Covid, Confinement and Courtship
Comme certains d’entre vous savent, du 17 mars à 11 mai, la France était en confinement à cause du Covid-19. Pendant cette période on droit rester chez soi, sauf pour travailler (si le télétravail n’est pas possible), pour effectuer des achats comme les courses ou des médicaments, pour l’activité physique dans la limite d’une heure quotidienne et dans un rayon maximal d’un kilomètre autour du domicile. J’ai passé le confinement chez moi en Bretagne. Pour rester sain d’esprit, j’ai commencé un projet que je voulais depuis longtemps commencer. Ce projet est de faire un livre des lettres de mon père à ma mère qu’il a écrit entre les neuf mois de leur rencontre et leur mariage.
Je suis ravie que le projet est fini. Le livre est publié à Amazon comme un Kindle « e-book ». Ici je partage avec vous quelques réflexions de mon père au sujet du mariage.
As some of you know, from 17 March through 11 May (56 long days), all of France was subject to mandatory lockdown (called le “confinement”) because of the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period, we were required to stay in our homes. We could leave our homes only for certain reasons (and we had to carry a signed and dated document (“attestation”) stating the reason). For example, we could go to work if we could not work remotely, we could go grocery shopping or for medical supplies, we could exercise, but only for one hour a day and only within 1 kilometer of our home. Needless to say, spending le confinement in my 65 square meter Paris apartment would have been most confining. Hence I decided to hole up in my house in Brittany, a very wise decision. Though I could walk daily and always more than an hour and more than 1 kilometer from the house (no gendarmes on country roads checking attestations), I needed a project to keep me sane. For many years I had wanted to transcribe a treasure trove of letters my siblings and I found while cleaning out our family home. They are letters written by my father to my mother during the nine-month period between their meeting in Havana Cuba and their marriage in Memphis Tennessee.
I’m thrilled to be able to say that the project has been completed and has been published as an e-book on Amazon. I thought I’d share here a few of Dad’s “gems” on the subject of marriage.
To set the stage, Dad was born in Youngstown Ohio in 1918. Mom was born in Memphis Tennessee in 1920. They met in Havana Cuba in June 1947. Mom was a stewardess for Chicago & Southern Airways (now Delta) and lived with her parents in Memphis. Dad (after 3 years working on the family coffee farm in Costa Rica and a stint in the Army) was working with his father in the family insurance business and living at home in Youngstown. My mother sent Dad a post card from Miami right after they met, Dad responded and the correspondence continued until a week before their wedding on April 3 1948. Only Dad’s letters survive. I believe he opined on the subject of marriage because Mom, even after accepting his proposal and engagement ring and setting a wedding date, apparently (I say that because we don't have her letters) expressed doubts about whether she was ready for marriage and, in particular, marriage to him. Dad seemed to have few doubts and therefore responded in his usual honest and straight-forward way. His views on marriage (at least with respect to the woman's role) I believe, were shaped by his mother (my grandmother) who was a strong and intelligent woman and a consummate housekeeper. At any rate, I found his thoughts on the subject at times amusing, surprising, sexist (of course given the era)....but ultimately so very Dad.
Dad as a cowboy in Costa Rica circa 1938
Dad the businessman in 1947 when he met Mom
Mom in 1947
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From letter dated 1.21.1948:
"Marriage I know is not just a life of making love to your wife and I would not want it to be so.....However love does have to be the basis for any marriage and I’m sure that it is for ours. I want someone who will listen to my troubles, not that you will pay too much attention to them I know, but that you’ll bear with me and comfort me. As I’ve told you before I want a wife that I can idolize and worship and respect, one who will make me a home and head up the family that I would like to have....."
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From letter dated 1.26.1948:
"Another thing my dear, your not going to walk all over me, I won’t stand for that. I may be easy going and all that but I won’t be walked on by anyone including you. I know however that you won’t do that cause I don’t intend to let you. I intend to give you plenty of liberty, you will be on your own and I’ll always be there to help in any way that I can but I’ll not be henpecked. When I want to do a thing I’ll do it but always only after consulting with you. I want it understood that I occasionally have to work at nite and that being fairly active in civic doings I have occasional evening meetings to attend. However they will be as few as I can make them cause personally I hate the darned things. Of one thing that you will never have to worry about and that is if I tell you that I’m going to a J.C. meeting you’ll know that I’m at a J.C. meeting and not in a corner bar. I want to take you out and I don’t expect you to sit at home with me. I hope that you’ll be interested in some of these local hen parties. I want you to entertain and have our home become a hangout for any of our friends. I don’t intend however to be bringing people in on you at every drop of the hat however it will be up to you to decide when we are to entertain......
I intend to give you full charge of family budget and I want no part of it. You’ll be responsible for any household expenses including your clothing. You may have a charge account any place that you want it but you’ll have to pay the bills yourself and I’ll do all that I can to give you enough money for it all. I’ll expect to take care of the car, my own clothing and entertainment when we are out, any major household repairs or expenses, insurance, etc. Now I don’t mean that I plan to be indifferent about your troubles or anything of the sort but your going to have as free a hand as possible. Your little displays of temper such as your talk when I was down there about not doing the washing etc. doesn’t bother me too much cause I know that you don’t mean too much of it all. You realize that there will be things that you will have to do yourself and that your stockings can’t be sent to the laundry, and when you have to start paying the laundry some of the terrific prices, you may even change your mind about maybe the towels but that will work itself out I know and so I don’t worry. Shirts, etc. will probably go out. Mother sends most of the shirts out up here now. I hope that I’m not ruffing you too much but I’m all wound up tonite and it's a good time to get off my chest what is there.......
I guess she changed her mind about the shirts....
Marriage to me is a 50/50 proposition and I’m more than willing to go 75% of the way if you are willing to go 75% of the way and I know that I don’t have to worry about that in you..... There will be plenty of times when you will NOT have your way, don’t worry about that. I’ve been trying to let you have the show as far as the wedding is concerned cause that’s your big show and feel you should have it your way. That’s why I asked you about engraving for your ring and I’d still like to know what you’d like to have in it. After all you’ll be wearing that the rest of your life, not me."
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From letter dated 1.30.1948:
"You have been trying to fight love cause you’ve been afraid of it, afraid of just what I’m not sure, but I know that these things that I’ve been saying are a major part of your fright. It’s not the cooking or washing or things of that sort even tho you do toss them up as part of your bluff. I know that you’ve got the real things that it takes to make a successful marriage and you’ll do it. I realize that its not an easy job and I’ve been scared to death of the thought, but after I found you I knew that it would be a snap, so why worry about it. I hope that ten years from now you’ll pull these old letters out and reread them and get a big laugh. I’m sure that you will do just that. That we’ll have problems latter [sic] on in life there is no use kidding about that, we will, but why not wait and cross those bridges when they get here and not worry about them now. If we both enter into this marriage with a determination that it will be the right thing and that we want to do everything to help each other there is no force on earth that will stop us being the happiest couple in the world."
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From letter dated 2.4.1948:
"You can help me in a big way and that would be to be alert to the need for insurance when talking to our friends. They kid me a lot for bringing up the subject but in the middle of the best party in the world I’m never adverse to dropping everything and talking about some phase of insurance to anyone. Not that I expect you to butt into the business because I don’t but you could help by being alert to the fact that when you hear Mary Smith say that her husband is getting a new car to put in a plug for your husband as an insurance agent. You don’t have to know anything about the game but it all helps and then telling me about what you’ve found out. After all if you expect me to dry dishes for you, you could help me in a small way don’t you think?.......
As you probably realize I’m not too much of a social butterfly tho’ I do know that I should get out and go more than I do, so don’t hesitate to prod me once in a while to shove me out the door. Just give me time to look the papers over when I get home for a couple of minutes anyhow. I need someone to do just that and I know that you're the gal to do the trick, a sort of social secretary more or less. As I’ve said I don’t give too much of a hoot about clothes and I guess that at times I get up in some bad combinations as far as sox, shirt, suit and tie are concerned so don’t ever be afraid to say something about that. Not that I’ll pay any attention to you but don’t be afraid to say something anyhow........
This is the biggest undertaking that either of us has ever stepped into in all our lives and its something that we can master and be happy about. Mother has a church calendar on the desk and on it is this moto: “The secret of life is not to do what you like, but to like what you do,” and that sort of reminds me of our marriage. Neither of us will be [able] always to do just what we would like to do, because of some reason or other, but if we can resolve to help each other and have one common goal we can surely like what we are doing. There will be no breakfast in bed stuff for you as I’ve told you and there will be plenty of things that I’m used to doing that I’ll have to cut off and forget......"
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From letter dated 2.7.1948:
"Darling I’m going to try to answer your questions first so here goes. For the first, as to the set of blue dishes, as I’ve told you before, the home as I see it, is to be your hangout and a place where you must have what you like in order to be happy. Personally the blue dishes don’t sound bad to me and if they did I’d still feel as tho’ you were the one to be pleased on that score. I hope that you won’t interpret this to be a wishie washie way of thinking because I don’t think that it is. Its just that dishes, drapes, chairs I don’t feel are in my department. In matters of the kind of car we’ll have and things of that sort I feel as tho’ that were my department. Now as far as when we’re settled down up here due to the fact that I’m in the insurance business there are good reasons as to why I’ll want you to buy from McKelvey’s instead of Strouss or send dry cleaning to Blairs instead of Thorntons but those are things I’m not going to touch till later....."
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From letter dated 2.19.1948:
"Billie where you get this idea or notion that you want someone to boss you every minute of your married life I don’t understand too well except that I know that you wouldn’t stand for it after a week or so. Now Billie my own ideas of a marriage consist of the thought that the wife should run the home, take care of any children that we might be fortunate in having. The home should be her little workshop. I want to give her a salary or allowance as you might call it and she is to go ahead and do as she feels necessary to handle that money. Except that I do think that major problems should be talked over. Things such as large pieces of furniture or other large items of expense. As far as her clothing is concerned that should be up to her unless she starts going on a rampage for new clothes that are unnecessary. I don’t expect my wife to abuse her allowance and spend foolishly, if she does then I will step in to check up, but not till I know that she is doing that. She must make plans for the house and as for what we’ll have to eat tonite that’s something I don’t want to fool with. Also she should never wait for me to invite the Perkins over for bridge or whatever it might be. Surely I’ll probably invite people in but only after consulting with my wife to see if she feels up to having company or to going out. Just because I might ask her a civil question to see if she agrees with me or feels up to doing something is surely no sign of weakness......
Mom in her "department"
Dad in his "department"
Billie I still can’t see what you mean about my being the boss about the household. As I’ve tried to tell you I expect you to run the house and I don’t give a d---- if we have baked or boiled potatoes and furthermore I don’t expect to be asked “would I like baked or boiled potatoes” and I don’t expect to plan meals or I don’t care about the cost of a pound of beans, except when a pound of beans means that your salary or allowance or whatever you prefer to call it, is not sufficient to buy such an item. I expect you to show me that it’s not enough and justify an increase or if it’s the other way around, a decrease. I want you to enjoy life and not have to ask me if it would be alright for you to have a smoke, that’s your affair. You have a job to run that home subject to periodic inspections by yours truly. I can’t stand waste or extravagance and I’ll waste no time telling you about it. After all dear dollars do not grow on trees, at least they don’t for me. I have to work too hard to make a buck to see it foolishly spent. I have no big fortune left me by a great uncle or anyone. I’ve got to work for a living and if you have any idea of doing otherwise then I think it’s time we had a real heart to heart talk. After all it’s all very lovely to talk about love in bloom but it takes dollars to make it grow. If that sort of thought is too serious a thought then I guess that I’m all wet and I’d best forget all my past and go be a [can ganger?? can’t make out the word] or a rich man’s son. In other words, my sweet, I can’t see why I should be bothered about little routine things that don’t amount to a d---, but on major items yes I do want something to say and I will have something to say. As far as this wedding is concerned that is your affair. It’s put on 100% for you. If it were up to me I’d be willing to sprinkle a little water and say so be it, then forget it. Therefore I can’t see why I should worry about what sort of dresses you will have, tho’ I am interested in hearing about it. To me, as to any other man, it’s a lot of eye wash, and the worms won’t make any distinction 100 years from now.......
If you my dear expect me to beat you and to man handle you, you’re sadly mistaken because I could never do that. I will tell you to head in when you get out of line as far as finances and your duties are concerned about the house, tho’ I don’t expect a slave.
As for me doing needle pointing, don’t ever expect to catch me at that. I’ll admit that I’ve had a bit of practice at the art, also a bit of knitting, but that was when I was getting over my heart trouble and I wasn’t even allowed to read so I did that to have something to do. I believe that I knit a tie and then unraveled it, but don’t worry I’ve got a lot more on my mind right now than knitting or needlepointing.
Another thing that I’ve got to answer in this letter is the single versus double bed situation---NO---"
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And finally from letter dated 2.23.1948:
"You have just a week more of your job. I can well imagine that it gives you a funny feeling to leave after you’ve been doing that sort of thing for so long and to say good bye to your friends along the way. I know that it will be hard to leave but just remember the brand new life and friends that awaits you up here. People, dear, are wonderful the world over, don’t forget that no matter where you or I go there will always be someone there with a friendly word and greeting. At least I’ve always found that to be true and those things make life easier and happier for us all......
so here’s to a new life and world for us."
....all my love, Thad
I put together this book primarily for my siblings and other family members. However if you are interested in reading it, it can be purchased here, as a Kindle e-book, for $1.99.