The gory details


This is Part 8 (and the final part) in a series of letters written by my grandparents to each other in 1945.

The letters that I have end in October 1945. By the following October, their first child, my uncle, would be born in Paris. Sometime after that (this was never clear) they would get married, move to the Bronx, and have two more children.  This picture is of the three of us in their house in Bronx. It is 1970. So much has happened to them that has brought them to this place in time.

My grandparents were not people I knew very well, even though I saw them fairly regularly throughout my childhood. My grandmother and I baked together, she taught me the precise way to set a table and how to properly pronounce the word “croissant.” And yet she was very distant at the same time. Before I understood much about her, I knew that she was from somewhere else, which defined her in just about every way: her accent, the food she cooked, her delightful disdain for Americans. My grandfather was remote in his own way too: sitting at his desk, working on cataloging his vast collection of books. It was when they died just six weeks apart that I began to understand their connection to each other. And when I read these letters years later, their love finally made sense.

For now, I choose to end the story  of my grandparents somewhere near the beginning, with a letter from my grandmother’s English cousin Rita. Unlike Rita, who claims not to be a curious person, there is so much about their story that I want to know and will never know. Rita may be the only one who got the gory details.

April 1945

65 Southampton Row,

Dear Milton,

Many thanks for your letters of the 10th and 28th March, as well as for sending Freda’s. I’ve only just realized how long it is since I received your letter of the 10th, and really must apologize for not answering sooner. However, I have written to Freda in the meantime, and although this does not mitigate my lack of manners as far as you are concerned, I’m sure you’ll understand and forgive. Like most people who are very poor correspondents, I love receiving letters, hoarding them, and never doing anything more about them. But I warn you, the vocabulary I lack when it comes to letter-writing, is very much in evidence when I speak to anyone. So beware…

 You were right – I have often wondered how and where you had met Freda, and although I am not by nature a curious person (I find this is the line of least resistance – which I usually take) I enjoyed reading the “gory” details. It must have been an awful blow to her when you were moved elsewhere, but as I said to her, once a fortnight is definitely better than nothing. And maybe you’ll get a transfer back to Paris. Anyhow, I hope so! But in the meantime you must be having a nice quiet rest away from her. I know how crazy she can be at times, as well as very unreasonable, so take my tip, and enjoy your freedom while you can. I understand Freda’s latest “want” is a bicycle. I mentioned this to my father, and maybe it’s just as well that Freda was not here at the time. My father nearly exploded! She really does ask for the most stupid things at times.

I was glad to hear that she had received one of the parcels I’d sent, even though the shoes did not fit her. I’m sending out another pair in a day or so, which will be a bigger size. There are still two parcels on the way, each containing food of some sort, and I hope by the time this letter reaches you, she will have received them.

Yes, I met Major Jacobs – and a very nice person he was too. I didn’t realize he had as many valuable contacts as you seem to imply, but maybe he didn’t want to jeopardize his position for something which seems to be proving an impossibility – for the moment anyway. After all, Freda is nothing to him, and it does seem pretty hopeless to try and get transportation for a civilian at the moment. In any case, I always find that one’s friends stop being friends when one starts asking favours – but maybe I’m being unduly cynical!

 At the moment it’s just as hard for me to go to Paris as it is for Freda to come here. I have been trying for months, but I didn’t say anything, because it seemed pretty hopeless from the beginning. Yes, I have been to Paris! As a matter of fact I spent nearly a year there in 1922, but I was only a few months old, and therefore not old enough to appreciate (?) my stay. It must be very interesting to visit the Continent at the moment, but as I have never had any hankering in that direction, I really don’t think I’m missing anything. I was supposed to visit Freda in 1939, just after she left here, but as I said, I was never very anxious to go to Paris and in the circumstances maybe it was just as well.

Well, as it is impossible to see Freda (and I doubt very much whether you’ll be able to bring her over in May), the next best thing is to see you. I sincerely hope you manage to get your leave very shortly, and we are all looking forward with the greatest anticipation to meeting you. I have informed the family that they are to assemble “en masse” if and when you are ready to deliver your lectures. I have the soap box all ready, just waiting to put to use. But kidding aside, I really am looking forward to meeting you and the family will be lucky if they get a look-in at all when I’m around. But we’ll see about that later…

Well, I think that covers just about everything at the moment. I’d like to go on writing, writing, writing, but duty calls, and I have to get back to work. I know I can depend on you to do all that is possible for Freda, and I hope at some future date, to be able to repay you in some small measure at least, for all that you are doing for her.

So, cheerio for now, and lots of luck.




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