Seventy-one years ago, World War II navigator-in-training, Frank Ebner Gartz, wrote to his mother about his hard work and some health trouble he was having, but I think primarily to reassure her he was all right and just too darn busy with school work to write. His mother’s loving, prayerful response was written just four days later.
The featured image is a photograph of my grandmother nursing baby Ebner. I’m struck by her perfectly straight back, one leg extended, as she gazes out into the middle distance, in some sort of reverie—or perhaps thinking of all the work awaiting her back home.
This photo would have been taken by a family member, I’m certain, probably my grandfather (my Dad was only about eleven; his older brother, Will, twelve) as Grandma unashamedly bares her breast to nurse in this rather secluded, wooded area. Maybe they were in Wisconsin on a brief trip in the summer or fall of 1924. That sure looks like a lake in the background.
Her still well-shaped arms aren’t the result of lifting weights, but the incessant physical work required of women, especially a janitor’s wife, in the 1920s. In this letter, she writes about my grandfather’s bad knees. She has to complete all his demanding janitorial chores (they cared for up to 65 apartments on Chicago’s West Side) on top of her own. She often could only sleep 4-5 hours a night, but she never failed, no matter how exhausted, to write her youngest son.
Here’s what Ebner wrote to his parents twenty years after this photo was taken.
25 June 1944
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know I have neglected you folks terrible but my work has been keeping me on my toes and I’ll have to go at it again today. I know it’s Sunday but they tell us that some of the best attacks and maneuvers have been made on holidays. It’s no letting up now. This letter will have to be short so I’ll get all the news I can in it.
I picked up a touch of the flu and it has left me with a horrible headache. As result I have been grounded till it’s over. This lets me behind my class so next week I’ll have to work twice as hard. I’m feeling pretty good now all except this damn head of mine.
I’ll have to take some astro shots tonight to work a problem this afternoon so I’ll have to get busy. I’ll write again as soon as I get a chance. Till then,
Your loving son, Frank
Below is my grandmother’s letter in response to the above. In this letter my grandmother refers to Cookie (she spells it “Cooky,” Frank Ebner’s high school sweetheart, whom everyone assumed he would marry upon his return. These expectations will play an important part later in decisions that Frank/Ebner will make in the future.
My Dear Ebner,
We all are with you in your hard trying to do your duty. Just keep it up so you will win that what you go out for. God will help you that you will not be washed out of your school, that you began.
Don’t you ever give up on it. Try and try again. You will gain so long as God is with you. I pray hard and more than ever.
You say you have to to to work on Sunday as any other day. You have not even rest on the week end? And how is your ankle? You tell us that you have head pain and you got the flu. Do they take care of you? Better to go to the doctor once than three times [if you wait too long.].
Take care of yourself for our sake so that we all be again together. How much I would like to take care of you in sickness.
We all know you try hard to stay in your class. We know what the give [teach] you in that school no one will get in private life.
Dad’s knees was better for a while but if he works too long at one time, then it is not so good. But he helps already very much. As always, I first get all of Dad’s work done in the day time. Then after I do my work in the house. Many nights I have only 3-4 hours sleep. Sometimes 5 or 6, but God gives me my strength that I pray for until Dad is well.
We have here nice hot sunshine the last 2 weeks, but night is very cold, windy and foot to sleep–if you can.
I am ashamed that I can’t tell you anything about Cooky [Cookie], but you understand how my time is now [limited]. Last Sunday was the first day in 8 weeks that Dad and I went to church. I am very happy for the church bulletin you sent….
I will pray more for you. God will help and bless you with all that you do. He will safely bring you back home to us. With all our love to you,
Your Mom and Dad