Monday, October 28, 2002

My parents as I never knew them

Every now and then, I wrote a column that was just about my life or my family. This one was especially sweet. My sister had discovered a cache of love letters of my parents' that none of us had ever seen, and they told a story all by themselves. After it ran, I was contacted by several people who recognized my parents from the old pictures we ran of their young selves. Amazing.


Date: Thursday, November 28, 2002
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

My sister Susan found the letters when cleaning out my parents' house last summer. They were tucked back in a little-used cabinet in the basement, a neat bundle of carefully folded stationery that no one had seen or touched for decades.

They were from 1947, the summer before Carol Goodman and Miriam Gutman, both of Chicago, were married.

Finding them was a revelation: a window flung open to that time you cannot know, the time before you were born, when your parents were young and had the dreams and desires each generation thinks are theirs alone -- and which certainly never can exist in the orderly, responsible people who are your parents.

Carol -- the male name was common in his parents' Hungary -- was 24, just out of uniform from World War II. Miriam was 21, working as a legal secretary in the Loop. They met at her family's apartment on the North Side where her older brother was hosting a veterans' meeting.

Carol fell for the pretty dark-haired girl immediately. She took a little longer, inconveniently being engaged to someone else.

But soon she was making other plans. "I realized that your dad would always make me laugh," she'd say.

They became inseparable -- except for nine days when he traveled to Denver to visit his beloved older sister Gene, who'd moved there 14 years earlier. You did that, back when Denver's air was clear, if you had tuberculosis.

It was his first trip West, the first time either of them would fly on an airplane.

In those days, a long-distance phone call was a major event. A stamp was 3 cents, air mail 5 cents.

Miriam and Carol wrote nearly every day, long letters on heavy-bond paper and monogrammed onionskin, filled with chat and jokes and -- most surprising to us kids -- open expressions of love.

I look at these letters, and I can see by the handwriting that it's the same two people I've always known.

But I don't recognize this giddy version of them, this young pair so dreamily in love, intent on putting every thought to paper.

In contemporary slang as perfectly dated as fedoras and padded shoulders, they enthuse about the whole wide world opening before them.

Kansas City, June 27, 1947
My very dearest Apple Dumpling,

The time is exactly 8:00 C.S.T., and we landed about 30 minutes ago. On time, mind you.

I am thoroughly disappointed that I did not get scared ...

Chow on the plane was really surprisin'. First, it was served by a young southern belle who had (and probably still has) a delightful "y'all" accent. The individual dishes are served on plates (real plates!) and the plates are placed in sunken spots on the tray ...

The ground from the air looks very much like a Monopoly game with the little houses and stuff.
Kid, flying is the nuts ...

Okay, angel, the lady at the counter is giving me dirty looks for only buying a Coke and wasting so much space so long. Only she doesn't know that it isn't wasted space 'cause I'm writing to my funny little apple dumpling.

With lots of love,
(& I miss you)


Denver, June 28
Well, dearest, I had quite the reception! Nobody met me.

... Somehow it all straightened out very well & I met the mayor and the welcoming committee at the Denver Hotel. I was given the key to the city. Honest ...

Do I miss you? Boy, and how. I honestly don't think it is the distance that makes me miss you. I would miss you, apple dumpling, if you were in the next room ...

Worshippingly yours,

Chicago, Saturday evening, June 28
Carol Dearest,

I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that you had suddenly left Chicago -- that you were on your way to a town out west -- Denver, I believe. Yes, that was it, and that you went by way of plane ...

Believe me when I say that my thoughts were with you constantly (I wish I had been instead.)...

Lots & lots of love,


Denver, June 29
... We had quite an enjoyable evening. First we had a tremendous steak dinner & it was delish.

We then went out to million-dollar row and saw all the terrific mansions and homes. You may or may not believe it, but it appeared to me that the people who lived in those homes looked just like humans ...

We also went to City Park and every time I saw a couple arm-in-arm I thought of us and pined for you. ...

So goodnight, sweet princess ... ,

Chicago, June 29
Dearest Sugar Plum,

... My eyelids are heavy, dearest, and therefore, in a few minutes I shall be in the arms of Morpheus (please don't be jealous -- I'm still true to you.)

Goodnight, Carol, and write soon ...

Denver, June 30
Hi, Darling,

... I kind of feel sorry for folks who go thru life without realizing the fortunes of love. And I feel more sorry for those folks who go thru life not meeting & loving anyone so adorable and sweet as you. I mean that, dear; you're out of this world but I'm glad you are in mine ...

Denver, July once
Dearest Pumpkin, little apple dumpling,

... I'm thinking of you all the time, sweetheart. In fact, I didn't go to sleep all last night so that I wouldn't miss a thing ...

Chicago, July 1
My Darling,

... This certainly is an eventful day for me. I received not one -- but two -- letters from you. You make me feel so popular, dear. And what makes you think that I have difficulty deciphering your handwriting? Just because I've employed an interpreter to help me out is no indication!

... I love you very much, and miss you more than I can say ...

Denver, July thrice
My very sweetest,

... This will be my last letter (and I honestly hope I never have to write again; meaning, of course, that I do nothing but see you in person) before I leave Sunday ayem ...

Chicago, July 4
Good Evening Honey,

... I missed you terrifically, dear, and more than once wished you were sitting there with me [at a Cubs doubleheader in Wrigley Field]. What could be more romantic than watching the game together while munching popcorn and cheering and sipping lemonade and cheering ...

I'll close with my love. I'll see you bright and early (well, early anyhow) Sunday morning at the airport.

They were married that fall. They flew to Niagara Falls, Washington and New York on their honeymoon and saw the original Broadway versions of South Pacific and Annie Get Your Gun.

They came home just about broke.

They raised three kids, helping us through Scouts and college and weddings of our own. They became grandparents seven times over,

This Saturday, still living in the Chicago area, they'll celebrate 55 years of marriage. And though she's suffering the effects of a stroke and he copes with cancer, he still makes her laugh.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

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