Joseph B Kingsbury moved to Bloomington, Indiana at the end of summer 1946 with his wife Kitty and their two boys, my father, Bryant Kingsbury who was 14 at the time of the move and Preston Deane Kingsbury who had just turned 10 in August that year. The family had lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland (just on the edge of Washington, DC) before the move and that was also where Kitty and the boys lived when JBK was in Tehran, Iran for most of 1944.
The moved marked the beginning of JBK’s career as a professor of Government at Indiana University, returning to university teaching after many years in government service and working for a private consulting firm. In an early account from this time JBK writes:
October 31, 1946 –We have been in Indiana 2 months. The country is charming, the weather has been beautiful and warm, the faculty and townspeople easy to get along with. The boys like school better than ever before and seem to have more friends than they did in Chevy Chase. I could be happier than ever before but Kitty seems determined not only to wreck herself, but to take us all with her.
This is the first account in a file labelled “KBK” in my grandfather’s neat, distinctive print. The file is an inch thick with letters, both typed and handwritten, mostly from JBK documenting four years of Kitty’s drinking habits and bizarre behavior. There’s no benefit to blogging about the details, other than to say they provide a lot of insight into what my father and uncle lived through and leave me even more amazed than ever about my grandfather’s patience and resilience.
I’ve read through most of JBK’s letters before but I always find something interesting that I missed the first time. Today’s tidbit comes from a letter in the KBK file dated May 17, 1949 in which JBK analyzes his behavior to evaluate the merit of Kitty’s claims that he is responsible for all of her unhappiness.
I love it for his succinct but accurate description of the Kingsbury and Bush families. When I think about my Kingsbury and Bush ancestors who moved to Iowa in the early to mid- 1800s I tend to lump them together under the labels – religious, hard-working pioneers; strong, mid-western stock; salt of the earth. It’s interesting to read JBK’s perspective on the differences between the two families and his perspectives on self-analysis.
I don’t know anything harder to do than see ourselves as others see us. Too much introspection is like a disease; I know, because I suffered with it between the ages of 12 and 30, and I have been trying ever since to get over it. But when we are in a cold war, with no referees and no rules, I had better examine myself as critically and objectively as possible and see if I am as right as I think I am. I have no illusions that I can see all my faults, but I shall make an honest attempt. This is my story and it is bound to be one-sided. If I bring you in, it is because it is impossible to leave you out. We are still husband and wife. I shall not go back into history any more than is necessary to explain the present situation.
It would be foolish to deny that I am still influenced by my parents and early life. I am the product of two rather different families, the Kingsburys, Vermont and Iowa farmers; hard-working, thrifty, puritanical in their religion and morals, undemonstrative, but capable of genuine liking for and kindness to people. The Bush family were more sensitive, imaginative, humorous, and demonstrative, more intellectual in their interests but equally devout in their religion. I was brought up to believe God punished wrong-doing, and the Bible and the church were necessary to keep one straight. I was 25 years old and in graduate school before I had serious doubts that the Bible and the church had all the truth. Then I reacted rather bitterly against churches, but I guess I never lost my fundamental religious nature and never will.
In my reaction against early piety and strictness, forbidden pleasures became very alluring: smoking, drinking, gambling, forbidden books, women, etc. That was the Prohibition era and the gay 20’s when many young people lost their inhibitions. I had a short and very unsatisfactory affair with a high school teacher in St. Louis – aside from that I was terribly innocent and ignorant of women and quite content to be a bachelor. When I met you, I was beginning to see that bachelors usually turned into queer, selfish, old-maidish persons, and I didn’t want to get that way. The thought that a girl as young, beautiful and sophisticated as you could be interested in me was exciting and flattering.
Of the early days of their relationship he writes:
I suffered tortures between the time I met you and the time I asked you to marry me – and milder hell from that time until we were married. My natural caution told me not to, and my study of Sociology told me we were too different to get along well. My newly awakened gambling spirit and my physical desires said “do it.” In the end I think my decision was rational. I convinced myself that I could get along with anyone and you were a very desirable creature.
I will always think of the first 5 years of our married life as happy ones. I was proud of your beauty, your social poise, your hospitality, your initiative, your hard common sense, and many other qualities. I thought it was a case of two quite different people supplementing each other’s lacks and proving that common likes, values and traits were not necessary to successful marriage. We did have some good times those first 5 years, and we were proud and happy when the first baby came.
Hope I’ve left you wanting more – I just can’t get enough of my grandfather’s writing. I never knew Kitty, but from reading his letters, I get an image of what she was like.