Monday, October 18, 2010

Umnak Island, 15 October 1944

My little nunny…

The wind is buffeting our hut as though it had every intention of upending us and seeing if it took three or four hops to put us in the swamp. If we were a ship I’d be worried, for we leak at every joint and an Inn-like stream flows under the door and past me toward the center of the hut. Our stove won’t work. The wind either comes down the chimney and blows it out or the water comes from somewhere and there is an explosion that fills the hut with oil smoke. And I am very, very happy for today brought two letters and two packages from you.

from Windblown and Dripping, cartoons assembled by Dashiell Hammett on Adak. This one is by Bernard Anastasia.
The packages held the teapot and the cups. They arrived unmarred. And I have already typed out some notes on the sheaf of paper and studied, to the mystification of Mac et al, the Public Service Journal and the 104 Reporter, both of which are good run of the mill house organs. Nothing to be excited about, but nothing to be ashamed of. The weakest part of either seems to be the 104 head schedule, if any. 

Jean Elliott, seeking solitude
The only flaw in today’s letters was the line “Surely there must be mail today,” which indicates there has been a considerable gap in mine to you. I can’t understand that because your letters have been getting through quite regularly and they are increasingly wonderful, my plikka pet. The sketch of the solitude seeking Jean [Elliott] was indeed epic. Also the story of the moron who does not want to be an editor—for very good reasons, I might add. …
The day’s reading was mainly in the Saturday Review of Literature and Whitman, and in a pile of newspapers which came along with the packages. The Saturday Review, in its 20th anniversary number, asked a number of its contributors to nominate the leading American novelist and the leading novel of the past twenty years. I don’t know who the contributors are were but here are the results:
1.       Hemingway
2.       Willa Cather
3.       John Dos Passos
4.       Sinclair Lewis
5.       Thomas Wolfe
6.       Ellen Glasgow
7.       Theodore Dreiser
8.       Steinbeck
8.  Kenneth Roberts, William Faulkner, Marjorie Rawlings –all tied for 8th 

 Hemingway received twice as many votes as Willa Cather for second. The best book since the war was the S. Lewis “Arrowsmith,” which seems absurd. The first five chosen were: Arrowsmith, A Farewell to Arms, U.S. A., The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The editors of Saturday Review said their first four novelists “might have been” Hemingway, Lewis, Steinbeck and Glasgow. The novels “might have been” Arrowsmith, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Grapes of Wrath, Barren Ground. All of which means I had better read Ellen Glasgow…

We have a new man in the hut. His name is Harry or Herb Warren (perhaps Henry) and he comes from Olympia. He is a pink-faced blond, heavy-set, young. After two years in the ACS he is still a private and it seems to worry him. Although he has been in the Aleutians only about a week, he has developed the best stare I have discovered yet. He has a very bright bulb in his light socket and he lies on his bed and stares at it. I think he could out unblink a terrapin. …

By the way, you have undoubtedly heard of the ACS unfortunate last year who received from his mother a five-pound can of Spam? Well Christmas presents are coming in here now and Ralph Lundquist who has the bunk across from mine got a box of cheese crackers of a type which is distributed by the case in the rec hall—and is left untaken. But, even better, Mac, the cook, got two cans of Vienna sausages, which make  a runaway race of being the least favored food locally.

And getting back to the weather. I was just up at the shower hut to get water for more tea and bumped into Cobb. He says his hut is leaking steadily and that the Corsican thunderbolt was all for shooting a hole in the floor so that the water could drain out. He was argued out of it. Someone pointed out that in the Aleutians the rain falls up. So he wanted to put the hole in the ceiling.
You are tremendously loved, my cheerful chickpea,
M

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