1973, January 8: Letter from George to Peter

I have almost none of the letters that George and Helen wrote to us, but in this case George and Helen considered the letter so important that they made a copy of it before sending it. I think the copy must’ve been made with carbon paper or something similar; I can feel the bumps on the back of the page from the typewriter keys pressing the paper, so this isn’t a photocopy.

This is a response to Peter’s list of his debts in the previous letter.


Jan. 8, 1973

Dearest Peter and Family:

As I wrote the date I realized that today is my father's birthday. I think he would be 101 if hex were living. Mom has been thinking all day, she said, trying to remember whose x day it is. Your letters came today, and Peter, I had NO IDEA that anyone could be in debt that much (except for buying a house). I'm glad you listed it out for us, and we'll see what can be done about getting you folks out from under. Not that we can help that much financially, but the burden is just too great for anybody to be living almost from hand to mouth and always behind. So at least I can give you some ideas, if xxx you will listen.

I was just telling Mom that it must be a great temtation, after being on welfare for as long as you have been, to suddenly get a job at fairly good wages, and having been without "things" so long, to suddenly find that you can get them with the flick of a pen. And the people who sell things are to blame, too, although they can't know the financial condition of every customer, either.

So, first. I'd see a credit counselor in Stockton as soon as you can, lay it out on the line to him. Often they can consolidate the bills you owe so that you can pay a bank a certain amount of money a month and they pay your creditors out of that, and in the meantime they are off your back. Don't go to one of the commercial outfits that will keep a percentage of your payment for themselves, but generally in most cities there is a public office which will help you with a budget and help you get out of dect.

Or lacking one of these, go to a bank, ask to see one of their men, get ideasx from him. I'm pretty sure that the NDEA loans are not pressing you at this time, so they can be xxx deferred. All this will probably mean going on a strict cash basis for a year or so, but you can do it, I know. I notice that one of your creditors is a credit Union. That might be a good place to start-- they may have a counselling-budgeting service that I spoke of in the preceding paragraph. Get the friend and the boss paid off first-- I'm sending enough for that. As Mom says- friends stop being friends when we borrow from them, and the same for bosses, only if they stop being bosses, we ain't got no job.

I guarantee the job will go better, you'll sleep a hell of a lot better, and the world will look a whole bunch rosier if you do some (or all of these things.) What I am afraid of is that you will get mad and think we are just old busy-body snoops who are trying to butt their noses in where they are not wanted. If so, so be it, and good luck. If you do decide to do it the way I've suggested, why not join the establishment the whole hog, and look the part? At least on the outside-- nobody can control what's up there in that wonderful mind of yours.

Mom and I will help, but we will want a progress report occassionally, and some idea of where the money goes. We don't have asx much as it seems like we should, the government gets almost half of what I make, and we are trying very hard to save for our retirement (I can teach 4 more years). So we have a tax sheltered annuity we are buying. So out of over 1000 amonth we have some over 500 left. We most certainlyx don't want to be any kind of burden on our childer when we get too old to work.

One other thing. How steady is your job? Is it supported somewhat by Federal and local funds, or do you have to raise the funds yourselves before you can get paid? Perhaps you might keep an eye peeled for a teaching job in a college or JC (I don't think they require teaching "credits") But don't leave one job for a better one until you are sure of the better one. Also, I know Marcy has a job on her hands with Jed and Joaquin, but perhaps she could substitute?

More than anything else, Peter, I want you to take this in the way it is written- with a heart full of love and concern for you folks, the ones we love. Would it be any help if Mom came down for a short visit? Probably the money that would cost would do much more good on the bills, so forget I mentioned it.

Could you exchange the 300 buck stereo for a cheaper one? I see them advertised all the time for much less.. Wish you all were closer, so we could help more tangibly. Now please sit down and write me a letter telling me what you think of my ideas, etc. Again, the amount of your total indebtedness staggers me, and I want to help you to get out from under. Please try to understand, ok? We love you.

Annotations in red pen indicate that they mailed a $35 check to cover the debts to the friend and the boss (though Peter’s response indicates that they mailed a $50 check), and that George signed the letter on behalf of both of them.

…I’m really uncertain how to interpret the tone of this letter. I feel like the core of what happened here was that Peter wanted to say “work missed a paycheck they were supposed to give me, so I’m a little stressed about money right now, and it’s going to take a long time for us to pay you the $250 we owe you,” but he got carried away in listing debts; George interpreted that as a desperate cry for help getting out of debt, and so provided a bunch of advice (along with a little anti-hippie jab) and a bit of money; then Peter and Marcy explained (see next letter) that it wasn’t really all that bad.

I guess more generally I continue to be uncertain about whether some of these letters (in both directions) were expressing real upset with each other while papering it over with an explicit assurance that it’s meant lovingly, or whether each couple really was lovingly concerned about the other, and just expressed that concern in a way that I read as kind of obnoxious.

…I guess another part of why this letter rubs me the wrong way is that Peter was 33 years old at this point, but I feel like George was talking to him like he was a kid. And Peter had had possibly literally dozens of job by this point, but I feel like George was treating him like he had never earned any money. It’s true that Peter never had any financial sense; but even so, my reading of George’s tone here bugs me. But I may well be misinterpreting.


George’s father Charles was born on January 8, 1871, according to the records I have; so he would’ve been 102 at the time of this letter if he had still been alive. (He died in 1922, when George was 10.)
loans to friends
There were several times in my youth when Peter loaned money to friends, and the friends didn’t pay back the loan, and that ended the friendship. Seeing that happen repeatedly was the main factor that led me to my approach: when I loan money to friends, I never loan more than I can afford to lose, and I almost always explicitly say (and always intend) that the friendship is more important than the money and that therefore if there comes a point when they can’t pay me back, then it will retroactively turn into a gift.
“I can teach 4 more years”
George was about to turn 61. Helen was about to turn 65.
“perhaps she could substitute”
I know that Marcy did substitute teaching sometimes, but I’m not sure whether that started before or after this letter.

Join the Conversation