport settled into Agra; the abrupt change of motor cadence awoke me from the pile of luggage where I had gone to sleep after getting groggy from staring down at the dull and endless expanse of mud villages and patch-work fields. First the usual yelp of rubber on asphalt, and then a crew member pushed open the door and we climbed out with the baggage into clouds of dust as fine as talcum.
We expected to shove off again immediately, but the transportation officials informed us we would have about five days to kill before a plane going in our direction would have available space. We received our billets in a tent, ate, and hiked off down the road out of the camp to a tonga station. Most of the tongas in Agra seem to be small dirty rickety affairs, with overworked discouraged little horses. Also, the Tonga drivers there seem to have developed a line of chatter calculated to clear the road, encourage the horse, maintain morale, and convince the passenger that they are doing one hell of a good job.
We had expected to see something which at least remotely resembled a city, but we were deposited in the middle of an overgrown Indian village. We were able to find one place that was in bounds where we could buy food, but after going in and looking around at the dirt, bugs and filthy waiters, we walked right back out again. It really began to look like a long, long five days. We walked over to the American hospital, and found a little boy walking home from school with a book in English, a primer, under his arm. We were talking with him when a young fellow who spoke rather good English came along and entered into the conversation. We asked him what there was to do in the town. He then told us that the Taj Mahal was the one place there we must see on that very night. He said that on one night in the year the moon is full and brightest. During peace times people come from all over the world to see the Taj on that one night. It is an occasion of great celebration by the Hindus because it coincides with a religious festival that is celebrated all over India. We then asked him if he could recommend a reputable guide, and he said that he would be delighted to take us to the Taj himself. We were slightly suspicious, because it is very, very hard to find an Indian who is not trying to play some angle. An open friendly offer with no strings attached is not a usual by-product of the oriental mind. We arranged to meet him at his place of business at ten o’clock, and said goodbye.
We spent a little more time strolling through the streets, discouraging beggars about every ten feet with their interminable whines for bakhsheesh, and avoiding the merchants who feel that they are not doing their best for business unless they rush out onto the sidewalk and make frantic gestures toward the shop door, usually shouting “Very nice! Very nice!” An authentic Indian street is something that, once seen and smelled, will never completely leave you. It is narrow, so narrow that you can never seem to get far enough away from the buildings on either side. The sewage system consists of open gutters running down each side in front of the shops and houses. I say running, but it is usually stagnant, occasionally agitated a bit by someone running along and shoving the water with a broom. When he stops it settles down again. The bits of filth scattered here and there in the road and in the drains are malodorous enough to discourage completely any analytical investigation.
The shops and houses are built so that they have a sort of porch, about three feet above the street level and built right out to it, with no steps. These porches are only a few feet deep. There are, in many cases, no doors, so that you see right into the inside of the buildings. The Indians squat on their haunches on these little porches and indulge in almost every commercial and domestic activity imaginable. They cook, eat, manufacture, sell and buy perched right above the drain, and about four feet away from you on either side as you walk down the road. The social classes jammed in these dirty hovels run from the relatively prosperous dressed in spotless white, down to people who are actually starving to death, with unbelievably thin arms and legs, and bloated bellies. In fact, the paper the other day carried the story of a feeble man who got some food from a charity organization in Agra, went to sleep on the outskirts of the town, and couldn’t prevent the jackals eating the lower half his body so completely that he was shot to end his misery.
This is as good a place as any for an aside about jackals. A pack of them can make noises in the night that sound like a pack of maniacs on a very drunken picnic. Most people think that jackals are rather timid. True, they don’t look very vicious – more like a wary little mongrel dog. But they are determined little animals. Ride through the country at night on a motorcycle and you will hear a vicious snarling coming at you from one side. Lift your leg high and speed up the cycle, because about two seconds later a jackal will take a vicious bite at the side of the machine. They don’t fool. I would certainly hate to be lost out in the fields at night, alone with no light when the jackals are hungry.
At ten o’clock we arrived at our friend’s place of business – his name is T.K.Goul – and found his private tonga waiting to take us to the Taj. It certainly was far superior to the public tongas. Better springs and upholstery, a good horse, and a lot of highly polished brass and silver. As soon as we got out into the highway we realized that we had become part of a tremendous procession going to the Taj by every means of locomotion….tongas, bicycles, gharrys, a few autos and a great horde on foot. The entrance to the Taj gates was jammed with parked vehicles and a bottlenecked crowd of Indians pushing their way into the grounds. The Taj is set up so that you don’t see it until you go through an enormous arch and there it is about a quarter of a mile in front of you, statuesque and shining and very beautiful. There must have been twenty thousand people there. It made a very carnival atmosphere, with a constant murmur of talking and laughing.
At twelve o’clock the moon was to be at its brightest. We walked around and Goul told us of the history of the place. I won’t attempt to tell about that here because it is available in any number of books, and I don’t know much about it anyway. The most amazing thing about the ancient architecture in India is the precision with which the buildings are made. Precision isn’t quite the right word. We are satisfied to get good lines on a building so that from almost any angle the building is an artistic symmetric form, but when you get your nose about six inches from one of our buildings you are just looking at a rough stone block. With the old structures here in India, if you put your nose six inches from the outside surface you see delicate inlay work with marble and semi-precious stones that could serve as a decorative table top. That situation doesn’t only exist at eye level, but over the entire outside surface of the building. You just walk around with a constantly increasing feeling of awe at the infinite patience and industry of those long-dead men who labored for months to inlay a few square feet of marble to be placed so high on the building that that no one will ever see it closely enough to appreciate it.
As the clock neared twelve, we began to hear shouts coming from little knots of people gathered around here and there staring up at the facade of the Taj itself. We joined one of the little groups and saw that the reflected moonlight was outlining in sparking silver portions of the design on the top edge of the building. Goul explained that the Taj was so constructed that this phenomena would occur only on that one night in the year when the moon was most full.
(Editor’s Note: missing last line or two of page 2)
….of old Agra which, by now, we suspected was out of bounds to military personnel. If it had seemed dingy and filthy by day, it was ten times as bad by night, with torchlight and holiday crowds. Goul took us through streets so small that we had to take turns encouraging each other about continuing. We went down an alley so small that you could touch the buildings on either side simultaneously – then through a dark arch, down some stairs and into a minute Hindu temple to the god Vishnu. Hindus were kneeling and chanting before a bright jeweled image of the god. We had to remove our shoes. We gave the priest some money and he hung a garland of fresh flowers around each of our necks. It seemed so odd to receive flowers in that dark torch-lit place. We then went back out onto the street and sought a good place from which to watch the procession.
We certainly were objects of great curiosity. Despite the many years that Englishmen and Americans have been traveling through this country, it is still possible to accumulate a small crowd of staring Indians around you by just standing still on a street corner in the daytime. This attention is mild compared with the attention we aroused walking through the dark streets of Agra. Crowds followed us, and whenever we stopped, they would all stop. This was confusing because it was a crowd within a crowd. Our little group of curious followers could only keep up with us by using football tactics. Goul explained the mob scene by telling us that it was the first time in at least five years that any white men had attended the festival. We had been looking in vain up to that moment for some other comforting white faces, but we then gave up looking.
At last the procession came along. Huge floats, that would have looked small by American standards, filled the main street of old Agra from side to side; horses with solid silver saddle trappings and brocaded cloth blankets; groups of stick dancers who whirl and crack sticks together with great skill and precision and a minimum of broken fingers; sword dancers who waved sharp looking gadgets much too close for complete comfort; hundreds of people in costume just walking along in the light from torches and lanterns. At Goul’s suggestion we bought some large garlands of flowers and were going to give them to the person representing the god Ramesh at the end of the procession. The whole procession stopped while we bought the flowers because they thought we wanted to place them on Ramesh’s float as it went by. This was more than a little embarrassing. It was even more embarrassing to discover that Goul had an even more prominent part for us to play later on. The ceremony was so arranged that the main float with Ramesh on it stops at a platform running lengthwise about thirty feet up the middle of the street, with a throng at the far end. Ramesh, and another one dressed just like him, gets off and walks along the platform and sits on the throne. Goul wanted us to take our flowers and go along the platform first and wait for Ramesh, but we couldn’t quite see that. It seemed to us that those people had waited a long time for the celebration, and it wasn’t our business to hog the show. Besides we couldn’t be too sure about how they felt about our presence. Most of them kept smiling at us, and Goul said they were glad to have us, but we kept asking him again whenever we would see a few faces that weren’t smiling.
We settled by presenting the flowers to the float when they were yet a few feet from the platform. Ramesh and his counterpart were dressed in white robes and wearing the largest headdresses that I ever saw. They, the headdresses, were at least five feet high and three feet across and roughly oval. They looked heavy, but I assumed that they were made of some light material so that they could be worn. Then I noticed that every so often they would support the headdresses with their hands and sort of wince when they let go again. The gods got off of the float and walked along the narrow platform to the throne, and then the pushing and shoving started. The Indians got in the grip of religious fervor and the nearest thing to their actions is the type of crowd which gathers around the goal posts after a football game. It wouldn’t have been too hard to get hurt in that crowd, but we were permitted inside the line of guards who were keeping the crowd from demolishing the throne, platform and float in their enthusiasm. I noticed that the crowd was mostly men, and looking up, saw that the roofs, windows and balconies were swarming with women and children – so thick that in some cases it seemed like too much of a load for the roof. A cluster of candles was lighted and one of the participants walked the length of the platform with it. The crowd surged forward to place hands in the flame of the candles. We did not know the reasons behind any of the actions. To us it was a tumultuous, orgiastic fantasy carried on in surroundings we had never seen before. After a while it began to have a dreamlike quality, a species of intoxication. It had some of the aspects of Macbeth’s witches. The cluster of candles was then passed from hand to hand and disappeared into the recesses of a temple beside the road that we had not noticed before. Then, as the ceremony ended, Hanuman, King of the Monkeys, another participant in the ritual, handed Major Bird the bouquet Ramesh had carried throughout. The major gave it to Goul to give to his father. Apparently we had been more welcome throughout the evening than we had considered possible at any time. The Taj on that night and the festival were one of those, once in a lifetime, things. We were just plain lucky.
One afternoon later we picked up a guide near the tonga station and went on into Agra again. The guide was an old fellow who had been guiding for about thirty years. He knew what he was talking about, and outside of a few furtive comments on his part re dancing girls to sound us out on what we wanted to see, he behaved himself and didn’t overcharge.
First he took us to the burning ghats on the Jemna River between the Taj and the Old Fort. Body burning is old stuff, but we did pick up a few more interesting facts about it. It takes at least 400 pounds of wood to burn a body. Some wealthy citizens use as high as 1200 pounds, but with the price averaging about 25 dollars a ton, it becomes quite a budget problem for the heirs and relatives. We watched a body brought in, a pyre built, the body washed in the river and the fire started. The mourners sit in a little open sided house facing the river and the usual location of the pyres. For inclement weather there are two inside pits.
We were standing around casually questioning the guide when all of a sudden he directed all of his attention to a small group of about four people coming in from the road. In the lead was a man carrying a small bundle wrapped in white. The guide asked us to follow along, so we did. The other person held back, and we followed the man with the bundle along the steep river bank, with an abrupt drop of about ten feet into the dirty water on our left. After about a hundred yards of this difficult path we came to a sort of table of rock about ten feet across, and separated from the mainland by a two foot jump. We went out onto the rock table, and the man tenderly laid his bundle on the ground. He undid the white covering and took it off and there was a small naked baby about a year old and thoroughly dead, lying on little bamboo stretcher arrangement. It was a girl baby. The man took out a cloth and gently washed the body, with particular attention to the hands and feet. Then he replaced the white sheet, without tyng it, lifted the little bundle, stretcher and all, and threw it out into the muddy river. The three component parts, baby, stretcher and sheet separated in the air before they hit the water. Enclosed is a picture which I took of the baby in mid-air. The baby disappeared and, in a couple of seconds, bobbed to the surface where it floated around sort of on its side in the exceedingly filthy water. In a couple of seconds a few huge green heads, like the heads of enormous snakes, appeared around the body and gently nudged it a few times. We suddenly realized the heads belonged to gigantic soft shell turtles. Their heads alone were as large as cantaloupes, but the water was so dirty it was hard to see their shells just under the water. In a moment they had decided that the little form was dead, so they struck with wide open jaws, tearing at the body. They dragged it under and it bobbed up again in a damaged condition. We had a few more glimpses of it in a broiling turmoil of hungry turtles and then all was still once more. It had taken less than a minute.
The father had watched the turtles come up to the body and take the first bite, and then he had turned and walked back the way he had come. We began to ask questions of the guide and found that this same treatment was given any body under twelve years of age, and also to those older persons for whom nobody would buy wood. I suppose that it isn’t too bad an idea as far as India is concerned. It is sanitary and all that sort of thing, but it certainly is probably the most gruesome sight I ever expect to witness.
Following that little episode, we feebly trailed after our guide over to the old fort. It was the pride and joy of some character called Akbar the Great, and once again I will have to skip any of the history angle. The fort encloses a lot of square miles and contains mosques, palaces, rose water fountains, pits for elephants and tigers to fight, a gigantic Parcheesi board where Akbar threw the dice and small boys and girls moved around the board in lieu of pieces, moats, ramparts, battlements and the rest of it. It is really too much to look at, and so easy to arrive at a completely sated point.
The one part of it that will probably remain longest in my memory is the little balcony where Sha Jahan stood, took a look at the Taj about a mile away, and died. He was the guy that caused the Taj to be built, and, imprisonment by his son prevented his seeing it except once before he died. One wonders at the sudden rush of sympathy to the head on the part of his son.
Later in the trip we were to get a first-hand look at urban life in a famine area. It didn’t conform to what I had expected. For some reason I had expected everybody to be starving, or at least damn thin. You really have to look close to see the results of the food shortage, but when you see it, it is really impressive. The streets in the best sections are full of bustling people, and all the usual sights of any large city in the world, but here and there you find only isolated instances of starvation. Due to the fact that all over India there are beggars who purposely starve themselves in order to make a more appealing picture, it is difficult to tell the phony from the actual. For an example of the phony – there was a little kid not over two years-old sitting stark naked with bloated belly and matchstick arms and legs on the sidewalk right in the path of all the passers-by. He had a little pottery jug on the sidewalk in front of him for contributions, and he had his hands in a praying position held in front of his face. You had to admire the genius of the beggar master who posed him with his little brown monkey face tilted up and staring through you rather at you. For an example of the genuine – there was a little crowd of Indians standing around an emaciated man on the sidewalk, looking as futile and helpless as only a crowd of Indians can look. The man was obviously in a bad way, and would probably join the next group of early- morning corpses which the hotel washes off the sidewalk into the street with a pressure hose to facilitate the pick-up by the truck which comes around early in the morning to take care of such details.
There were many more very interesting moments and incidents on the trip that would take more time to tell than I have available. Among them – the urgency of the desire to get off of the ground when you are within a hundred yards of the end of the runway in a slightly overloaded bomber – the eager chewing and tearing of a bold bunch of vultures hard at work on a dead calf in the middle of a highway (see picture enclosed) – The piles of skulls and bones in the tropical undergrowth on a muddy trail that was once packed with refugees fleeing from the Japs – files of Indian workers carrying dirt in wicker baskets on their heads competing with a modern steam shovel not a hundred yards away – hornets so anxious to get at your food that they would bite the spoon with which you tried to brush them off – Army nurses complaining bitterly about the temperature of the bath water, and saying nothing about the fact that they were having to take the baths in a G.I. helmet.
It was a good trip.
#68. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
November 9, 1943
I am at work early this morning, believe it or not, and am taking the extra time to write you this note, believing that I have sort of neglected writing for a few days. The weather here is beginning to get a little too chilly to go out in the morning with just cotton khaki shirt and trousers. Some of the people have switched to woolens, which I may do soon. The only difficulty with that is that it still gets quite hot in the afternoons, and if you try to push a bicycle very far you begin to sweat, even in cotton.
With our good location here, and the good job I have, it is surprising how fed up you can become with the whole thing. You begin to get such an urge to be home. I think, about every other morning as I am getting up, of the difference between the arising procedure here, and the procedure in Stonehenge. I must be a chronic malcontent – I never completely appreciate things until they have gotten out of reach – and 15,000 miles is a bit out of reach. It is funny that with my usual morning grouch I can feel a yen for the AM routine.
I am thinking off and on of what I want to do when I get back. I think we have a tacit agreement that we will do a spot of motoring when I arrive, and use up a portion of terminal leave in so doing. However, from then on, everything is a blank. I can’t seem to think of a job or an occupation that will be right, at least looking at it from here. I can only believe that a period of no work in the states will create a yen for activity – but have you ever seen it work that way – with me? One of my confreres, a pretty nice guy named Major Scott, was dean of the School of Cinema at the University of California. He is on a leave of absence, and I intend to cultivate him assiduously, because it sounds like it might be a good idea to combine the pedagogical life with southern Cal, provided the pay would be attractive enough, and provided I could get an offer. It seems as though it would be to the point to pile up enough pennies so that we could afford maybe less than I think I ought to make in order to get into such a position. (Just read the above over, and I am not interested in the Cinema end – just wanted to make that clear). Let me know what you think.
#69. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
November 12, 1943
It was wonderful to get three letters from you today – the first in exactly three weeks. We understand now that your cable was in answer to Popop’s letter asking if you wanted money for Christmas, but I’m glad you cabled about something, because it was quite a long silence. Incidentally, he’s having quite a bit of trouble getting it sent – he’s tried everything, unsuccessfully, but the Red Cross. As you may know now, it’s to enable you to entertain your cronies, at some time during the holidays.
Hmm – holidays! And now it seems we may not even know where you are at Christmas. – You know I’ve felt that we’d get thru them pretty well – since we know where you are and hear from you often, my conscious mind had everything under control. But yesterday Pencil and I walked thru the jiggety store and came unawares upon a counter of Christmas tree decorations, and my ole heart just melted and ran off the tips of my fingers and toes. (Not to mention what it did to my stomach!) No matter how you slice it, it will be a bit of a travesty without you, my friend.
Old Sweetie pie, my new landlord Mr. Kopal, from Bouckville, blew me down yesterday, when in answer to my calm statement that we had ordered $115 worth of decorating done in the apartment, not to mention plumber’s bills, and how much did he care to allow me on it, he answered that he’d send me rent receipts for December, January & February! Not to mention holding it in November for us! So it won’t be a very expensive Christmas for Margie, after all!
Margie and Dorie were both on the wire tonight, and thrilled to death over your letter about the trip. Mine hasn’t come yet, but the mileage and a few names or pictures add up to Chunking, n’est pas? They think it’s a piece of really professional writing, and Pop is bursting with pride. So I can’t wait for my copy!
Pencil was charmed with his letter. Said “I’m going to give Daddy a big hug and a great big kiss when he comes home.” And tonight he asked if they’d let little boys “at the War.” (War is often a place, not a condition, to him), and “Mommy, would you like to join the WAACs?” I said no, I’d rather take care of him, and he informed me he would be happy to join you at War if I’d care to go. Poor boy – I hope he gets something besides War to think about before he grows up.
The car is an old darling – 31,790 miles, no trouble, tires OK so far, brakes good, heater works, a little carbon on the big hill to our house on the Walker Pond but generally she purrs. And she’s got the only Prestone for miles around in her, and Winter grease, and canvas for a new top.
Your comments on your post war plans in India were most enlightening. I take it the next time I move it will be California. In fact, from your longest letter of the three, it can be gathered that you were in fine fettle after your trip. It’s a very sharp letter.
No doubt you know about the bonds now. $5000, in your name, p.o.d. to me, and in Pop’s safe deposit box, so you can’t ever use ‘em without some explanation, no doubt. Margie’s face turned dark red when she tried to tell me why they were keeping them – I just agreed with her that it is safer, she can’t help it if she’s sensitive enough to blush at the implications. She had just said the night before (when Mrs. Lewis died), that if Pop left all his money for her in annuities she’d be offended at his lack of confidence in her, but he probably would anyway! (she said.)
#70. JDM to DPM (ALS, 2pp.)
November 13, 1943
Dear Dordo –
My mind has been wandering onto many strange subjects. One is money. In your next letter please send me a financial statement – you know – some of your inimitable pin point writing on what we owe, how much it’s costing to live, what our reserves are, etc. Please don’t think I’m checking up on what happened to the $ I sent. I don’t care what you do with it as long as it’s something you want to do.
Also, I have been thinking of a promotion. I expect one in February. By that time I will probably be the ranking Capt. in the theatre. I think that at that time it would be just as well not to increase your allotment, but to empty my pockets at the end of each month as I am now doing. Thus you will get 2 checks each month – one at the beginning, and one in the middle. Since the promotion to Major carries with it $95 – the middle of the month check ought to be a minimum of $75 and a maximum of $150, depending on how well I live during the month. For example, I have 365 Rs left now, and the only expense in sight is to pay for those clothes I bought, about 144 Rs. Thus I ought to be able to send 30 or 40 bucks Dec 1st, and if I had the leaves it would be $125 or $130.
I have also been watching these rag heads that sweep the floor of the ward and thinking what miserable, bootlicking excuses for human beings they are. Despite their rag bag odds and ends of clothes, though, they often have bold, hawk-like features which don’t match at all. It is funny to see a bright eyed, old grey bearded pirate who looks like he should be cutting throats for a living, bowing and scraping and cringing before a feeble little PFC. They look like proud, independent people, and act like serfs for whom there is no hope. I get a minor twinge out of watching their little kids who have not yet learned servility. They are straight-backed happy little brown kids; they look you in the eye and laugh. There is no difference between the way they act and the way Penny acted at the same age – but how soon and how thoroughly they learn craft, deceit and filthy ways. It’s a screwball race.
Have finished my dinner – fish soup, indeterminate meat, creamed potatoes, boiled onions, salad, soggy cake, tea and milk. And also finished a chess game, which I won from a ward-mate with no difficulty. We plan a series of games for the morrow, all of which I will win. As I believe I told you before, one of my roommates is Capt. Fred Smith. He and I must have played 70 games of chess on the damn boat. I am much, much better at it than I was previously.
One of the fascinating things about India is the cooking. On busy street corners in the middle of the afternoon you can find peddlers selling from racks bits of nauseating looking matter, 90% unidentifiable. This “food” would soon put any white man flat on his back with amoebic dysentery and/or cholera. The same type of Indians as sell this crap are used in the G.I. kitchens throughout India. Left to their own devices, they would kill us all off, but, since they are subject to military supervision, the food is theoretically clean. The quality of food served in any G.I. mess is in direct ratio to the energy of the American cooks assigned to the kitchen. Busy cooks = good mess. Understanding the labor element, the next problem is materials. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be an agricultural country, there seems to be damn little palatable stuff raised. Some messes, in order to be on the very safe side, use canned beans and canned sausages to extremes. It is a trial to the guys who have to eat there, in addition to being a severe test of the ingenuity of the cook. Where I am staying, the food is all Indian. Before my trip it had gradually gotten to an almost 100% edible point. However, in returning, I found that there had been a change of management and a radical change in the quality of the food. The meals are all elaborate. A typical dinner may be a chicken salad, then soup, then fish, then a main course, then dessert, then nuts and candy. It sounds wonderful, and it is, for the first few times, but they manage, with great skill to combine variety with monotony. It’s a good trick. I can’t describe it – but all the food has the same spiced Indian flavor. Even the inside of a baked potato tastes like burned curry powder.
The sugar is a trial. It is very coarse, like rock salt, and will sit indefinitely in the bottom of a glass of iced tea without the least chemical change. Also, it tastes lousy on plain bread with butter. The bread is another trial, because it is always heavy, grey colored, damp and slightly sour. When you chew it, it forms into a sticky mass of viscous dough. It is very tiresome, in that putting jelly or peanut butter on it, or toasting it seems to make no difference at all. The milk and butter are damn near impossible. Did you ever taste goats’ milk? Well, this isn’t goats’ milk but their darn cows eat something that makes it taste like goats’ milk. It tastes gamey, and can only be disguised by the coffee, which tastes like, and is, mostly chicory. Naturally the butter tastes of the milk, and thus always tastes slightly turned.
One of the things I am going to do most of when I get back is eat.
Another of the things I am going to do is take more account of time as it goes by. It seems to me now that I spent more damn time lying around reading trash when I could have been doing more interesting things. Not so much doing more as doing something. How you had patience with me I will never know. It seems as though I spent time like I had an infinite amount of it to spend. I know now that I was prodigal with it – in a pointless fashion.
I am mailing another Roundup and another Yank as soon as I can get to the envelopes. I think I’ll send them regularly if you want them. Let me know, please. Have received a whole mess of confirmations of magazine subscriptions placed by Pop. I don’t know when they will start coming, but once they do start, I think that I will be well taken care of in the periodical dept. – but I would as soon miss them all as miss Time.
Enough for now
Love to you and Pencil, John
#71. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
November 17, 1943
There isn’t much left for me to say about your trip letter – your family just burst with pride and enthusiasm, and you would love to see the pile of little blue-bound copies like leases or lawyers’ briefs that Dad had made. And Sammy used words like “fascinating” and “vivid” and “realistic,” so what is there left for me today but I told you so, because it’s wonderful description and good straightforward writing, worthy of the guy who wrote some poems I’ll never tire of reading. What an experience, fair-haired friend, and you made the most of it by capturing so much of it on paper for all of us to share and for you to refresh all your memories with when life here is again commonplace. We are very proud that you can do that so well, and grateful that you did.
You certainly were lucky in popping along just in time for the festivities at the Taj Mahal, and that experience by the river must have been more than a little unnerving. Once you’ve held your own little offspring, and watched it grow, things like that take hold of your very insides. Seeing the bombers and riding on transports or living in tents must make you feel much nearer “the war.”
We stopped at the apartment. The stove is in, and Mike had the kitchen all done – a nice clean rather light blue halfway up, and oyster white above, with a lovely gray-blue floor in kitchen, hall, bath and bedrooms. He decided to paint the living and dining room woodwork instead of washing it, and it’s so nice-looking – there are so many doors and windows that it shows a lot. He was ready to paper and that necessity hadn’t arrived, so we tore around to dozens of wall-paper stores and finally wired Philadelphia for a new pattern. If they can’t fill the order I’ll have to get something else tomorrow; I took him enough plain blue to start on. – It just looks like a different place, and was so warm and comfortable and clean and sunny and roomy!
Awfully sleepy –
#72. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
November 17, 1943
As you have probably discovered from the outside of the envelope, I am now field grade. Bill Heindl brought me the news to the hospital this morning (which I ought to be out of very soon). So I haven’t had a chance yet to walk around with the leaves on. Bill became a Capt. It is a good feeling after sweating it out for so darn long. It sounds so high and mighty that I don’t know whether to believe it or not. Please call 9 Beverly and let them know, I will write them soon. I am also thrilled about the extra 95 chips a month.
I have received two letters from you since being in here. They came yesterday and the day before – dated Oct 24 & 25. I think the pictures are wonderful, especially the askew one of Penny in profile with the lake in the background. Why wasn’t a closer-up one of you included?
Pardon me for making this so short – but it does have news in it, doesn’t it!
#73. DPM to JDM (ALS,pp.)
November 23, 1943
Hi, Old Sweetheart,
When we went to Utica it was a normally gray Sunday, but dry and not terribly cold. When it rained just as we went to eat, it was a bit sloppy for open-toed shoes and no rubbers or galoshes, but by the time we got out of the restaurant it had already turned to snow, and the streets were white in a matter of minutes as it was falling in big wet chunks that piled on headlights and windshields in a sticky mess.
As we left Deerfield the lights went completely out, so we phoned Margie that we’d be up there to sleep, but while I was phoning the man in the Ramp garage had discovered and remedied the cause. At first he’d said he couldn’t, and that there wasn’t another garage open in the city, and of course no service stations.
So we started out again, in snow already three inches deep. When we got to the same spot in Deerfield where the lights went out, we skidded across the road toward a telephone pole, but just missed it and the car coming toward us, and resumed our journey.
Thru the big ravine, up the hill past “our house,” down the cut by the schoolhouse safely, then to the long slow rise that leads to that last big swoop down and up before the road straightens out. To be brief, I spent an hour and a half trying to get up that moderate climb. We both had terrible colds, and no hats or anything over our shoes, and it was half rain, half snow, and wind, so it looked like suicide to get out of the car. And not enough gas to spend the night in the car with the heater on! Of course there were many other cars stuck – some put on chains and made it, others turned around, but my only hope was to get to the top of the hill where I could turn around, and return to Utica.
At long last a huge lumberjack, coming down the hill, and full of beer and sympathy, decided to help me. He left his car where his lights would cover both ditches, and helped me turn around in the middle of the road, then followed me into Utica like a guardian angel. He even offered to share his beer with us, but I told him we needed all our faculties after our daiquiris, anyway. So we ended up at 9 Beverly cold and wet, after abandoning the car at the bottom of that hill and walking up. Thank heaven Pencil was there already.
Of course the movers wouldn’t tackle the roads yesterday morning, so they changed the date to Wednesday. We did some errands in a merciless wind and on streets that were a glare of ice, and did a few half-hearted things in the apartment, then took Pencil back up to your mother’s and started home at seven P.M.
The hills had been sanded, but the level stretches weren’t, and the wind was terrible. If finally blew me off the road, and the whole front end of the car was nosed into a ditch full of snow! I was rocking it desperately and futilely when a little skinny farmer came along and practically lifted the car back into the road. So we finally got home.
Tonight the mover called and he had contacted troopers and highway engineers and had decided he couldn’t chance trying to bring a van over the Walker Road, so he wanted to send it by way of Herkimer – and I paying them by the hour – six bucks an hour! When I wailed about the expense, and suddenly realized that that would be over 20 miles so I could maybe pay per cubic foot instead of the hourly rate (20 mile limit,) he went up in the air and said he was sorry he took the job and what if something happened to his van, etc. etc. – Well, I finally called the Herkimer bus driver and found out that the Utica to Poland route via Herkimer has all bare roads, and when I phoned that information to the mover, all was cheery again, and they’ll be here, via Herkimer, and 9 A.M. tomorrow. I dunno yet how I pay, tho.
Isn’t moving something? It will take a lot to get me out of this State St. place. I don’t feel like moving again without six months’ notice!
There’s to be a Prentiss family dinner Thanksgiving night at Unc’s, and we’re invited. There’s a slight turkey shortage, but Unc got a huge one, and we’re having it at night because of Bus and Tom having to work. The MacDonalds haven’t mentioned their plans (possibly because of Rita,) tho we were just invited to Unc’s tonight. – I shall be thinking of you, for altho you probably won’t hear much about Thanksgiving at New Delhi, you’ll probably be thinking about cold weather, and turkey and stuff, and Cornell-Penn football games. (We never did get to one, did we? We will, yet.) I’ll be thinking of you, and be very lonesome without you, Darling.
Margie says they want all the holidays to be “just another day” with you gone, and not have a Christmas tree or anything to remind them it’s a day when they’d miss you more than ever.
It’s up to the individual to decide what is right for himself at such a time, but I feel quite differently. Of course you would want the Pencil’s Christmas to be as much like Christmas as possible, and I feel that by observing the little routines we’re used to we avoid making ourselves and everyone else miserable. There’s no doubt we’ll have a lump in our necks all the day, but it seems as if you’d like to think of a tree with trimmings and lights, and surprises for Pencil, and Christmas music and all the old standbys being here, to know they’re here to come back to, and that we’ll find comfort in the routine and the cheery look of things even if they do make us miss you worse than ever. Somehow I like to keep my feelings about you on the inside – it seems quite important, probably because it makes us seem to belong more to each other.
A spot of motoring sounds like a fine post war plan to me. And being the wife of a pedagogue in California sounds like Heaven! We wondered from something Mrs. Bowlin said, if something was cooking over there. Evidently not for you, at any rate. And I have wondered whether the sort of life you’re leading would turn you to an urgent desire to make money and live luxuriously, or whether the simple life with modern conveniences and a few books would appeal more. As far as I’m concerned, I’m convinced that with either of us life couldn’t get very humdrum for long – possibly not even very settled, and with you it won’t get boring. The job problem will be serious after the War, and contacts very important. Are you fed up with the Army? I think by that time you should be looking for something that will keep you interested and happy most of all, because it will be time to choose an occupation in which you can stay long enough to get somewhere.
Moving is going to take a nick out of the nest egg, as will Christmas and a new stove. I can’t seem to save much out of my allotment, either – prices keep going up, and special expenses come along the way they always have, but after the first of the year I hope things will settle down so that any out-of-routine expenses can be carefully weighed against the post-war possibilities of the amount in question. And if Pencil gets in school I may see a way to increase our income somewhat. I am aware of the fact that it would be more fun to spend it with you than now, anyway.
I love you John,