In reviewing my grandfather’s letters from the 1920s and 1930s I am struck by a few differences between then and now.
First, the idea of a five day work week seems to be a benefit that we take for granted. When JBK worked as a clerk in the Department of Agriculture while attending school in Washington DC from 1910 to 1914, Saturday work was the norm, not the exception.
Second, when he was working for Griffenhagen and Associates he often had to cover his own expenses out of his salary. Expenses that today are covered by the employer – like paying a typist or office assistant. Meals and travel expenses were not reimbursed and JBK often wrote about cheaply he could get by for a week.
Third, the postal service seemed more efficient than it is today. Letters travelled faster and mail was delivered more than once a day. I have no idea how it worked.
On February 3, 1937 JBK wrote two letters to Kitty, who had just moved back to Washington DC while he remained in Richmond VA, finishing his work with Griffenhagen & Associates on the personnel study for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Sorry to hear that we are on the rocks again.(1) I wrote EOG (his big boss) that I would have to have money by the end of this week, but later FOE (his project manager) told me had been told to help me out on expenses until about the 20th. If necessary I’ll call on him for a loan; he will have to pay the office force this week. I deposited the annuity check, and won’t write any checks until I have made a deposit.
You probably read of Woodcock’s resignation. (President of St. John’s College) How would you like to be at SJC now? I imagine everybody is pretty worried. I don’t see how the place can stay open much longer.
Doubt if I can make it home this weekend, but next week we should be easing off. I’ve been working on the report the last two days. FOE and I are barely speaking; I despise him and I guess he knows it. I shall try hard to locate in Washington.
(1) This means out of money – a frequent topic in their correspondence throughout most of the time they spent together. Although I only have JBK’s letters to Kitty, I get the impression she frequently wrote complaining about not having enough money, needing more money, wanting him to get a job that made more money – etc. Money – always a big stressor in relationships, especially when two people have very different ideas about it.
Pretty strong words from my mild-mannered grandfather who I can’t imagine ever despised anyone. Of course, he had probably mellowed a lot by the time I knew him. Age has that effect on people . I hardly despise anyone these days!
His second letter on February 3rd is as follows
Wednesday – 9 pm
This is two letters to you in the same day; don’t get too flattered, and don’t expect two every day. I came back to the office after dinner and have done two hours work, but it still goes too slowly. Thought you might call (he didn’t have a phone in his boarding house and had asked Kitty to call the office if she wanted to talk to him). The telephone rang but it was CW asking if Bob was there. They are having another crisis – he hasn’t been with her since they came back together on the bus Sunday night. The visit to her family made him think she had serious designs, and he is trying to break away. Last night she sent him word that she was going out (he found out it was with the man she calls her uncle – really her uncle’s law partner who gives her money). He wrote a note telling her that was the end; showed it to me and I suggested that it might have the wrong effect. She came down to the office three times today on various pretexts, and told Mrs. D she felt terrible – cried all morning. Bob said he was going home and go to bed early but I wouldn’t be surprised if – – – oh hell, I am getting more and more uninterested in what happens to them, but it does make me feel we have something to be thankful for, and that there are troubles worse than finances, which I once thought impossible.
The package from mother came today and I forwarded it to Bry this afternoon.
You should see my boarding house. It is just opposite the vacant lot where we bought our Christmas tree. I have the front room on the 3rd floor this week, but it’s a double room, and when she gets two men to take it I’ll have to move into the backroom with a young business college student unless there is a single room vacant.
Everything is old and bare, but the beds are comfortable, rooms are warm and the food is good enough. Navy bean soup, ground steak, string beans, tomatoes, celery, rolls, ginger snaps & coffee. It reminds me somewhat of army food, on which I thrived. I can stand it, if I can stay cold and aloof enough from the other boarders. My next door neighbor is an electrical construction man working at the Dupont plant. He has to be on the job at 7:30, so for five nights he stays home and reads & goes early to bed, but Sat. & Sunday he gets drunk. He burned his car up while tight, and last week-end had a terrible fight with another inmate named Applebury, who they call “fire chief” because he sometimes goes to sleep smoking and burns the bed clothes. I’m learning how the other half lives.
I collected $1.00 from the T&E laundry, and I still have $9.00 (after paying room & board, buying a tank full of gasoline, room at the Y, express on the trunks, etc.) – almost enough to last thru next week.
I hope the difficulties of finding an apartment and a nurse haven’t got you down. Your assignment is tougher than mine. Luck, and all my love
This letter is a good example of how I establish dates and times for certain events. By JBK’s reference to his boarding house being across from the lot where they got their Christmas tree – I conclude that the family lived together in Richmond in December 1936. I know my uncle Deane was born in Osage Iowa in August 1936 and he was a bit early so Kitty and the boys stayed there for at least a month. This means she moved to Richmond, where JBK was already working, in the fall of 1936. So my uncle spent his first Christmas in my hometown – Richmond VA! Another instance of overlapping ancestor tracks which I think I’m gonna start calling – OATS.
The gossipy part of JBK’s letter seems a bit out of character for him but I assume that Kitty knew the people he was writing about and was probably interested in the story. One observation I have though – admittedly from a woman’s perspective – If Bob was trying to break it off because CW had “designs on him” why should he care whether or not she went out with the man she called her “uncle.” He should have relieved but I guess he was using that as an easy excuse to get out of the relationship. I can’t wait to see what develops in the coming letters.
And last question – how do you collect money from the laundry? Is it possible they paid in advance and then had laundry done there while Kitty was in town and there was a balance in the account? Interesting perspective that my grandfather was able to live for a week (including his rent and food) on what I just spent on my Panera salad at lunch! (I do think Panera is too expensive.)