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Friday, April 20, 2018

the letters

    In my last post, I wrote about 30 letters that I had found at a used bookshop.  Many people whom I've told about the letters have asked about the content of the letters. Here are some of the things that were written about in these letters:

      Bob seems to be the youngest son. He wrote 1 letter in this bundle. I know that he graduated from Annapolis in 1945, so I think that's why. His letter is a sweet letter written to his dad on his dad's 50th birthday. This letter was on stationery from the USS Lexington.
     Rick is the oldest, I think. He wrote a lot about rank in the Navy and his advancement plans. He was transferred a few times so there is information about multiple ships (and the pros and cons of each of them). I smiled everytime I read that he was taking some time to "cut you in on the straight dope" about what was going on in life. I enjoyed reading about what his bunks/ bunkmates were like, how he enjoyed the ship's library and that he felt a connection to their ship's mascot, a cute cocker spaniel named Squeegie. He wrote a lot about missing home and regretting not watching his little sister grow up in person. He was concerned about missing Bob's graduation and wedding and very concerned about how he was goign to obtain graduation and wedding gifts, despite the fact that he was looking everywhere he went for something that would be suitable. One letter told about a dream he had where his parents had sold their farm in New Hampshire. In the letter, he begged them to promise that they would not sell the farm until he and Bill were home from war because, even though both brothers tried not to say how much they truly missed their family, not only did they miss the people, but they also missed "home." One of the favorite things I read in his letters was that they had sailed very close to Catalina Island, which apparently had a bird sanctuary on it at the time. He mentioned that birds kept flying into the ship and were quite content there. They invaded the mess hall and the crews quarters. Many of the sailors would try to capture them to force the birds out but then they would fly right back in.  Rick mostly used plain, thin airmail paper, but used some cool USO stationery and YMCA stationery too.

   Bill is my favorite. He mostly used plain paper, but had one nice Navy stationery letter.
        I learned a lot from how the mail worked from Bill's letters. He wrote home almost daily. All of his letters were numbered and he seemed to ask his family to do the same for him.Almost all of his letters had been stamped by the censors and signed with his name and branch at the bottom of the page. He mentioned one time were it had been 6 weeks since they had received mail (and how he was one of the few sailors who had received ANYthing at all) and another time where the mail had come after a 50 day wait. So, he was often sitting and reading piles of mail. He cherished news from his family, especially news about home. The more news from home, the better and the faster he "devours" it. He was also sent some magazines from home. He did mention that the ships radiomen listened to the news sent over the wire and transcribed a short version of it. They "mimeographed" a few copies of the "Dots 'n Dashes" every morning for the sailors to read at breakfast. He seemed to send his pay home and was concerned about whether they received each check.
      He talked about his experiences with "the natives."  He mentioned houses (shacks) built on stilts to prevent them from sinking into the mud. He said that people and animals lived under the same roof and that people ran shops out of their homes. He mentioned that the children in these villages had little to no toys and he was curious as to how they play. One day, the sailors had a picnic on an island. He explored the jungle and saw some beautiful white birds (but no parrots or monkeys). The sailors ate and then stripped down for a swim in a lagoon. They met some natives who were "scantily clad, except for two boys who had sailor's hats like ours."  The natives were polygamous and they "looked healthy."  They mostly ate fish and coconut. The sailors gave them a hotdog.
     He liked to sleep above deck on the ship because it was too hot below deck. He had different systems for different weather. He spoke of not having Christmas Eve because they had crossed the international date line so they basically skipped a day.  Life on the ship was sometimes slow and he sometimes struggled to find news when he hadn't heard any news from home beforehand. He mentioned that if he was writing to a woman he could fill the page with mush, but that it wasn't really appropriate for his parents and sister. :) He wrote one really touching letter to his sister telling her how much he missed her and how he "met" a monkey on a beach one day and played with it for a few hours before it fell asleep on his shoulder. If he could've brought it for her as a pet, he would've. He also told her that he couldn't wait to hear her play "Starlight Waltz" on the piano when he got home. He promised to teach her to dance and to bring her out to a show and a soda.
       Bill was very expressive of his love and concern for his family. He mentioned all of his siblings, his grandparents, some friends and his parents. I'll close this with a bit of one of his letters. I love his writing. (It has inspired me to pull out my fountain pen for my next letter. (to Linn)

    I hope you can read it. It thanks his family for a branch that they sent him in a Christmas package. It says that it might seem silly, but the branch has become one of his most prized possessions. He mentioned that the smell of the branch reminds him of home (and describes home). He said that when he gets home, he would be happy with being able to explore the outdoors and that if he just had a good fly rod, sturdy shoes, a canoe and a camera, he'd be happy.
        Reading all of these letters, I kept thinking that it was a shame that these memories are not with their families. I have done some research and I think I found their families! Just last night I wrote a letter to Anne, the youngest sister, to ask if she would like these letters. I sent her my contact information so hopefully she will call or e-mail me.  I will update if the story continues.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My treasure

    This week my family took a trip to Freeport, Maine. We visited my mom at a hospital in Portland and then continued North for a night away.  We decided on our way home to visit a few sites.
     Our first stop was Wilbur's Chocolate. As a candymaker, Matt is always interested in seeing products from other places and seeing what other places are doing. Ironically, we ended up walking in right as a tour was supposed to start. So, we paid the $3 and went on the guided tour of their chocolate making "factory,"  We also got to meet the owner, who seemed like a really nice guy. He was making caramel that would be later covered in chocolate. The tour was very short, but informative. They also gave out a few samples. (I would highly recommend their chocolate covered blueberriesl not the blue ones, the normal chocolate covered ones.)    A really nice touch is that they give you a goodie bag at the end of the tour. They were quite generous. We definitely took home more than the $12 of "product." Then we went to the center. 
      We avoided L.L Bean since I knew I wouldn't be buying anything that day, but would be tempted to!    My mom asked me to stop by The Mangy Moose .We had a lot of fun exploring the store and I bought some really pretty notecards. We also visited Wicked Whoopies. I had a classic whoopie pie and the boys each got a mint one. They were delicious. We ate them on our drive home. Then, we ate lunch at a "highly recommended and reasonibly priced" sub/pizza place. It was alright. The pizza slices were huge but I was not a fan of the "toasty" I ordered.
       Here's the most exciting part, at least for me. #nerdproblems.
      We stopped a used bookstore that also advertised old postcards. When we walked in, Matt pointed out a giant bookshelf filled with boxes of postcards- written/unwritten, mostly older. I picked one for my pal Ashley (oops, hope I didn't ruin the surprise), one creepy looking girl for me and one for my son's teacher, who just did a postcard project with the kids. I also bought an antique pamphlet about Massachusetts.   I could've stayed all day going through the postcards. If I was super organized and had  lot of room in our apartment, I would buy a lot and horde  keep them for myself. It was overhwhelming and tempting to be surrounded by all of the ephemera and postcards. I DIDN'T EVEN LOOK AT THE BOOKS, which were stacked from floor to ceiling. I even let Tim and David  go explore without asking where they would be. lol. Oh my goodness.   I pulled myself away and paid for my purchases.  Then, I waited for Matt and the boys. I figured that Tim was probably building a fort out of books and planning a way to live in this house forever. Despite the fact that I can get impatient when I'm ready to leave somewhere, I was super gracious that my family has always been willing to put up with my postcard/penpalling addiction. Then, I turned toward the door and noticed something stacked on the top of a bookshelf. Here's what it was (I removed the addresses):
    It is a stack of letters from 1945 from 3 brothers in the Navy. (There was only 1 letter from 1 of the brothers). The other 2 were enlisted in the Navy. Rick wrote home frequently and Bill was pretty prolific, writing almost every day. The letters were sent to their parents and younger sister. On the back of some of the envelopes were some questions that their mom, I assume, wanted to ask them in her next letters. These are guys I would've gotten along really well with, especially Bill.
      When I saw them at the store, I was immediately saddened that these weren't with their family but the bookshop owner explained that he gets a lot of stuff from estate sales. I knew I would find them fascinating. I spent about 4 hours reading them yesterday. (I felt like Nina Sankovitch must've when she was opening the trunk full of letters in Signed, Sealed, Delivered.) I spent all day today researching the information in the letters in an attempt to find the families. I think I found them. I sent a few Facebook messages today but I think they're all sent to the dreaded "other messages" folder. I even sent 2 of them a friend request in hopes that they would see my message if they accepted.  I think I even found the little sister. Can you imagine re-reading a letter you got 73 years ago from a family member who is no longer living?
         I will write more in a later post. I did a lot of thinking about some of the things I read and might like to share. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

This weeks reading

    This was a long, hard week and luckily I was able to find a little respite in reading. I finished two books.
 I received this advanced reader copy from NetGalley. I had never read anything by Ariel Lawhon and have always been interested in the story of Anastasia Romanov.  Like the author, I'm not big on princess stories, but I have always been intrigued that there might have been a possibility of a Romanov surviving. Unfortunately, in 2007 the grave containing the remaining children was discovered.
      At the beginning of the book, all I could think of was Disney's Anastasia and thinking, "I am not really getting anything out of this book." I wanted it to include a little more history. As the book went on, I became more involved. When the Bolsheviks started to revolt and the Romanovs were put on house arrest and into exhile, I started getting more into the story. I also learned in the author's notes that the Romanovs were prolific letter writers. Usually I like nonlinear books that jump around through different settings and times. The was that this book was organized was a little confusing to me though. Normally if I read in Chapter 1- Russia, 1900. Then Chapter 2, USA, 1920- I would be fine, but this one would say something like Russia 1920, 1916, 1913 all in the same chapter. I feel like it made me pay less attention to the time and I was aggravated by it in some way. With that being said, I had never heard the story of Anna Anderson before so maybe I would've felt differently if I was reading from a different perspective.

My second book of the week was Merry Christmas, Alex Cross. My upstairs neighbors loves James Patterson and always sends books down when she's done with them. (Which is why my Goodreads account has so many Patterson books read.)  I have discovered that I don't always loves James Patterson books but the ones I do like tend to be the Alex Cross books. This book starts with a hostage crisis and ends with a plot to create a new nerve gas and expose the public during the inauguration of the new president. I enjoyed following both storylines. (One thing I do like about James Patterson is that his books always have short chapters that I can spend a few minutes with and then put the book down. The problem is, sometimes I get into the story and don't want to put it down even though I can!) The only thing I disliked is that there was no relation between the 2 storylines other than the fact it was Christmas. 

Next up: Song of a Captive Bird by Jazmin Darznik

What are you currently reading?