Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Letters from Siblings

Yesterday, when Bea was talking about beau Bill Whitney, she mentioned he had paid for a party organized for Helen at the Rainbow Room, “a dance floor on top of Radio City,” after her divorce from Fred Parker. I asked if Helen had enjoyed herself.

“She wore a $2.95 dress. Imagine, receiving guests in an out-of-date dress! Parker got a good job in Detroit. She couldn’t take being alone. She came home and went to secretarial school, but hated it. Helen always was sort of disgruntled. Poor Helen! Things went wrong from the very beginning …”

After leaving home, Bea maintained a lively correspondence with her siblings. Since the route to understanding Bea passes through the same landscape experienced by Helen, Dorothy, Hunter, and Bob, here are a few excerpts from their letters. The first is written by Bea’s “disgruntled” elder sister:

“Dear Bea,

Thank you so much for the lovely compact and cigarette case. I will enjoy using them. Thank you loads. I have just spent about two hours arranging one large bouquet of flowers and two small ones. Mabel was down in the cellar. I think she thought I was awfully dumb to spend so much time – and maybe I was. I am trying though, to arrange flowers as a florist would, and it isn’t the easiest thing to get them looking just right. Seeing that I grew these flowers myself, it was sort of fun. Saturday is always a lonely day for me, and I have plenty of time to do what I want. Of course on Saturday, Dad goes to the races, and all my friends are always very busy with their husband or kids or both…. On my vacation, I did nothing but rest. I didn’t meet anyone, I mean, anyone new. I put my name in at Baubs (?) long ago for a job in their advertising department, and while I was at Lake George, I got a letter to come in immediately. I went as soon as I got home, but the job was taken. Sometimes I think I’m just unlucky….”

“Dot didn’t seem to be material for death,” Bea said yesterday about Dorothy.

“What is material for death?” I ask, curious as to her meaning.

“Someone who is very frail and tires easily.”

I could comment that Bea fits this description but hold my tongue.

I agree that my Aunt Dorothy was exuberance itself. She had a stroke and died at 82 while enjoying herself on a guided tour of Austria.

Bea had encouraged her younger sister to go to Vassar but independent-minded Dot chose Wellesley. Here is the first letter she wrote home:

“Bee, dearest,

I have been meaning to write before this but have been so busy trying to make a good start. I didn’t forget your birthday. I contemplated calling the family but thought 60 cents too extravagant just to talk for 3 minutes. I wish you a happy, fruitful 23rd year, and now I am going to write about myself, because I know that’s what you want to hear…

Thank you so much for your package. I’ve never seen such an interesting assortment of things. I certainly needed some kind of file, thank you, and the chocolate and ashtray were welcomed heartily. Everything was nice, only I think I ought to send your pin and scarf back. It seems I walked off with enough of your things, let alone having them sent to me! …

Please write and tell me how your job at Wanamakers is coming on, and all about yourself and your adjustments. I know there must be many.

We have a song ‘Where oh where are the grand old seniors? Lost, lost in the cold, cruel world.’ Every time I sing it at step-singing, I realize how it applies to you, especially since I’ve tasted a morsel of college myself. I hope you’re not lost but have found yourself. I know how it must be. You’re at an age when you should have contacts with young men who are your equal, and I’m afraid they are few and far between. Good night, dearest. I love you so very much and miss you. It seems we only see each other for little short snatches, and yet, I know you better than anyone else in the family, except maybe Mother and Dad. Affectionately, Dot”

Hunter was a year younger than Dorothy. He wrote this letter while at Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, PA. Later he seems to have attended Wesleyan.

“Dear Bea,

Two days ago I wrote a three-page letter, but it was so damn macabre, morbid, and somewhat moronic that I did not send it. This house and town has a very strange effect upon me. Some day, if I am great, I will attribute my greatness to 413 College Avenue, or if I languish in a nut house, I will also blame 413 College Avenue … I have done a powerful lot of thinking since I’ve been here, not along purely academic lines, but about philosophy, religion, science, sex and sociology … If you should ask me what I hold to be true in life, I would offer only two facts. (1.) You shall suffer more or less before you die and (2.) You shall die …

I would love to have something to believe in! I am a miserable atheist now. Intuition tells me to believe in a God. Reason says there are no grounds to. (After all, who in the Hell gave God his power?) Christianity, as a code of ethics and morale, is fine but, as a doctrine, it is riddled with holes like Limburger cheese …

It is swell what you have done for Helen. I know it probably cramps your style, but continue the good works! Well, sister mine, keep your chin up, keep fighting, keep healthy.

All my love, Hunt”

I never met Uncle Hunter who suffered from schizophrenia. Yesterday Bea told me she saw Hunter only once “after he went insane,” with my dad along, as protection perhaps. I asked why Hunter was institutionalized.

Bea’s response: “He was threatening the father of a girl he liked, head of Newsweek. It was very hard. Very depressing. I was so sad!”


Blogger EllenDottysyoungest said...

Dot was not material for death - as one of her eleven grandchildren I can honestly say she would have gone on forever if my grandfather hadn't died earlier than expected. I personally think, even though her smoking had left her at risk, she'd have kept right on going, much like Auntie Bea, if she's somehow felt she had reason. Without Charlie, her husband, I think she just couldn't rally back. Everyone told her not to take that "walking tour" of Austria but she was very strong willed still if not as strong bodied. Strong - it's a word that fits Dot and Bea I think and perhaps didn't fit Helen, Hunter or Bobby.

9:18 AM  

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