1974, January: Letter from Marcy to G&H

This letter is undated, but at some later point Helen wrote at the top “About Nov.   ?  ,” and internal evidence implies that this was early in the foster-home experience. However, it was also clearly after the gift of the organ, the arrival of which Marcy described in a late-December 1973 letter, and before Helen’s birthday in late January. So this must have been sometime in January, 1974.

This letter is six pages long; the first most-of-a-page is typed, but the rest is handwritten.

Sometime around November, the first two foster kids had arrived: Mark and Larry. I don’t really remember them at all. They were mentioned briefly in a couple of previous letters, but there’s a bit more mention of them here.

I’ve redacted their surnames in this letter, after some waffling. In the past, there’ve been some very good results from my mentioning full names in posts (for example, my mentioning Peter’s full name in my Wanderjahr posts in 1996–1997 is how Gabrielle found us); but I’m more concerned with privacy these days than I was then, and I feel like it might be a little inappropriate to give these people’s full names in this context, without their permission. (I did search for these full names online, and they’re common enough names that they get lots of search results; but even so, I decided to leave out the surnames.)

I’ve created a new feature to go with this letter: a table showing the ages of the four of us (P,M,J,&J) and George and Helen and anyone else who’s mentioned in the letter or otherwise seems relevant. I may only include such a table occasionally, but I feel like it’ll sometimes be useful to me and might be useful to some of y‘all too.

Name Age
Helen Nearly 66
George Nearly 62
Peter 34
Marcy 30
Paul & Linda Both nearly 29
Dobe (a.k.a. John) 25
Larry 15
Mark 12
Jed Nearly 6
Jay (a.k.a. Joaquin) Nearly 4

OK, here’s the letter.

Tieusday ("Why does Tuesday

have a 'two' in it?" :'Quin)

What a day this has been. Started off real well, then about 5:30 it really started to get wierd---went to pick up Mark and Larry, had an argument with Mark about taking off to a friend's house after school without letting us know, went into the supermarket and brokea jar of mustard (large size, of course) J & J came within a hair's breadth of tipping out of the basket (first time ever) came home and spilled a whole xxx pound of xxx soybeans all over the kitchen floor, Joaquin knocked over a whole glass of grape juice (what other kind stains so nicely?) but I let him have some more as it was completely by accident, so he did it agiain........please, Mama, please don't eat the daisies.......

Anyway, I was inspired by Peter saying he was going to write to you before he went to bed, so decided to do so simultaneously. Lessee, how many mistakes can I make in it before I fall asleep. Discovered I' m a somewhat better typist if I sit higher than the typewriter, so an doing so....in Jed's former high chair---kind of a painted stool-with-a-back that he used after Joaquin grew into the xxx highchair.

We really enjoyed your letter Gramma--tho you don't write so often as some in your household, sure do make up for it when you do. I'll try to answer it in some more or less order----starting with No Comment on the sneaky compliment--thrying to get me to write more letters, huh? But I'll never write a book, I'm the columnist type... Herb Caen, the SF Chronicle's xxx star gossip columnist, refers to three-dot journalism. WAIT better scratch that "gossip"--it's more like patter and clever lines.

On the organ: nope, didn't save the box--or any other you've sent. I can imaginge they're hard to get, but can you imagine what they look like when they get here...!Never so bad any xonrents--what???*** contents are damaged, but never so good as to be re useable.

Yes, we figured the organ was that one....and glad you got a fancier one. Did I tell you we'd been playing with such a one dureing Christmas shopping//?? They had it outside at a huge shopping center, conplete with its own wr rhythm section and about 30 or 40 stops in all colors, colored lights, 2 or 3 keyboards--even just fooling around on it sounded marvelous- I imagine it's rather much the same as yours. What a xxx lovely thing to have (switches to handwriting here, for the rest of the letter) right there at home !!!

Switched media as I think I was waking Larry up.

Their full names are Mark (Surname elided by Jed) and Larry (Surname elided by Jed). Birthdays are later in the year — Larry will be 16 in October and Mark 13 in September.

Very interested in your dryer — (dehydrator?) how in the world does it work? Will it get things dried to be reconstituted later, such as for camping? Can it do liquids? like make powdered milk, etc? Parenthetical comment in Peter’s handwriting: (John’s making a pyramid for astronomy class; besides dehydrating, it will sharpen razor blades!!?!)

On packages: Towels we have aplenty — and gorgeous ones, at that. Blankets are always handy; sheets would even be good — single only, as my sewing machine is temporarily xxx out of sorts and I can’t convert the doubles, — anyway, there are about 10 of ’em, but we have the only double bed, and I have a blue and a green sheet I like to use for it, so when they’re washed they go back on the same day. But we’re short on good top & bottom singles. We weren’t at first, but now that we’ve xxx been having company & keep the spare beds made up there are fewer. Also single bedspreads xxx would come in handy. xxx 1 or 2 more kids comimg any day nowNext phrase inserted by Peter, God willing.

Do you know xxx much about bluing? We’ve refused to use bleach, as all the water goes to the septic tank, but I seem to have the impression bluing is okay. Sure does do a fine job — and it’s so blue.

I’ve been very spoiled by Peter these past few months — he does all the laundry — wash, dry, fold, sort, distribute — (last step gets help from Jed & Joaquin) and xxx yesterday xxx we had some overnight company coming (two Junior Ministers from the Johrei center in S.F.) xxx and lots to do like shopping for essentials, errands, cooking, cleaning, laundry (Joaquin had had an accident the night before, and Larry had changed his bedding, and I got sick of Mark’s sloppy bed so I changed his, plus the guest beds had been slept in by L & M’s company several times — xxx so I tried doing the laundry. Peter took Joaquin on the errands while I flew around the house, tidied up the garage, and got dinner started. But what I originally intended to say was that that laundry is a big job, and Peter has done every stitch of it since we’ve been here, and I’m truly xxx impressed with him now that I’ve done some.



Wow! I was about 3/4 asleep at that last ¶. I wonder what I was talking about — ? Trying to get this finished while Peter is taking Jed to school, as we’d like to get it in the mail, with your birthday present, Grandma, this morning if possible.

There’s a Christmas House-type store here, too. I believe it’s called Christmas Unlimited. They take donations of things & sell ’em to buy gifts for needy people to pick out — I think that’s how they work, but it’s something similar if xxx not exactly that.

Interested to hear of Paul & Linda’s surprise visit. I guess I would never have thought twice about not phoning first if anything like that came up — but I guess I will now. Peter was amazed that they even considered showing up without calling — I guess he has more inborn social graces than I do. Led to all sorts of interesting sociological speculations about why people get dressed in costumes, how it is that Halloween is so exciting to kids (I remember being breathless with whatever emotion it was for the whole day, and up to the first few doors, when the novelty wore off. But why? What memory is stirred up, what delight in pretending to be somene else, pretending to surprise (even scare?) other people?

Perhaps akin to this: part of me loves to be angry. Adrenalin all stirred up, emotions at a high pitch, real, real feelings, alert, senses keyed up — anger & crisis [and, we read just this week (Supernature: xxx Lyall Watson) that telekinesis and other possibly other forms of ESP] are associated with this state. It really feels good to be functioning at this level — all systems go, just almost maximum but no overload, and afterwards an almost post-sexual feeling of good will and contentment. I think this “all-systems-go” feeling is tied up also with the alertness & intensity of the hunter surprising his prey, or the townspeople beset by barbarians, which are perhaps x archetypes of the Halloween excitement — no, I mean they’re indirectly symbolizedly that holiday’s activities. And I think this is also tied up with surprising people and your reactions at being surprized. To our animal natures, our instinct if you will, there can only be one reason for surprize: threat and attack, and our reaction must be flight-or-fight, hence the adrenalin, which of course is over ruled by the brain who xxx says — “Stop! They’re not only safe, they’re people I love.” So while your brain is going through its changes, wondering if this is really the real world where these people are supposed to be a million miles away, understanding what’s happened, etc, the adrenalin is still flowing through the body and the instinct is xxx still crying out “Run! Fight! Danger! Stranger!” Leaving one understandably a bit weak in the knees and somewhat on the skids emotionally till it all catches up.

Whew! Didn’t really know any of that till I read it as I was writing it! Lifted straight out of books — I didn’t invent a word, just synthesized.

Glad to hear about Mrs Kalberg. We heard from Gail (sent her a brochure as a card, too) & will probably stop to see her in the not too distant future.

Peter says he said to hang onto the sleeping bags — while my reaction is to send ’em on. After we have all six kids we’ll need ’em for company, and the weather will be getting nice enough to sleep out occasionally. So you guys will have to figure it out, whether to send ’em or not. Did Peter tell you that Jed has a carom board — ? Yes, I guess so — and that the rhythm instruments will be useful for sure....

Just a vague possibility, but you could find out about camping in the Olympic peninsula & climbing Ranier (slowly) & costs and reservations and such. We’ll have a long summer of it if there are no big activities planned, and our vehicle situation ought to be in hand by xxx then. (I.E. we should have two.)

Peter fortunately found a lovely man who repairs xxx Mercedes for $5/hour instead of $15, and really cares about the car, xxx taught us all kinds of little things about how to love it better, and get xxx it to love us better, too. Alas, he’s moving to Montana this summer. So we have to get a lot of work done while he’s here — but we’d have to get it done eventually at 3X the price. (eventually means no more than 6 months later.) So hurrah!

Just in time! Here come Peter & ’Quin!

Take good care of yourselfs.



Side note: I once again used Google Docs’s handwriting OCR to digitize this letter. It worked pretty well, overall. My favorite OCR mistakes in this one (I’ve corrected both of these):

  • post-sexual became pet-sequel.
  • Halloween became Hellavere.


“please don't eat the daisies”
Apparently refers to a book, or else the movie or the TV show loosely based on the book, that’s partly about raising four boys.
Herb Caen
It hadn’t occurred to me until I read this letter to wonder whether Marcy’s and Peter’s frequent use of suspension points (“...”)—and my own, for that matter—was connected to Herb Caen’s. (“San Francisco humorist and journalist whose daily column of local goings-on and insider gossip, social and political happenings, and offbeat puns and anecdotes […] appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle for almost sixty years.”) I think Marcy and Peter were using that style before they were likely to have read Caen’s column, and I may have gotten it from them. Then again, I read Caen’s column regularly as a kid (I guess we must have subscribed to the Chronicle at some point, and I think the columns, especially Caen’s and Art Hoppe’s, were the only part that I read regularly), so I may have picked it up from him.
See previous letter.
George and Helen had sent some “dried apples and bananananans” in their Christmas package, and Marcy had asked about them in passing in her previous letter; I assume that in response, Helen had said they had a dehydrator.
sharpen razor blades
For much more detail on the background of the belief that pyramids sharpen razor blades, see Wikipedia’s entry on pyramid power, which notes that “There is no scientific evidence that pyramid power exists.”
1 or 2 more kids
More kids did arrive eventually; see later letters.
Today I learned that bluing adds a little bit of blue to white fabric that has become slightly yellowed over time; the blue is to cancel out the yellow. (I had heard of bluing before, but didn’t know what it did.)
“spoiled by Peter”
Yet another casual phrase that might suggest that Peter’s and Marcy’s division of labor was more traditionally gendered than I had always thought. I can’t tell whether her framing here indicates that usually she would do all the laundry and that she felt that Peter was doing her a favor by doing it, or whether she just meant that usually they would split it in some way, so Peter doing all of it was unusual. But I’m reading it as more likely to mean the former, which surprises me if true.
Anyway, I had always thought that both Peter and Marcy did household chores when I was a kid; certainly in other contexts (including some of his many for-pay jobs), Peter did lots of cleaning and cooking and such. But it’s possible that Peter didn’t start regularly doing much of the housework and childcare until after Marcy got sick; I’m not sure.
“with your birthday present”
Helen’s birthday was in late January, lending further credence to my theory that this letter was written sometime in January, 1974.
Lyall Watson
Wikipedia says he was a “South African botanist, zoologist, biologist, anthropologist, ethologist, and author of many books, among the most popular of which is the best seller Supernature.”
Mrs. Kalberg and Gail
Gail was Peter’s first wife; Mrs. Kalberg was Gail’s mother.
carom board
I too have been spelling that word as carom all my life, but turns out it’s really carrom. The board was a fixture of my childhood; I remember it fairly clearly, but didn’t remember I had it this early in my life. Turns out the Carrom company is still making a board that looks pretty similar—it was a square wooden board with a pocket in each corner, and a checkerboard in the middle. The pieces were the same plastic rings, and it came with pool-like cue sticks. The board also had not-very-stable legs that you could stand it up on. I don’t think we made any effort to learn or play the official carrom rules; I think we just played it pretty much like a miniature version of pool.
I know that at some point in my childhood we had a Mercedes diesel car; I’m guessing this must have been it. I was unaware at the time that Mercedes was a luxury-car brand. I don’t know how or why we got that car.

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