It wasn’t until they were in their mid-80s that I truly knew my parents or what they had been through as a young couple during World War II, when he was away serving his country.
Growing up, they were simply my folks, and their life before I existed was nowhere on my radar.
That all changed the day I helped them clean closets. Hidden in a far corner, I found a box of hundreds of letters written by my dad, a young soldier overseas, to my mom, his love back home.
With each sentence I read, I was transported back to their youth.
The letters are on thin, crinkly paper. The envelopes are bordered in red, white and blue stripes. The postmarks start in 1942, before they were married, and end in 1946, as he waits to return. The ink has faded, but the sentiment will live on forever. My dad, Calvin Singman, begins every letter with a term of endearment: My dearest. My Sweetheart. Darling.
He writes about his routine — “I took a shower and shave during the noon hour” — but also his longing for my mother, Sylvia: “Honey, won’t this war ever end? Last night we saw another movie. It Happened Tomorrow with Dick Powell. I remember we saw it together at Ellington Field. Those were the days, sweet.
”At first, I found it difficult to picture my father writing these letters. While growing up, I had seen him study blueprints and write equations. I had never seen him write more than “Love, Cal” on a greeting card.
My father’s wit shines through, such as when he wrote in 1945 on his way to Guam: “Somewhere on the high seas.” He quips about his brother, a sailor: “If Ernie doesn’t get fat on what the navy feeds him, nothing else will do the trick.”
He talks about daily Army life. “All magazines are overseas editions with absolutely no advertisements. Just like the radio programs. I haven’t heard a commercial since I left the States.” He describes his evenings: “I’m at the club in the 1899th area. Our lights went out. J.S. and I are the only ones here. We are playing the phonograph and writing letters.” In another letter, he cautions my mom. “Honey, you don’t know how happy I am that you decided to go back to school. Just don’t flirt with all the young profs.” Even though he was overseas, fighting in the war, his concern for others rings through. “Remember Capt Burke, the dentist. He’s looking for a wife. Maybe Rolly might be interested. The guy has plenty of dough and a damn nice fella.”And there are his plans for their future: “What do you think of the revised GI Bill of Rights? Now we can buy a wonderful home — up to $8,000.”
As Aug. 14, 1945, approached, he wrote, “V-J Day should come in a day or two. Please don’t drink too much. Wait till I get home and we do it right.”
But his return kept getting delayed. “The news doesn’t look too good. I have the misfortune of being the engr. They’ll most likely place me on the critical list and try to hold me here as long as they can. All I want to do is hold you in my arms and keep your feet warm at night.” He did come home. And they did it right.