Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mom and Dad and Too Much Information!

I've mentioned, I think, that I am transcribing my father's World War II letters to my mother, with a plan in the works to write a book.  I know at least one of you has mentioned to me she thinks I'm obsessed with my father.  I have never thought that was true. He seemed to disapprove of me somewhat and I have been in a sort of quest to find out why. But obsessed?  I hope not.

But if it were true; the enormous job of transcribing these letters has been a very good cure.  I am getting really sick of this love-lorn, baby-talkin', spelling-challenged engineer.

I hope this doesn't last forever. Then I'll never get this book done.

My parents were parted for eleven months of their first year of marriage and my father, a college educated man (Auburn '41), wrote my mother every day.  It was the last year of the war, a fascinating time in American history and in the history of the whole world, come to think of it.

My mother's letters have not turned up.  My sister thinks my father had too much to carry on the way back from Japan and discarded them.

I think the odds are better that she--being a canny editor of her own image--destroyed them herself.  She would never destroy Dad's.  Having a love-sick swain filling pages with his adorations was just the thing she would save.

"I hope you and your sister aren't shocked by those letters," she said with a girlish giggle and a dramatic fling of her hands more than once in the last years of her life.  Of course, that meant she was hoping we would be.

I'm on letter 179 of the transcription process. Shocked, I'm not. Tired?  I am.

The end of the war with Japan is about two weeks away, my father is stuck in the mud of Ie Shima (adjacent to Okinawa and the nearest island to the Japanese Home Islands) building runways and repairing bomb damage and playing volleyball and baseball in his spare time and I still have about ninety more letters to go.

Or, to put it another way: I've transcribed 86,469 words of his letters so far.  And I have--give or take a "honey lamb" or two--about 20,000 more words to go.

He calls her "Sugie."  He calls her "Sweetheart."  He calls her "Dearest One."  He calls her "my blonde bride," or, sometimes, "my beautiful blonde sweetheart bride." Also included are numerous incidents of the use of "Sugar Lump," "Sweetheart o' mine," "Darling" and "My Angel."

Poor man.  He was absolutely besotted.

He calls himself "Yo Daddy" and, in an interesting Freudian twist on that, he also calls himself, "Your boy." He fantasizes about what they will do when he gets home, from "doin' some serious cuddlin'" to "sqeezin' her 'til she squeals."  He has a serious "g" deficit.  Must have been that upbringin' in Alabama.

The only other theme as strong as that one, is a detailed list of what he is eating.  Food and sex.  The soldier's greatest longings.

It is difficult enough to imagine one's father as a lovestruck 24-year-old.  But one who uses such chronic and corny endearments and does so in 86,469 words is almost too much for one to take.

Okay.  I'm exaggerating.

The letters include lots of fascinating stuff about planes being shot down,  Atabrine pills, censorship, the historic Allied fleet off Okinawa, and many other period details about food rationing, fountain pen production, improvised ice-making machines, K-rations, ping pong tables, outdoor theaters where the movies are interrupted by raids and typhoons and lots of other things I'm trying to save for the book.

But the sweet nothings, which are all-important to the parties involved, become so tiresome for the daughter/reader. You've been around people when they're in those early stages of love and at first you want to look away to give them some privacy.

And if it keeps up; you really get sick of it.

And if it is your parents, you want to say eeeeuuuuuu.  Even if it happened a really long time ago.  Cut it out, you two!

He's not a great speller either, and since he always shook his finger at us for making just the kinds of mistakes he himself makes with mind numbing frequency, I must say I find his imperfections in this department to be truly, truly, uh, something.  Human maybe.  Which parents are not supposed to be.

I was beginning to fear my father was a hopeless idiot until I recalled that the great Winston Churchill called his wife "Cat" and she called him "Pig" and they were often heard to greet one another with the words "oink, oink" and "meow, meow."

Sorry, I have to go now.  I have to put ice on the tendinitis I'm getting in my left arm.  And I still have about twenty thousand more words to go.

Oh ick.

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peretzklein said...

There is nothing wron with being obsessed with your past. It is a part of who you are. Understanding your father is perhaps, in some ways attempting to understand those aspects of youself that are hidden from you. It is an attempt to grasp a hold of comfort. My father passed away when I was 13 or 14; I remember as a teenager finding his old eyeglasses, and putting them on, with the hope that I would somehow see through his eyes.

Robin Chapman said...

You have so much insight to share: from your education and from your experience. I've noticed that the objects owned by people we love take on new significance when they are gone. They are only objects, and yet they seem to have some power.