Saturday, October 9, 2010

Umnak Island, 13 November 1944


My little stalk of celery…
First, three requests:
a.     Send me a picture of myself as soon as possible. The Guggenheim people ask that a small, recent picture be sent with the request and I cannot trust local talent to make me look enough unlike myself.

b.      Please please please tell me whether you shipped up the Belgrade hat. That stuff Craig taught us about the wind is all too true and if my super earwarmer is not en route I will try to buy something up here. Please answer this right away and mail the letter the same day.

c.       Do you want me to put in that subscription for Otto and Phyllis or have you something else in mind for them for Christmas.  And have you found out yet whether kleine Goldschmids are on the way?

That covers the action part of the letter and now for whatever information there may be.

I am currently in the process of changing shifts, going from the graveyard trick, my favorite, to the swing shift which nobody likes. As this is a middle of the month change I don’t know if I will be going back to the old nocturnal regime in December or January.
On this shift I drew the “long break,” being off from 8 a.m. on Sunday morning until 4 p.m. today, Monday. I did not make very full use of my time. Sunday I stayed up and went to the library with Durtschi, a newcomer from Idaho with whom I have recently skirmished in several mild political bull sessions. He is a tall farmerish kid from back of beyond in Idaho, who interests me because he reads with a dictionary at hand, industriously looking up the many new words he encounters. No Martin, he is nevertheless a mildly interesting companion. He was exceptionally good yesterday for the weather was very bad and he liked to walk through it. I always wonder at the scarcity of people who appreciate walking in the rain.

At the library I picked out a couple of histories of Alaska. Since the Guggenheim people seem very anxious for a complete outline of the projected work, I want to be able to sound very authoritative in my outline, giving a rough idea of the geologic background of the chain and outlining several branches in which research could be profitably pursued. Frankly, my little lover, I doubt we have much of a chance of landing it. My background in creative writing is hardly what a bevy of bearded doctors would consider inspiring, and my background in the field is rather rudimentary. But it is worth giving it a whir. And, as real effort on my part has failed to unearth any book devoted entirely to this area, it seems to me that work would fill a need. In fact, if the Guggenheim business does not work out, it might be worth a few months to whip out one on our own hook.

But there is time enough to think of that when Angel gets done with his wandering around Lake Patscuaro. At present he and one of the Sinarquistas are in a stalled outboard in the middle of the lake, en route to the little island with the house on it. It occurs to me that if I don’t change a few place names I will be liable for libel before this book [Day of the Dead] is done. Which, I still think, will be very soon.

Since I started this the afternoon mail has come and in it was your Election Day letter, a thing of great shortness but great charm. The vote for Norman Thomas was only mildly extravagant, especially in the sound of the radio broadcast now on. Ely, the Federal Communications Commission head and about the last real New Dealer left in the government except for Ickes, has resigned and his resignation was accepted. FDR hinted he would keep him working on radio, probably as U.S. representative on an international commission. Which means merely that he will be kicked upstairs and out of the way at the very moment someone like him is most needed to see that a decent division is made of the Frequency Modulation channels. Now, I suppose, the soap opera purveyors will get all the channels and the idea of a national network, to be operated something like TVA—as a yardstick to show what is possible in educational and informative programs, will be doomed.
Last Saturday I closed my letter with the word that I had just heard there was mail waiting for me. There was a nice letter from Dad saying you had been in Tacoma and enthusing about the way Bill eats, although it seems a strange subject for anyone but a grocery to appreciate. There were the Guggenheim forms, and two letters from you. That Jack is now in Seattle and may be there for some time pleases me a great deal. Roger Shaw, whom you mention is much like Mastrude, we met before. He is the one who came in during one of our first days at Myrtle and Bill’s and, after spending the entire evening—hour after drunken hour—in a corner rubbing noses with Jean staggered over to me on his way out and mumbled about how much he had appreciated our conversation. Jack met him in Fairbanks, I believe, and was attracted by his resemblance to Rajah, who is his prime hero.

Mentioning Myrtle reminds me that you said she was planning to join Bill when she had the money saved. How does she expect to overcome the other (official) obstacles. Do tell.

Your second letter of Saturday was the sad sad story of all the things which can go wrong in make-up and final printing of a reasonably well-planned little paper. And, though it probably will seem unsympathetic, I read it with howls of laughter, because every one of those frustrating foul-ups was so superbly typical of the bitches I use to belabor you with that it seemed impossible the woe should flow upstream.

Well now. Quite I while back I started to tell you about my long break.  I got as far as the library and books on Alaska, then did a Morgan and meandered rather far afield. I took three books, Alaska Challenge, The Valley of 10,000 Smokes, and the History of Alaska Under U.S. Rule. The first is the incredible story of a couple who walked up to Alaska by way of the Liard Trail and Telegraph Trail, then built a boat and made it down the Yukon. Four years and two kids later they accepted a job teaching Eskimos at a settlement on the Bering Straits and put in a good eight months doing much for community before it was discovered they did not have the Civil Service qualifications for the job they were performing capably. I know all this because I read the book through in one sitting, which accounted for my hours this morning.

But before I made the mistake of picking it up to look at the excellent photographs, I had walked home from the library, eaten dinner, and listened to our Sunday symphony (Beethoven’s Seventh and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto). After that it was seven. I had not been to bed for about 24 hours, but I was just a little sleepy. I thought I’d take and nap and get up at midnight and write for a while. I lay down on top of the bed and woke, my clothes still on, twelve hours later. That was when I reached out and picked up Alaska Challenge. Bingo! Another day out of the way and nothing done on Day of the Dead.

Ruth and Bill Albee, who walked to Alaska, really had a wonderful time  and again convinced me of our old theory that there is no point in ever doing work you consider uninteresting except as a means of doing something very interesting which is worth the sacrifice of a little time. Incidentally they had a rather nice story about the Eskimo attitude toward work. Albee had been in charge of the village and when a government bulkhead was put in he hired the laborers, shovelmen at fifty cents an hour and carpenters at seventy-five. When the checks came in a few months later the carpenters came to the schoolhouse to protest. Albee explained that he had given what he thought a fair price, whereupon their spokesman explained that “after all, a man was only a man. They demanded that I cut their wages to fifty cents an hour like the others.”

I have another Eskimo story to tell. I comes from Al Hesse. When he was coming up here there was a full-blooded Eskimo on the boat. He had been going to school in Spokane and when the war started he was drafted. Now on this boat full of groaning GIs on their way to duty in the Aleutians he alone was really happy. For he was on furlough and going to St. Paul Island to spend his vacation!

Have I told you about the master sergeant who is temporarily in our hut: a huge Irishman, bulky, granitefaced, who spends most of his time lying in his bunk and reading Ranchland Romances? Or about the chinook we had a while back after a snow storm, which left the area soggy and made every walk between huts like a canoe landing at Lom? Or that all our sparrows now have a winter coat of white? Or that I found one last yarrow in bloom after the first big snow melted? Or that Al, who has written a short story he intends to send the SatEvePost is worried lest they beat him out of the movie rights? (It will bounce back faster than a check by Meyer Rappaport.) Or that I love you? Very very much?
….
M

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