Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Christmas, 1917

As I wrote in my last post here, I have hundreds of letters that my grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sig Levy, wrote back and forth to each other from about 1916-1919.  My goal is to some day get them all transcribed and put in chronological order so that their letters become a story of their courtship and, ultimately, marriage.  But, unfortunately, I tend to go gang busters on this project for awhile and then put it on the back burner for weeks or even months.  But I thought it appropriate to dig out the letters from Christmas, 1917 and see what was up in their worlds. 

I started the transcription project with Grandma’s letters to Sig because her handwriting was better and since I was 28 when she died, her handwriting was much more familiar to me than Grandpa’s who died just before my 14th birthday.  So today was the first time I really studied any of Sig’s letters to Loraine.

Envelopes to Loraine

I started sorting them out by year, then month, and then to put them in date order.  As I got started with the month of December, I noticed something very interesting in the top left hand corner of the envelopes – Grandma left me bread crumbs!  The numbers (42, 43) indicate that these were the 42nd and 43rd letters he wrote to her – she put them in chronological order for me!  See, I know she wanted me to find these!  And interesting that the stamps are all missing.

And the back of the envelope is interesting.

Back of Envelope

I love how he just wrote ‘Sig’ on the back – I’m sure her heart skipped a beat when she saw that.

So here’s excerpts from the letters right before Christmas, 1917 with my comments [ ].

December 22, 1917 – 6 pm [From Loraine to Sig]

My dearest

Your letter didn’t arrive until this morn, guess it was held up on account of the holiday rush. I looked for it last night but was disappointed.

Well, my dear, I’m home again [Monterey] and it seems wonderful – really it does and I do feel very happy. Everyone has seemed so glad to see me that it makes me feel as though I have been missed. And once more I am getting acquainted with my family. And I’ve been practically living in my brother’s machine [she always called the automobile the machine]. He took me for a ride yesterday aft and also this morning and has promised to teach me to drive it [remembering that she wasn’t a great driver as an adult, do we have her brother, Wilton, to blame for her poor driving?].

The Alumni of the High School are to give a dance Christmas night and before I even came home I was put on the refreshment committee, so you see, dear, they want me to work even if I am just visiting here. Quite a bunch of my friends are to be home over this week-end, enlisted boys and the like, so it will be like old times.

And now about war again – I’m so sorry, dearest, that you weren’t accepted in the non-flyers but guess it can’t be helped and now that you have actually enlisted in the flyers, even though I am against it, I am glad, because it seems as though all the best fellows enlist in that branch and no branch is too good for you. And it is all just a great big chance of life or otherwise I guess after all, whether it is flying or trench work. But all anyone can do is hope for the best and that is what I am hoping for you at this very minute.

And, dear, I don’t know when you are going to get that picture of me [which picture, Grandma?  I have several and want to know which one it is]. It hadn’t been finished when I left Thursday so I left orders to send it to me, so you’ll get it sometime before New Year’s, I hope.

Believe me, I had to come home to lose my cold. My mother doctored it up last night [wonder what the magic cure was?] and today I am feeling great. We are having glorious weather down here, sunshine and the like but no fog. But we surely had a lot of fog in Oakland before I left, both night and morning and now you are getting a taste of the same kind of weather.

Tomorrow we are going for a little ride up into the country to get some Christmas berries and I wish you were here to go along.

The point of the fountain pen I’m writing with is very hard and I can hardly write – my letter looks it, too. So if you can’t read it don’t blame me, blame the pen [HA – blame the pen!]. And I do hope you hear soon from the aviation dept so you’ll be coming up shortly for your examination as I’d like to see you, dear.

I must bring this to a close now as I’ve promised to meet one of the girls in a short while. Write so that there will be a letter waiting for me Wednesday night in Oakland, that is, if it won’t inconvenience you [one thing my grandmother wasn’t was passive aggressive].

And my wish to you for Christmas is that everything will turn out to your liking, sweetheart, and that you will enjoy the day, even though we won’t be able to enjoy it together, but as long as we will be thinking of each other, we’ll try to be happy. And if you care to [what if he didn’t care to?] I wish you would convey my best wishes to your family for a pleasant holiday season.

As always much love
December 23, 1917 – 6:30 pm [From Sig to Loraine]

My dearest Loraine,

Just a tiny note in answer to yours just received. I know you are a busy girl and this note will just come in between so it won’t be so long a wait. I’ll answer your letter properly so one will be waiting for you Wednesday in Oakland [good boy, Grandpa].

I thank you, my love, for your wonderful wishes in my behalf and I know with these thoughts that nothing but good will come to us.

The weather here is miserable and it was even too foggy to play tennis today [never thought about it being too foggy to play tennis] so I have been loafing all day.

Glad you are having such a wonderful time. I know you won’t enjoy the letter [oh, I’m sure she enjoyed it], but I didn’t want you to wait until Wednesday even if it is just “hello”. So that is all for tonight and I’m happy your cold is better.

A big lot of love to you, my dear, Sig

Am late getting home – the reason for the rush.
I just love this photo of Sig playing tennis.  I ‘rescued’ a couple of his rackets from their garage after Grandma died and they have hung on my wall for over 30 years.  I never knew just how much he liked to play tennis.
Sig Tennis
December 25, 1917 – pm [from Loraine to Sig]

My dear

Your “Merry Xmas” telegram [I found the the telegram!] came a little while ago, and this is what I said, “The thoughtful boy”. I did sort of want to phone to you just to wish you the season’s greetings, but didn’t know just where I could reach you so let it go [Grandma, why did you give up so easily?]. Your few lines came last night, also. [did she not enjoy it like he predicted?]

Am spending a very quiet day today as it is raining! Do hope it doesn’t storm tomorrow as I leave in the aft for Oakland, accompanied by Mother. Have been thinking of you today as have been knitting on your sweater and it is nearly finished! [again, she was crafty?]

You’ll probably not hear from me again until Friday as I’ll get in so late tomorrow night I won’t be able to write.

And what are you doing today? When do you expect to be called for examination? Probably your letter will tell me all details.

Love from


December 24, 1917 – 11 p.m. [from Sig to Loraine]

My dearest Loraine,

Well my love it is Christmas Eve, and can you believe it, I just came to the club and it is certainly delightful out. Rode around the residence section [exact address, please] and really it was a pretty thought to see all the Red Cross service flags [Grandpa was involved with the Red Cross for many years] in the windows with the spot lights behind them. Gee I wished that you were with me to ride around on a nice quiet night to see all the people enjoying themselves in their different ways of happiness.

Early this evening we had a pretty tree for the baby at my brother’s home [brother would have been Herb and the baby would have been Herb Jr. who was born 10 February 1917] and it was cute – our first little one to have a tree [was this the beginning of the non-Jewish traditions?] and he was so excited with all his presents but of course he is too young to know what it all means but nevertheless he enjoyed it thoroughly – but the saddest part is that my father is not well enough to be up and see it all. [father, Herman Levy, died just a few months later, 6 March 1918]

Fresno was a busy little city today and you would really think this was a military center – so many soldiers and sailors. They are all home for Christmas and you know Fresno leads almost every city on the coast for enlisted soldiers. The visiting soldiers even had a big baseball game today.

Did I tell you I saw Dick [I need to figure out who Dick is]. Well he sent word that he was coming through the other night and he arrived at 12:30. Two sections to the train and they were just loaded with soldiers all bound for Texas for aviation. There was a mob at the depot and poor Dick was all in – he had an awful cold [he had a cold, too?] and said he had spent the toughest week of his life. The poor kids had no Pullman and they were just packed in – It was anything but an inviting looking future and Dick hated to break away from the bunch. It certainly looked strange to see him in a uniform. He is going to write me all about the life as soon as he hits Texas.

Dear I think we will go “over the top” on our Red Cross drive. It looks like 25,000 members for Fresno. How do you like that? Has Monterey done its share? [I sure hope so!]

The Red Cross dance the other night was also a huge success. All you hear or see down this way now is war. After this next call, dearest, there’ll not be a young fellow left. I haven’t received my questionnaire but they are already getting ready to call for the physical examinations. I will get mine I think in about a week. In the meantime I am hoping for a call from S.F. but nothing yet has arrived. Talked with one of our aviators today and he said the course at the university was about the stiffest thing yet. Only eight weeks to learn about everything and to bed every night at nine-thirty.

I’ll bet you have been stepping around since you left for home and I hope you haven’t worn your little self entirely out [see, he knew Grandma liked to party!]. And now that you are back I suppose it seems like another little dream. And sweetheart, have you had any real dreams about someone down this way in the last few days? [please say YES, Grandma!]

At any rate I hope this letter is waiting for you when you reach Oakland – was it and did you really look for it the first thing you did? Honest dear?  [tell the truth, Grandma]

And dearest you soon start with your new work and please don’t work too hard [one thing I don’t think Grandma ever did was work too hard] and tell me all about it. I should receive a great big loving letter [loving?] from you now, as you no doubt have a lot to tell me even if you must take time off this very night just for me.

The new year is soon to come – a year of something no one knows. I hope for you it will be wonderful. I’ll do my best. Keep well and happy, sweetheart.

As always with love, Sig
I was going to stop there but I just had to see if Grandma actually looked for the letter first thing and SHE DID!  This story just keeps getting better and better……..
December 27, 1917 – 8 pm [from Loraine to Sig]

My dearest

On my way home a short while ago I beheld the moon just rising and you should have seen it – a huge ball of fire and so pretty and then I wondered what the date was as the moon was full and it is the 27th – a month ago tonight you and I were at the Palace! How the time goes.

Here I am, back in Oakland and I don’t know whether I am glad or sorry. When it grew to be train time yesterday I didn’t want to leave, but Monterey is so quiet that had I remained, in another week I would, in all probability, want to come back. Arrived at 10 o’clock last night after a pleasant trip with Mother, and, in answer to your question, I did look for your letter immediately upon my arrival [NICE!]. So, your letter was here to greet me if not yourself.
And that’s where I’ll stop.  Just a glimpse into the Christmas holidays from 1917 thanks to my grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sig Levy.


  1. They were the cutest couple! Did they gush over each other like that throughout their lives?

  2. You really have such wonderful treasures from your grandparents. It's wonderful that they kept these letters for you to share all these years later!

  3. Wonderful letters and a great peek at Christmas 1917.