My grandmother’s letters to her son were written in a foreign language—English.
Lisi Gartz’s schooling back in Austro-Hungary, before it became Romania after World War I, only went as far as the fourth grade, so even in her native tongue, spelling and grammar had never been mastered.
At the time her youngest son was drafted on January 23, 1943, she had been writing to her relatives back home for more than thirty years. Now, for the first time, she had to write in English. I know that she kept a German English dictionary by her side, struggling to put into words what was in her heart and mind. She became Ebner’s most loyal correspondent.
Her letters are written with a German accent, as she tries to work out the phonetic spelling of English words she knows, but probably never saw in print. I’ve corrected some of the spelling and grammar in this and all future transcriptions, only as much as needed to make the letter understandable, but I’ve left much of her syntax as written to be as true to the original as possible.
Until I read her letters, I had no idea how much my grandmother’s religion meant to her. In virtually every letter, she wrote of her prayers to God and her trust in Him to protect and guide her youngest son.
The family usually addressed the “baby” of the family by his middle name, Ebner (ABE-ner), my grandmother’s maiden name. This is her first letter to Ebner, written a week after he left for training. Notes:
1) At the time of my uncle’s military induction, my grandparents had been making their living for more than 20 years as janitors for several large apartment buildings on Chicago’s West Side. They cared for up to sixty-five apartments. It was hard, non-stop, physical work: all repairs, window washing, cleaning vestibules, shoveling coal and snow in the winter, repeatedly climbing multiple flights of stairs to take down the trash. That’s just a tiny sampling. They had lived frugally, saving $200/month of their $250 income, and supporting the whole family of five on the remaining $50. Their savings allowed them to buy at least one six-flat, by this time, mentioned in the letter.
2) The “green light” she mentions in this letter were two small table lamps with green, beaded shades, flanking Ebner’s high school picture. My grandmother’s original letter appears below this shortened transcription.
Chicago, Il 1-30-43
My Dear Ebner,
You had to wait five days befor I anserte your letter, but you know how it is in our work some days––running the whole day up and down especially in morning time.
The 27 Sep I sent you sweatshirt and some banana. Have you received everyting? Please tell me next time.
We are all happy that you have a goot room mate from Minnesota you picked yourself.
That is very goot. We are all proud of you that you get the best road in life.
Even [if] you got it hard, trust in God all the time and always you [will] get the best for you. Even your wishes will come true in time. Did you gain or lose weight? I hope you are healthy and happy too.
I put 2 dollars in for you till you get your pay. We got [hit] so hard with the income tax. Both Pa and me have to pay from our allowance of man and wife $1300.00 for a year. From that we have to take out $200.00 for the 6 flat one payment and then all of our life insurance.
So, my Dear, I have to learn now how to do the figuring real goot. But I will be always ready for you at all times, whatever comes up. I am here to help.
God be with you always. All the time I am praying, standing by the green light.
Lots of love and kisses,
Love from Dad and Will
Ah how tough for mothers of soliders.
You can hear the concern in her words even though english isn’t her first lanuage.
In her photo, she looks like such a sweet woman, and that certainly comes across in her letter. I deteced a bit of humor there too, in that she is learning how to do the figuring well. 🙂 How lovely for you to still have these and be able to read them. Thank you for sharing.
When young men (and now women) go into harm’s way it has always instilled fear into a mother’s heart. Yes, the “figuring” is a bit humorous. In the original, she add’s the German word for doing this kind of math, rechnen. Ebner could speak German, but I believe she wasn’t sure of the translation, so used both.
My grandmother was a complex person and remembrances of her among family members are mixed, but her letters to Ebner are nothing but pure love and encouragement.
Thanks for dropping by!