Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mary: January 16, 1943

Dear Joe, Saturday morning in the office is as usual very dull--not that you'd know about such things, having loafed all your life on the seventh day of the week--so I'm free to steal a few minutes to say hello to you. Then too, since most of my time this weekend will be divided between the books and hot coffee, I'll probably not have another chance to write.

Due to the paper shortage you'll note that I'm typing single space, although all the best secretarial books insist that you should use double space for personal letters. While in the midst of licenses and priorities, I'd like to inform you that we do not sell them--the Government does that. On the contrary we have to obtain them, and it's a hard job getting them. If you've been reading your newspapers lately (or maybe the El Paso Times isn't up to date), you'd know that there are innumerable forms to be completed before Washington will even consider granting priorities, allocations, and licenses. I hope now that you realize that procuring licenses is not as simple as persuading poor unsuspecting individuals to buy insurance policies.

This morning promised to be just another dull dreary Saturday, but soddenly the old sun has appeared and changed the whole outlook. To herald the appearance of Mr. Sol is the air-raid whistle which means noon time has come; I'm glad because hunger is gnawing at my stomach. You know army life would never do for me if the meals are as bad as you say. In no time though you'll probably become adept at dragging the available supply of food from those Texans, just as you were in obtaining subway seats from helpless women. Well, I guess I'll have to interrupt this letter anyway to get my mail out before closing time. See you later.

In a few short hours spring has come! How do I know? Well, when you can use a porch which has no heat, then it's spring, isn't it? Yes, it's the first time since November that we've even stayed on the porch more than two minutes. Usually we just consider that a part of the great outdoors. Of course you will probably pick me up on the above and remark something about my being on the porch for a whole hour one night. But why do I let my thoughts stray like that. To get back to spring--after work I walked down Fifth Avenue to the 42nd St. entrance to the subway just so that I might enjoy the warm sunny day. You see you're not the only one who takes 16 mile hikes.

Our coats were tossed open; thermostats were shoved down to 60, the solid earth became soft and muddy, and the world seemed to be whistling a tune of spring. Yet the other sure signs of spring were missing--there were no cheery songs of the birds or the first green buds on the trees--so I guess it isn't here yet. How I wish it were; then I'd have an excuse for this sudden attack of spring fever.

Mother insists that the cold blustery winter has just begun; rather she hopes so because we just bought a new grate for the fireplace which burns coal and we haven't yet experimented with it. By the way when dashing through RHM on Monday, I happened to see your sister Jane. However as I was rather late and anxious to get back form lunch on time, I didn't take time to stop. Besides she seemed to be persuading a reluctant costumier to buy some little do-dad.

Joe: January 14, 1943

Mary, Mary,
Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to upset the equanimity of privates in the United States army by writing letters at two o clock on the morning? Why, just to list some of the effects: Last night I had planned to write a letter to Leroy A Lincoln, President ye dear old Metropolitan thanking him for his letter of Christmas greetings and for the wallet which “my friends and associates of Mother Met” had sent as a Christmas remembrance. No letter for Leroy last night nor tonight and after all he was my boss and will be at some time in the future. Then there is the physiological effect of just 4 1/2 hours of sleep last night. Being systematic I usually budget my time: I just think of you, Mary, during the daytime hours; from 9 to 6:30 is reserved for Morpheus. But not last night, I couldn’t fall asleep until after midnight and I was wide awake at 4:30, back in Queens Village. Evidently the red bus no longer is running in the early hours of the morning because of the gasoline situation.

Twenty four hours later I’m in no better condition. I read the NY Daily News of Jan. 6, 7, and 8 and all the drippy stories in the January American to try to get back into a semblance of my phlegmatic self. All to no avail.

If it were anyone else but you, Mary, I could dismiss it as an example of sleep-writing. But not Mary Nolan--her vivacity is at its zenith at the time “is it tonight or tomorrow morning.” Just seven weeks ago tonight we said goodbye, Mary--they must have been Biblical weeks--I’ll have to stop this because by Jan. 23 I’m supposed to be a full-fledged soldier having then finished my basic training. It wouldn’t do when the Sgt. gives the command Cadence Count for me to suddenly shout out twice a four word phrase which my heart drums out continually like a bolero instead of the usual 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4. I’m afraid to think of the possibility that the seven weeks may become 7 times seven weeks--Halt, Private Koch.

Joe: January 5, 1943

Since you have seen fit to comment on my writing ability (was it some Nolan blarney or some Hunter satire?) I feel brash enough to give you a short lesson in mathematics. To wit, 3 x 4 =12. Simple, isn’t it? You are probably wondering what prompted this pedagogical outburst and I should let you guess, Mary. But just writing your name, Mary, makes me softhearted so I’ll tell you. Well along in your last letter (on page 9 to be exact) you stated and I quote, “here I am on my third booklet.” Yet on the last page of that very same booklet in a P.S. you wanted me to note that your letter was only 15 3/4 pages. You know, Mary, that sooner or later the Hunter Math dept. will get you for at least one course and where will you be? I think I’ll have the Koches ship my calculus book to Queens Village. After all, if your wishes for an end to World War Ii during 1943 are fulfilled, I’ll need an assistant mathematician to help me with my actuarial examination.

I notice that you glibly mention our letters crossing in the mails. It’s my belief that one has to master the intricacies of Einsteinian Time-Space in order to keep our correspondence straight. Look at the following diagram:

Do I hear Mary Nolan saying, “Yes, he fills up his letter with charts and diagrams so he can boast of his extended epistles; if I did that I wouldn’t have to make mistakes in arithmetic.”? Oh, I forgot you’re still a Home Eco. major--at least until the new semester--so you won’t have to answer that question. While we’re on the subject of home economics, I think it’s mean, Mary, to mention your prowess (is that a bit too strong?) as a cook when I’m some 2500 miles away from your kitchen. I’ll get even, though. In my next letter home I’ll tell my mother; for over thirty years she’s been looking for someone to cook Sunday dinner for the Koches. In that time she got a number of additional Koches but no cooks. That’s a German pun, and like all German jokes, lousy.

Joe: January 27, 1943

I’m closing my ears and getting back to a most important subject--correction; to me the most important subject--you, Mary dearest. I’m still puzzled by the outcome of a decision to go to McAveighs instead of Loon Lake Colony because the latter place seemed to be a little too sophisticated for a simple minded guy like Joe Koch. I just remembered the connotation attached to simple minded--but just one moron joke mary. I’ve gone along for a good many years carefree, rather self-complacent and then--I remember seven days at McAveighs, a bus ride from Albany to New York, Bambi, a Brooklyn-Philly game, some shows, a few movies, a couple of football games featuring Fordham--luck Fordham-- a ballet, a rodeo--what I’m trying to say is that I remember only Mary, Mary dear, dearest Mary, lovely blue-eyed Mary, mary pretending to be asleep on the red bus, Mary so alive, Mary bowling, Mary and her Hobokens, talkative Mary, the Mary who says she is silent and subdued, the Mary who says she isn’t naive just because she has principles, the Mary who puts stamps upside down on letters to new Mexico, Mary the student, Mary the only girl--just Mary.Then I count on my fingers that it’s just for five months that I’ve known her--and for two of those months I haven’t seen her--It upsets all my theories and a theoritician who finds his theories upset is a dangerous man, darling Mary. He finds his fountain pen to no avail, so he’s thinking of and loving you, Mary dear, across 2500 miles and hoping that Queens Village is tuned in by telepathy. With all my love, Mary, love that must be real because it is so incoherent, I love you, Mary, and will always and always.

Joe: January 17, 1943

Sunday Afternoon--All is quiet and peaceful--three hard-working soldiers are enjoying a siesta--inaudibly, thanks be, correction four; one is studying a dictionary--a victim of three new words-a-day disease, probably; another is painfully writing a letter--not me, I enjoy writing letters which begin Mary dear.

The only sound is the humming of the fan in one of the barracks’ as it blows out warm currents of desert air. Fortunately, my mind is miles and miles away. watching a dark head buried in a book of scientific lore; otherwise there would be five siesta-ers. A pair of blue eyes looks up from the heavy book, which I can now observe to be entitled Physiology for Students of Home Economics, but resolutely look down again on page 47--only 281 more. Alongside the printed book is another--a notebook which, at last, is completed; although, here and there, its contents are not clear--I wish that Peggy wrote clearer but borrowers can’t be choosers and only he last three quarters is copied. What is this? The diagrams in the notebook are but black and white--no crayon colored charts.

If it were but a picture all would be still. But no, I can hear the sound of grinding teeth--do I have to interpolate that they are white and were noticed by me in that period from August to November--as the ideal cell battles with a sarcolena with a lonely neuron looking on. Wait, another sound can be heard. A voice--yes it’s Kenneth’s--is saying, “Mary, Mary, did you hear how a moron powders her nose. No? There were five morons and they all ordered Coca-Cola, the other one ordered milk.” Another sterner voice is heard: “Frank, stop marching around, your sister Mary is studying. Sit still,; here’s a new Superman book to read.”

What is the focus point of all this solicitude doing? She’s making progress: a page is turned over, eyes race over page 48 and reach halfway down the next page. They stop then, puzzled--how did that New Mexican jackrabbit get tangled up in the carotid artery? Back to page 47 and ye old physiology textbook is turned face down and a hand--a left hand reaches for the notebook. This time the eyes are resolute; they ignore a bracelet whose blue stones are earnestly trying to reflect the glory of its owners eyes. Page after page is flipped by--ah here it is, the circulatory system. “The heart is a wonderful instrument: it pumps thirty billion times during the allotted span of three score and ten years...” The owner of these studious blue eyes pauses to absorb into her mind all this concentrated knowledge about the heart. Alas, that pause was fatal--her mind leaps to a consideration of other facts about hearts which are not contained in any textbook.

Mary! What is the use of my being in Queens Village this Sunday afternoon when you persist in wandering to a warmer Sunday afternoon out in the desert. I’ve glided from the New Mexican plateau to the lowlands of Long Island so you could study. After all, it’s only two days until the 19th and well you know Monday and Tuesday will be the two busiest days for the priorities and export license department; Pete will probably keep you working overtime Monday night; it always happens that way. Well, I’ve done my best, Mary--New Mexico it is.

Joe: January 8, 1943

Your appeal for pulse rate readings has appealed to the scientist in me.--stamps will not be accepted. You will understand that laboratory conditions are not ideal here at the Lordsburg Interment Camp so I will not be able to furnish exact figures on all the readings you need, Mary. However, here goes:
Sex: Male. (Thanks for placing me in the adult classification.)

Age: 29 years, 4 months, and 4 days--someone borrowed the latest issue of the astrology magazine
so I can’t verify this approximation. To find the exact number of hours and minutes up to this time (7:45 N.M. Mountain War Time) consult any astrology almanack for favorite time at which geniuses are born (I know the plural is genii but I don’t want you to receive the wrong impression.)

Pulse rate: All the following figures are at 15 second intervals.
1. Before meals: Too great a variation--the only meal that is worthy of being called a meal is breakfast and it’s too dark at seven o clock in the morning to take my pulse before breakfast. Since we’ve had stew for supper for the last seven days--stew consisting of everything left over from dinner all mixed together--any pulse reading before and after supper would be utterly unreliable: the before reading would merely show anticipated revulsion and the after one show you I’m tired of eating bread and apple butter for supper. Naturally this leaves dinner. However, I’m getting used to the dinners by this time and I’m afraid that if I observe scientifically any physiological reactions, it will disturb my digestion of the midday repast.
2. After meals: See remarks under “Before meals”.
3. Reclining: 18
4. Sitting: 17.
4a. Sitting but reading one letter from a certain individual who (as in all scientific treatises) will be nameless; besides I don’t want to make you overconfident regarding your literary prowess, Mary: 20.
5. Standing: 19.
6. After 1/2 min. of exercise: Well ignorance is a poor excuse for your snide remark about 1/2 minute exercise, but I accept it this time. I’ll have you understand, Physiologist Nolan, that even when I brush my teeth I undergo five minutes of very vigorous calisthenics. Since our formal calisthenics in the morning takes up a full half hour I’m afraid that this reading will be impossible to obtain. Besides it takes me more than half a minute to count my pulse beats for 1 seconds.
7. After a hot bath: Are you kidding? After a hot shower Pvt. Koch turns off the hot water and a forceful pray of icy cold water immediately cascades upon his manly physique. It takes a bettter man than me to count his heart beats under a cold shower--how do I know my watch is really waterproof; the jeweler didn’t say positively?

Please understand, Mary, that if I were using my own writing paper or even the U.S.O. letterhead, I wouldn’t clutter it up with tripe like the above. Insamuch as you own the prioroities and export licenses on this paper, Mary Nolan Inc., I suppose you can demand what you will....

This going to bed at nine o clock is getting me down especially on Friday nights, so last night I stayed awake in bed for over an hour philosophizing and poor you will have to bear the brunt of it. What started my mind gyrating was a jingle of Gertrude Stein’s which of course I don’t remember word for word--no one does--which goes something like this:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
Jack is Jack even though Jack is Jill, he’d still be Jack.
Somewhere in one of my philosophy courses I remember that the question of personality was brought up: “Why am I, I?” or “why are you, you?” I am not indulging in double talk. Well this was the starting point: I can’t remember any changes in myself since I graduated from grammar school--maybe beacuse I received a medical for general excellence at that time, I decided that I couldn’t be improved--even back in Jan. 1927 I was a pessimist. I wonder though, if my (illegible) had taken me out to the woods then, would I have recognized one Mary Nolan who was just then starting kindergarten? I doubt it for the twins were slightly less than four years old and Agnes was just about six so I looked upon all the younger fry as a great annoyance--especially the talkative ones. But I must have changed: now, when my thoughts turn to one youngster (of Gresheimer--classification of those who are neither children nor adults) the gleam in my eyes is definitely not one of annoyance; just for your information, mary, it’s one of longing--

I seemed to have wandered off track back in the previous paragraph--just shows I haven’t a one track mind. What I’m trying to get at is the fact that we do not recognize the process of evolution taking place within ourselved. We can look back at ourselves from the present time and recollect what we once were but we can’t point out any turning point. Probably growing older is a continuous process of accretion--we never lose ourselves, but just keep adding more thoughts, more emotions , and I trust more wisdom, not to mention such mundane things as(illegible), bad habits, etx. I’m not including you in the last category, but I already feel as if I knew you always, Mary. Yet I can remember a certain Sunday just one day less than twenty weks ago when I first met the Wisdom Alumnae Trio--well I was always warned that canoeing was a dangerous sport.

I promise you Mary, that in the future I’ll leave philosophy to the philosophers. How are the other Nolans--they can’t be in perfect condition if they let you cheat at Pick-Up-Sticks. I know that game and I also know that anyone that wins all the time does it by a crooked flip of the wrist as they let the sticks go....

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who Am I

I am the oldest daughter of Mary and Joe; that's why they named me Mary Jo. I was born at the end of World War II, July 17, 1945. My father was in France and did not see me until the following February.

I have always been fascinated by my parents' wartime love letters. I have many boxes of them, all in their original envelopes, all in careful chronological order. Now that they are both dead, I want to bring them to life again in this blog.