6 Chapter 6 – Piseco Lake, OSS, and Ceylon – Autumn/Winter 1944, Letters 146-162
#146. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
August 8, 1944
Oh, goody, goody, we’re here. It was some effort to get here, in spite of mailing much of the luggage, and paying a man five bucks just to bring the groceries in from Nobleboro, but it’s worth almost anything. Riding along in the back seat yesterday, with the top down, and my head back, breathing great gulps of wonderful woods smell and watching the blue, blue sky full of great cold, white clouds, I wondered how much you’d give just for the ride in. Our awful heat spell, with unbroken days and nights of it gave all of us a better idea of what it is like with you, and more understanding, and when it broke yesterday morning, and got almost chilly, it was very convenient for the last minute rush. Last night was the first time I’ve shivered in days, and tho it got up to 80° outside today, it is quite cold mornings and evenings here.
Nearly every camp on our part of the lake is full now, and since I haven’t been out of Utica except for the farm, since we moved there, coming up here is like a trip to the moon – everything shines. But my enthusiasm is paltry compared with the Pencil’s. He sang all the way in, in a quiet little chant, “O, we’re going to Piseco, we’re going to Piseco” and I know just how he felt, because I felt the same way when I was a little girl, from early Spring until we got here.
Sammy came from Elmira Sunday, and we were sure glad to have him get out of there. Many adults have had and are having infantile, and some have died or become crippled. He’s not in such a desirable position in as public a place as the library, and he had a fine case of polio jitters when he arrived, tonight even, he scolded me for touching an egg shell to an egg that was cooking over a hot fire, so you can see the phobia one gets. They don’t know anything about what causes the virus to spread, or how to check it, so everyone feels as unprotected as the dark ages about it. I imagine we’ll have Evelyn and the kids until the cool weather when we get back.
It is easier here with the kids, and I devised a way of organizing the responsibilities so that all of us can have a little vacation without feeling guilty or feeling as if we had to hang around because someone is tied down with the baby. It is simply for us to work together in the morning, have the biggest meal at noon instead of night, and then one of us takes the kids for the afternoon, and the rest have the afternoon completely free, as far into the evening as desired. On Rita’s day with the baby, Sam and Evvie take Bard, and I take Penny, so she doesn’t have too much. It keeps the families a little separated, with less of the whole mob being under the roof all at once, trying to be noble and get the others to go for a boat ride. It gives Evvie much greater freedom, and she needs a rest, and this Summer I could use some, too. We have one day of complete work, and two of complete freedom (from lunch on), one alone and one with a single older child. I enjoy Pen alone, he’s good company and yet it’s probably good for both of us to have one afternoon all my own, too. I wish you were here to spend those days with me.
I had dinner with Pop and Margie the night before the weekend, and Pop had seen Col. Bowlin for a couple of hours last week, so it was quite interesting. He told us what your job is, and said you are doing it very well. He gave a new view of some parts of the life there, perhaps what you would hesitate to do for fear of seeming to complain, yet it gives us a more sympathetic viewpoint.
Tomorrow is my day off with Pen, and we shall have a swimming lesson, and maybe a picnic on the warm gray rocks, and the sun will warm our bones and brown our skin, and we’ll read a book and stare at the mountains and the wide sky and wish you were home.
#147. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
August 15, 1944
Well, Darling –
It’s seven years today. My little private celebration nearly pooped out, due to a whopping big storm, but it’s 7:45 now, and the sun was out long enough to dry the sand and warm these lovely sprawling rocks at Point Charm. It has done its work now, and has just gone down behind Irondequoit Mountain, across the lake. There’s still a small breeze so the lake is licking at the rocks, but quite a fog is spreading out from the lake, and I’ll have to start home before it gets too thick. I’ve got a small fire, by my feet, – the wood is damp, so it burns slowly. Having been short-sighted in my supply of matches, it provides a light for my cigarettes, as well as cheer. Your field jacket is next to me, and I’d feel better if you were in it… In fact if you were in it, we have everything we need.
Thunder started roaring up from the mountains toward Speculator, and knowing the kind of sudden storms we have, I waited. I’ve seen some delovely storms here, with as brilliant fireworks as today’s, but never such wind, and so much contrast. The wind from the East fought that from the West for an hour, and won, bringing wall after solid silver wall of rain down the lake, one rainbow after another – because a little sunny blue end of the Western sky never gave up, and black waves curling with white foam marching in a straight row down the lake – and clear across it, toward us.
It nearly blew the boat off the dock, once, and after Sam went down amid violent protests, and turned it upside down, we saw it pick the boat up and slam it across the deck into the canoe. It blew canoes off two neighboring docks, and a deck chair from Jennings and a bright red boat from Big Sand came bobbing by, all empty in the midst of the turmoil. Such heaving and twisting of shiny blue-black water! Sam and Mr. Glennister (the nice minister from Poland) got the lost boat just as it was about to be smashed on the rocks way over here, after the storm subsided a bit. Those mountains of water quieted just as suddenly as they came, the sun came through, and finally the sky looked safe, so I brought my lunch and came over here for the peaceful ending of the day.
It’s the best time of the day, anyway, and everything is calm and lovely, with the little fire crackling and pink clouds and gun-metal water.
Seven years ago tonight we felt about as relieved as we had ever been. The strain was all over, and we were alone and had every right recognized by God and man to be alone.
I’m glad we made that secret year, all our own, and glad we had the fortitude and initiative and confidence to make what we wanted come true, then. I still believe we have the means of doing what we want most to do. Love really seems to be a force, a power in itself, when two people put all they have together. And it seems to be strong enough to hold you up if you need it sometimes, ‘til something passes.
Sitting here tonight, in all this clear, lovely solitude, it seems as if today is almost a perfect symbol of the last year. I started out with big ideas this morning, then that crashing, awful storm came, that looked as if it might destroy anything in any minute, and just when it seemed as if the day was lost and spoiled and gone away in damp, exhausted, cold disappointment, the meanness went out of the sky and water, and the day (and the year) ended, clear, familiar, and sweet. I’m awfully tired, but the storm went away, and nothing was destroyed. I guess I never said thank you to God on our anniversary before, but I did, this year.
I wonder if you remembered August 15, and what you did, if so.
Maybe a year from today you won’t quite have reached home, but I’m sure you’ll have stateside in view, at least. Sometimes I don’t see how I can stretch across another year alone, but if you’re on the way to your return, perhaps it won’t be so long.
I love you John – all of you, on August 15, 1944 –
#148. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
August 19, 1944
This morning they announced that General Patton is in sight of the Eiffel Tower. Looking at the map it makes us about as close to Germany proper on the West as the Russians are on the East. With Roosevelt announcing that the plans for the occupation of Germany are all set, it looks as though we might be subjected to a focus of attention and matériel at some date in the not-too-distant future.
The only new development that I can mention is the possibility of my having a change of job at some time in the future, in about two months. It is something that I have been gently angling for. It puts me in a forward area, and gets me out of this headquarters business.
With my new living arrangements, I don’t seem to be able to save as much money as I was before. We are always having to lay in stocks of liquor and the colonel is always throwing parties. It isn’t so good to be living with him sort of looking down my throat all the time, but a direct invitation to live with him is the sort of thing that you can’t refuse. Anyway, the old bank account isn’t climbing the way it ought to. If it doesn’t hurry up, the deal I am working on will be impossible by the time I get the right amount. The correct amount now is Rs 3314 as 4, or exactly 1000 dollars. At this rate, I ought to have it by Christmas. Please tell me the status of finances on the home front. Also let me know how many of those damned war bonds we have, and whether or not there are any missing from the bunch I got through pay deductions. The least we can do is to get out of this war with a minor nest egg. If I can come home by boat that ought to increase the nest egg, although coming across the country by train is no longer the profitable thing it was, due to changes in the mileage basis. The gravy train is all through, according to what I read in the War Department Circulars. That must raise hell with the boys in ROD.
#149. DPM to JDM (ALS, 1p.)
September 3, 1944
This has been a terribly confused and hectic week, and tonight I am tired, scattered, cursed (physically), and not very bright, but through the whole thing has run one thread and one thought, and it’s integrated enough to express now, so I’ll say my say and fold up until a more leisure time.
There are seven cases of polio in town, one death already, and schools have been kept closed until later in the month here as well as elsewhere, so the reason for the confusion and unrest is mainly that having gone through the labor pains of saying goodbye to Piseco for the year and getting us all out, – to find myself so delighted to be home, – it suddenly seems quite undesirable that the only sensible thing to do is to immediately pack up and return to the woods. (Because of polio.) There are over 1700 cases in the state now, and the cool weather will end it so soon; it is foolish not to eliminate the last chance of the children’s getting it, for this short time, so we will be Piseco-bound Tuesday morning, – as soon as the camp is empty.
Your casual mention of seeking a transfer to a forward echelon has been eating its way into me until I can’t feel casual about it at all any more.
My reaction is, simply, “Why ask for trouble?” If it isn’t necessary, if you have kept, and can keep things under control where you are, why not play safe? It took me some time to get to this because I felt at a time not so long ago that you had to get out of there at any cost, to save yourself, and us. If you have weathered that storm, why monkey around with your physical security? I want you to come back, Baby, and in one piece if possible, and as soon as possible.
We have a phone! There never was a lovelier invention (except contraception). Even a wrong number ring is music in our ears. It arrived and was installed before breakfast one morning.
The garden is unbelievable – I can’t believe I did it! Piles of summer squash, all the green beans, peppers, cucumbers, carrots and lettuce we can use, and row on row of wonderful corn to give away and eat all we can hold! Tomatoes are coming later, which is good, we won’t waste ‘em. I hate to leave the corn, it’s perfect now, the potatoes will keep better in the ground, and perhaps there will be some late corn when we return.
With the beer Evvie and I are drinking I don’t need corn. It’s a good sedative, tho – I mean beer. (P.S. Don’t worry about my figger!)
All my love,
#150. JDM to DPM (ALS, 3pp.)
September 4, 1944
Hanging around this joint to get a bit more work done, and this seems to be as good as any time to get a note off to you. I haven’t used this typewriter before. It is an LC Smith super-speed and is really fascinating.
You have indicated in one of your recent letters that you would sort of like me to write in a Pyle-esque vein. That is a hell of a lot easier to say than to do. I certainly have read enough of his strips to be able to practically recite Little Red Riding Hood as Ernie Pyle would have written it, but when you sit down to try to bat something out in his style, it is a different matter. It just won’t come.
Today there was a Major General in for lunch. Security forbids my telling who it was, but I am certainly getting some pronounced opinions about the high ranking boys. I think that there has been too much publicity of late about the democratic habits of our high ranking generals. I guess they all read Life, and feel that they have to act the part. I don’t think that Pyle, in his humane treatment of them, including his treatment of Omar Bradley, has helped any. Anyway, I got to lunch a bit late, as usual, having to stay around a while and get the last few buck slips in order before leaving my padded cell, and they hadn’t started to eat yet. They were sitting around the living room drinking a beer before lunch, the general and his aide in my colonel and one of the other fellows who live with us. When I came in, a conversation was going on, so I attempted to melt into the background. The best thing would have been for my colonel to introduce me. The second best thing would’ve been for me to introduce myself. What happened was that the general hopped up with a most cheery smile and pumped my hand and said “My name is Doaks. Glad to meet you, Major.” It would have been alright and along the winning friends and influencing people sort of business, if a nasty little thought had not crept into my mind that he, while shaking my hand, was trying to figure out how many people I would tell about it. It is along the same line as that Lieutenant General getting me a drink at a cocktail party. I think the whole thing would be better if our generals would just forget what Ernie Pyle is writing about Doolittle, Bradley, Eisenhower, and Clark, and concentrate on being a little snotty to the junior officers. Maybe there is something wrong with me.
Ate dinner tonight in the enlisted men’s mess. I can readily see what my men kick about. Spam. It certainly is unappetizing the way they fix it. It seems much colder and greasier than it ever was at home. The big trouble in this theater is that the Indian gets into the food business too much. You bring some energetic G.I.s fresh from cooks and baker’s school and all primed to just serve up solid rations, and when they get over here there are always a few Indians standing around the kitchen. They soon find out that they can tell the Indian to do the less desirable chores. Then about three months later you find out that the once eager GIs have decided that the entire kitchen routine is something that is undesirable labor and Indians are doing all of it. I can’t say that I enjoy having my food plumped onto a cracked enamel plate by an Indian who looks as though he washed once every year as part of his religion. I have yet to see anything that is improved by the addition of Indians, unless maybe the burning ghats along the Ganges.
About this kicking about food; we of course know that there are parts of the theater where right now men are getting along on K rations supplemented by whatever they can chisel from the Chinese in the way of rice. But it is sort of a Pollyanna philosophy to try to enjoy this food on the basis of what somebody else isn’t eating.
The rotation policy at last seems to be working a bit over here. Lots of the people are going home who have been here over two years. Some of them well over thirty months. One of the nicest little men I met over here, who is now either home or just about there by now is Gene Laybourn, a Major of Ordnance. He is sort of an oldish guy, a regular army sgt. He walked out of Burma with Stillwell and was noted during the walk for his ability to pull rabbits out of hats. When the weapons began to rust, for example, it turned out that Gene had a nice little can of oil in his pocket. Anyway, he got the soldiers medal for his dependability and resource on the trip. When I met him, he was visiting a forward area trying to pick a good spot to situate the Chinese unit to which he was attached as liaison officer. He was billeted in the same bamboo basha as I was, and I noticed how comfortable looking he had made his corner. I assumed that he had been living in the place for months until it turned out he had been there only for one month. He is probably one world’s foremost gadgeters. Among his possessions – one flashlight with bulb removed and bulb replaced by small light fan blades, i.e. a portable electric fan; one razor built like an electric razor, only hand powered by a sort of scissor grip with the heavy wheel inside so after a few energetic pumps, the momentum would keep it going for long enough to get in a few long strokes. It was originally British, but he had taken the head off of an American one and replaced the British head. Also he had one old five gallon gas can which he fitted to hold fuel, a stove, eating utensils, toilet paper and numerous other essentials. He had lots of stuff, but he could read reach into any part of his luggage without even looking and bring out what he wanted. The only time his neatness ever failed him was when he was showing some of his things to a fellow and tried to move his foot locker. The termites had neatly eaten all around the bottom and when he tried to lift it, the contents was left neatly stacked on the floor on what used to be the bottom of a perfectly good foot locker. He had a little over thirty months over here before rotation.
Am about written out for the present. You may get some letters from me in the future that look like carbon copies. In fact they are. Method – move the ribbon gadget to “stencil” and nothing shows on the front sheet. The letter gets written by the carbon on the second sheet. The only difficulty is that it makes the typing a little worse.
Hope you are still at the lake and having a good time and the weather is nice and I would sure like to be there too.
All my love to you and the Pencil,
#151. DPM to JDM (ALS, 3pp.)
September 9, 1944
Circumstances this year have been unusual – Bard has been with us nearly 8 weeks, and Evelyn and the baby seven, and we’ve only had one outburst the whole time, which is pretty good for wimmin’, specially when there are kids to complicate the scene. Our apartment is small, for such a family, but we’ve done so well that we feel that with just our generation and our kids, we are capable of planning and adjusting to a system which would give companionship and privacy at the same time. Rita is the one element over which we have practically no control, her constant nervous tension and her emotional demands can’t be overlooked or reduced in any way we can think of. I steal time to be alone, like yesterday, when I went to call on the Andelfingers and found no one home, and had a whole hour to walk in the rain because no one knew I was walking (and wanted to join me). And tonight after they’d announced they were exhausted, and I got out just before dark came, to see the sky turned from green back to night blue, and whip along fast in the crisp September night air. They were handy to my sleeping child, tho, which made the opportunity.
That’s why if we (the kids and us) could buy that rocky point across the lake, and each have our own little cabin on it, we’d get just about the right amount of companionship, company for the boys of their own kind, privacy from outsiders (and each other’s family life), and share the basic responsibilities and expenses (garage, boats, water, etc.), increase the parental freedom (by sharing child-care), and yet maintain our families as separate, integrated groups, with a civilized amount of privacy and control over our leisure. We could even divide Rita, which we can’t do here.
Wahnahoo has cradled me for many years, and I love it, but a place that belonged to us, every board in its floors and every stone in its fireplace, and every ashtray and book and dish and candle were part of us, – that would be something! To stand on our land and look down Piseco Lake, and wake up and look out on our trees, and lay your face against our warm gray rocks, and listen to the rain drip on our very own roof, and “set” on our broad front porch and read a book or look at the view that is just a little different from anyone else’s here, – to have one place in all the whole world that was your own and your children’s, a place to come to, to be weary in, to be happy in, to wait in, to love in, to grow old in. We never know where we’ll end up, we don’t stay very long anywhere. Piseco is the only place we’ve always come back to, Sammy and I, and it’s already part of the little boys, Evvie has come to love it more than Vermont, and what better place do you know? Rita thinks it’s sacrilege for us to sit on those rocks and dream and scheme and take out our rope and measure off how many feet we’d need and scurry and worry about how we can get it before someone else does, when we don’t even own our own homes. But it seems to me as if our chance of having a home is pretty elusive, the way we move around, and our chance of having luxurious vacations in glamour spots is pretty distant, but one hundred feet of land at $8.50 per front-foot, to have for always, split between us (130 feet makes it about right – 65 feet per family on the lake, running back about a quarter of a mile to the road) – an investment of about $500 apiece, to last all the rest of our lives, it’s just wicked sit and wait until the War’s over and they finish the road, and someone has grabbed it up, with never a chance in our lives to have it again.
We’ve found the perfect place, and I stand on our concrete block and feel like beating my head on it when I look over there, because it might be gone while we’re being poor and careful and tied down, and if we had it, it would last as long as we, and our children would have a lifetime of having it after us. I feel purposeful, but frustrated, as far as the immediate future is concerned, – if only Pen were a year older, – Evvie thought it was hopeless for them, but she just gave up, last week when her birthday brought in about $25 in cash, and announced that she was going to salt that little drop in a bucket in the Burlington Bank and not use it for anything but that land, come hell or high water.
I’m a pretty willful creature, and this is the first thing I’ve wanted like this since you and Penny filled my biggest gap. A husband, a child, – and now some land. That’s been coming on for several years, actually, you know. I don’t want to sacrifice Pencil to it this year – (I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, I don’t want to sacrifice his sense of security to it) but the whole difficulty is that it’s sure to be gone if we wait too long – now that we know what we want, exactly, it’s got to be made ours before the opportunity is lost forever. And I’ve got to get hold of our half of the cost some way. – $500 bucks, spread out over just a few years is nothing, but it’s a hell of a lot in a year and we may lose the place before that – there’s a lot of people with $500 and an urge for something solid to show for it.
This isn’t a plea to you, Pal, it’s just explaining something. It probably sounds as loony to you as it does to Rita, you’re so far away from it, – it’s just that nothing that has hold of me as much as this has, should fail to be mentioned to you, and to let you know how important it is if you should return about when I’ve reached my goal, and should feel that we had more important things to do. I don’t know if it will have to come via the milk-can nailed to the closet floor, Tree Grows in Brooklyn-style, or if I can dream up some get rich quick scheme by donating a year of my life to the cause, but I’ll take the responsibility, and if it hits you the same way when you get home, you can participate in the effort to get some kind of roof over our heads. At least if I can get enough in love with an idea it may keep me out of mischief one more year, ’til you’re back. – Anyway, I’m desperately serious about it, Pal, and you might as well know. The next item will be after an effort to get in touch with the International Paper Company’s Mr. Wilson and get this thing in more specific form. If Evvie can start with a farthing, I can.
Don’t feel that we are at cross purposes, if you have plans, too. If you don’t sympathize with this, it will probably be over by the time you’re back, – if not, I’ll kick in enough of myself to raise you $500, too! Do you think I’m crazy, Honey?
An offer came in tonight’s mail for me to teach puppet- and marionette-making at Proctor this year. I can’t think of anything more boring in the “artistic” field, but will probably accept just for the “in.” Dad says the new $1,000,000 state-owned school to be built in Utica will have an art department, too. This job is of no value except as a means of affiliation with a very desirable spot.
How does this look – ROCKHAVEN.
#152. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 10, 1944
The mail situation has quieted down again somewhat, but today I received your letter, again making me jealous for not being at the lake. However, none of your verbal descriptions (not that they are not good) is much to give me the feel of the place as did the postcard from Rita.
You haven’t been very explicit about the polio deal. Is there actually an epidemic? I haven’t seen anything about it in the papers or magazines. How long does it last? Doesn’t cold weather stop it?
Re my letters, I wasn’t unconscious of 15 August. I wrote to you about that in the letter I wrote the 14th.
Your talking of a place on the lake intrigues me no end. I have just added up my rupees in the bank and put them into dollars and find that I have 830 bucks. That would give just 100 feet of shoreline. How far back does it go? What are the taxes? Where does the money come from to build on it?
About writ out now. More later.
#153. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
September 14, 1944
I don’t seem to get around to this letter writing as often as I should, even though I am trying to be better about it. Today I got the first letter you wrote after going back up to the lake. I am glad that you went. The Time magazine I got today indicates that the polio deal won’t be over until the end of this month. It will be far better to keep the Pencil up in the woods for as long as possible.
Got a letter from EA which I will answer. I wondered why he didn’t write when he owed me a letter. I guess he got confused and thought I owed him one. Anyway, the little misunderstanding terminated our correspondence for about three months. Too bad.
Reference my change of station, I didn’t exactly ask for it, but let drop several months ago, during the MESS that I wouldn’t be averse to a change. It came through when I had become satisfied with staying here. It is just one of those things. All it will do for me is to make my living conditions more uncomfortable and maybe give me a new source or two of local color to fill up the letters with. I can no longer see anything interesting in Delhi to write about. It will be an experience to live in a bamboo basha for a year or so, I guess. I’m now sorting my stuff to find out what to do with what won’t fit into my luggage. I’m going into a combat area, but you can be assured that it will probably be strikingly devoid of combat where I am. I will have to rearrange addresses on all of my magazines and papers. I will get even fewer of them than I do now.
Goodbye for now,
All my love, John
#154. JDM to DPM (ALS, 2pp.)
October 17, 1944
After a long delay, I am at last sufficiently settled to write to you. The address up in the corner there will probably amuse you, and send you hunting for a map to find out exactly where it is.
Had a bumpy air trip down here, and have landed in the midst of the rains.
I suppose that it is now okay to tell you that, although I am still wearing the bomb, I am no longer in Ordnance as such. I am an Ordnance officer on duty with another organization. There will probably come a time and a place when I can tell you what that organization is, but not yet. Sufficient to say that it is an entirely new kind of work, interesting, and I will probably be too busy to do much else besides eat, sleep and work for some many months to come.
I had gotten fed to the teeth with the Theater Ordnance Office and with the same old faces and the same old line of bull for some time. My first opportunity of a change was within the Ordnance organization, at the tentative APO I sent mother. However I was to replace a guy who was going to take this job that I now have. He turned out to be not acceptable, and through a big freak of chance, I was able to land the deal that he was going to take. Colonel Barroll is going to go back to the states to a big job, and he is being replaced by a man I knew in the states and whom I do not care for in the slightest. No, it isn’t Colonel A. I didn’t find all of that out until after this deal was all set, and I have been congratulating myself ever since for stepping out at exactly the right time. I left everybody with a good taste, with an excellent recommendation, and with a rating of superior on my efficiency report. With unpardonable pride let me say that that is as good as they hand out in this silly little army. There was another reason which had a little effect on me, and that was the fact that the TO for the office called for one full colonel, two lt. colonels and three majors. When the new man reports, had I stayed, I would have been the junior major, so you can readily appreciate the opportunities for promotion that would have presented themselves. I am not hot for promotion anyway. I am completely and blissfully satisfied with my present rank. If Col. A. had arrived a year sooner, I would probably still be a First Lootenant.
Needless to say, I won’t be subjected to the rather rough living conditions that I intimated I would be living under at the place I was originally going to change to. That won’t hurt me a bit, as I have no knack for being comfortable in the midst of a sylvan wilderness. I don’t like bugs, or cold showers.
I suppose there is one aspect of my job that I can tell you without revealing anything censorable. I will be my own boss, for the first time in two years. I will be a little old CO, with my own officers, enlisted men, buildings, compound, vehicles, supplies, etc. It will be wonderful not to have someone looking down my throat, telling me where to spit, when to use a comma, and all the rest of it.
To tell the truth, the business of living in that apartment with the Colonel wasn’t too good. You had to cater to his whims and see that nothing was present to irritate him. He liked a very quiet life most of the time, and then a big bang up every so often. Also the living expenses were going up. They had to jump the rate fifty rupees the last month I was there. And most of it went into fancy liquor to pour down the throats of the people he wanted to impress, but who didn’t matter a damn to me. Also I will be glad to see the last of that little snake, Doug Knight, he turned out to be pretty unsatisfactory to live with, and almost 100 percent untrustworthy.
Being familiar with the way of bearers, I packed my own things in entirety. It is amazing the quantities of things you accumulate with no effort at all. Part of it wasn’t due to me. I discovered that when my bearer had moved me from the Imperial, he fixed me up with two helmets, two gas masks, two canteens, two pistol belts, etc. etc. On my own hook, however, I had accumulated a mass of stuff. The biggest weight factor was all the books. I have not yet been able to reconcile myself with parting with a single one of them. I have pasted together the two that came in two parts, and will not part with those either.
The last night before leaving Delhi my favorite Chinese Restaurant owner gave me a free dinner, of special food, the main dish being a chicken which was completely boned and then sewn back up to look as though it hadn’t. It was so tender that you could pull the meat apart with chop sticks. And anything free from a Chinaman is something to remember.
In your letters you refer now and again to something called the MESS. I haven’t the faintest vaguest idea of what you are talking about. You’d better either elucidate or skip it. Preferably the latter.
This place is very hilly and beautiful, with a very even climate. In fact, the temperature changes so little throughout the year that there many lizards, snakes, leeches, rats, scorpions, centipedes, and all kinds of strange, slow moving bugs. I will have no use for the woolens now.
All my love to you and Penny
#155. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
October 21, 1944
I am now really beginning to feel that I work here. I have reached my permanent station, have my billet, have unpacked all my stuff, put your picture out – laid out the books, and gotten the first batch of clean clothes back from the dobi.
I can’t tell you where I am, but I can describe my room. There is nothing much on the inside of it, but it is my window that is important. The sea is so close that I could throw a stone into it with very little effort. There is a constant roar of the waves coming in which puts me to sleep every night. I can look from my side window down the beach and see the breaking crest of a wave run along the white sand. My view of the absolutely fantastic sunsets is only slightly obscured by some very graceful palms with their long fronds just a few feet from my window. All in all, it is a perfect setup for a beachcomber such as me.
I have put the woolens away again. If I stayed in Delhi I would’ve gone into them on the 15th of November, but here it is cotton time the year-round. I am glad that I came down when I did, so that I didn’t lose my acclimatization.
In this job I am certainly needing more interesting people than the dull thuds who frequented the halls of HQ US AF CBI. It is refreshing to meet once again people who can discuss intelligently a bit more than the food, the weather and the bloody limeys.
More and more I am realizing that this change was just what was needed. Also you can relax a bit in that this isn’t the assignment I originally wrote that I was going to get. But then again, I have a vague feeling that I’ve written all of this to you before.
Take care of yourself. Oh, by the way, I am sending you some cash at the end of the month. Here I have to send it by P.T.O., you remember, the same as the first money I sent you. I won’t be able to get it off until the end of the month, and the government check ought to get to you sometime between the 24th and 30th of November. Sorry I couldn’t make it sooner, but this is just to let you know that I didn’t forget your request.
All my love,
#156. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
October 22, 1944
This is a warm gray day, with the sun showing from time to time, and the sea quite calm. After lunch I intend to go walking down along the shore.
I am sending you some sarongs. I’m buying one and certainly will wear one around the room, as most of the people around here have them and say that they are the most practical thing for this hot sticky climate. I might as well give you the instructions now. As you know, a sarong is merely a tubular piece of material used as a skirt. It is the same width all the way down to your ankles and is much too big around the waist. The idea is to find some way of folding or tucking the material around your waist so that will stay up. The approved system is to grasp the material with both hands, holding your hands about 18 inches apart and holding the material taut out in front of you (you are already in it). Then, still grasping the material, sling your left hand in to your right side, at the waist. Hold the material there and then swing your right hand in to your left side, talking a small portion of the cloth inside to hold it up, much the same way you would when you try to make a towel stay on. There are many other ways to make it stay on, all of which are surprising because they work. It is the universal costume here for men and women, the difference being in the patterns, men usually wearing loud checks and plaids, and women, for the most part wearing plain colors, however you constantly see the reverse.
I am still being delighted with myself for the way all of this has worked out. It certainly was the smartest little move I ever made. I am delighted with everything. Of course, I have probably guaranteed myself being a permanent major, but what the hell, everything is relative. I would probably settle for being a second lieutenant stationed in Utica, if I had the choice.
One of the things I have got to get a line on around here is whether or not any of these coconuts ever fall off of the trees.
If so, do they ever hit anybody, and if so, what is the extent of the damage. The height they hang above you is certainly alarming.
#157. JDM to DPM (ALS, 1p.)
November 8, 1944
I can now safely say that this is the nicest assignment I have had in the Army. I am my own CO and in charge of as nice a group of officers and enlisted men as you could want to meet. Instead of being in an isolated spot, I have a large flow of transients through here whom I have to feed, house, and keep entertained. Of course the only flaw in that is that my time is their time, particularly when they are brass. You could say then, that I have been on about fourteen hours duty for the last few weeks.
I think that I ought to tell you a bit about my room. I have a square room of medium size, with three windows. You enter at the top of a flight of stairs and the window opposite the door looks out to sea. There is no window in the wall on your left, but in the wall on your right is a window that looks up the beach. Near the door is the third window, providing a cross ventilation system that brings the breeze whipping in from the sea directly across my bed. In one corner is the piece of furniture which makes the room. An L shaped daybed of very modern design, built to fit into a corner, and covered with gay pillows. There is also a fine maple couch, a big easy chair, some modernistic lamps and a few old Burmese lacquer tables about the place. You see, it was furnished to provide a conference room where I can entertain in private conversation the boys to whom I have to talk. It makes a wonderful setup for me. The only real trouble is that I have it constantly full of people.
In as much as I no longer have any need for my woolens, I am sending them back to you in a large tin box. Also in the box is a little table for you and some odd things. I hope to get it off soon. When it arrives, cut the lock off. It is a cheap Indian lock and I have lost the key, so this is as good a way to dispose of it as any I know. I saved out some woolens, but not all.
Probably the nicest thing about this here now job is the fact that there are people to talk to who are a bit above the mental equipment of a 13-year-old child. It is refreshing to find people who have more to say than the guys Bill met in the Yankee division. It makes me more than a bit homesick, since it reminds me of the Reids, Sammy et al.
All my love,
#158. JDM to DPM (ALS, 3pp.)
November 11 , 1944
I certainly am grateful for this job. It is giving me a chance to carry on conversations with intelligent people for the first time in years. It is also so weird, and so full of amazing things that at times I feel as though I am probably actually in a ward at Bellevue, and everything going on here is just a bunch of segments of my diseased imagination. It will certainly mean conversation pieces for years to come.
Yesterday being a Saturday afternoon, and my work being pretty well caught up, when some people asked me to go along outside of town to a Buddhist temple and see an amazing little Buddhist priest, I accepted eagerly. It wasn’t far, and he met us in the middle of his well swept yard in front of the temple and conducted us to his house. He is short and brown, with a long head that reminds me strangely of Sammy, but with protruding large white teeth which are ineffectively covered by a very long upper lip. His eyes are intelligent and he has very fine hands. The amazing thing about him, aside from the fact that he speaks and writes eight languages, is that he is a very talented and versatile artist, working in more mediums than I ever heard of one man working. I saw beautiful decorative oils in bright colors of stylized lush tropical flowers, painstaking watercolor copies of ancient murals of various temples in Ceylon… so well done that the texture of the stone on which the murals are painted is evident, fine brush drawings on silk in the traditional Chinese style, but with more movement than most Chinese stuff, a semi-Cubist presentation of a dancer and musician done in red and white triangles, Tibetan style drawings of the gods, in fact of the love life of the gods, primitive dark oils of native life, humorous drawings of his friends, pure surrealist that would make Dali blush. All of this is done with beautiful line, excellent draftsmanship, painstaking detail and one of the most beautiful sense of color that I’ve ever seen. All his work is damn fine, but it is his versatility, his sense of humor in his work, and the complete incongruity of his surroundings that are impressive. He wears sort of a brown toga which leaves one shoulder bare, and underneath that you can see flashes of the traditional bright yellow robe of the Buddhist priest. One strange thing about his work is the sexual motif apparent in so much of it. In his abstract drawings he always inserts various womb shapes and manages to make phallic significance out of the most amazing things. He smiled a very childish and naïve smile and said “You will notice that sex is very important to me. That’s maybe because, as a priest, I cannot touch a woman.” I’m going to try and get hold of some of his stuff. A man has recently taken pictures of his work for the American Museum and the Met. I bet he will be big stuff one of these days.
After looking at his work for couple of hours, we went over to the Temple and found another amazing thing. A Burgher friend of his from Kandy named George Keith has done the murals for the inside of the temple. It is a small square building with the shrine proper and a small room in the middle, also square, so that the murals are on both sides of the corridor encircling the shrine room. Instead of the murals being in the traditional 19th century prissy English style, like in the shrine proper, they are in a strong, warm massive Picasso style, with considerable humor and gay colors. They depict the life of Buddha. The parishioners don’t like them a bit, and would prefer the traditional crap, but the priest is adamant as he knows they are actually beautiful. You should see the scene which shows Buddha wrestling with the demons in his mind. The “soft” vices are very luscious bare breasted maidens, and the “cruel” vices are cubist faces, with angular green and black planes in this sort of design, for the next part.
It is all done with attention to the usual form of the east, that is doing things in a flat plane without benefit of perspective, also the shading is very delicate, so as to accentuate the hard outlines of the persons in the mural. I think it was done about eight years ago, probably at the same time that Picasso’s murals were not yet accepted. It is all so incongruous.
Well, you can see that there can be times down here utterly unlike anything in Delhi, or anywhere else in the world, I guess. I am as contented as I could possibly be, and still be away from you. You are a big old gap in me, honey, and I hope it gets rectified soon; and the password is still “TOO.”
With all my love,
#159. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
November 27, 1944
It was pleasant to receive your letter, and know how well you are getting along. You certainly have had the breaks, but no one begrudges you them, and we are all grateful that you are not on the Ledo Road just now, with things going so badly there. I just hope post-war readjustment won’t hit you too hard; considering the nature of your ability and luck, it doesn’t seem that that will be worth much worry – you’ll make out, I’ve no doubt.
Pencil’s Christmas present from his grandparents arrived at 9 Beverly Friday, and we went up to get it – a 10 weeks old cocker spaniel, “a perfect blanket cocker,” black, with white feet with polka dots on them. For a little guy, he is the brightest, sweetest thing you ever saw. He has a pedigree, Dear. He was raised in a kennel, and arrived with worms, fleas, and a cold in his eyes, but I expect to be able to cope with those. He’s very sweet, wants to be held all the time, plays with Pencil, and doesn’t seem a bit shy. I don’t know what we’ll do with him if we go away Christmas.
Nice world. Ceylon sounds at least diverting. In fact, tho I hate to mention it, a little too diverting. Not from my standpoint – I’m adaptable, still, Dear, – but your family haven’t heard from you for so long that they are getting a little sore. Margie only wishes you’d write to Pop, but she hasn’t heard from any of the many things she sent you, including letters, and you never refer to any of the things they write, in fact you give us all the impression that you are your usual self-sufficient self, and perfectly happy, not needing us in any way. But there are two sides to that – omitting the fact that you may someday need us, – as long as there is any relationship between you and the people here, you have to consider their need for you, apart from the lack of your need from them. Any human relationship is reciprocal, you know. Again I repeat, this applies to your family, I’m not discussing our relationship now. That can be taken up when it will do more good, I mean when you come home – I do not blame you for any adjustment you may have made to the pleasant aspects of your life now, you are one person in a million, most of the world is quite miserable, and that’s no reason for you not to enjoy everything that life there presents, the postwar situation will probably be no better for you, so why not make the most of today, but don’t forget the differentiation between transitory human relationships and the permanent ones.
#160. DPM to JDM (ALS, 2pp.)
Friday, December 1, 1944
Since yesterday morning, Syracuse has had 30 inches of snow, and it is expected to continue. This is our first real snow, a bit early, but thorough. Not as bad as Syracuse, though.
Baby, I have shoveled snow and coal all day, and if you don’t want to come home after the war, it’s OK, just send for us. I would like to sit on a beach with the temperature at 76, indefinitely. Last night Dorrie and Margie and Pen and I went to Joe’s in a raging blizzard, and I even got them up Beverly hill – which had stymied other drivers, but I couldn’t get through our own driveway, so left the car on the street all night. Added to having the thing covered with about a foot of the night’s snow, the boys with the plow left it behind a good-sized bank they’d scooped up. The fire burnt itself out overnight, so I spent the morning building a fire with three coals and two pieces of wood, and the afternoon getting the car out. What particularly burned me is that the little parasite downstairs sat on his fanny while I struggled in the driveway last night (he sat in the window), while I fought the furnace this morning, and stood and watched me struggle with the car this afternoon, – after one of Penny’s friends had shoveled 30 hours’ snow off the walk and was paid by me. To top it, he gave me Hell for leaving the car out so the plow made a mess where he parks in front of the house! I was too speechless, – and breathless, to reply, but I long for the day when my papa’s home to wither him with about ten choice words. There’s no use of my trying to fight him, but you wouldn’t have to, he’s the type you could polish off in two seconds, – if he’s still here, which I hope he isn’t.
This is the pay-off. After I had done a certain amount of shoveling and rocking the car, a little dumpy woman I never saw before appeared from across the street, and said she’s seen me and put on her things to help! She toted ashes and lent moral support until I was out. How can he feel to himself? Then I bought a pair of chains ($6), and chawed my way into the driveway, shoveled out the entrance to the garage and I hope someone hits me over the head if I take the car out again this Winter, but of course I will. Probably tomorrow.
Just a little home front touch. This is being typed on my lap, so it’s a bit irregular, but for you that’s better than writing on my lap. Your letter about the painting of the Buddhist priest came yesterday, and I appreciate such a detailed description, I really feel as if I’d seen them, at least if I ever do, they will surely look familiar. If you could acquire some of his work, it might become quite valuable, at least it would always be to you.
Here is another of those things which happen to people like me. We often do our marketing just before school lets out at noon, and since the market is between the school, and a busy intersection the kids have to cross, the policeman who guides the kids across the street usually stays in the store until time for the kids to come out. Penny and I have talked to him a lot, he’s a young Italian, and we usually talk about food, or Pen. Well, while discussing spaghetti, and putting on weight, he asked me to guess how much he weighed. I guessed 145, and he proudly informed me that he weighs 200. He’s shorter than I, so I expressed surprise, at which point he said, “Feel my leg” -and extended his thigh in my direction. I had to either embarrass him or myself, so I pinched, but did I feel foolish! – The anticlimax of that was, after I told several people about pinching the cop’s leg in a grocery store, the next day, the grocery man told me he is a sex maniac!
Here is one on Pop. His clothes are absolutely falling apart. It’s disgraceful what he wears on trips, and Margie is embarrassed to death, but he’s down to two ragged suits, and he just gets ugly if she says anything about it. Well, one of the suits was at the cleaner’s, and had been thrown into the bin for outgoing clothes in the basement – the plant is elsewhere – and an old man who was helping some carpenters down there needed a bag for his nails, so he picked up Dad’s pants, cut the pocket out generously, and put the suit back! He cut all the wool part around the outside, so it would completely ruin them. Margie nearly died over that, but I think she took a chance when she let them have the pocket rewoven into the pants – he’ll wear them again, I bet, and not for golf, as she intends.
Our puppy has been at Dr. McDonald’s for three days, with the doctor unwilling to commit himself as to whether he will even live. He had tapeworms so badly that he passed pure blood for twelve hours, and of course that makes it pretty hard to administer worm medicine. We hope he will pull through, we got very fond of him in the few days that he was here, and I think he is a very sweet and intelligent little dog. The lady from the kennel is going to be presented with the bill, since it is not cricket to send out a dog in that condition. He’s had two days of worm medicine, enemas, and to top it, preventative distemper shots, – he ought to have a little chance to be assured that he is loved enough to live, but we can’t get over there until the roads are better.
Ernie Pyle’s book came from the B.O.T.M. Club. If you want it, send a request, if not it will be here when you get back. You might send a blanket request for some books, then if any good ones come along we’ll send.
This seems to be the end of the paper, and news… Too, Johnsie
#161. JDM to DPM (ALS, 3pp.)
December 5, 1944
Am filling in time while sitting at a Colonel’s desk, waiting for him – so I decided I had better make use of his pad to knock off a letter.
It makes me feel blue to realize that by the time you get this it will be close to Christmas. Close to our second Christmas apart. Anyway – we can be pretty certain that there won’t be a third one. Next Christmas really ought to be something.
If I complained about being busy on this job during the last month, you can ignore it. I have never been as rushed as lately. It is really terrific. Quite on the dawn to exhaustion basis. The thick climate doesn’t help much.
Things piled up to the point where Sunday I had to get a break, so several of us went off to a very beautiful beach – about 7 miles long – no rocks – shallow water and big waves – so big that you couldn’t stand up to them at all. I spent about 4 hours in the sun, and have felt uncomfortably warm around the shoulders ever since.
This is a nice country compared to India. The people are more of a Polynesian type, with gay sarongs and clean appearance. They are more rugged looking than the Indians, and more on the golden brown side than the dirty black most Indians are. My writing has of necessity been a bit sketchy lately due to the fact that I have had to cover the island by jeep. After a while all the towns look alike, but I don’t think I could ever get very tired of looking at the palms. This is sort of a quasi-south sea island, with palms, white sand, breakers, coral and all the trimmings.
I think my Colonel is due back now, so I will close this off for a bit.
All my love,
#162. DPM to JDM (ALS, 3pp.)
December 26, 1944
So there is a Santa Claus. I didn’t know his name was John, but since the old guy is the most traditional producer of miracles humanity has any familiarity with, that must be the answer to the Prentiss-MacDonald miracle-of-1944. The distant guy with the long white imagination and the big heart, rushing in to the lonely fireside with all sorts of wonderful shining joy for the kids, – big ‘n little!
If you only knew what it means to all of us, including you. We can’t tell you, but you’ll know, Darling, when you come back. And you’ll never have a single doubt it is the biggest, the most lasting, and the most completely creative thing you ever did.
It isn’t right for you to be so far away that you missed out on the spontaneity of wanting Rockhaven, and the spontaneity of our gratitude, but you must have had plenty of urge to make someone else happy to put so much imagination and sympathy – not to mention cold, hard- saved cash, into the deal.
You probably would like to know how Sammy handled it. Yesterday morning, after all the presents were distributed he handed me a rolled object, wrapped in an air-mail envelope addressed to me with your return address on it, and tied with a big red, white and blue ribbon. It contained a careful tracing of a geo. survey map of that end of Piseco, with “our point” indicated, and clipped to it was all the correspondence to date on the subject.
This letter to you of November 11, and Mr. Willson’s regarding map and restrictions (OK from our viewpoint), were the last two, so I realize it is still unfinished business, but your instructions to him to present the signed deed on Christmas are sign enough of your efforts to have it completed and in the bag for the biggest Christmas surprise of a lifetime.
It is inevitable that separation alone should create misunderstandings, not to mention the influence of delay and inconvenience of communication, other personalities, and the unavoidable changes in the individual not completely static. Our separation has been a long one, and seems to be fated to be longer, and because of a sum of things, I had begun to feel that your heart and your mind had grown so far from us that you didn’t care much what went on in my heart or mind. I guess I was wrong about all that, Darling. I should have known – we’ve always wanted the same things, we always will because we’re so much alike, but a woman gets a bit literal (when she’s alone, especially), and she has to be told in so many words that she is wanted and loved, and part of a man’s life and his plans. I know you’re the “big love” in my life, whatever happens, – the good companion, and I want you and our marriage always. You couldn’t have set me right about your feeling somewhat the same about me in a more convincing way, – until Uncle Sam lets you come home, at least. And since we have to be apart longer, having something so tangible and yet so much a part of our future, means more than I can tell you.
I wrote from Piseco that I’ve never wanted anything very much since you, and Penny, filled up the greatest needs in my life, but that wanting a piece of the earth that could be ours had become one of the fundamental urges, and wanting this particular satisfying hunk of rock and trees have become insistent and devouring. I never wanted anything so much, it’s so perfect and would do so much for us.
We’ll have a place in which to shake off annoyances, to get hold of things, to start in from, besides a place to have fun in. And such a wonderful place, John – the nicest place on the whole lake.
If we’d had to wait for it, I would have worked long and hard for it, but I honestly think we’d have lost it. It’s so obviously the prize spot on the lake, and when travel begins again some war-bond-happy gang was sure to come along and leave us saying “If only -,” all the rest of our lives, and leave me feeling if only, because I not only think it would be perfect for us, but I want it. And the kids want it, and I know you will.
It’s a very sound investment, if it needs to be viewed as such, but it’s buying a hunk of so much else. Maybe it’s buying dessert first, but it’s good nourishing dessert, and will make something fine and festive of the whole business of sustenance, and I think we’re the kind of people who need more and want more than just common fare. But gee! It’s a relief to have you so concrete about it!
Incidentally, it was a terrific surprise to read Mr. Willson’s offer of 200 feet for $1000. By actual comparison to dingy, crowded, road-bound, stone and mud strewn, stingy and shut-in lots all over the lake, that’s absolutely giving it away. We thought we’d have to sweat and slave for years to get together $1000 for half of it, and then find some hoodlums or war-made snobs all settled on the other half. Especially road-front instead of lake-front: that increases the exclusive nature of the place by cutting in all desirable surrounding land.
In fact, it’s such a buy that we’re not mentioning it to a soul (not even our family or Margery & Gracie) until it’s completely sewed up. We haven’t had the MacDonald Christmas yet, and when we do, if I get the same present from Pop as the last two years, I’m going to see that Mr. Willson gets $100 or $150 and sew it up immediately. So Pen and I are rushing home tomorrow, in spite of invitations to stay, to have the MacDonald Christmas! (And get the mail, from Ceylon – I hope). It’s terribly important now that you are in it, not to take a moment’s chance on losing it.
You’re probably exhausted after all this, Honey. But I’ve kept quiet about it in my letters this Fall because there wasn’t a thing I could do about it without messing up Pencil’s life and security, yet it has been in my thoughts day after day.
You certainly stole the show, Baby, and I’ll never be able to tell you – you’ll just have to come home and see, what it means.
We missed you so very much, and hope you got your boxes in time, and had a happy, comfortable day. I hope we never spend another Christmas apart, Darling.
Sammy is so full of post-war plans involving you it scares me, but I fixed you up a loophole if it doesn’t meet your ideas for us, and he’s big enough not to hold it agin you. He had to eject Harold Clarke from the deal quite firmly, and it’s flattering to see the affection and respect he has for you.
You have a place here – warm and big, and I hope you come home to it soon, my Darling.
Love to you from every one of us,
It was generous and nice of you to include Sam and Evvie in the deed-part from the start, and they appreciate it deeply.