Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"My Crickets": A Little Decameron



my crickets: a little decameron

For the last week, a cricket has entered our house and rubbed his legs together endlessly. I love him as he moves from my bathroom to the living room and kitchen and back into the bathroom again. He's even grown a bit used to me; at first he'd stop his cricketing when I entered the bathroom in the middle of the night, but soon he realized that I meant him no harm. I now know even where he hides under my shower, and I encourage him to continue his leg thrashing, which he somewhat reluctantly does.
      Although Howard is terrified of the small, not-very-good-looking insect (no cricket ever looked like the Walt Disney Jiminy Cricket) I do think our visitor now realizes we are benign. I've always loved crickets, and won't allow Howard to kill him, even though today Howard announced the cricket had nearly accosted him at 2:00 am. We're very early risers.
      All of California, as you may have heard, is now in a kind of lockdown, the only exceptions being grocery stores, gas stations, banks, hospitals, and a few other community-based activities. Howard's doctor is doing a telephone conference with him today. And wonders of wonders, Howard is reading Moby-Dick.
      I've never heard the large and bustling combination of Los Angeles communities—in total larger than even New York City—so very quiet. I can't even hear the subway construction under our feet, nor the new museum building that will soon approach our doorway. The newspaper and e-mail announcements now consist mostly about closings.
     Silence. Silence. Thanks, little cricket, for bringing some noise back into our lives. He doesn't even seem to mind my endless background reportage of CNN.
      I hope my cricket friend will accompany me today while I finish my taxes. But he seems to sleep throughout the day. Crickets are nocturnal creatures.

March 20, 2020
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (March 2020).

The cricket I wrote about on March 20th is still here, in my bathroom, and has been joined by another cricket. I feed them fruit at night. And they've gotten so used to my comings and goings that they don't stop their rubbings anymore when I enter in the middle of their nocturnal paradise.
      In fact, one actually ventured out from under the shower last night. I think they're taking the “shelter in place” rule with us. For a while the new one was in Howard's bathroom, but now they have moved in together.
      A dear friend replied that they might be mother and son. But only male crickets rub their legs in this manner as a mating call. And when I entered my bathroom the other night, both seemed to be chirruping away, a boisterous noise that uplifted my spirits immensely, particularly after falling twice upon concrete as I went across the street in an attempt to return my Netflix movie in what I have always perceived as an empty mailroom. No one was there anymore to help me to even stand up. And the building itself was closed without a proper statement of admittance.
      Since they both seem to be cricketing, rubbing their legs together, I believe them to both be males. A funny coincidence, two gay crickets in a gay house. Since all of our windows have been closed, how did they even enter?
     Last night bananas, tonight maybe mashed blueberries. Alas, I ate the apricots.
     Actually, I fed them two plates, one consisting of a bit a leftover meatloaf, the other of mashed blueberries.
     In the morning when I take the dishes away, I can’t even tell if they dined upon dinner plates. Tonight, I’ll offer a ramekin of water. They have become my saints.
     As my Italian friend Monica Gazzo, wrote on my Facebook site: Two Grilli Parlanti‼️ Double good luck‼️
      I think we might need it in these Coronavirus days. They might live, so I read, for several weeks or months. May we also live as long.

March 30, 2020-March 31, 2020
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (March 2020).


After offering my lovely crickets a ramekin of water last light, the more dominant one, who has visited us now for at least 3 weeks, has moved out into our living room again. No sign of his live-in partner. If female (which I doubt), she is busily hatching more crickets beneath my shower; if male perhaps they fought it out. I do not live in a cricket world, so I can't (and don't want to) imagine. This morning I opened the patio door to see if the remaining cricket desires to return to nature.
    Clearly he's not worried about the vibrations of my stomp into his world anymore (crickets evidently don't see you; they hear the vibrations around them); they are creatures of sound, not vision.
      The last time I offered him escape, he entirely ignored it, returning to his little crack in the plaster. We'll see what happens this time. But I'd love to sing to him, from Frank Loesser's song, which is reality today even in Southern California: "Baby it's cold outside." But then in the sunlight, he's sleeping.

April 1, 2020
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (April 2020).

He didn't venture out but returned to my bathroom last night, where I fed him smashed blueberries again. The peaches I bought are still too tough. This morning he was thrashing away in Howard's office. He's like a cat, carefully exploring our entire house, gradually realizing, as cats eventually do, that the house is theirs’ instead of the human owners.
      One of my Facebook friends said that she was never able to sleep with a cricket it the house, while I suggested that, in fact, my reaction was totally the opposite. A small (not very good-looking) insect had come to visit me and, through his mating song, sing me to sleep.
      I kill all centipedes, millipedes, silverfish, and ants who intrude upon our home; but everyday spiders, crickets, and others are totally welcome. Like the mourning doves, with their deep plea of love (incomprehensibly there were no mourning doves out today) I love their voices and the spiders’ lovely weaving. They help us get rid of the insects I don’t like.
     Strange today, the sun is out but in the background the sky is slate-blue, a kind of dark and foreboding look. 5,000-some people in the US have now died of covided-19 novel virus.
      Yesterday I wrote:

 I went to the grocery store today, replacing Howard. It was very, very bleak. Everyone, except me had a mask on. But worse, all the homeless people, gathered around the bus stops were seemingly desperate, with no place to go. I saw one man stretched across the curb as if he might be dead as I drove away. People kept running from one other, refusing to even recognize the other's presence, terrified, evidently of their very existence.
      I might have been the only being out there without a mask. This is what pestilence truly looks like, and I was terrified as I went to buy wine, fruit, and our prescription pills.
     No, no! this is not what my society should look like: it's out of some terrific book from the past. Every being is totally isolated from each other. Social distancing is not what it describes itself as: it is far more horrific. Masks don't truly help you. Life helps us all. This was hell. Yes, I intensely washed my hands when I returned, but I also shed tears. This is not what society is all about.

     Of course, I received a great deal of criticism for not wearing a mask, but doctors have been suggesting that a mask does not prevent you from getting the disease, but, if you’re asymptomatic, spreading it. This virus, so doctors now claim, can be spread by talking or even breathing.
     I think at age 72, I might very well know if I had a fever and pneumonia-symptoms (I’ve had that painfully devastating disease twice in my life). We would not, alas, be asymptomatic I am certain. And, moreover, I have an autoimmune which would signal my disease.
    We don’t own any masks, and I’ve never learned how to sew. We don’t own any bandannas, large handkerchiefs or anything of the kind. How are we to simply shop for food? And no, we don’t have a large pantry or refrigerator in which to hold any such provisions! We have always shopped day by day, like my cricket, waiting to be fed within a house he had never imagined into which he might be imprisoned. We are all now imprisoned, But the fear, of each other or even the little insect who came to visit us, is the worst devastation of this pandemic.

April 2, 2020
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (April 2020).



For the last two days the lovely Ukrainian elderly couple who daily swim in our pool were shamed for simply swimming there. I was shocked and called them over yesterday to ask if they truly were abused, on the first day, by the woman I perceived was shouting at them. They were, and we again bonded. They snack back into the pool later. But the next day, with another fascist neighbor it happened again. They're such sweet folks, and I felt so embarrassed that our neighbors were decrying their simply daily, quite healthy bathing. Today they didn't appear. So sad, so very sad. Please, I want to cry out, come back and splash in our now very cold pool! They are not spreading germs, but the people screaming at them are.
     An update on my lovely Ukrainian friends: they were back today in our lovely pool, splashing away. But they told me that the pool was soon going to close because the pool guy would no longer be able to care for it! I waved them a lovely farewell and felt a deep sense of loss for their delightful plashing. What is happening to us. I kissed them as a symbolic good-bye. We so very much need one another these days. I'll try to find their names and share with them the article I wrote about them. So glad to see them again, perhaps for a long time in the future, lovingly swimming.
      And delightfully, they have returned several times since that original event. They keep healthy in a time in which the world cannot.

March 18, 2020-March 20, 2020

Reprinted from Facebook (March 2020).

My little cricket was in my bathroom again last night, and I poured him out a small ramekin of water. But by 4:00 he had silenced himself and was not singing in other rooms either.
     I pray he has not died, just temporarily disappeared like by Ukrainian friends. Perhaps I just got up a bit late. Certainly, he must be so very tired of desperately trying to attract a mate to come out of the cold, find a way into our house, and meet up with him. Obviously, he didn’t much like his male companion, or maybe that other cricket was just too old.
    Even Howard and I have grown tired of talking, and we’ve taken to thrashing our legs during the night—although not with any intention of mating. Our legs simply hurt and need to be released from tight leg-on-leg constrictions.

    Fortunately, we have a California King mattress, a large monster of a thing that at our age we can’t any longer even flip or shift as we regularly used to. I hate the image, but it has stayed with me: in the film The Women, newly divorced Rosalind Russell declares, sardonically, at least when you lose your husband you can “position your body into a complete swastika.”
     The mourning dove did cry out a few hoots this morning shortly after the pool lights automatically switched off at 6:03 a.m. But they seem less active this year, with only one lonely dove crying out each morning, when before there were dozens. Maybe the rest have found their mates, and this is the one hold-out.
     In the last few days 6,068 people have died in the US.

Los Angeles, April 3, 2020

Reprinted Green Integer Blog (April 2020).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

"My Last Restaurant Lunch"


my last restaurant lunch

My last dining experience with other people was just the past Thursday, March 12. We had joined friends Carol Travis and Audrey Stein for a visit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Luchita Hurtado show (more about which I will soon write). It was raining heavily, and despite out intention of traveling a bit further to one or another of my favorite restaurants—Mandarette or Matsumoto—we decided on LACMA’s excellent, if somewhat pricey, Ray’s. It was the better choice certainly given the heavy downpours, and the fact that neither Carol nor Audrey have ever eaten there. It is one of my favorites, and the waiters, the maĆ®tre-des know me well.

     I’m not here, necessarily, to talk about the food. It was as good as always, with Howard ordering up their famous Margherita pizza, and Carol and Audrey requesting their over-sized, but delicious salads. Feeling a bit like we were at the edge of The Decameron, I ordered the far more expensive combination of a gin and tonic and their famed Agnolotti, which consists of toasted pine nuts, mascarpone, fried rosemary, brown butter, parmigiano-reggiano, and pumpkin seeds—a truly delicious pasta that I simply couldn’t resist, particularly given what I internally predicted, that it would soon be closed.
     After a quick, laughingly elbow greeting we all enjoyed our pleasant lunch, talking about the show we’d just seen, Carol’s husband Case—who I was shocked to be told had died 8 years earlier, in my mind it might have been just a couple of years ago—and sharing Audrey’s experiences of other shows, one of which was Howard’s remarkable “Paper Show” at the Craft Contemporary museum (formerly the Craft and Folk Museum).

     To compensate for my far more expensive and expansive meal, I determined to pay for the check. But I just couldn’t regret ordering the more lavish lunch meal. A day or two later, the museum and restaurant closed until the end of March—which I can only imagine will be much longer of a time. People are nervous: when I offered my fellow diners a bite of my so very delicious Agnolotti, they quickly refused, while Howard’s offering up of pizza slices was easily accepted. Slices are more easily separated, surely, than a fork-based dish into my tongue had been wandering. I comprehended it without comment.
      People in the elevators these days look suspiciously at one another. A neighborly friend, wrapped in three bright red scarves, told me how nervous she was about the events of the novel coronavirus: after all we are both in our 70s. And all of us have now been told to stay in-doors for weeks. Even the art of conversation is now perceived as dangerous, let alone the lovely afternoon luncheon which Howard and I had experienced with dear friends.
      My close-friends Martin Nakell and his wife Rebecca have reported that they are now teaching on-line from home—individuals with whom, over long years, I have had so many breakfasts, luncheons, and dinners in the US and the now plagued Italy. I expressed my feelings, given my long years of teaching, about the difficulties of reaching out to students through a computer. Yet, I admitted, perhaps I had been long doing that already on my several blogs.
      All restaurants and bars have now been closed in Italy, France, and in most major US cities, including New York and Los Angeles. Social life has come to an end just when we most need it. That beautiful elderly friend in her three red scarves stood at the other end of the elevator which we shared, clearly a bit afraid of any plague I might be breeding. “We’re all terrified,” she whispered.
     Yes, we all are terrified, but perhaps we should and could be less so just by sharing with one another. I’m glad to have ordered that Agnolotti, and truly wish the others in our small, last time party—at least for a while—might have tasted it.
     At 72, with a long history of respiratory diseases (a childhood of Bronchitis, and two cases of Pneumonia, as well as an autoimmune response of Psoriasis), I too am a bit scared. But no one can ever take that afternoon luncheon joy away. The company, the food, the rain were just perfect. Howard joked that we were going to “swim home” in the downpour to our condominium across the street. I enjoyed the rain pounding my head like another kind of bathing we all need to share.

Los Angeles, March 17, 2020
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (March 2020).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"Out from Under and into the Fray" (on Niall Ferguson's The Square and the Tower)


out from under and into the fray

Niall Ferguson The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (New York: Penguin Press, 2018)

In a year devoted to “Towers, Circles, and Squares,” how could I not read Niall Ferguson’s 2018 volume The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook? This, I told Howard, was definitely a necessary book, despite the fact that it too me many weeks to read.

     And I have to say that, at first, I was quite fascinated by Ferguson’s history of networks, from the earliest days of history to the present, as well as his charts and grafts of the interrelationships of leaders and others, and how, within different systems presented within Ferguson’s metaphors, functioned for their societies and times.
      The hierarchies which, from ancient times on, worked from top down, with the social order controlled from the top, with various structures each a lower levels that made supported and reified the “tower.” Although Ferguson questions the verticality of the structure:

              This is roughly how most people think about hierarchies: as vertically
              structured organizations characterized by centralized and top-down
              command, control and communication. Historically, they begin with
              family-based clans and tribes, out of which (or against which) more
              complicated and stratified institutions evolved, with formalized division
              and ranking of labour. Amongst the varieties of hierarchy that pro-
              lifererated in the pre-modern period were tight regulated urban polities
              reliant on commerce and bigger, mostly monarchical, states based on
              agriculture; the centrally run cults known as churches; the armies
              and bureaucracies within states; the guilds that operated to control
              access to skilled occupations; the autonomous corporations that, from
              the early-modern period, sought to exploit economies of scope and
              scale by internalizing certain market transactions; academic cor-
              poration like universities; and the supersized transnational states known
              as empires.

       A network, on the other hand, as Ferguson argues:

               connects two nodes via five intermediaries has six edges. The phrase
               “six degrees of separation” was not coined until John Guare’s 1990
               play of that title, but it therefore had a long pre-history. Like the concept
               (made famous Disneyland ride devised in 1964), or the more technical
               concept of closeness, it neatly summed up the mid-twentieth century’s
               growing sense of interconnectedness. There have since been numerous
               variations on the theme: six degrees of Marlon Brando, six degrees of
               Monica Lewinsky, six degrees of Kevin Bacon (which became a board-
               game)…. Recent research suggests the number is now closer to five
               than six…. [see my own essay about this phenomena in my
               essay “Criss-Cross” in My Year 2011.]

     For many pages of this large format nearly 600-page book, accordingly, you might imagine that the author is arguing for networks over the hierarchical structures, almost suggesting a solution for the Trumps and other dictatorial figures in our current political crises. After all, our cultures, from the Renaissance on developed from the world of towers into network or “square” like cultures. The networks of enlightenment, from Gutenberg on, changed the entire world, with a great deal of shifts back and forth from the highly structured societies to the more loosely complex ones, including, as his title suggests the enormous influences of tightly structured network societies such the Free Masons, whose power was based primarily on a tightly-knit network-like community.
     From in the Cambridge, homosexually-related, “Apostles,” we see a growing relationship between great intellectuals from Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead, and eventually the Bloomsbury group.

    Yet as his book goes foreword we perceive a darkening vision of the “square” or network communities. By the time Ferguson reaches the network-figure Henry Kissinger (to whom he has previously devoted an entire book), we begin to see the equal problems that result from the intense networking involved with one of the most heinous figures of Nixon’s administration, completely involved with the Viet Nam war.
     By the time he begins his discussion of Facebook, we already know that the square is not necessarily so preferable from the tower.
     Ferguson’s writing has been described by critics as being too simplistic, and I recognize those perceptions in my own responses to his conclusions. But, if nothing else, he forces us to question our own ready-made conclusions. Squares and towers, given their geometries, are not so very different when it comes down to the common man.
     He never talks about circles, with the exception of the inbred Bloomsbury group, but we might explore that avenue more fully as opposed to the closed-off societies of the tower and the dangerous internecine abuses of power, a product often of networks or public squares.
     And one might certainly question Ferguson’s simple binary of “networks” and “squares.” More often, these might be represented as circles within squares, as simple interrelationships that do not necessarily encourage a larger network of political power not even a blind hierarchical devotion. Yet, we all recognize the simple dangers of meeting on a square which can lead to a larger political event that swallows us all up into its vortex, or, even worse, being punished for not obeying the tower-like requirements of behavior.

Los Angeles, October 9, 2019
Reprinted from Green Integer Review (October 2019).

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Out of the Past: Letters to My Grandfather--Circles of Love"


out of the past: letters to my grandfather—circles of love

In 2019 I decided, since I closed my Green Integer offices, and my assistant Pablo had brought be home several large boxes of photographs which I’d been saving, to post some of the thousands of author, family, and other photos I’d saved over the years. Almost to the bottom of one box I discovered a series of hand-written letters, sometimes in pencil and other times in ink, from my great aunts (all matriarchs) and my own mother to Tobe Caspers, my grandfather. These began in 1917, apparently when Tobe was serving in the military in World War I, and continued, in my mother’s commentaries into the 1940s.
       I was startled to hear the voices of my aunts Lena, Margaret, and Kathie, as well as my grandmother’s Anna Fahrni speaking from the grave in urgent farm-women voices, mixing the everyday activities of their lives with outpourings of love and worry. Some of these were perhaps quite ordinary, but at the very next moment were highly poetic and loving.
     My mother’s own letters to her father were filled with comments about me (my brother and sister had yet been born) revealing my deep love for my father and my amazing childhood exploits.
     Years later, my father and I had had a somewhat difficult, if still loving, relationship, and to hear my mother talk about my absolute adoration of my father, John, was important and curing.
      I think my sister sent some (perhaps all) of these very personal letters, which I now truly appreciate. Perhaps I had stolen others from mother’s drawers when she moved into an assisted living home.
     I’ll try not to sentimentalize these rough-hewn letters, but they did all make me cry, some of them dated from 1917, when these sisters of Tobe (Tobias Caspers, who spoke more German, I believe, than English) were probably still young girls, and my own mother’s slightly more well-wrought correspondences (she had been a school-teacher) but at other times just as mundane. These women, along with another sister Alice, all took over the farms from their husbands and made them important operations. Men died; women were the strong survivors.
     In all of these letters the everyday life of farm-living combines with their fears and longing. Questions about my grandfather’s life get mixed up with selling pigs: "How is the weather over there did it snow any these days? Mr. Garibat (?) sole [sold] some pigs to Mr. Brody for 17.30 cent lb. and the hogs are worth 15.50 lb, but Mr. Brody was drunk. This is all, From yoursister Maggie Casper.” A cake from Sunday is placed next to a worry about my grandfather’s arm. In one particularly operatic-like passage (reminding me of Samuel Barber’s aria “Must the winter come so soon”) from my grandmother who I never knew poignantly spoke of the relationship of desire and weather: “My the wind is blowing hard tonight and I wish it wouldn't rain.” My mother adored her mother Anna.
      I knew most of these great aunts well. They remained part of our life, and I dearly loved their strengths and courage as well as their deep loving. Katie, as I have written elsewhere—if you showed up to her house—would immediately offer you not only candy but a full meal.
     Shortly before she died, by great Aunt Margaret, at my father’s mother Ethel’s funeral approached me: as a child, I recalled, my family had explicably spent a night at her farm homestead. I can't explain why everyone who was visiting was now spending the night at her place. It must have been very bad weather. I remember sleeping with other cousins on the porch and didn't mind it at all (and have a strange recollection, maybe one of my young imagination, of someone being hurt by a knife in the kitchen). But for me it was just a childhood adventure. Margaret came forward to me, now as a full adult, apologizing for the fact that I had had to spend the night on the floor. She remembered after all those long years and felt regret for something she might never needed to have regret. “I’m sorry, she said. For you having to sleep on the floor, but we simply didn’t have enough beds.” How lovely she was.
      Tobe Caspers, my grandfather, whenever we arrived, would take almost everything out of the refrigerator, putting it on the kitchen table to show us that we welcome and could eat anything he had.

I have attempted to leave the original typographical form and misspellings when possible (but have corrected with brackets when I felt the readers might not comprehend their meanings). I like their down-home language and Iowa euphemisms. In a very few cases I have provided more regular punctuation just to make their sentences clearer. Much of the original was just a flow of emotion, which I also enjoyed, but might make it hard to comprehend what they were expressing. Whenever possible I sided with the original comments.

The first, dated October 10, 1917 was from my grandmother, Anna Fahrni, who had evidently borrowed a pencil from her friends in order to write.

                                                                                                              Thursday night

My true Sweetheart
     Am going to write you a few lines to let you know that I got your letter yesterday was so glad to get it, I suppose you thought my last letter was quite a crabbyone. But I just have to say something when I hadn't heard from you for over a week.
     I sure felt better after I got that nice long letter, I went to store yesterday and on the way I got your letter. Well did you guard today or was this your day off. I wish I could be there when you have two days off don't you dear, oh well someday we will be together for good many we will get tired of being together then, but I guess not their being pared is good for a person you find out how much you miss your dearest friend don't you think so dear? I'm sure just in a full day today around and chased up all the trash out of the garden and I don't know what all.
     Glenn and I are going to pick up corn all day—tomorrow then that will finish it then Monday we are going to start picking. I have to do the dentist again. Saturday Eloise and, a girl, to town—quite often she always makes a date for Wednesday and I for Saturday so we can get to go often.
     My the wind is blowing hard tonight and it looks like rain. I hope it doesn’t rain though. You said it had been pretty warm down there it has been warm here do we all sweat today but have had some pretty cold days.
      I talked to Grace today she said she was still waiting for a letter from you did you write to her yet or not!
     She said John got out of the hospital Monday and is getting along just fine. 
     Grace invited Anna H. and I up for dinner Sunday don't know if we will go yet or not or would like to go home some Sunday too but it seems now since I haven't got anyone to take me anymore I don't get anywhere. Well dear guess I will close now/write a fine lines to Johns I haven't written to him for quite a while.
                        A good night
                        with Love and Kisses
                        answer your wife or going to be someday.
                       xxxxxxxxx
P.S. Thank you for the stick of guam [gum] and please tell me that you
want for your birthday because I dont like to tell you what
to get me if you dont order something too will please you.

The second is dated from Monticello, Iowa. October 23, 1917

Dear Brother Tobe—
     Rec’d you letter yesterday. Was so glad to hear from you again.
     How are you any how I am fine. Hope you are the same by this time.
     Well it looks like winter out here. There was couples inchs [inches] of snow out here this morning quite a cold spell just now.
      Do you mine the cold? I think its rather early for the winter to start in. don’t you think so?
Well Tobe Mrs. Stuhler has your sweeter half ready and one gray one half ready for the red cross. She said if was in any hurry of wanting yours, she couldn’t seam them together so one side and gray on the other well suppose it be another two weeks before she has you’re [yours] ready.
       Well Tobe I suppose it seems too to give when you seems seeing Poppe out there. You know she hated to part from John. Isn’t Henry ok with you? I though he was all the time. I suppose you heard of Annie F. Aunt Lena being here on a visit. She has the small poks [smallpocks] now. I seen her in the office Sundae, she looked aghast and afflicted. The Dr. said Oshe had it for to weeks all ready. But don’t say any think to anyone F. about it if she don’t menschen it. I suppose they have all kinds of diseases out there.
       Well Tobe do you get plenty of good eats out there yet. I would like to sent you some-think. If I knew what you would want. If there is any think [thing] you would like, just say so. I sent it to guess.
       Well I was downtown Sat. night, I sens [saw] Henry in town and Lewis B. they were together. I suppose that will not be much longer.
        Well Tobe write when ever you can. It seems Lonesome with out hearing from you.
        Good Night. Ans. soon.
        Your Sister, Katie.       
















The third letter dated from Monticello, Iowa, November 5, 1917 from my great aunt Lena.

     Dear Brother—

     How are you?
     I am fine hope you are the same. School is out and didn’t start yet. We was to Poppe Sunday. Peter father mother and Maggie and I. We had a good time over there. I write to Jennie Poppe yesterday. I wont to write to you before. But the others want to writes so I coulden what do thing alone 3 cents tamp on the letters. Annie is eating cake from Sunday. How is your arm?
     Out long cattle are in good shape. We bough one loan of corn from Mr. Brady it was old corn. Our o’clock is going good. Does Hedden writes to you. I guest you got a lote of letter. How is you squrril [squirrel] meat. How is your meal over there. John that went to New Mexico he said he diden get very much he got caned tomatoes and corn and dry bread. That what got when left on the train.

                                                            From you sister:—
                                                                        Lena Caspers.

                                                               xxxx
                                                               x S. A. K. x
                                                               xxxx

                                                               sent a kiss.


The fourth letter, dated November 5, 2019 was from my great aunt Margaret.


Dear Brother,
I received your card Saturday. I guess I am going to get a ten-cent bracelet tomorrow.
     We didn’t receive any candy the last day of school.
      Anna Fahrni and Ma and Peter C. were over to folskets [our folks?] today.
      Max & pa and Lena ‘n Peter and I were over to Poppe Sunday. We had a good time.
      Anna Fahrni is  just using my penicel [pencil] to write to you a letter.
      How is the weather over these, did it snow any there day? Mrs. Gruibat sole [sold] some pigs to Mr. Body for 17.30 cent lb. and the hogs are worth 15.50 lb but Mr. Brady was drank [drunk].

                                                          From yoursister
                                                                  Maggie Caspers
                                                                  xxxxx
                                                                  xx S. W. A. K. x
                                                                  xxxxxxx
                                                                  each one is a kiss

Perhaps SWAK means “sister with a kiss.”


In October 1949 my mother sent a letter to my grandfather and your youngest brother Duane (who also lived with us for a while before evidently moving in with my grandfather.  We were living in Ventura, Iowa at this time, and my father was apparently away that summer working on his Master’ degree in Iowa City.

Dear Dad & Duane,

     How are you two ole bachelors, I hope fine. By the way when are you going to drive up this way in that new Ford.
     I’m busy canning, I canned 7 pts. of carrots yesterday and today four of carrots, two of tomatoes & 1 of beets. I have 32 pts. of pickles canned. I’m going to give you some of those pickles and carrots if you come up sometime. I really have a grand garden this year. I have lots of everything.
     Doug sure keeps me running. Johnnie fixed a new combination on the gate, but Doug figured it out. This morning he was pulling carrots like a good one. Otherwise he’s always bringing in onions. He sure misses Johnnie, he almost goes wild when he sees him.
     Johnnie only has about five more days of school. I’m happy and I bet he’s glad to be through too.
     Say Duane when are you going to write us a letter. We’re still waiting. Won’t be long and school will start, are looking forward to it? Say, Duane aren’t you going to spend a few days here?
     Rev’s house is finished and boy is it ever a beautiful home. They have put the sidewalks in and terrace the yard.
     I took care of Ray for an hr. tonight: Barb brought me a whole carton of gum, I don’t know what I’ll do with it. You can have some Duane.
     Must get to bed, I just finished a letter to Johnnies folks. Will we be seeing you Aug. 14 at the reunion.

                                                                                                     Love,
                                                                                        Johnnie, Lorna & Doug

In an envelope postmarked from 1950, mailed once more from Ventura, our home on Clear Lake, I found further letters from my mother to her father Tobe. My father was a coach at this time, I believe, at Ventura high school, but he must also have been driving the school bus.

                                                                                                          Sunday nite

Dear Dad,

     Johnnie and I are busy writing letters to our families. I just sent a birthday card and letter to Paul [presumably her eldest brother Paul, not to my father’s younger brother Paul].
     We have been busy the last couple of wks. Sr. class play, Jr-Sr banquet. Baccalaureate services tonite, commencement exercises tomorrow nite, and school picnic Fri., also last day of school. Johnnie has also been driving the school bus for the last three wks. of school. He has quite a hilly route, he got into a wash out the other morning, it took two tractors to pull him out.
     Did you read in the papers about the bond issue passed here at Ventura for a $98,000 addition to the school for more class rooms. Ag.[agriculture] room and music room. Johnnie was one of the judges at the election.
     Say, Dad when are you coming up with the new Lady friend [I presume my step-grandmother Emma]. Carol [my mother’s sister] said she was quite attractive and dressed so neat. Drive up sometime and try your luck at fishing too.
     We were sponsers for Deborah Dee Wolfgram, the new baby next door—by proxy. Then we had dinner over to Ted Wolfgram's, it really was nice.
     Our garden is coming up, should have fresh onions in a wk or so. We have it on shares with the old folks up here. We got a new lawn mower and Johnnie keeps himself busy on Saturdays. There always is something to be done. Johnnie will have a couple of weeks off to summers school in Iowa City. I sure hope Duane can spend his summer here or at least part of it here.
     Doug is really going to miss Johnnie, he wants him to stay home from school now and just play with him. There isn't a thing Doug doesn't say, lately saying far Goodness sakes. The other nite we took him to a show and when we were ready to leave he said, "that was a crummy show."
     Johnnie has some baseball officiating lines up for this summer in C. R. [Cedar Rapids] and this fall and winter he's going to officiate basketball and football games.
    Say, Dad how is Aunt Maggie [my grandfather’s sister mentioned above], I haven't heard how she's getting along. I suppose shes home already.
    Have you been busy painting lately? I hope you make out good at it.
    Guess I’ll close for now, I didn’t get this letter finished when I started it. Be seeing you sometime. I don’t think I’ll do anymore traveling this summer.

                                                                                           Love,
                                                                            Johnnie, Lorna & Doug


                                                                                                                                Fri.
Dear Dad,

     It’s time I get another letter off to you. I guess I could write a letter everyday and I wouldn’t be caught up yet.
     Did you have a nice time at Don and Bev’s [her brother and his wife], by the way how are they coming along? Does Duane like it there [apparently my youngest uncle, still a child, also stayed with them]. We sure don’t hear from them, I’m going to send something at Halloween time.
     Did you see your new grandson yet, by golly it looks as if there aren’t going to be any girls. I haven’t sent them a gift yet but will as soon as I get to Clear Lake or Mason City.
     I suppose your still painting but not for very long because of the cold weather. You had better come up to see us before the roads get bad. How did you like that wind storm, I never saw anything like it. That picnic table out here was picked up by the wind and was thrown against a bank, it broke into so many pieces. There was quite a lot of other damage around here too, some windmills blown over, that drive in theater really was messed up, and of course everyone’s corn was blown down.
     I’m washing this morning, looks like the sun might even come out. Doug is busy with a cloth shining his windows. You should hear him talk, he can say anything and says sentences too. He’s been having a cold again these last few days.
     We drove down to Charles City Sun. around four to visit Dick and Verona Landis. We only stayed about two or three hrs. but we had a nice visit. Those twins sure are lively, they can climb more than Doug.
      Sure wish we could of seen you that wk.end we were down there. Johnnie sure got sick from that trip, we were sorry we made it. He had laryngitis all wk, he missed two days of teaching.
      The football team really has been doing well, they won the last three games. We played Clear Lake B team last nite and won 21-6. They’re going to start on the football field down below our place Mon. if weather is good. They moved there machinery in the other day.
      Boy this little burg is coming right along. That new house below Esbeck’s on the hill side is almost finished, and of course Rev’s are living in there new home, the community building is almost finished, a bowling alley is being built between the place where we used to live and the post office and the now the new football field. Then as soon as school is out there going to build here at the school.
      Guess I’d better close tell everyone hallo. Be seeing you sometime.

                                                                                                  Love,
                                                                                         Johnnie, Lorna
                                                                                                & Doug

    
The final letter, written evidently in 1953, the year of my sister Pat’s birth, was from Newhall, a small town near Cedar Rapids where my father began as a coach, became school Principal, and finally the Superintendent of the school. This letter, from me at age 6, was directed to another kind of “grandfather,” the saint to all children, Santa Claus. As I’ve written elsewhere, only a few years later, perhaps even the very next year, I woke up one morning quite early and entered my parent’s bedroom. “What’s wrong?” my father called out. “Dad, mom, there isn’t really a Santa Claus is there?” My father, startled by my declaration, attempted to explain that he represented “the spirit of Christmas.” It didn’t bother me whatsoever; how nice that those gifts had really come from my loving parents. I turned to go but turned back quickly: “And there’s no tooth fairy either.”
     Of course, I immediately told one of my friends, Gretchen Grover, who, to my shock went home crying. Her parents called mine, explaining what I had just done. And my father had the difficult duty of the lecturing me about not sharing what I had just perceived, explaining that I had to keep it secret.