October 20, 1944

October 20, 1944

Dear Tommy,
…..So after all that bother, the Germans are still there! They really cannot take a hint, can they? You know, if this war carries on very much longer…well… I’m afraid you’ll find that it just won’t be fun anymore.
…..And you’ve met up with the First Parachute Division again.
…..I know they’re tough, Tommy. But there’s something puzzling me. They’ve become something of a legend. Some Allied journalists are even describing them as the best fighting division in any army. But it seems to me that every time they meet up with the Canadians…they get the worst of the battle. Am I missing something?

…..Of course journalists will write almost anything if they think it will make a sensation. Last month, the Toronto Star treated us to rumours of a new secret German weapon—newer and more secret than all the other secret weapons we have been warned about up to now. The rumour-mongers are not in agreement about the nature of the weapon…maybe a death ray, or better yet, freeze bombs designed to stiffen every living being for hundreds of yards around. It was unclear whether it was to be used against you fellows over there or against us at home (although that freeze bomb idea seems a bit redundant here, with the Canadian winter on the horizon). But it was definitely going to be unleashed on September 29th. Well, we waited up, and nothing arrived. How about there? Anything resembling a death ray? Or a freeze bomb? No?
…..I understand that one journalist actually approached inmates in a prisoner-of-war camp over here with the rumour.
…..Their response: “Please…don’t kid us about ‘secret weapons’. We know such talk is just silly.”
…..I guess even the most congenial prison camp sort of erodes one’s sense of humour.
…..Nevertheless, the prisoners continue to attempt escape. There are always men in the camps who have lived and worked in Canada in the past, so maps can be provided to anyone who cares to try it, and attempts are funded by a stash of smuggled money. Naturally, all prisoners are carefully searched, but they’re pretty crafty. One German in the camp at Medicine Hat in Alberta tried to spend two ten dollar U.S. bills at the canteen—probably stolen from an American soldier—and asked if he could get the ten per cent exchange! (The answer was yes. They wanted the bills out of circulation before they became ‘escape money’.)
…..Up to now, though, there’s actually been only one successful escape from a Canadian camp. I suspect their hearts are just not in it. Of course, if we stopped offering the prisoners exchange on American bills, who knows what might happen?

…..Just in case we should be so rash as to forget that winter is looming, the shops are already displaying next season’s fur coats. They’re a bit too expensive for my budget…but once in a while you come across a bargain.
…..Morgie and I were browsing through the newspaper at lunch time a couple of weeks ago.
…..“Wow!” she blurted. “There’s a sale in a million!”
.…..The price tag beside a black Persian lamb jacket read $1.99!
…..“It’s mispriced,” I said. “They’ve stuck the decimal point in the wrong place.”
…..“Maybe the coat’s still there. The shop is just a couple of blocks away…I’m going to buy it. C’mon.” She grabbed my arm and dragged me out.
…..“Don’t be silly,” I told her. “It’s just a mistake. You’ll never get it.” By now we were running toward the elevator.
…..The furs in the shop window ranged from $189 to $399. A good price, I guess, but we didn’t stop to window shop. We barged inside.
…..The place smelled like money. Heaps of money.
…..A snooty clerk glided over. “Good afternoon ladies,” she drawled. “I can see you’re on your lunch hour…I assume you came in for the sale…?” She started herding us toward a sale rack. “Why don’t you just look through these?” Condescension oozed off her and started puddling up on the floor.
…..“No, it’s okay,” said Morgie. “I want the black Persian lamb that was advertised in the newspaper.”
…..“Oh!” The clerk brightened up, smelling an easy commission. “Well, here it is.”
…..“Um…no…this one’s $199. The one in the paper is $1.99”
…..“It certainly is not!”
…..“It is. And I want it. Here’s the newspaper. Here’s the money.” Morgie took out her purse and started to count out the change.
…..The clerk glanced at the newspaper and sneered. “Well, that’s just a mistake. I certainly can’t sell you a jacket for two dollars!”
…..“A dollar ninety-nine. And not just a jacket…this jacket. It’s advertised. In the newspaper. Isn’t there a law against false advertising? You’d better go discuss it with the owner. And make it quick. We are on our lunch hour…and we have to get back to work.” Morgie has a loud voice, and other customers were beginning to notice.
…..“Fine! But I know he won’t agree…”
…..Morgie was already trying on an identical jacket…just to see how it would look.
…..I didn’t say a word. It was all terribly embarrassing. I wish I’d had the nerve.
…..Morgie got the jacket. For $1.99. And it’s just her size. As we left the shop, the owner and Snooty were burrowing through the furs on the sale rack, pulling out every Persian lamb jacket and hustling them back into the storeroom before anyone else demanded one. I guess the sale was over.

…..Fate, it seems, was distributing elegant outerwear that day.
…..I was reorganizing some files, so I was still at my desk that evening when Flo made a discovery in the personnel manager’s office. Florence is our supervisor.
…..“Oh, shit!” she blurted. “There it is. Sonofabitch!” Flo can swear like a trooper when she thinks nobody’s listening.
…..“Something wrong?” I asked.
…..“Oh. I thought everybody was gone.” She pulled a smart black velvet evening coat out of the back of his closet. It had an ermine collar, and didn’t seem quite his style.
…..“It’s mine,” she said. “I remember now. I wore it to that charity thing I attended with Mr. White up at the Arcadian Court last spring. It rained that night, so I tucked it away here afterward rather than let it get all spotty. And then I completely forgot.
…..To tell the truth, she can be a bit scatter-brained sometimes.
…..“I guess he doesn’t use the closet much during the summer, so he didn’t notice. It’s been here all the time. Damn!”
…..“Well, now you found it. That’s a good thing, right?”
…..“You don’t understand! My husband bought me that coat for my birthday just before he went overseas. It was expensive.”
…..“I can see that…but now you have it back. So what’s the problem?”
…..“Well, I couldn’t let Bob think I just went out and lost it, could I…like I didn’t even care about it? So I went out and bought another one just like it. Now I have two. I can’t have two…when he comes home, he’ll notice! What am I going to do?”
…..I had no experience with this kind of problem.
…..“Here!” she said. “You have it.” She bundled it into my arms.
…..“I can’t….”
…..“Of course you can. You’d be doing me a favour. Just don’t wear it anywhere Bob will be”
…..Well, who was I to defy fate? “Thank you so much! But wouldn’t you rather keep the one he bought you?”
…..“Oh no…the one I bought is actually nicer…and he’ll never know the difference.”
…..So I now have an elegant evening wrap. I just have to avoid Bob.

…..I barely had a chance to take it home and hang it up when who should gallop up but Prince Charming! Okay, it was actually Larry, the Accounting Manager, and he just kind of strolled into the personnel office…but rumour has it he’s rich, and he certainly is easy on the eyes. And he asked me out for dinner, and dancing at the Palais Royale. (I’m sure you see the connection now.) Well, why not? After all, I already had an elegant evening wrap, didn’t I?
…..I knew better than to wait for a fairy godmother to wander by and spruce up my wardrobe for the occasion. I transformed that silk altar cloth you sent me into an elegant evening blouse, and whipped up a long black velvet skirt to wear with it. I figure if you make the stuff yourself, you can be pretty sure it’s not all going to disappear at midnight. I mean, I don’t mind walking home barefoot if my shoes disappear, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to take the risk of running around Toronto at night in my underwear.
…..Larry entertained me over dinner with a gripping account of his college exploits and a long list of the many places he had visited with his family. (I wasn’t tempted to trade vacation anecdotes with him, even if I’d been able to get a word in, edgewise.) And as we drove down to the lake shore, he mentioned that we’d be meeting a few of his friends. Oh, I thought, okay…I guess. I was just glad he wasn’t driving a pumpkin.
…..When you name a ballroom the Palais Royale, you create certain expectations. But I’m not too hard to please. It was lovely, with panelled walls, vaulted ceiling, and an immense stone fireplace, and the hardwood dance floor was polished like glass. (So much more sensible than wearing glass slippers, don’t you think?) I would have liked to spend some time enjoying the view on the lake, but we were immediately submerged in a tidal wave of Larry’s very best friends.
…..You know, each one of them might have been full of fun, separately, but there were so many of them, and they were trying so damned hard to be smooth and sophisticated. And Larry was trying hardest of all. He complained constantly: the band (which was good) was not quite Benny Goodman, the oysters were distinctly inferior to the ones you could eat on the east coast, etc., etc. (Yes, I snacked on oysters…they’re tasty, but not worth the texture.) The booze they’d brought was passed around more or less discreetly, and everyone was determined to sparkle. Oh, I held my own end up, matching name dropping with witty repartee, but after a while, my smile started to feel so brittle I was afraid my face might shatter and fall off, piece by piece, right there in front of everybody. I thought, fun shouldn’t be so damned exhausting!
…..When I was refreshing my makeup in the powder room, one of the girls in our ‘party’, Clarissa, sidled up to me. She was smiling all over her sharp little face, but I sensed that she didn’t like me. Now, it usually takes people a little time to dislike me, so I had to assume that she was one of Larry’s old flames. Or perhaps she aspired to be a new one.
…..She took my hand in the chummiest way. I hate it when strangers do that. “I noticed when you came in,” she said, “what a clever outfit you’re wearing. Matching the skirt to the coat…how darling!”
…..“Thanks.” I waited for the punch line.
…..“And the blouse…it’s quite unique. You must tell me where you found it.”
…..“Actually, my brother picked it up for me. In Italy.”
…..“In Italy,” she cooed. “Really! Well, who knows…when this nasty war is over, maybe Italy will become a fashion centre.” And she laughed, sarcastically.
…..I hate her, I decided. I wish her harm. Something painful would be good.
…..It was a night of magic.
…..We had barely returned to the group when Clarissa, gliding around the dance floor on the arm of her date while keeping a sharp eye out to make sure everyone was watching her flawless technique, missed her footing on the slick hardwood and fell flat on her ass. She bounced back onto her feet in an instant—it was actually quite impressive—wearing a tight little smile and pretending it had never happened. Her partner’s grin became a wince when her perfectly polished nails dug into his wrist. As we danced by I heard her snarl at him, “Don’t you dare say a word!
…..And I knew that my fairy godmother was there after all.
…..A few minutes later, Clarissa developed a migraine and insisted that her disappointed date take her home immediately. Before they left, I followed her to the cloakroom where I was able to whisper a few words of sympathy:
…..“I’m so sorry. I saw what happened…we all did. You must be so humiliated….” I could tell from the look on her face that she didn’t welcome my concern, so I left her to her misery.
…..I’d always wanted to dance at the Palais Royale, but I guess I thought it would be a bit more romantic. By the end of the evening, we hadn’t had a moment’s sincere conversation. I still didn’t have any idea who Larry really was under all that gloss, and I wasn’t sure I cared to find out. In any case, I don’t have another evening wrap, and I’m sure it would be quite unacceptable to wear the same one twice. So I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again.
…..Oh, and thanks again for the altar cloth! It was a huge success. Of course, if that bunch had even suspected…

…..Tommy, I detect a culinary theme running through your letters. Now, I don’t want you to be worrying about us at home, as you struggle to eat your scanty and indigestible meals and listen to your stomach growl. We’re still not suffering from rationing. Not at all. In fact, if we don’t buy the amount of meat we’re allowed, they even give us tokens to use later when we’re feeling piggish. They’re like small, blue coins with holes in the centre. I think they’d make excellent poker chips, and we have plenty, so I’m threading them on a long string to save for you.

…..Have I told you how proud we all are of what you fellows have accomplished over there? Well, if I don’t mention it often, it’s just because you were all quite vain enough before you left, and I’m afraid you’ll be perfectly insufferable by the time you get back home.

Back among the cinders, but appreciating it more now,
Kathy

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