20 June 2014

Love Letters

Today’s blog post is by Miriam Biskin, a great-grandmother in her mid-90s; retired teacher; author of books, stories, poems and articles; and much requested guest blogger here on Retired--Now What? (see P.S. below). Miriam has returned to share the letters written by her beloved during the World War II.

They’re all in a box on my dresser, each replaced neatly into its envelope. Some are on a thin paper, yellowed by age; some are V-Mail, which could be sent free of postage, APO, NYC; some stationery was provided by the Red Cross. I’ve embarked on a quest to copy or retype each letter and compile them into a book for my own reading.

Box of love letters from a photo
by Elaine Litherland.
The letters were from my husband, though we were still engaged when he sent them from Belgium, France, Germany and elsewhere--during the World War II. I remember how worried I was, how anxiously I awaited the mail and how delighted I was to learn he was safe and had received the mail I sent him.

I’m holding a letter from Antwerp July 26, 1944. He had made sergeant in the Army Signal Corps. Like all the other letters, it opened “Darling” and closed with “All my love.” We were both 22 that year; he was 6 months older. We wrote to each other every day; at least I did, sometimes more than once. At mail call, he was the envy of the barracks. One of his buddies, who never received mail, offered to buy a letter so he could have one of his own.

We had devised a code so I’d know his general location. He was going to add the two digits of his longitude and latitude to my house address. We didn’t use it, because the Army censors never stopped him from writing about his frustrations with the military and their constant movement or from sending photographs of bicycle trips in Belgium and Holland, bombed out buildings, street lavatories and even Brussels’ famed Manneken-Pis, the statue of the little boy urinating for all to see.
Author’s husband-to-be serving in
European Theater in World War II.
He wrote about ice cream and chocolat, but he never mentioned the daily buzz bomb attacks, the children who were evacuated and those who weren’t. Often, the truth was in the stories he didn’t tell; stories I would read in the newspaper. Things were not going well for the Allies, especially in the days before the costly Battle of the Bulge. 

I once sent him a five pound box of toys--tin soldiers and yo-yos. He gave the box to the man who worked in the barracks for him to give to two little boys whose mother had been killed in a bombing raid. From that man came a thank you to the “mademoiselle from America” and a photograph of the boys, Michel and Yvon.

Every month, my fiancé sent a check to be deposited in our joint bank account. It would have been much easier for him if I hadn’t been so reluctant to get married without the traditional family affair. I would have received an allotment check taken from his pay that the government sent to military wives. He even suggested we get married by proxy. 

He also sent souvenirs: wooden shoes, bootleg Chanel No. 5, an embroidered tablecloth, lace handkerchiefs, and from France, a black lace bra and garter belt to which my mother remarked, “I thought he was nearsighted.” Actually, his vision was so poor he was rejected in the initial draft; he later volunteered.

As I sort through the box each evening, I read a few letters, feeling the warmth of his love, relishing the memory of hugs and kisses delivered by the postal service. I touch the same letter he touched, absorbing some of the nearness. 

I’ve removed and read or just held the letters so many times they’re no longer arranged by date. The only letter I’ve always kept in a special place in the box is the cable, which was easily the best of the love letters. It read, “Coming Home--Do not contact at this address.” And in my imagination, I could hear “All my love.” 


Thanks for stopping by. You might be interested in Miriam’s earlier guest posts on the Retired--Now What? Blog:

To Gladly Teach -- Part 1
To Gladly Teach -- Part 2
The Merry Widow, Part 1
The Merry Widow, Part 2
Gasoline Stations, Part 1
Gasoline Stations, Part 2

I also quoted part of one of her many blog posts on the Stage of Life website in this blog's Women’s Suffrage Photo Addendum

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