Thursday, September 18, 2014

Letters from Esther - #5

I am writing up a series of letters my grandmother, Esther, sent "home" to her siblings in North Dakota as she traipsed around the world working for the State Department as a working woman before it was chic. Letters were chosen over phone calls because long distance calls were expensive, and it was sometimes difficult to hear well at a distance.

This letter is the next letter I have from Esther by date.


Air Mail

Miss Jennie Efraimson
Perth, North Dakota

July 19, 1958

Dear Jennie and all:

It was so nice to get your letter. I'm glad it rained and that things really began to grow. [The farm in North Dakota was growing wheat when I visited in 1970.] I thought I had written about Bill and Jerry. I thought she was very nice. She knew all about the situation with Helen but had not met Bill until after she had started divorce proceedings. [I know that Bill, her brother, divorced and remarried, so that must be what she is talking about here. Helen left Bill, then Bill and Jerry married.]  I don't know whether Jerry is divorced or a widow -- but I'm sure I told you she had five children by her first marriate -- all of them practically grown up except for the little boys -- and that one of her daughters is going to have a baby in Sept. in Rhode Island and she plans to go. She is 39 but looks younger -- is quite slim but says she has gained 20 lbs. since she met Bill.

A few months ago, Helen and her new husband had had a falling out and he left and she had called Bill and Jerry and told them she was going to get a divorce again, but they told her not to be too hasty and soon they were back together again. Jerry said she had talked to Helen for about three hours, trying to calm her down. Seems that their trouble is that Helen's new husband doesn't hold down a job for any length of time and consequently doesn't have much of an income and at the same time resents the fact that they have to live in Bill's house, etc. They say though that he is very nice to the kids and they all like him and hae a good time together. It might be that now that Bill is married again it will all work out for the best. Does that give you the low-down? I did tell you that I stiooed at Gekeb;s 00 as we were leaving Portland to go to Seattle, but that Helen wasn't home. I did get to see their house though and although it is very nice, the house Bill and Jerry are renting is much more elegant. They leased the house for 18 months and plan to have a house of their own built by that time -- unless the owners of this house decide to sell, in which case they would like to buy it.

I didn't mean that this country was like the Red River Valley in any other way except that it is low and flat -- there's no comparison as far as farms and buildings, etc. go. Everything looks sort of slummy -- houses are close to the roads and are quite open, very dingy looking, many with thatched roofs. You see people working in the fields, almost as many women as men, and on the roads, chopping larger pieces of stone or concrete or something in to smaller ones, squatting in this funny position I already drew you a picture of. You see quite a lot of water buffalo and oxen drawing carts and everywhere there are people on bicycles or driving these "seecos" or walking. It's not as croded with people though as Hong Kong seemed to be. Although the buildings in Saigon are larger than out in the country, many of them too look to be in need of repair -- the roofs especially are dirty looking. All have fences around them either of concrete, painted a yellowish beige, the same color as most of the houses, or some sort of iron fences. Few places have grass in the yards, most look like hard-packed dirt or concrete. The building we work in is a three-story (same yellow beige on the outside) and partitioned on the inside like most government offices in Washington, except that the ceilings are very high and there are those big fans up there that go around all the time -- except when power goes off, which has happened a couple of times. The telephone system is very poor -- it takes many tries to get results.

The rice paddies are just like you see in pictures -- little patches, like gardens, with a mud wall around them and filled with water and rice growing in various stages -- some a real pale green when they are young plants and the older ones darker and then some that looks sort of ripening.

Did I tell you about the rubber plantation I saw -- that was really something. The trees are large, evenly spaced and the guide showed us how each morning the men go out and cut a tiny slice off around the tree and then the juice runs into a little cup and then they later come and collect it. It is a white gummy looking substance.

Another thing you see quite a bit of is fields of sugar cane and you see people cutting it and hauling it around. We also saw one small private sugar mill but it wasn't in operation just then but they showed us how they put the sugar cane into a big bowl and have oxen turn it around and the juice runs into something and then they cook it somehow and cool it, etc. The sugar you buy on the local market is brownish and very coarse and takes forever to dissolve. Of course we get ours at the PX and it's American.

The PX is really a wonderful place -- just like a super market really -- and everyone tells everyone if there happens to be a shipment of something that has been scarce. I hae been there a couple of times and have also been to see three movies since I've been here. Also I have read about four books. I haven't been able to start on my painting yet though cause so far I've been unable to find any turpentine to clean my brushes with. I understand though that I can get some through the office, but in another building.

Well, I'm sure you;re tired of reading by this time. Write again soon.

With love,


I went to the Community church and it was just like the Community Church we went to in Greenbelt. I think I'll try the Episcopalian services which they are having in the same building at 6 o'clock in the evening tomorrow.
To see more letters from Esther, click the "Think Back Thursday" button above. It will sort out all my family history blog entries. 

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