A Certain Party I Love

updates Mondays and Thursdays

We absolutely must arrange another excursion

With a wedding date  at least tentatively agreed on, Leon and Elly needed to kick their planning for the actual event into full swing — they needed to have everything good to go in less than three months! Naturally, Leon saw this as an excellent excuse for them to meet again in Pittsburgh:

I have just checked with the depot here and they say the Baltimore and Ohio line will run an excursion on April 26th. Please check with your B. & O. depot and tell me the news I shall be breathlessly awaiting. Or will you come by bus again, darling? I can leave here Sat. at about 11:45 p.m. and arrive there at 7:23. Then I’d have to leave at 10:45 (same as last time) but once more we’d have the “extra” hours together.

As to the finance-angle, it’s worth it to me to get a nice, warm, room — with private bath and close to the depot — to pay the extra dough. And I love to register, “respectably”, Mr. and Mrs. L. Rosenberg which we will soon be forever.

I assume you’ll agree, so please come with a “full report” on your ideas and plans (I shall do likewise) in order that we may not “waste” too much time discussing everything we have to decide upon. …

I shall leave all practical questions (where, which rabbi, how much, etc.) entirely in your most capable hands and shall limit myself to practising “I do’s” faithfully a half hour each day. That way the division of work will be equal don’t you?

In which a date is set

It took almost 4 months after their engagement for Elly and Leon to set a date, but according to Leon’s letter of March 31, 1941, they chose one they would never forget: Elly’s birthday. There were still plenty of other details to be sorted, though:

The date you propose for our wedding — your birthday — is, of course, perfect from the viewpoint of our getting together as soon as possible, but there are a great many practical details which may or may not dictate a postponement in the interest of being fully set. At present, including today’s deposit, we’ll have exactly 100 smacks in the vault. An additional 30 for April and — due to the new arrangement — 45 for May will bring us to the 175 mark the beginning of June. However, the expense of the wedding itself — even accepting Bernie’s most generous offer — and the N.Y. honeymoon will take all of June’s “profit” so the 175 will constitute our bon-voyage-on-the-sea-of-matrimony capital. I assume you still have in mind the immediate procurement of our own little nook with furniture et al, and I’ll certainly need your most able assistance — or rather, I’ll try to assist you — in the selection of same if you think the capital assets are okay.

The ever-useful Purchasing Power Calculator says that the Rosenberg nest egg of $175 would be the equivalent of $2770 in today’s dollars. Not much in the way of savings, but with both of them working full-time as well, they would have been off to a fair start.

For the first time, Leon also acknowledged that they had more reasons than simply missing each other to hurry the wedding planning along:

Were it not for the rapidly-dark’ning war developments, I would suggest a later date — possibly Labor Day — but you will agree, I’m sure, that precisely in view of the above we ought to “grab our handful of stars” as soon as possible.

I get a kick out of amateur concerts

Never one to miss an opportunity for a little culture, was Leon:

Wed. night I attended the concert which caused me to cut short my note to you. It was by an amateur symphony and a local chorus. The orchestral offerings were tragi-comic by virtue of the perseverance with which the orch. trampled through scores which had everybody — orchestra, conductor and audience — making mental bets as to whether they would “come out even”. But I get a kick out of amateur concerts precisely for that reason. And a young man — piano soloist — really did very well. Nor were the choruses bad, so, on the whole, it was a worthwhile and somewhat enjoyable evening.

This letter also included my favorite signature of all time:

Your Leechik
(cause I’m gonna stick to you)

The personal is still political

One thing about Leon: he didn’t miss a chance to squeeze in a bit of political cheerleading. Just look how he wished Elly’s sister Rudy a happy birthday:

I coulda swore Rudy’s birthday was April 8th. And that you told me so! What goes on here, Garfinkle? My very best and warmest wishes for a happy birthday, Rudy, and may you and all your children’s children celebrate a good number of them in a new type society. (How else could I raise a birthday politically?) Seriously, it seems to me the past year has been the most profound and decisive in shaping Rudy’s design for living from here on. I really think of myself as having 2 birthdays — one about a quarter of a century (WOW!) ago, and the other when I first grasped the “new” teachings. And I’m sure you and Ru both will come to feel that way if you don’t already. And Rudy with her warm “güttzkeit”, her deep sense of justice, her detestation of things rotten, shallow, sham — this Rudy will grow, together with might and influence of the philosophy which makes better people of all who embrace it. And gosh, Ru, howz about teaching my Elly some of the arts-de-cuisine? Oh oh! Now I done it. No mail Tues. I betcha. C’mere sweets. I didn’t mean it that way. Honest. I do love you. I do I do I do. Aintcha gonna let me kiss you? A little one? I said I was sorry. And I love your cooking even if it isn’t so hot too.

I guess he couldn’t miss a chance to get in a comment about the comparative cooking skills of the Garfinkle girls, either. (For what it’s worth, daughter Robin says her mother was actually an excellent cook, and that she loved to have people over for dinner.)

Domestic matters

Leon might have ribbed Elly now and then about her cooking, but he was proud of his own burgeoning domesticity, as he announced on March 27, 1941:

Tonight I made my own supper with my own little hands. True, mostly cooked canned stuff but nonetheless completely done by me. It consisted of pea soup… scallions, tomato herring, bread & butter, and milk and cake. I did all the shopping for the boys today.

It was all part of his mental preparation for getting married, as he continued:

Minor tragedy — I took a record I bought some time ago (Mendelsohn’s Fingal’s Cave overture — remember?) to work intending to mail it to you after the day’s travail. But your wonderfully dopey boy-friend put it down somewhere and it’s completely gone. But cheerup, sweets — beginning Friday a new series of “Masterpiece” records will be issued by one of the local papers at 59¢ per release. I intend to get the whole damn shooting works for our library.

 Sweets, not only am I dying to see you again, but we must get together to talk over a number of plans and details in connection with our impending nuptials. Tentatively, I think we should plan on the last Sunday in April for our next Pittsburg rendezvous. What say? I’ll check the schedules tomorrow. And if you’re angry at the severe tone of the first half of this, I’ll kiss you back to the sweet, warm, lovable Elly I’m constantly dreaming of. I love you

I DO I DO I DO (I’m practicing)

Against the war, then for it

Looking back from nearly 75 years on, with the Nazis enshrined in history as the embodiment of evil, Elly’s desire to get involved with anti-war activities might seem shocking. At the time, though, it wasn’t an unusual sentiment. The US wasn’t officially involved in the war, and many Americans had reasons for hoping it would stay that way — whether they were afraid of the human cost of war, thought that what was happening in Europe simply wasn’t America’s problem, or were themselves fascists and/or anti-Semitic.

In Elly and Leon’s case, it was that the CPUSA saw the war in Europe as a battle between imperialist powers with no upside for the masses. Even aid to countries fighting the Nazis was seen as “warmongering.” That changed rather abruptly on June 22, 1941, when Germany threw over its 1939 non-aggression pact with the USSR and launched a surprise invasion codenamed Operation Barbarossa. In the face of this betrayal, the CPUSA immediately turned pro-war, urging its members not to participate in strikes and other activities that might hobble the war effort and keep the US from helping the Red Army.

(Keep following this blog to find out how Leon and Elly responded!)

Again with the Trotskyists

Elly was just trying to hang out with like-minded leftists, but it seems she found herself another group of the hated Trotskyites, as Leon informed her in no uncertain terms on March 27, 1941:

I can easily understand your confusion at seeing a “Committee Against War” — of whose background and leadership I assume you knew nothing — but simply cannot understand your participation, however small, in view of the fact that you had been warned that its org. was a T. bastard and you suspected as much from his book-review “slants”. Jesus do I wish I could give you some first hand accounts of those louses in action. Please, sweets, get in touch with Ned or Sam or some other developed person for a complete explanation. And for Christsake — disassociate yourself immediately and in no uncertain terms from that gang. Finally — if ever you even so much as vaguely suspect anyone of that particular odor, check on it first in order to better be able (okay, so it’s a split infinitive) to expose and combat.

I particularly like his reference to “developed” people who could set her straight.

In which Leon anticipates music videos

As a lifelong classical music buff who actually adopted “Beethoven” as his middle name at some point in his teens or early twenties, Leon believed strongly that classical music was for everyone, not just the elite. That makes his letter of March 26, 1941, a little surprising. Walt Disney had made a groundbreaking film setting animated visuals to great classical compositions in the Western canon, and Leon…wasn’t sure he approved.

Your letter describing “Fantasia” awaited me on my arrival home and was eagerly and appreciatively read. I was doubly pleased — first, by your thorough enjoyment of this unique film and second, by the fact that your “date” went off so well. I bet my darling was beautiful and charming throughout. A few words of comment for whatever their worth, if any: while I fully appreciate the pioneering strides “Fantasia” takes in the direction of bringing great music to the “masses” through easily-grasped and entertaining visual education, I feel that this particular film may be more harmful than beneficial. Why? It seems to me that especially those people who are not or were not familiar with the music will tend to “visualize” this music as they remember it portrayed on the screen whenever they hear it again in the future. Music, being the most fluid of the arts, should never be cast into a specific mold — an exact picture. Certainly some music is very definitely “program” music (William Tell Overture, Marche Slav, etc.) and it is possible to project their stories on the screen, but even in these cases, the central idea should be to focus the attention of the listeners on the way the music creates the picture — and of course it should be the picture the composer intended (rather than conceptions of cartoonists as in the case of Fantasia) — …okay, I’ll quit. And I am very anxious to see it myself — since I can’t see it with you.

Sweets, I really didn’t mean to sound off at such length about the picture — could it be I’M the gabby one? — so please ‘scuse. I’ve just re-read that part and it is remarkably unclear, but even so I’m sure you’ll get what I was driving at. And I’m even surer of what you’ll get when I hold you close night after night after night amen. NO, THE ANSWER IS NOT “BORED”!

Take out the specific references to Fantasia, and Leon could just as easily have been arguing about the rise of MTV in the 1980s.

I don’t know which side of the “music should be heard and not seen” argument I fall on. I will admit, however, that dancing hippopotami are not the first thing that spring to mind when I hear “Dance of the Hours.”

I personally go straight to Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah Hello Faddah.”

Meet me again in Pittsburgh

Three months into his engagement, Leon was ready to move the wedding planning along. On March 25, 1941, he floated the idea of meeting in Pittsburgh again to keep hammering out the details.

It looks like we’ll hafta make another excursion date toward the end of April, sweetheart, so that I can (1) see you again as I so much long to and (2) have all my leavedays for June when we get married — happy thought! — and possibly take up Bea and Erv’s N.Y. honeymoon proposition. I think the excursion date would be a good time to clean up as many details as possible if we can only manage to spare a half hour.

Although Leon and Elly had yet to set an actual date for their wedding, it seems clear they had at least narrowed it down to some time in June — just three months away, at that point, but people seemed to obsess a lot less over pulling a wedding together then than they do now.

It also seems like Leon’s sister and brother-in-law had invited them to visit New York City for their honeymoon, although I’m not sure how romantic that would have been!

Start dishing out the smut

Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, Elly was planning what Leon called a “spinster party” for her friend Eve. I’m pretty sure this was not a bridal shower, but something a little less formal — what today we’d call a bachelorette party (or, if you’re in the UK, a hen night). Elly wasn’t concerned about gifts for the new bride’s new home. She wanted Leon to script her a naughty performance, and he was happy to oblige.

Unfortunately, the letter in which he obliged no longer exists. We do have the letter after that, which only makes me wish for the earlier one more.

I betcha you really think I’m psychic and don’t pull that corny stuff about me being an old psychic of yours. What I mean is first I predicted with practically complete accuracy how you would look in Pittsburg (ahhhhhhhh!) and then I sent you a smutty “horse race” which I think will fill your request for something slimy for Eve’s party. You made no mention of it so I assume you hadn’t received it yet when you asked for poetic “porn”.

One of the guys at work typed a copy for me and I slipped it on to you. If you think ‘twill do — okay, if not, let me know and mebbe we can cook up something twixt all the guys here. But I think the “race” is fairly clever. You might provide background by pretending you are a spiritualist and will forecast the honeymoon of Eve and Morrie. You gaze into a crystal ball (or somp’n) and begin — I see a honeymooning couple in — in — in Louisville, Ky. They seem to be engaged in or watching a horse race…let’s see — and then you go into the shpiel. This doesn’t sound so hot on paper but I’m sure my clever darling could build it up (the spiritualist angle) and then start dishing out the smut. Darn, I’d like to do the job myself! Betcha I’d make a clitoris or two itch — for Morrie.

Yes, readers, he went there.