Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Umnak Island, 19 July 1944

Nunny darling…

Yesterday was sort of a jackpot day for me. A lot of my second class mail from APO 980 finally reached me. There were two packages from you—the one containing slippers, socks, and vitamin pills, and the one with the pajamas.

Everything in both packages was swell. I have taken the pills regularly (one a day for two days). The socks came in especially handy because I was down to my last two pair. My second barracks bag has yet to arrive from the old place and I am rather pressed for clothes. Perhaps I should say rather unpressed. The slippers reminded me of the houseboat and made me more homesick than ever. The fuzzy pajamas will be especially good when the weather begins to worsen. The tops fit perfectly and the bottoms would fit us both at once. I spent part of last night taking an impromptu tuck in one of them. 

Besides the packages I got a carton full of papers and magazines. …I feel like the library lad himself. 

Of course the New Yorker was the high point of the collection. It is the issue of  June 10 and the cover is a shot of Riverside Drive. I believe it is the walk where we used to go with Haj—and Howard Lewis—in the early mornings, the one which ends by the underpass where you can get down to the Hudson. It almost made me homesick for New York and Hay, illegally unleashed, high tailing after pigeons or sniffing the grass next to the wall. Almost hell—it did.

I hope that you have a copy of that New Yorker. It has a very interesting profile on Edward Steichen and his career in photography, and the mentions of Clarence White gave me that old “Why, I know him” feeling. Only, come to think of it, I don’t. I especially liked the stories of the way Steichen used to get blurred, soft-focus effects. He spit on the lens. And sometimes he kicked the tripod just as he snapped the shutter.

I didn’t write yesterday. I thought I’d have time at work, but I forgot it was our night to wax the operating room floor. We spend most of the night at it. The job was supervised by one of the little men, a Pole with the face of a perverted Sunday school teacher and a whining voice that has the tone but not the volume of a scream. He is unpleasant and I usually manage to keep away from him, but last night it was impossible. After a few hours of him I was in no mood for letter writing even when I did have a few moments.

Jack Martin and I had a long talk last night about race prejudice. He is highly intolerant of Negrophobes but not so much of anti-Semites, although he is not anti-Semitic himself. The conversation started with Jack’s reference to a talk he had just had with the prejudiced Norwegian whose remarks had upset me the day before. I made a wry face at the mention the man and off we went onto tolerance of intolerance. Jack feels that to shun a man because he has one prejudice is to deny yourself access to a companionship which might be in all other respects enjoyable. This is a rational attitude and I almost with I could share it. But someone race prejudice seems to me the basic evil of our world and attitude toward race and color the crucial test of the democrat. And while I am profoundly pessimistic about the future of democracy, I do not care to associate with those who do not wish to practice it. 

Jack’s prime interest is in artificial languages. I have learned quite a bit about the history of Esperanto and its predecessors and successors in the field. The first synthetic language was created a couple of hundred years ago by a Briton or a Scot who divided all knowledge into seven compartments—religion, naval affairs, public affairs, animal life, etc.—and built his language on these groups. Its main trouble was that it was infinitely more complicated than any of the “natural” languages, and there was always the problem of deciding if, for instance, the story of Jonah and the Whale came under naval affairs, animal life, religion or what. 

The first widely popular synthetic language was something called Volapuk. It had more followers than any other has gained since, which is remarkable because it was more difficult than its successors, not being based on Romance verbs. Esperanto is older than I thought—about fifty years. At one time it was compulsory in Paris schools and in a couple cities in Germany. Hitler banned it as “inciting to internationalism.” It only missed by a couple votes being official language of the League of Nations. Jack says that Esperanto is now out of date and a thing called Inter-Lingua is the best. He frowns on basic English because, for one thing, it retains our outrageous spelling and also it presents the problem of semantic overtones already existing around English words. Personally he favors a tenseless language in which all nouns are also adjectives and adverbs (and vice versa). The use of one for three in this way, Jack says, is the greatest discovery yet made in artificial languages. 

As you can see, APO 948 offers some strange educational courses.

Tonight over tea Jack started to tell me a story that Roger Mastrude brought back from the Balkans. The setting was in the Transylvanian Alps and the story dealt with a man and woman who went to live in the forest , built a house, cultivated a clearing and lived a happy, loving life until, full of years, the old woman died. The husband laid her out for burial and –but you have already guessed. Bierce’s “The Boarded Window” in the Balkan setting. 

[To read the whole creepy story:]
Jack has never read Bierce, in fact had never heard of him. I recall seeing “In the Midst of Life” at the local library so when we go there tomorrow to return books we’ll take it out. It will be fun to introduce someone to “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “Chatanooga.”  Imagine someone from California and interested in Mexico not knowing of Bierce. Come to think of it, I was a year older than Jack is now when I ran across him. I feel ancient.

Yesterday morning I was feeling bluer than at any time since getting here. I don’t know why more than at other times. Up here black moods seem to come as regularly as a virgin’s menstrual periods (or is that a physiologically fouled up metaphor?). Anyway I was feeling low so I decided to climb our local mountain. I set off by myself right after breakfast and went up a valley a mile or so, climbed a steep hill, and then, all pooed out, turned right around and came back. When I go up that mountain it will have to be after a night’s sleep and not a night’s work. The only good thing about the hike was that I picked some extremely well formed lupines to replace my worn out daisies. 

When I got back to the hut I was so tired that I slept not only through dinner but through pay call. Fortunately the paymaster is one of the fellows in the hut and he come over and called me. I bought another bond with part of my ill-gotten gains and will send it down to you as soon as it is delivered to me….

The radio is on as I write this. The news is incredibly good—steady advance in Italy, a Russian breakthrough in Latvia and another in lower Poland, a British breakthrough south of Caen, the Japanese cabinet resigned, continued attacks on Guam, fourteen more Jap ships sunk. And there even look like a one in three chance of Wallace getting the VP nomination in the Chicago convention. The only thing missing is news that I am transferred back to Seattle. Lord how I hope they can wind this business up in a hurry. Next Saturday will mark my third month away from you, my Nunny, and already it seems an eternity. 

The awareness that I am only hours away from you by plane makes our separation seem more an enormity, although I find comfort in it when I try. The idea that Pete [Pedersen], who left here the other morning, is probably already rolling down First Avenue, fighting off the furious advances of the fourteen year olds, makes Seattle seem close. But I am not sure that really helps. By the way, Pete promised to look you up. I think you two will like him better than either of the two previous emissaries. … 
[Pete did:]

The other day one of the kids brought me a poem. I lost it before I could send you a copy, but tonight he made me another draft and here it is –
The censor says I can’t say much
Can’t talk of so and so and such
Can’t even say we’re having weather
Or you’d put two and two together.
Can’t say just where I am or what,
Can’t tell you why or if or but,
Can’t tell what we do, or don’t
Or if we might, or will, or won’t
But I can send my love to you
Without restriction – so I do.

It is time for me to get to work, my darling. I’ll write more tomorrow….

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