All My Sailor Love
While looking through a box of my Mom’s papers in a totally unrelated search, I ran across a 6-inch stack of letters written to her (and 3-year-old me) by my Dad in ’44-’45, while he was in the Navy. I had no idea these existed. I’m learning a lot about both of them. And that I had pet chickens and a bad case of measles.
So began my Facebook update last night, which so far has garnered 64 “likes” and 14 replies. Apparently this entry has struck a nerve…perhaps because I wrote it on Memorial Day, perhaps because nearly everyone would like to be able to open the treasure chest of past correspondence of loved ones, and perhaps because there’s a nostalgia for the permanently written word, as opposed to internet messages that fly and are forgotten.
And perhaps because people like the idea of me with pet chickens and measles.
About those chickens…nearly every letter from my Dad asked about them, wondering if I had named them, how big they were getting, and if my dog, Ski, chased them. One letter asked if we were going to have fried chicken when he got home.
He advised my Mom to keep me out of the sun while I had measles, because “they say” measles can be hard on the eyes.
After his many Navy vaccinations, including smallpox and yellow fever, he became quite ill and feverish, so he went to “sick bay”, where they treated him with a heat lamp 3 times a day!
About half the letters are handwritten, and the rest are typed. Dad wrote that he was grateful to persons back home who sent him stationery and pencils so he could write letters home. Those daily letters went out to not only my Mom, but various other relatives and many friends in the small town of Loup City, who also wrote back to him.
He told of having to pay for his Navy “blue book” and his “stripes”…who knew those wouldn’t be furnished? He wrote proudly of his ability to wash his own Navy clothes by hand, keeping the whites bright.
In several of the letters, Dad gave Mom advice about money, gardens, tires, food, greasing the car, chickens (!), and going to dances. It must have been really hard for him to be so far away and unable to manage things himself. The letters from home must have been a source of joy, as he closed every letter with thanks for writing and encouragement to “keep up the good work with letters”.
Dad was a good typist and attained high scores in written tests when he first entered the Navy, so he was made Company Clerk.
He wrote about physical training and swimming tests, where he didn’t fare as well. In one letter he stated, “I sure wouldn’t want to go overboard on a ship.”
I didn’t know my Dad as a very affectionate or demonstrative person, so I’ve been quite surprised to see salutations of “Dearest Marie and Judy” and “Hi, My Punkins”, and letters signed off with, “All my Sailor Love” and “All of Everything”.
I wish I had read these letters while my parents were still alive, so I could ask them the many questions I have about their lives during that time. But for now, I’ll have to be content with small glimpses into an era when nylons and gasoline were in short supply, and friends and family connections were abundant.
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