3 Chapter 3 – Between India and Utica – Winter 1943, Letters 74-87
#74. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
November 26, 1943
We’re here! And I’m sitting in our own living-room looking at our lovely new wallpaper and paint, and our own things looking really nicer than they have anywhere, except maybe the Portsmouth Terrace library, – but I think nicer than that, even. And no Hortense, no Mrs. Sexton, just you and Penny and I. As far as I can see this “will be so nice to come home to” forever so long.
The movers came, via Herkimer, at ten o’clock Wednesday – two hours on the road coming, at $6 an hour! It took all day to complete the job, so the final bill was awful – for such a short distance – $54. When it became evident that they intended to charge by the hour (when their limit for charging that way is 20 miles,) in spite of having covered over 35 miles to get to the job, Margie called Mr. Wood, and he said to have the bill sent to me, then it could be questioned later if Pop thought it should be, – he was in New York that day. Of course when it’s someone else’s money, it’s easy to say “You might as well pay it,” so I’ll probably have to, for want of a man to bully it out for me, but otherwise they did a good job, and it’s worth it to be here.
The men put up the beds and laid the kitchen linoleum for me, and they were very pleasant. It was after five when they left, so you can see we didn’t get a lot done that night. We went up for the Pencil, and he was in bed, so your family dropped him off and took a look at the place yesterday on their way to the Hotel Utica for dinner.
We got up late yesterday, but got a lot done, only it looked worse at night than it did in the morning because I let Pencil unpack of box of toys from Albany that had been packed since April, and Rita and I painted and did things that made it look worse, as far as confusion is concerned.
You see, Mike didn’t do all the painting that should be done to make it look its best, as it would have been too expensive. But he did the hardest part. However, my theory is that if I settle completely first, it will be easy to put off doing those things that are left, so I’m trying to get some done right away. After settling there will be furniture to paint, curtains to make, etc., but once the stuff was packed the awful part was over, and now it’s here I can slow up a little, as the hurry to pack left me about ready for a little rest. And this part is fun.
The kitchen is completed, except for washing and putting away the dishes from Albany, but they don’t bother me as they’re out in the front hall and we’re not falling over them. The living room looks presentable, and Pen’s bedroom, but our bedroom and the dining room need lots of time. The bedrooms weren’t painted or papered, tho I intend to paint the woodwork as soon as possible. The floors Mike did in a lovely shade of gray-blue, and I hope to have the paper changed before you come home, as it’s not in good condition, tho it’s not ugly in color and pattern. A plumber is going to raise the kitchen sink, change the faucets to new ones, and he may persuade the landlord to permit him to take a new sink and tub out of an unused bathroom downstairs and change them for ours, which are badly scratched and stained. I hope so, because it is all painted (a very passionate peach shade) and has black linoleum on the floor, and a new toilet, and would be very nice if those old pieces were replaced. We just got hot water this afternoon, and I saw the furnace, both it and the hot water heater look very good, and we’re getting a ton of coke Monday. It’s wonderfully warm here – no cold spots in the place.
The kitchen is Piseco-bedroom-blue halfway up, and a gray-white above, it has a good looking gray and black and red linoleum, and I have red oilcloth around. It is light, well arranged, and a good size. The living and dining rooms are lovely. Warm white woodwork, and lovely blue wallpaper. All the dining room walls are alike, in figured paper, with a blue lining for the built-in china cupboard, but the living room has two figured walls and two of plain blue, and it’s lovely. Painting the oak mantel and seven dark doors helped the most. Penny’s play room is very cute in plain blue, with black linoleum on the floor. The floors that weren’t painted were cleaned and varnished. The front hall is awful, but I’ll tackle that later. The attic is fine for all undesirable items.
The best part is that it feels like ours. It’s big enough and far enough from relatives, and attractive enough, to really seem like a home, and I want to stay here so badly that I’ll have a fit if we can’t. – At least until you come, – I guess we can, but one feels superstitious after moving so much.
This is probably the moving anecdote of this time – Yesterday morning I unpacked the coffee pot, put the coffee in the top and percolated it. No one noticed anything unusual about the result, but when I went to take it apart to wash it, there was a wad of very soaked faded newspaper in the bottom which contained, of all things – three very well-boiled narcissus bulbs! Mother had packed them there after I thought I’d packed the percolator for good. Well, I was glad the coffee was boiled.
Our garage is so hard to get out of that it will be easy to save gas, but in the months when you use a car most it will be all right. We’re lucky to get one so near downtown, especially at $22 a month.
I will give you a financial statement as soon as I get the desk things unpacked and perhaps a little more privacy. Haven’t received $50 you mentioned sending, but it will probably show up sometime. Rita is still here, and is really helping now. It isn’t smart to let her grow into the place so completely, as it assumes the shape of a home, but it couldn’t be helped, and won’t matter so much when you’re away if I only have some time to myself in between visits.
It would be so nice if you could come and see all this before the “new” wears off, but it will probably look good to you, anyway. We miss you so terribly, and wish we could see you soon, my Darling. I like to start and end my days beside you, always.
More later, Love – Dordo.
#75. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
November 30, 1943
Darling Major MacDonald –
Consider this a V-mail letter. I wouldn’t write to anyone else in the world tonight, but I’d write to you whether you were a major or a captain. It sure is fun to write Major MacDonald, tho. Congratulations from all of us, Dear.
It was very nice when I discovered the wonderful news. We were having breakfast when Nana called (DeVall’s phone) and said that Margie had to be at Dr. Parkhurst’s downtown at 10 A.M., and had some mail for me. As Popop was in bed with a cold and she wanted to get back before the doctor came to see him, she wanted me to pick up the mail from her at the doctor’s, as she wouldn’t have time to come over.
We were going downtown anyway, so we rushed to get ready, and I left Rita and Pen in the car with the motor on to keep them warm, and went into the doctor’s office. The waiting room was full of patients, so when Margie came out, we sat on a little bench in the hall, she to read the V-mail letter I had yesterday, telling what was wrong with you, and I to read the letter she had – no. 27 addressed to me at 9 Beverly.
When I got to “As yet I haven’t had any chance to strut around with my leaves” – I quick grabbed the envelope – and there it was, just as I knew it would be some day. “Look – he’s a major” – and Margie and I purred and cooed over it until we thought of Pencil, so we hopped across the street to tell the others. And is pencil proud! – And Margie! – and me! I drove her home and she took the letter up to show Pop right away. He was pleased, too, tho of a fittingly convalescent nature – he’ll be more so when he can tell someone. But your mother was just 100% delighted, – and gloating about your age, etc., of course.
When things are better organized, I will send you a list of what we are giving for Christmas, just for fun, also a monetary report. The $50 check arrived today and will probably be consumed by Christmas expenses, but at least we won’t come out of the holidays in the red or stone broke, as usual. I haven’t got my fur jacket yet, but I am considering that my present from you, because I know you’ve wanted to be in the bucks enough to get one for several Christmases. – It’s a shame we have to spend our first comparatively relaxed Christmas (financially) apart, but it does make being apart a little easier, to know that each one of us has security of a kind and comfort, – of a kind.
It’s so wonderful you’re a major. There’s a couple of people in Rochester I’d like to snub now, but what’s the use, it’s nicer just being so happy.
G’night, Major, Honey,
#76. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
December 11, 1943
Dear Dordo –
I can well understand how Christmas stuff can kind of give you a bang. I (and my confreres) seem to have resolutely put it out of mind. By the time you get this you will know that it has crept up on us – but good.
Speaking of that trip again – enclosed are two pictures; one of one of the carnivorous turtles, and the other one of the construction of a funeral pyre. Notice the sling-shot on the rag head in the turtle picture. There has recently been a fad there in Agra – with hawkers selling them on the streets.
I have had something on my chest re money. From everything I can see, it is going to be possible for us to lay up a bit of cash for future times. All that is well and good, except for the gradual inflation that is taking place. Both the Civil War and the World War resulted in a period of very extreme inflation after they were over. I hate to think of cash being socked into the bank only to become less and less valuable in what it will buy. The only answer that I can see is to stick the money, all that over a reserve fund of, say $500, into solid common stocks. Those, unlike bonds, aren’t affected by the cost of living. Stocks are, in effect, ownership shares; and, if by buying one share of the stock of a company, you own 1/100,000 of that company, the value of your ownership will go up and down along with the real value of money. If eggs cost $1 apiece in 1950 and $1 a dozen now, and you pay $100 for a share of stock now, you can sell the stock for $1200 in 1950 – Follow me? I think stuff like Bell Telephone Preferred stock, and G.E. and Gen. Motors would be a good deal. Maybe every time we got up to say $700 ahead, you could stick $200 into one of those. Tell me what you think. I am enclosing the receipts for the cash I’ve sent so far.
You spoke in one of your letters about the educated Indian being nice and friendly. I suppose the educated ones are – but it’s the half educated ones that are a curse. They are arrogant and snotty, wear Kollege Kut Klothes, and drive their cheap little cars exactly like the drunken kids home on their way back from a high school brawl. They delight in anything that makes them feel momentarily “superior,” and they provide probably the most fertile ground for the Jap propaganda which is piped in here by every conceivable means.
I am about writ off, so I will end with fond expectations of a missive from you on the morrow.
#77. JDM to DPM (ALS, 3pp.)
December 12, 1943
Dear Dordo –
In response to the acclaim I got for writing of my trip, I am going to attempt to get a few things down on paper from time to time. The difficulty is access to a typewriter. However, since Dad went to the trouble of having the other thing duplicated, maybe you can either get him to duplicate the one I enclose, or, as a last resort, type it yourself with copies to whoever you think has a stomach strong enough to be interested.
No letters today, and by next Sunday your latest will be a month old.
Please give me your opinion of the enclosed, and also if you would be willing to attempt to type and market (under your name for reasons I won’t give here) any stuff I might send you so earmarked.
Love to you and the Pencil,
Fragments of the Indian Scene
Everyone is inoculated with some meagre school knowledge about the prevalence of cows in India. The expression “sacred cow” is a component of our language, kindred to “white elephant.” However, it is with a dull sense of shock that you finally begin to realize the all-pervading effect of the cow after a few months in India. I can’t speak as an authority; my comments on the beast are the result of the times it has imposed itself on my consciousness, rather than the result of any deliberate research.
The sacred cows, as differentiated from the rural, useful variety, roam about at will. I have always been secretly impressed with the beautiful indifference of the nice brown cows in the states, who can look through you with a warm brown eye, and chew along without excitement. Compared with the sacred cows, one of the U.S. variety is in an advanced stage of manic depression. They are as indifferent to threats of physical violence as an elephant would be to a rapist gleam in the eye of a gnat. The other morning I rode my bike over to headquarters, fell gracefully off of it, and was fixing to trundle it through the fairly narrow gate to a space to park it. One of the great iron grey sacred cows with its slanty oriental eyes was peacefully denuding our hedge of green leaves, and, as I approached, she swung her buttocks around so that she filled the narrow gate. I stopped short and tried, in gradually increasing crescendo, various commands in English and Hindustani. She didn’t even look around. Then, adopting the more practical mental attitude of an Indian, I surveyed the foliage within reach, watched her eating speed, and composed myself to wait until she had to move along. While waiting I carried on a short sharp mental debate about the pros and cons of the prestige of the white race when confronted with the immovable wrong end of a sacred cow.
These nonchalant critters have no problems, no responsibilities – and, so far as I can see, no emotions. There are uncounted thousands of them who live a self-satisfied parasitic life, possibly sneering occasionally at less fortunate cows who weren’t smart enough to be born sacred. These less fortunate sisters have to withstand the additional humiliation of browsing with little skin bags tied to their teats to prevent poaching by orphan calves, goats, children – and, I suspect, impecunious adults.
Years from now, when I am happily home in the states, if I should ever feel creeping up on me a furtive desire to return to India, I am going to go out and find a well dried pile of cow feces, and, with great ceremony, burn it. I am sure the sharp acrid odor will drive the desire well away. It is the standard Indian fuel. I am always forced, somehow, to think of the man who had the courage to eat the first raw oyster. The first Indian to use this fuel must have been damn cold.
The methods and policies of fuel collection have intrigued me. In an Indian country village, as soon as some fresh fuel becomes apparent in the middle of the village street, a small boy will come running out to it and throw handfuls of dust on it. Then by turning it over with his hands several times, throwing dust on the exposed parts each time, he is soon able to bring it to a consistency where he can pick it up and run off home with it. There, one of the women makes little flat cakes of it, which are allowed to dry in the sun. These burn slowly and with a good heat – but with an indescribable odor.
Another collection method utilizes the little girls of the family. I have yet to see a little Indian girl who could walk and yet be unable to balance something on her head at the same time. These feats must be taught simultaneously. A woman and a group of little girls, each with a round shallow wicker basket on her head, go wandering off across the pasture land. The woman maintains a straight dignified course while the little girls dart off in odd directions, grabbing dried feces and placing them in the basket. It is odd to watch a little five or six year old girl go clambering over rough ground, stooping and picking things up and looking on all sides without disturbing the balance of a well-filled basket. They are gay and picnic-y about such an excursion, and remind me of nothing more than school children with their teacher out collecting wild flowers. The objects they find do not, of course, require the dust treatment previously described.
Beside fuel, there is another interesting domestic use of this substance; thinned out, and applied with a rude brush, it is used as an interior paint in rural villages to discourage, through its chemical content, the visitations of all sorts of domestic insects. It is thinned with urine to give a proper ammonia content. It is said to be very effective – but I seriously doubt if I will ever be placed in a position to give testimonials.
In addition to these domestic uses, there are religious uses among the Hindus. Their reasoning is that if the cow is sacred, then any bovine excretion is also sacred. This leads to a practice among certain highly religious Hindu families of keeping a utensil like a salt shaker at the eating place. This container is filled with dried and powdered excrement which is sprinkled very lightly over certain dishes. I have the word of men who were guests at dinner with such families, that it is only the first dish so treated that is likely to bother you, and then, not too much.
Another religious usage is tied up with the religious ceremony of purification of a high caste Hindu after he has been contaminated by contact with one of a lower caste. When the head of the house in a high caste Hindu family goes away to another city on a trip, no matter what precautions he takes, it is assumed that he has been contaminated. Therefore, before he enters his own house, he must be purified. The ceremony of purification is less rigorous today in the larger cities, but, in the country, as in previous years, he must be plastered with the dung of a cow and must even partake of a minute quantity of urine from the same beast. Then, after being properly cleansed, he could return to his loved ones with all though of contamination removed. There is one distinct advantage to this system – except in cases of dire necessity, it is very difficult to tear a high caste Hindu away from the bosom of his family.
#78. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
December 15, 1943
Eight AM and time to get a quickie off to you before getting on my steel horse at 8:25. Delayed a bit by the pen – please rush tips.
Got a long letter from Sammy yesterday and my 1st issue of Time – dated Nov 22nd. Sammy’s letter was good – got a nice mental picture w/ him in a dark room with Bardie, globe and flash-light explaining why and when I went to bed. He said the same thing as Evie – that my letter to them sort of resurrected me from a land of make-believe.
Am having a Chinese dinner tonight as guest of an American Chinese officer – George Chow from S.F. We spent about an hour yesterday at tea time (which we spent in a coffee house) discussing “Chinese dishes I have known.” Expect to skimp on lunch today and really get in the groove tonight. Tomorrow night I must go to an official party which is held periodically so that British and American officers can drink Scotch together. Tell you later how good an idea it is.
One of my ingenious friends dreamed up a solution to the problem of Indians making a lot of loud talk at night outside his window. He procured some king-size firecrackers and, merely by lighting one and flipping it out was able to terminate even the most interesting discussions. The other night he was lighting the wick of one on a hot coal in the fireplace when it slipped out of his hand. There was a great scramble for safe corners, and then Wham! – and they had to spend quite a little time dashing around stomping on coals. Life is sure dangerous on the fighting front.
#79. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
December 17, 1943
Dear Dordo –
I think my family’s attitude toward Christmas trees and stuff is a ripe example of unrestrained exhibitionistic pathos – in the traditional German manner – masochistic and distinctly unintelligent. I am glad you have a tree for Penny. I wish there had been some polite way to tell them that by being so silly they made a good stab at spoiling my Christmas. Such nonsense!
By the way – I am Officer of the Day on Christmas night. I don’t mind a bit.
Went last night to a small dinner party at a private club – some Britishers and American officers – about 20 of each. Good food, liquor and conversation. It’s a good idea. Corrects misconceptions on both sides.
Got a cable today from Mr. & Mrs. E A congratulating me on the promotion. Couldn’t tell from it when it was sent. It’s funny, to get it because the promotion seems like old stuff now.
Keep writing long and often, baby.
#80. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
December 19, 1943
Setting: a sunny Sunday, a little warmer, late afternoon; a clean apartment, with two occupants peacefully asleep, the radio bearing Brahms’s “Variations on a Theme by Haydn.” That’s the situation in a nutshell. Last night I tried to write a few cards, and managed to get all of them done, and this morning I started a washing then cleaned the front of the house in preparation for the Christmas tree. After a late dinner we were all sleepy, and I was bushed, so with one accord we took a nap. Pencil and Rita are still sleeping. When they wake up I hope to finish the laundry, get the Sunday paper from Oneida Square, and write eight Christmas notes. If Unc comes, we’ll put up the tree; he offered to help, and I can’t find the holder, so his help will be welcome. – All this will clear the decks, I hope, for some shopping tomorrow!
So you can see, the situation appears to be getting under control again – it’s got to, this is Christmas week. Kostelanetz program, with Christmas carols – the same program we heard in 1941 and 1942. All we need is you.
The New York Philharmonic has improved immeasurably. I never felt terribly critical of it, they just sounded muddled, and a little sleepy. But today the effect of old Shaggy-brow really showed. They are much more alert, disciplined, crisply controlled, more like the Boston. The program was good today, and lying down, there was nothing to distract me from a single note. In the intermission, Carl Van Doren and Carl Carmer read from some Christmas-time letters and diaries from the Revolutionary War. I like American history, especially from that early part.
I wish we could feel that you’d be with us next year at this time. You’d like it here, and we’d be bound to feel glad to be near all the familiar things of years and years, at this time of year. I don’t dare to think you will, yet I can’t think beyond then without you.
Even if it makes you sad, Darling, remember the snow, remember the music, the lights, the crowds, and the little groups of two or three with a Christmas secret or a Christmas errand or a Christmas task, remember “over the river and thru the woods,” and the snow against the windshield – the rhythm of the wipers – the hum of the heater, and the car radio bursting with Christmas songs, the Catholic church organ and bells and voices thru the night and when you wake up, the bright packages, the smell of the tree, the dinner, the people, the wine, the toys, the surprises, Pencil’s voice, Pop’s wheeze, clean sheets, new clothes, long-distance to Elmira, fruit cake, Margie’s little tree, bottles of perfume, -dark,- books – and don’t forget me.
#81. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
December 20, 1943
I’d love to know what you’re doing now – so near the hardest day to be apart. I hope your packages come, but judging from the Colonel’s luck last year, it doesn’t look too hopeful. It’s hard that there’s so little we can do to make your day a better one, but it’s the main thing I think about now, and since we can’t even send a cable all I can do is try a little telepathy, and a little prayer!
The holidays have raised hell with the mail service. There hasn’t been any from you for such a long time, and I’m sure you’ve written. You’ll probably feel it on your end for some time – there just aren’t the men available to handle it. Our deliveries come at all odd times, and the post office and branches were even open Sunday. – Just if you feel sure how much I’m thinking of you every minute!
This morning we had a blizzard, but it eased off by afternoon, and I just had to do some shopping. I went down after 3, and got home about 7, but got a lot of worries off my mind. Honey – you should see Grant’s bookstore. I couldn’t find one book for Pop there, and I had a long list of possibilities. Of course the publishers can’t print as many, and people have shopped early, but it’s unbelievable. We’ve always been able to get new books even after Christmas. The books are looking dingy now, too. Poor paper, bindings, no margins, etc. There was one of the ones on my list at each of two other stores, but many things I mentally noted before I was sick are gone from different stores.
Something queer happened. Margie invited us for Christmas 6 months ago, 3 months ago, 1 month ago, and three times since the first of this month. The last three times she invited Mother with us, as it became obvious that she wouldn’t (at first) and couldn’t go to Elmira. I know they don’t like outsiders, and appreciated the inclusion, but since it wouldn’t be the usual routine anyway, figured they were willing to add Rita in with other War conditions like your absence, and lack of transportation possibilities for her to get to Elmira, and flu and pneumonia. Having the presents at a different time, and going out to eat seemed like a good way to avoid painful associations for all of us. Today after I went out, Margie came down in a taxi to say that they didn’t think we’d better come there for Christmas because it’s too cold at their house!
I know we’ve done nothing or said nothing to offend them, our relations have been particularly close lately, and I know it’s just Pop – probably because he doesn’t want Rita there, but it makes me feel very queer. It must have been very hard for Margie to come down and say that; she and Rita didn’t discuss it, naturally, as it was embarrassing. After all the invitations, to tell us not to come the very last minute – and Christmas!
So now Pencil and Rita and I will have our presents by ourselves some time here, and I will make reservations for us to eat out at the Hotel, as I think the more we’re out of the house that day, the better. Pop has been intent on letting the War make things grimmer for some time, but even if there wasn’t a tree there, or you, or many presents, (I’ve had mine from him and Margie, you see), I took it for granted that it would be easier for all of us to be together, anyway. I guess I’ve taken too much for granted, but Margie has been insisting on having us for so long, even acting as if she would be hurt if we went to Elmira, (and, ironically, Evvie wrote that she thought the Macs needed us more than they, this year) that it can’t be her idea. I’ve tried to impress Rita that he just wants to celebrate “in keeping with the War,” – she knows as well as I that it isn’t the temperature of their house! – but she is sensitive enough to know what changed his mind. If it hadn’t been for all the sickness I would have invited them here, but I can’t clean the house and unpack the dishes and finish the shopping this week and be out of bed on Christmas Day, (my plumbing has been the latest thing to give way,) and they know Rita had to be here – she’s not even up yet, except on the davenport, so I don’t see why Pop couldn’t accept it as just an unpleasant feature of a sad day – but accept it.
There’s no use trying to be sentimental over some people – if they show a small sign of sentiment, like he has about you, it doesn’t mean they’re really any different. This is like the $100 loan in Cambridge, tho, – really too bad to grasp, at first. It changes the complexion of Christmas somewhat. God! I know we’re a bore, but how can anybody do a thing like that? You’d think they’d want Penny enough to put up with the rest of us. Rita’s not that irritating, especially on a social occasion.
Come back, Honey, so Penny can have a real Christmas, as soon as ever you can. Maybe you shouldn’t get this letter – maybe you won’t. Or maybe from your infinite perspective it will all look silly. Your being the realist that you are, and my being incapable of subterfuge, I’ve written the downs as well as the ups to you, because it seems as if that’s what you expect, and there’s never been a down that you knew we couldn’t have surmounted by the time the news reached you. The same goes with this one – we’ll just use up our gas and keep busy calling on the Prentisses and viewing the bright lights and all the other people looking for a substitute for what they haven’t got, downtown, and the day’ll be gone and forgotten in a flash.
I truly hope yours has warmth of heart, and brightness, Honey.
#82. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
December 22, 1943
Dear Santa Claus,
What a perfectly beautiful fire opal came strapped to a letter! It’s fascinating to look at, and all my life when people admire it I can say “My Husband sent it from India,” thereby lending even more glamour to its myriad little lights. I think I like it better than anything you’ve ever given me – (except the poems) it has so much beauty in so little space, and you know a what push-over I am for a fleeting, evanescent sparkle. I never had one (a sparkle) I could carry around before, if it’s not too expensive it shall be mounted – for that reason. I’m glad you like it, too, it makes it more fun to have. Thank you so very, very much, Darling.
Now I know why you were so non-committal about the sapphire, and it will be nice to give it to Margie at Christmas so she will have something really from you, too. Her mind has been on you every minute, and I know she really truly misses you because she really truly loves you, like I do.
Three of your letters broke thru the Christmas rush, and of course were more welcome than anything. Also, 8 ”Yanks” and “Roundups”!
Last night Unc and Aunt Helen came, and he put up the tree. I had to hurry all day yesterday – to paint six frames for six prints, get the family fed, finish my household duties and shop from four to six thirty, get dinner, and after the Uncs left at ten, wash dishes, put Pen to bed (he had to help trim the tree, after a long nap,) and then frame two prints, and pack the Elmira box. At 1:30 A.M. I was too tired to write, so I sent clippings. The tree is so pretty – I do wish you could see it. One string of lights still functions, so there’s a little color from them, and we have amassed enough icicles and balls to trim it lavishly. Of course none of those things can be had this year, except a few colored glass balls (transparent) which I didn’t get. It smells nice here. Evvie and Sam sent us a huge present which is light as a feather – everyone’s taken their turn at guessing what it could be, but no one can even guess.
The little Pencil got tears in his eyes when your card to him came. He’s a little teary with anxiety about Christmas, anyway – for fear Santa won‘t bring him a gun! (He will.) He doesn’t weep or whine, but he’s ragged enough so his face twists when he really thinks about it. He sleeps very poorly, and is a nasty shade of liver-white. I’d like to give him a transfusion, but it would probably poison him! I plan to take him to Dr Washeim right after Christmas for a general check-up. Gosh – three times he’s gotten chubby, and been slapped down – before his tonsillectomy, before his foot, and now. He said he loves Santa Claus, and Daddy, and me.
Dorrie and Margie stopped in on their way downtown tonight. Bill has an unexpected four days furlough for Christmas, so Dorrie’s won’t be such a dull day after all. We’d all have had a better one except for my mother and your father, but without you it doesn’t matter. I just thought we’d all like to be together more than ever.
I keep writing because I hate to say goodnight on December 22!
Love to you, Dordo
#83. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
December 21, 1943
It gets very close to Christmas, and yet it doesn’t seem like Christmas at all. As you can probably well understand, it would be much more unpleasant were I to be spending it in Dallas or Portland or Minneapolis.
Anyway, the news in this morning’s paper made it look as though the war might be going well enough to get me back home for Christmas in ’45, but nobody can tell. Russian breakthrough, double bombing mission on Germany, Australian advance in the Islands, tank victory in Italy, new advance in Yugoslavia etc.
Am purchasing myself another Christmas present of a chess set. It is small and ivory, and each piece is fitted into its own plush slot in one of two drawers built into the sides of the board. The playing surface is ebony and ivory. Very nice thing – and a bit on the gaudy side.
I enclose a few more pictures. Five to be exact. The man with the goatskin full of water is the guy who waters lawns and dusty paths. That hide full of water is very heavy. Then there is one of a sidewalk barber. It is said that all kinds of strange and unusual oriental diseases will attack any GI who ventures to patronize one of these curbstone artists. Also, it is best not to patronize the old gal in another of the pictures who is squeezing sugar cane and selling the juice to passers-by. The press looks a thousand years old. Penny will probably like the elephants working. The last picture is a snare and a delusion. I can get many people to testify that there is no store that clean in all India. The explanation may be that it is an overexposed picture of one those small dark dingy dirty corners.
#84. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
December 24, 1943
Ah My Darling-
I‘m listening to Bing right now – the night before Christmas Eve, and Johnsie – guess what he sang! He did – “LeiLani” right out of a clear sky! Silent night would have been enough, but of all the songs and all nights – LeiLani. How did it ever happen? I feel as if you ‘d asked for it – I do hope they re-broadcast this program for you way over there.
But maybe you won’t have a towel around your neck, like I did – and it was awful handy. He didn’t announce it, and it caught me so unawares. I had just sat down in the big blue chair by the fireplace, across from the tree, to write you and to listen. (He’s singing “Silent Night” now.) I just turned out the light and listened. He picked a lovely theme song, honey.
Things are little more under control now. Grandma isn’t coming until tomorrow afternoon. The packages are all mailed, cards sent, and most of the presents bought –
tho none wrapped for this section yet. I just washed my hair at the risk of my life, the house is cleaner, and the six pictures framed. Tomorrow will be a busy day, tho.
Pop came home from New York this morning, with arthritis in his foot. I sent him a Coronet the last time he was sick (same number I sent you) that has a very sad article about arthritis in it. He needs spanking, but not in his foot. To think that your wife and child couldn’t be there for Christmas when you are away, because he wouldn’t endure Mother for a couple of hours!
But Sammy was sweet. I’m sending you the special delivery letter we got from him today. He was so nice to Pen when he was here, and he just couldn’t bear for him not to get a tractor, when that and a gun were all he wanted, so he had a last minute inspiration, at great effort to himself, and Pencil will get a tractor of sorts, after all.
And a gal in the supermarket was nice to me tonight. We haven’t been able to get butter for over two weeks, and I’m getting quite used to margarine on bread, which once would have been unheard of. So tonight I didn’t take my ration-book and they were selling half-pounds of butter! But the girl gave me mine without points and said to bring them tomorrow because it’s so cold, so I wouldn’t have to go home and get the book. She’d never seen me before. Nice girl, nice butter, too.
Perhaps I should tell you that Margie and Dorrie came down to amend for any wrong done by withdrawing the Christmas invitation, last night. It is all very hard on Margie because it undoes so much of the generosity and kind thoughtfulness she has done to build up a feeling of real relationship between us. It only made the whole thing worse, because she completely ignored the fact that she had said it would be too cold for all of us, and urged me to come and bring Penny, now that Grandma would be here to stay with Rita, thereby removing all doubt (or anything I had said to Rita) that that is why they asked us not to come. I love Margie, and I hate to see her put herself in such a position out of loyalty to Pop, but it is such a boner to invite us so repeatedly, then suddenly make it so obvious that we’re not wanted. She couldn’t back down yesterday and ask Rita to come and sit in a chair with a blanket or something because she didn’t want to argue with Pop, I guess – he must have been very definite. But she shouldn’t have asked us to come without Rita – before Rita! After all the hurt that’s been caused already. It is really an insult to Rita, and at Christmas and when she’s sick, – and I can’t leave her and go there after she was asked not to come – can’t they see? Ah why couldn’t Dad be civil for just a couple of hours, even if it killed him, rather than not have any of us together at Christmas. I wanted to be with Dorrie and Margie, and Mother’s being here shouldn’t really make so much difference, especially when it was practically unavoidable. It’s just courtesy to include her.
I’m sending you a pin-up girl. She’s been stood up here on the desk for several days, waiting for something to be mailed in, and I’ve grown very fond of her. Put her where you’ll see her often – she’s sort of companionable, like a pin-up girl should be.
Take care of yourself, Honey, but stay on the ground if you can. We do love you so much.
There’s been no quarrel about Christmas, or even sniffy-ness. Margie just left word when I was out for us not to come, and when she came yesterday she came only to say she hoped we weren’t hurt, because she’d been worrying about it. But I can’t sustain the offense to Rita by going there now, without her – it just isn’t done, and I don’t know what to do.
#85. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
December 25, 1943
So this is Christmas! I have just reported in as OD and I am now patiently waiting for time to pass between now and tomorrow morning at 8:30. Were I not OD, I would be going to the entertainment that Joe E. Brown is giving (one time only), but other than that, I wouldn’t know.
They make quite a bit of fuss about Christmas here – I mean the Indians do. They are only baksheesh hungry, of course, but it does make it sort of nice. An Indian band serenaded the GIs in their barracks this morning, giving out with carols in the traditional oompah, oompah, fashion. One of the sweepers came in and hung leis of yellow flowers around our necks this morning. There is a large Christmas tree in our dining room, and on the table under it this noon there was a large stuffed pig head, with turnip tusks, etc. I enclose a menu.
Last night I opened my two packages, and found JP Marquand’s book and Hindus book from you, and a package from Rita with soap, ashtray, sponge, and bookmark. Please thank her for me and tell her that strangely enough (due to lack of request on my part) all of the items were darn welcome. And of course you are responsible for this letter being short. I have brought Marquand along and am anxious to get at him.
Spent last night going around to my friend’s rooms on a campaign of saying Merry Christmas and drinking their liquor. By the time I ran out of friends I had a pretty nice package, so I went back to bed.
#86. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
December 26, 1943
Well, I spent a long quiet tour of OD, and got well into “So Little Time.” I am really enjoying it, and glad that you read it before you sent it. I got the biggest kick out of Jeffrey trying to be nonchalant and doing all the wrong things at Minot’s Club. Why did you stamp that one with our stamp and not the other one?
Had the afternoon off, so Fred Smith and I got our bikes about 2:30 and went down to try to get tickets to “Coney Island” – six thirty show. That failing – weren’t early enough – we set off on an exploring trip. Went miles and ended up in a crowded slum section. We were peddling along when a British lorry stopped and an MP (American) hopped out to tell us that we were out of bounds and in the brothel section. He further informed us that his orders required him to take us to the Provost Marshall’s headquarters for a prophylactic. That seemed like such a grim gift from Uncle Sugar on a warm Sunday afternoon, that we talked him out of it, which we wouldn’t have been able to do were we GIs. Anyway, he guided us to the quickest route out of the forbidden territory – and away we went.
Suggestion – when toys appear outside the playroom, and are not being played with – place on high closet shelf for one month. Will probably relieve situation and also lengthen desirability life of the toy. (Shouldn’t he be in kindergarten?)
Glad you like the apt. so much. Letter I got from Dad was practically lyrical about it (inside).
I forgot – today on my bike ride I went whizzing silently by an Indian woman who was walking diagonally across the road with her back toward me. All unconscious of my presence, she spit through her front teeth just in time to smack me on the pant leg just at the knee – and me in pinks! She was one of those scrofulous (?) looking creatures who do heavy physical labor, and wear dirty red saris. Good thing she wasn’t chewing betel.
#87. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
December 31, 1943
It’s a nice day for the New Year’s Eve people, and looks as if tomorrow would be more pleasant, too. It seems to be much warmer, and I’d surely be wanting to do something celebrative if I could. The bug that was hanging around yesterday really took hold last night, so it looks as if I’d have to lie low for a few more days, tho I’m dressed and slightly restless. Intestinal grippe and bladder irritation – if only Dr. Murmane had given me enough sulfa I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened.
It’s just as well, tho, because it gave me an excuse to avoid any more inter-family tension. Margie called up via DeValls a little while ago and invited me – just me – to go to the Club and the movies with them tonight, and to Open House at the Club tomorrow. Since Rita was well enough to be out for Christmas dinner I couldn’t very well leave her and Penny to spend New Year’s Eve or New Year’s alone. She is my mother and a guest here, and even if she is a poor sport about staying with Pencil anytime, it wouldn’t be kind or even courteous of me to ask her to be a sitter on a holiday, like that. I just can’t understand Margie, unless having committed herself to that course of action once she thinks it’s more casual to continue it. Of course Rita wants all the prerogatives of a member of the family and all the courtesies of a guest, but this sort of thing sure puts me on the spot! They know how I feel about Rita, but I’ve never given her any reason to know that I feel that way. It would offend and hurt both of us for me to show the irritation that I often feel – and do no good. After all, she’s all alone and utterly insecure except for us, and the fact that she’s a spoiled little fiend sometimes, gives me no excuse to be discourteous or hurt her in any way that the integrity of my own family doesn’t demand. As far as you’re concerned, and as far as possible as Penny and I are, there are some limitations that I’m tough about. But it isn’t necessary or desirable to be rude now. So I didn’t even tell her I was invited.
I like Margie better, but this is confusing and a headache, and it’s impossible to see any reason for her to want to snub Rita or embarrass me. So the home front has its problems, petty as they are, and I think I’ll join the WAC’s and send Pencil to India – he’s dying to come and help you win the war, anyway. Once Rita’s gone this will end, but I don’t feel the same about Margie now. Oh well, it’s all in the realm of the superficial, anyway.
As for more cheery subjects, the postman just brought two more letters from you this afternoon, which was a lovely surprise.
It’s queer to have New Years on our doorstep and not even know yet how you spent Christmas, but the mail service is improving so we should know soon.
The party you attended for big-wigs sounds like something to tell those elusive grandchildren about. Things like that make me realize that Uncle Sam could have done much worse by you!