What Eddie said
Many readers said they appreciated my post about my Mom several days back (“The Septembers of Lucille”). It featured excerpts of three letters she had written to my Dad in September of 1944 when he was in Europe during World War II. To recap a bit, they barely knew one another before he left for the service in 1941, but they fell in love through the hundreds of letters they wrote back and forth while they were apart. By the time he returned after the war they had decided to be married as soon as possible. His pet name for her in these letters was “Smiley.” The letters in the Fall of 1944 had to do with a grave illness (tumor) that my grandmother was going through and how my Mom (an only child) was having to manage the family household as well as the medical crisis and her own duties at both work and school.
Anyway, I thought it would be nice to share one of my Dad’s letters in response. The content of the letter and the timing of it more than a month after hers were written illustrate how difficult even the most intimate and urgent communications were between loved ones during those times. It sometimes took weeks and weeks for my Mom’s letters from Independence, Mo., to reach her “Eddie”, and similar periods for her to receive his responses. She did not even receive the letter below until mid-November. Because of logistics, letters often arrived out of order and crossed in the mail — or were simply delayed sometimes for months, stuck on airplanes, in railroad cars, or in the holds of ships. The correspondents had to write any given letter in full awareness that the previous five letters they might have written had not yet been received, and that they themselves had yet to receive several letters that were on the way to them. This really got complicated with a large volume of correspondence. Over the five years they were apart, my Mom wrote as often as three times a week to my Dad — and he’d typically write her a letter once a week.
I was able to sort all the letters out and put them in the correct order as I went through the complete record of their correspondence more than 60 years later, but imagine how confusing it all must have been for them at the time.
In this age of instant, real-time communication and text-messaging in which we are able to share the most trivial moments of our days, that’s hard to grasp. Think about this letter the next time you get upset because someone you sent an e-mail to didn’t respond or post a “status update” in five minutes, or a day, or even a week. This is how those kind of snafus used to look, and how a 25-year-old man navigated the waters of long-distance romance with his 23-year-old sweetheart in those days:
France, October 17, 1944
Walking into the office in sort of a hopeless and dejected state I strolled up to my box and believe it or not I found that old familiar air mail envelope from Independence, Mo., staring me in the face. Believe it or not darling my morale certainly did take a sudden but most welcome turn for the better I sure was glad to get that letter. It has been the first I have received in a long, long time. Of course I know you have written and you mentioned two letters in the meantime which never reached me as yet due to the confusing mail situation and also my move from England to France. Then too I know you have been so busy with your mother being ill and all. It seems as though everything that possibly could has happened and as a result I haven’t heard from my baby in such a long time but I understand the situation perfectly and haven’t the slightest criticism to make because I know all of this has been unavoidable. Then too darling I know I have been pretty awful at writing you and at the same time I haven’t had much to offer as an excuse save sheer laziness and a low state of morale due to the fact that we were separated and nothing ever seemed to happen any differently from one day to the next. So I suppose I, above all people, should be the last to complain about not receiving any mail. I do get awful lonesome when I don’t hear from you darling and it makes me realize more than ever how much you are a part of me. If something should suddenly happen, God forbid, whereby we would be taken from each other I don’t know what I would do. This old world would cease to be alive and would be nothing more than a vast, empty void with nothing left for me at all. Reading all this over I find I have failed to mention which letter came to me today but it was yours of 28th September. Perhaps the mail will once again reach a normal state and will come in fairly regularly. At least I hope it does very quickly.
I am glad to learn your dear mother is feeling so much better. I hope by this time that she will be on the final road back to complete recovery. She has had a tough time and let me wish her all my best. I told you I was saying a few extras for her and that everything would come along alright. Do you think I could have had anything to do with it? Well no matter I am glad to hear of the joyful news regardless of whose prayers were answered. The main thing is your mother is feeling better and that is what we all were after. You must have had a lot of hard work and worry during that critical period. I hope you haven’t done too much darling. Annie wrote that you seemed to keep everything under complete control at all times and told me how swell you were. Of course she didn’t have to tell me that darling but I am glad that other people apart from myself realize how lucky I am to have someone so sweet as you.
Tonite darling the rain is pounding against the window and I am very thankful to be inside and not out in the rain and dampness. I thought I would get away from all that sort of thing when I left England but no soap. Of course this is October and a rather unsettled month. This is growing onto the time of year when bad weather can be expected.
I haven’t been to Paris only once and I wrote you all about that. I hope to go again soon darling and when I do I will render you a complete report. I am certainly looking forward to going again. It is such a beautiful place and there are so many places there I want to see. I didn’t have much time at all the last time I went in.
The little part in your letter about the sisters not liking my mustache amused me. I got quite a bang out of it. I think I will have to shave it off when I go home. It looks as though I am outvoted all the way around. Well anyway it makes life interesting to a certain degree.
I am afraid now darling I must close and get a bit of rest for a change. It seems I have time for just eating, sleeping and working with nothing else at all. Goodnite my darling and remember I love you with all of my heart and soul.
Goodnite Smiley darling,
Say, this has to go free but I suddenly discover I am out of air mail envelopes and am quite a long way from the Post office. So forgive me darling.