1970, January 26: Letter from Marcy to G&H

A handwritten eight-page letter.

I keep being a little startled (and even a little disappointed, ridiculously) at the typos in these letters—my parents were both excellent at spelling and grammar and such, so I’m always a little taken aback when they misspell a word. But I’m doing my best to reproduce the misspellings. And to avoid introducing any new ones of my own; one reason it’s especially silly for me to be bothered by their typos is that I, of course, like most people, make occasional typos myself. Given Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation, it seems likely that I’ve even made some typos in this very post.

I’m introducing a new notation here: Text surrounded with ^^carets^^ is text that was inserted above the line. Mostly I’ve just been adding such text as if it were written inline, but in this letter there’s some inserted text that would need additional punctuation to make it fit the sentence, so I figured I should just mark it as inserted.

Content warnings for (a) mildly exoticizing discussion of some kinds of Japanese food; and (b) discussion of drug rehab and mental illness that seems to me to suggest that individuals have to be responsible for their own recovery, without systemic help.

26 January, 1 am

Dear Grandparents

Oh, how can it be? We have soooooo…………………… many letters & communications from you, so many things to reply to, so many many questions & answers & responses & stimuli – never did get thoughts on the mouse book written down, but one very recent rejoinder to that is to refer to a book for kids called “Moon Pony,” by Charlotte Pomerantz (Young Scott Books, NY, 1967) (Jed is, like his parents, well indoctrinated into books, & we get as many library books for him as we do for Peter and Marcy combined) – another aspect of the reply to the mouses is that you might do well to consider making them rats instead – rats are familiar, they are smart, they are very much like humans in many of the aspects of their “civilization” (e.g. omnivorous, scavenging, tough, incredibly resourceful, full surprise strengths – & weaknesses) – & perhaps a lot easier to identify with. Mice are so clean & tiny & helpless in comparison, & not at all as worthy of a kind of intuitive respect. Besides, rat is an easier & more useful word in terms of phonics, and with enough love in the work no one can accuse you of comparing your kids to rats. – On the other side of the coin, read Miss Bianca, also a kids’ book, can’t remember the author, but any childrens librarian can refer you to it & 1 or 2 others in the series.

How is it that we never have any time? If wishes were horses, if turnips were watches, if sitting down & thinking a letter could get it recorded…… if Jed would sleep more so his mama could do something else besides nap & delivery exercises during his nap, if we didn’t enjoy cooking & eating so much, if little boys were happy to play by themselves for hours & hours, if the first four years of life weren’t so vital in terms of all kinds of stimulation, if there were nothing to read & no dishes nor laundry – …… so then what would we have to write about? And as for Paul & Linda — each letter we write we know is shared with them – keep being about to write separately but then when the mood & possibility of letter writing is there at all, ’twere redundant to send them the same news – but we do keep trying.

Most deeply appreciated at this point would be a treatise on wringer washing machines. We’ve just acquired one, for $2500 from Goodwill, Peter got it going, with siphons & suchlike rigs (we don’t have stationery tubs) but on how to make it do laundry in the bestest way possible we have only memories & vague ideas. What about a cold water rinse? How long should wash & rinses be for optimum cleaning without scrubbing the dirt back in? What is there to know that most people don’t? (about wringer washers, I mean) So far, we’ve done one load & it seemed pretty good & got very clean, ’cept the wringer isn’t very efficient…

That last paragraph has large brownish-orangeish splots splattered across it. Handwritten in the margin is this note: Orange juice & purple pen don’t hit it off too well, do they!

Decorative spirals drawn between two paragraphs.
Decorative spirals drawn between two paragraphs.

We are engaged in a project called the Great Neighborhood Food Conspiracy. It’s essentially a buying coop, but with good connections & lots of people wanting the same things, and no overhead, (virtually), & a very loose organization, it is unbelievably cheap. Vegetables, all fresly bought at the S.F. Farmers Market at 6 am Saturday Morning, often at least 5-10¢/lb cheaper than days-old in the stores, many organically grown (no insecticides, waxes, or other chemicals) and all of excellent quality. Leeks nearly 2 feet long, giant beets, carrots too big to fit in our juicer, celery root with leaves (the leaves are an oddity rather than a delicacy, alas) beautiful fruits, dandelion greens, and of course high quality in the more usual vegetables.

New day, new pen – Tuesday 1/27

Happy Birthday, Grandma –

tho you’ll have heard from

us by the time you get this

The other aspects of the Food Conspiracy are cheese (good quality, fresh, far cheaper than in stores, sources available for inspection & questioning if desired) and “dry goods” – grains – whole wheat flour, brown rice, and all such stuff, cooking oils, nuts, organic non-hydrogenated peanut butter, and on and on and on and on … one really great thing is that it eliminates a great deal of shopping, which, with Jed, is always a big adventure – and when raw milk & fertile eggs are added, and possibly fresh fish once a week, it will be even more luxurious.

Recieved three lovely looking recipes from an Aunt I hadn’t even known of before – Lura Dishno (what an interesting name! where does Lura come from?) but have not had time to try any yet – as all were for goodies and I spend so much time concocting sumptuous luxuries out of whole-grain foods and exquisite vegetables that I generally don’t spend much on deserts. We tend to eat a lot at meals and don’t seem to be too hungry for goodies afterwards – besides, when there’s sweets around we tend to eat them instead of other food, and they are more expensive to make. (Tho we’ve tapped into a lovely source of honey – 50¢ for a 3-lb can of raw unfiltered uncooked organic honey, (a 5-lb can costs about $1.25 in stores, or 25¢/lb; this is ca. 16⅔¢) very rich and full of life-energy.) Christmas was a long lovely goodie-binge, but now we’re back to breakfasts instead of cakes, and lunches instead of preserves, and much better for it. (hmm. so why do we all have the sniffles all of a sudden?) (incidentally, Jed gets a dose of liquid B-complex-plus-iron every day, making him as happy and sunny and tantrum-free as he is spoiled and insistent without ’em) (which is not very, anyway, but even those terrible moments seem to be virtually eliminated – he sleeps better, too. And his mama’s 2 Tablespoons of Brewers Yeast in milk help her maintain the same – hurray for B-vitamins!)

My two new delights are The Soybean Cookbook and International Vegetarian Cookery – both are gems. With the former I hardly know where or how to start – so many beautiful lucious recipes for that joy of all meatless eaters, the soybean – sprouted, made into miso (Japanese fermented soy bean paste, very salty & delectable), tamari (organic soy sauce, also Japanese), or tofu (Japanese bean-curd, bean cake, or soy cheese) or soy flour, or soy milk, or cooked & casseroled or deep-fried, or soy oil, or on and on and on and so forth, ad temptation. All are equally delicious and far superior to icky ol’ plain boiled soybeans, which is how I’ve always known them & refused to cook or eat them that way. The vegetable cookbook is so full of ideas and variations, cheeses and casseroles and grains, that since I’ve had it ^^about three weeks^^ we haven’t had even the same dish (let alone the same whole meal) twice.

Paul’s Hors d’Oeuvers look lovely – we never have tunafish around long enough to toast, but next time we’ll make a bunch and save some for Cheesy toasties.

Decorative seven-pointed star between paragraphs.
Decorative seven-pointed star between paragraphs.

Have sent two of the books to David – we’re doing it one by one so that we can be sure each is recieved before we risk another. Sometimes several re-mailings are necessary.

We were very interested in the halfway house in Seattle that you mentioned some time ago. Have you had any more contact w/ them? That sort of project must be incredibly difficult in a society that has virtually nothing to offer an individual who has already become so disillusioned that he has used drugs as an escape from the Incredible Culture. I simply cannot see any hope or help on a group level for such people – there is no cure in our society for a “social” disease. Rather, the change & the impetus and the rehabilitation must be individual – when a human being has something that to him is real & worthwhile & worth working for, he will do so. Socially acceptable goals and aims, socially derived and acquired through indoctrination from age zero, or re-indoctrination at whatever age one decides to “become re habilitated” are just externals. If a person has some thing from inside himself as a source of strength, he will make it. (whether this is a drive to help others, or an inspiration from family or babies or lovers or “religious” conversion, or whatever) It must be a great help to be with others with similar besetting situations, but I can imagine that the others could be a slowing-down mechanism, at times. If I were myself recovering from such an emotional-spiritual miasma, I would betake myself to the farthest woods and stay there till my universe was hanging together again, then come in just a little way, and build a home and live in it, staying far away from city stresses and pollutions. But of course parole officers and offices prevent such action, forcing one to return to the scene of the crime and re-live all the stresses and strains that originally caused the breaking. ___________________________________________ I don’t know why that long underline is there. I guess it’s like how do you get better in a mental hospital surrounded by sick people? I don’t know, but some people still do it, because or in spite of. (Somewhere here I think I lost what I was trying to say, and went 3 rings around the center without indicating where it was.) (or being sure myself).

By the way, there’s not much chance of a trip to Lompoc for us either. Our dear ol’ VW Bus tries waffle hard, but can’t seem to make it around the corner without a new grunt or grind or loss of transmission oil. We’re getting it in good enough shape to sell, hoping to recoup our original investment and maybe get a good bug (VW) or wait till electric cars come out a bit cheaper. Saw one today – it was totally beautiful. completely noiseless (at 100 paces, anyway) and tiny and compact and not polluting the atmosphere. (What does it do to the Earth’s aura, I wonder?) (One’s aura is tied up with the electromagnetic spectrum; the Earth’s is most intimately so). at this point, anyway, it’s too late for me to travel – your second grandchild will arrive in 2-4 weeks. End of February at the very latest. That baby is nearly out anyway, right through the skin. I am not only ready to pop but amazed it hasn’t happened yet, with the strength of those tiny muscles. Jed got bopped on the ear tonight and was astounded! He’s felt with his hand before, and knows about “baby inside” but this was much closer to home, and a surprize as well. Won’t he be amazed when all we’ve been telling him comes true!

On baby needs – we’d welcome anything at all, but most especially anything that was used by the Hartman brothers. The flannel material was lovely – have a borrowed sewing machine for its conversion to either blankets or soakers or something. The thing I liked best for Jed was those little sleeper suits, or jump-suits, we called them, with snaps down the body & legs. Never have enough of them. And the least desired are those little Olive Oyl gowns, the nightgown with drawstring or umpty-trillion buttons, that always ended up under Jed’s arms instead of down at his feet (

Drawings of most and least desirable items of baby clothing.
Drawings of most and least desirable items of baby clothing.

) I was unable to save anything but the precious heirlooms of what I had for Jed, due to all the moving around, and slowly am re-accumulating baby clothes, blankets, etc. But the time is coming for direct action, there will be a live and squirmy baby in the house very soon, & that baby will need clothes. Also, bunting bags (1 or 2 at most) are nice, and blankets and soakers, oh especially soakers, this one will not be subjected to rubber pants except for direst extreme cases, till 2 or 3 months old.

Goodness, what a long letter. Next month, when you get finished decipering it, we’ll begin to expect a reply. Meanwhile, happy unbirthday – hope the telegram came in time – we’ll call you when the baby comes out. Love to Paul & Linda, too – Oh, a terrible tragedy has happened to the back of p. 1 of this letter – butter and orange juice! Oh, alas and alack!

love to all from

Peter, Marcy & Jed

Some notes:

I don’t know the context for the whole thing about mice here. It kinda sounds like George and/or Helen were planning to write a book, with mice as characters? But I’m just guessing.
The Moon Pony
I don’t know why this picture book was relevant to the question about mice. A few pages are available online; none of them appear to mention mice. But maybe there were mice elsewhere in the book.
library books for him
In case this isn’t obvious: Those were presumably books that my parents read to me, not books I was reading myself. I didn’t learn to read until I was four or five. (At the time of this letter, I was not yet two.)
mice vs rats
I’m puzzled to read this—I know there are lots of good things about rats (and friends of mine have beloved rat pets), but the criticism of mice seems oddly strong to me. I’m used to thinking of mice as being common major positively portrayed characters in kids’ books: Ben and Me (1939); arguably Stuart Little (1945); arguably Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952); Anatole (1956); Basil of Baker Street (1958); The Cricket in Times Square (1961); The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965); Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) (after this letter was written, of course); Redwall (1987); The Tale of Despereaux (2003); and on and on. Not to mention Mickey Mouse, Tom & Jerry, et al. I have nothing against rats, but I’m not sure why Marcy would have thought mice would be offputting to kids. …For more about mice in kids’ books, see this 2018 article.
Miss Bianca, by Margery Sharp
Second book in the Rescuers series, which later became a Disney movie. I don’t think I ever saw the movie, but I enjoyed the books as a kid.
wringer washer
I got curious and went looking; here’s a 20-minute video of using a wringer washer. I watched bits of it at double speed, but didn’t watch the whole thing.
shopping, which, with Jed, is always a big adventure
Still true! :)
Aunt Lura Dishno
George’s older sister. I have a dozen photos of her, ranging from 1914 through 1990; the one closest to the time of this letter is this photo of Lura in Texas in 1961. I think she was named after her great-grandmother Lura Clark.
Jed gets a dose of liquid B-complex-plus-iron every day
After reading this letter recently, I went and got some B complex pills and iron pills; I figured it was worth seeing whether they would still make me cheerful and tantrum-free. I’ve been taking them each day for the past several days, and so far I do kinda feel like I’ve been more cheerful this week than has been usual lately. No idea whether that’s the vitamins, a placebo effect, or entirely unrelated, but I’ll take it.
Cheesy toasties
A staple food throughout my youth (and occasionally since then) was what we called a cheese toastie—essentially an open-face grilled cheese sandwich. (Put grated or sliced cheese on a slice of bread, put it under a broiler or in a toaster oven for a couple minutes until the cheese is melted, eat.) I don’t know whether this was our introduction to that idea, or whether we were already eating cheese toasties and this was just a variant involving tuna.
used drugs as an escape
I’m not sure what to make of this discussion of drug use. Surely Marcy and Peter had been surrounded by people taking drugs for a couple of years at this point. I assume Peter was smoking plenty of marijuana by this point; not sure about Marcy. So I feel like she must have been making a distinction between different types of drug users, but I’m not sure what the distinction was.
electric cars
There were a few electric cars in the 1960s, but very few. I don’t know whether the one Marcy saw was a custom one made by an individual, or one of the few produced by carmakers.

Facebook post for this letter.

2 Responses to “1970, January 26: Letter from Marcy to G&H”

Join the Conversation