On the plus side, Americans in 2001 were a lot better at saying “I love you” to their children than their fathers or grandfathers had been. But competing economically? Pulling together as a nation? Defeating our enemies? Forming strong international alliances? Perhaps a bit of a minus side there.
My parents met two years after Pearl Harbor, in the fall of 1943, and within a few months they were exchanging cards and letters. My father worked for the Great Northern Railway and was often on the road, in small towns, inspecting or repairing bridges, while my mother stayed in Minneapolis and worked as a receptionist. Of the letters from him to her in my possession, the oldest is from Valentine’s Day 1944. He was in Fairview, Montana, and my mother had sent him a Valentine’s card in the style of all her cards in the year leading up to their marriage: sweetly drawn babies or toddlers or baby animals voicing sweet sentiments. The front of her valentine (which my father likewise saved) shows a pigtailed little girl and a blushing little boy standing beside each other with their eyes bashfully averted and their hands tucked bashfully behind their backs.
I wish I were a little rock,
‘Cause then when I grew older,
Maybe I would find some day
I was a little “boulder.”
Inside the card is a drawing of the same two kids, but holding hands now, with my mother’s cursive signature (“Irene”) at the feet of the little girl. A second verse reads:
And that would really help a lot
It sure would suit me fine,
For I’d be “bould” enough to say,
“Please be my Valentine.”
My father’s letter in response was postmarked Fairview, Montana, February 14.
I’m sorry to have disappointed you on Valentine’s Day; I did remember but after not being able to get one at the drugstore, I felt a little foolish about asking at the grocery or hardware store. I’m sure they have heard about Valentine’s Day out here. Your card fit the situation out here perfectly and I’m not sure if it were intentional or accidental, but I guess I did tell about our rock troubles. Today we ran out of rock so I’m wishing for little rocks, big rocks or any kind of rocks as there is nothing we can do until we get some. There is little enough for me to do when the contractor is working and now there is nothing at all. Today I hiked out to the bridge where we are working just to kill time and get a little exercise; it’s about four miles which is far enough with a sharp wind blowing. Unless we get rock on the freight in the morning, I’m going to sit right here and read philosophy; it hardly seems right that I should get paid for putting in that kind of day. About the only other pastime around here is to sit in the hotel lobby and take in the town gossip, and the old timers who haunt the place can sure put it out. You would get a kick out of it because there is sure a broad cross section of life represented here–from the local doctor down to the town drunk. And the last is probably the most interesting; I heard that he taught at the University of N.D. at one time, and he seems really to be quite an intelligent person, even when drunk. Normally the talk is pretty rough, about like Steinbeck must have used for a pattern, but this evening there came in a great big woman who made herself right at home. It all sort of makes me realize how sheltered a life we city people live. I grew up in a small town and feel quite at home here but I somehow now seem to view things differently. You will hear more of this.
I hope to get back to St. Paul on Saturday night but cannot tell for certain now. I’ll call you when I get in.
With all my love,