Two four-page letters, both handwritten on lined three-hole-punched paper. Marcy had written the first one a couple weeks earlier (in red ink, hence her phrase “red ink letter”), but hadn’t finished it; then she lost it, and wrote another one; then she found the first one, so she included both in the envelope. I’m putting the second-written one first here, which she indicated was the order in which they should be read.
On the outside of the envelope, Marcy wrote: “Have a wonderful time.” Not sure what that was referring to.
…It’s probably time to include another age table, though some of these ages are explicitly mentioned in one of the letters. Relevant people’s ages as of August 1, 1974:
|Jay (a.k.a. Joaquin)||4|
…Also included in the envelope with these letters: two issues of Moneysworth: The Consumer Newsletter, from June and July 1974. (Apparently Peter was a subscriber.) I’m not digitizing those, but here are some of the headlines:
- Domestic Tranquillity: Coping with Household Help
- Buying a Guitar You Won’t Fret Over
- The Trials and Tribulations of Class Action Suits
- The Hard Facts about Constipation
- Value Judgment: Dishwashers that Cut the Mustard
- Old Means Gold: Collecting Antique Cards
Also, a piece about the newsletter’s creator and publisher, Ralph Ginzburg, having been sent to prison for publishing Eros, “a hard-cover quarterly magazine devoted to ‘the joys of love and sex.’”
Anyway, here’s the second-written letter.
Content warnings for: talking about foster kids in ways that I find pretty offputting; someone having killed a kitten with a BB gun; reference to weight loss.
READ THIS FIRST
August 16, 1974
Dear Grandpa and Grandma
It seems like such a little time since you were here — it goes by so fast — but I realize it is a fur piece (sic) — since then, Larry has had a major freakout & gone to the Childrens center in his home county for 3 weeks, to decide he wanted truly to be here, & is now truly here & it’s really a pleasure. George had a freakout, too, started believing his fantasy that he runs the house & began to refuse any discipline. So he spent a weekend in Juvy & is much improved. Ivan is off camping at Eel River (near the Yolla Bolly — Middle Eel National Wildeness, I kid you not.) Robert decided he wanted to live here (we asked him about it) and about 3 hours after announcing same, was
xreported to us for Shoplifting — cigarettes — so he is finishing up a month’s restriction. Mark continues the same as always — argumentative & bossy & paranoid and smart. We’ve had ’em all tested — psych profile & I.Q. Discussions of their IQs elided by Jed.
Why all this news of kids? We’ve got six chickens and getting a feisty Leghorn rooster tomorrow. And two lovely kittens have adopted us — but they and all of Elsa’s live outside now. One of Elsa’s was given away, & one of the new ones died of BB gun wounds (oh, did I scream & holler about that. No one admitted shooting it) and one of Elsa’s is to be given away in trade for the rooster. We’ve had lots of zucchini & a few tomatoes, 2 out of 16 celeries survived, ^^garlic^^ corn, pumpkins, beans, flowers coming — and a volunteer GIANT Hubbard (??) Squash (at least 15 # so far) and volunteer tomatoes & little gourds near the house.
The big news is vacations — Peter & Jed & Joaquin are on one now — they are staying with a dear friend in Santa Cruz & tomorrow will be leaving for Colorado, for a 10-day Harbinger reunion at a hot springs resort. They’re going in a friend’s VW
xxxcamper, so the car is here — in the shop for major maintenance, Wednesday through Saturday (I hope) so I’m riding a 10-speed bike when I need to go into town. Which is sure getting me skinny fast. It’s about 3½ miles each way; I rode at least 10 miles today, and was so wiped out I stopped at a friend’s shop and had him bring me xxxhome the last trip — it’s not the tiredness but an aching bottom — those 10-speed seats are medieval torture instruments. Anyway, I like my “not-really” vacation very much indeed — The big kids let me have my space, and I can be away from the house on my own for hours at a time, visit friends, and not have to be responsible for anyone but myself. Not that I’d refuse to see them if they came home tomorrow, you understand, but just that it’s nice for a change. I will get to take them on severalJed & Quin on several mini - vactions when school starts.
On September 21, one of our teachers from Japan will be in the U.S. She is the daughter of our original teacher Meishu Sama, and
xxxat present is the head of the Johrei movement — so we will go to L.A. to see xxxher & take the kids to Disneyland at the same trip.
xxxfound the red ink letter, and some of this is pretty repetitive. xxx
We’re thinking of joining the “Y” so we can swim all year. $13800 for any size family, for pool, sauna, instruction, sports, gym,
xetc, etc. xxxfor a year!
Bike riding permeates my consciousness. I shall have to stop & sleep. Won my first Monopoly game tonight, learned to tread water yesterday.
P.S. Have I ever really thanked you for all the goodnesses of your visit? The whole thing was such a pleasure it seems like it just happened & I still feel good from it — I’m finally getting back to the mending now that I have some time & really appreciate all you did — and so good to have water out there in the garden where it’s needed — and all the marvelous clothes ..... and everything — anyway, take good care of yourselves—
Amusing Google Docs OCR errors:
- Middle Eel: Muddled reel
- [Sentences about garden vegetables]: Were had lot of succhine of a few teatres. 2 out of 16 celefie’s suured gallery, peoplea’s beaus, flaves emine - and a vobeteer LGIANT Hubbard (??) Squash Cat least ir # so far) and selecteer truatres & litte gards wear the house...
- at a hot springs resort: ante hot spingo sesert
- about: alreet
- goodnesses of your visit: gendarises of good wsit
- appreciate: esquark
For my notes on the above letter, see end of this post.
Now the first-written letter.
Content warning for further unfortunate stuff about the foster kids, especially a couple of bits that could easily be read as abusive. Most especially for a phrase that implies that one of the kids invited violence against him, and for a description of setting up a foster kid to not be believed by authorities when he makes allegations against his foster parents. (In this particular case, the kid was lying about those allegations, but even so, I’m really uncomfortable with adults doing this kind of thing.)
Here’s the letter:
READ THIS SECOND
1 August 1974
Good morning, folks!
How I would love to be typing this so you could read it as well as having it — but ya can’t have everything, I guess, so we’ll just be glad I’m getting it done.
Reading a book called graphotherapeutics — this guy would know all my innermost secrets, like my inherent propensity to — oh, that’s right, that’s my deep dark secret. Guess you’ll have to have my handwriting analyzed if you want to know.
The thing I was interested in most is that his method has been used for years as a diagnostic tool by some Childrens shelter in Southern California. The director says he can tell which kids are the real delinquents. Then they change certain aspects of the handwriting (by long practice) which results in modified behavior. Evidently this is a short-term change & needs constant maintenance, but can probably be a good handle for reaching in for further change. How about that!!!
Well, now that you’ve been here I feel much less guilty about not writing often, ’cos you know how it is. Did you get Jed’s little tattletale note? George & Mark were so incensed about that they wouldn’t play with him for days. I was amazed, myself. We told them they could write to you too, & complain about him, or us, or anything but that wasn’t the point. (But I don’t know what the point was.)
Things are settling a little here. Jed & I each have a half hour swimming class in Sebastopol every day ^^Joaquin dropped out of his.^^, and we bought the big boys a little motorcycle which has totally placated a lot of leftover energy. It’s called a trials bike, by Yamaha, 80 CC, can only be ridden on the dirt road, ditches, yards, etc, but illegal for street riding. Maximum speed is 40 mph — it’s a skill bike, made for obstacle courses & developing skill at riding slow (which is much harder than fast riding) and we’re pretty happy with it.
Larry had a major freakout & spent almost 3 weeks in the childrens shelter in his home county before he decided to come back here & keep a cool head. He & all the others are going to be in more or less regular therapy from now on. They’re all being tested by a psychologist who works
xxxas a team with a psychiatrist—both will see them & evaluate, then one will continue to see them—& us— xxxin advisory capacity. All on Medi Cal
He gave us one good idea for building
xxxtrust. For a birthday present, a sealed bottle of wine, with lots of ceremony, marked “to be shared by you & xxxus on your 21st (or 18th) birthday.” We were totally taken with the idea — don’t know if Ivan xxxcan keep a bottle of wine till he’s 18 (4 years from August 7) but we’ll see. Only 2 years for Larry. Mark will be 13, finally, in OctobSeptember, & George just had his 13th birthday in April. Robert we believe we are not going to keep. He is having a very hard time adjusting & is not happy here. He’s 13½, with m.a. of about 9, very provocative of violence (toward himself) & totally unwilling to learn anything. Last xxxweek he was being scolded for shoplifting (one day we told him he either had to change his ways or prepare to leave, so next morning he agreed to Shape up. An hour later xwe got a call from a store manager .... 4 packs of cigarettes!) So along with restrictions, he got lectured at quite a bit. At one point he was alone with Peter, I believe George was looking in, & Robert declared that he’d really like to get us busted & he’d find something illegal we were doing & report us. So Peter said, why don’t you tell them we have sex orgies & shoot dope in our arm every night. So Robert did it. He called the Sheriff (George got the number for him — he couldn’t figure it out) & actually told that story. Then xxxafter 4 or 5 repetitions Peter took the phone away from him & explained what was going on, & that we were open for inspection any time, etc. The Sheriff was very nice about it.
The good thing is that this gives Robert a reputation for crying wolf, which may come in handy if he ever decides to really get mean & plant some drugs here & then report it. This is why he’s not staying. His social worker is looking for a new placement.
He admits he did consider this. But not worth the $5 he’d have to pay for the pot, he says.
Amusing Google Docs OCR errors:
- Reading a book: leadiqa fuck
- inherent propensity: sileiset progresia
- psychologist: sycholeziel
- “fur piece”
- I’m not sure whether this is an uncommon enough phrase to need a note. Just in case: it means a long distance, where fur is intended as a dialect pronunciation of far.
- foster kids being sent away to children’s center, Juvenile Hall, etc
- This is more of what I was talking about in my notes on the April 12, 1974 letter: the foster kids misbehave, so they get sent away. As noted in those other notes (for details, follow that link), there are all sorts of possible complicated things going on here, and I don’t want to condemn Peter & Marcy too harshly without knowing more of the facts. But these letters leave me feeling deeply uncomfortable about various aspects of their handling of the foster kids.
- Juvenile Hall, presumably the one in Santa Rosa. My understanding at the time was that Juvenile Hall was essentially jail for kids. I don’t understand how refusing foster-parental “discipline” (that word could mean a very wide range of different things, and I don’t know what Marcy meant by it) would be grounds for (a) Peter & Marcy sending George to jail for a weekend, or (b) the authorities agreeing to imprison him for a weekend.
- PS: Recall that George was the only Black kid among the foster kids, in a pretty white semi-rural region. I don’t know whether that was a factor in his punishment, but it seems worth noting.
- Yolla Bolly–Middle Eel Wilderness
- Wikipedia says: “The name is a combination of: a phrase from the Native American Wintun language of the region's Wintun peoples, Yo-la meant snow-covered, and Bo-li meant high peak; and a reference to the Middle fork of the Eel River.”
- elision of IQs
- I waffle a lot about whether to elide various things from these letters. I almost always end up deciding to include things, but somehow the discussion of the foster kids’ IQs ended up being something I wasn’t comfortable including.
- I assume Elsa was a cat who lived with or near us, but I have no memory of her.
- BB gun
- Another aspect of this situation was that Marcy was adamant that Jay and I were not allowed to play with any toy that remotely resembled a gun, not even a stick used as a pretend gun. I don’t know whether that restriction applied to the foster kids, but I bring it up because I think it’s quite unlikely that anyone in the house had a BB gun. But possibly some of the foster kids had access to friends’ BB guns or something.
- Harbinger reunion
- I don’t remember the Harbinger reunion, but I do have very vague memories of a trip to Colorado hot springs. This trip may explain why I associate hot springs with Colorado in my memory, even though the hot springs I had had the most exposure to were the ones at Harbinger (but I was too young at Harbinger to remember it).
- LA and Disneyland
- Letters from September don’t mention such a trip; I don’t think it happened.
- As Wikipedia notes, “No scientific evidence exists to support graphology, and it is generally considered a pseudoscience.” Which would seem to imply that this idea that you can tell which kids are “real delinquents” based on their handwriting is also nonsense.
- “tattletale note”
- Huh. This description makes me really uncertain about what was going on with my previous letter. My adult reading of that letter had previously been that I described the bullying and the stopping thereof pretty matter-of-factly, and Peter or Marcy addressed and mailed the letter, so I assumed that the letter had been just letting George (Grandpa) and Helen know about a thing that had happened and that was now over. (Though I don’t know why I chose that particular thing to write to them about, when I wasn’t writing to them about most other things.) But apparently Mark and George (foster) knew what I had written? Why would Peter and Marcy have told them about that? Or did I myself tell them about it? I’m not sure. (On a side note: I’m also uncomfortable with the word tattletale in general, but especially in the context of a kid reporting bullying.)
- Medi-Cal “is California's Medicaid program serving low-income individuals, including families, seniors, persons with disabilities, children in foster care,” and others.
- bottle-of-wine trust exercise
- I might think more highly of this exercise if not for the fact that the foster home lasted only about a year after this. So the trust issue turned out not to be a question of whether the foster kids were up to the challenge of waiting for their 18th birthdays, but rather a question of whether the foster home itself would last that long.
- “m.a. of about 9”
- I assume m.a. is short for mental age.
- “provocative of violence (toward himself)”
- I find this phrase distressing. I don’t know what exactly Marcy meant by it, and I’m almost certain that my parents didn’t hit any of the kids except to deliver rare spankings. (That is, they spanked me and Jay (rarely); I don’t know whether they spanked the foster kids.) But the idea that something that a kid does or says is what provokes violence toward the kid—ugh ugh ugh.
- “plant some drugs here”
- I’m now very curious about whether Peter was regularly smoking marijuana during his time as a foster parent. My memory of him is that he always smoked dope (I don’t remember a time when he specifically avoided it), but my memories of that period are very hazy; it’s possible that he took a break during that period. But it’s also possible that he didn’t, and thus that a close inspection of the premises by authorities would have turned up drugs that really were in use by Peter (not sure about Marcy). Which makes me even more uncomfortable with this whole episode.