1981, July 19: Letter from Helen to P&J&J

A rare surviving letter from Helen; presumably because she kept a copy of it. Three-page typewritten letter.

This was apparently when we moved to our next house in Palo Alto, less than half a mile from our previous place. I’ve now updated the map of places we lived. This was approximately the 14th place we had lived, and I was 13 years old, so our average-time-between-moves had gone up to about a year, after about three years at our first Palo Alto address.

Content warning for Helen’s casual metaphorical use of the word slaved.

I have two copies of this letter (one might be the original). Stapled to one of them is an index card that includes a list of things “Sent Peder July ’81,” things like a toaster oven, luggage, a spice rack, bedding, etc. I decided not to try to transcribe that list in detail.

Sunday July 19, 1981

Our dear Peter, Jed and Joqauin -

Had planned to write each of you a separate note, but will do well to get one done, the way I'm NOT getting at it. And now, there may be a postal strike tomorrow to complicate matters. But, no use being pessimistic about it - -

Have written you dozens of times (in my mind) these last couple of weeks - seems that there have been so many reminders in the papers, on TV, in conversations, etc. For instance, there was a commentary on a TV program about "Rubicubes" and the many solutions, a fact that certainly was interesting to me - I thought there would be just one way to solve it.

Then - since stores are stressing paying 1¢ a can for recycling, we've started to take the few we have back when we shop. Reminded me how I had hoped to label the garbage cans for glass & cans, and show the two J's how easy it is to store newspapers in a large grocery brown bag.

Joaquin - you promised to write us how your championship game came out, but we haven't heard, and we truly are interested. Too bad we didn't get to see you.

Jed- are you doing your eye exercises faithfully? I'll just bet your eyes will improve in the new place, with so much better light - I may be wrong, but I am a firm believer in good light.

Both GRAND sons - are you mowing the lawn with that new machine? Or are you still busy watering the lawn at the old place? Maybe Pat has sold it by now? We certainly would love to have had a polaroid picture of the side lawn (by the altar and dining room) when the new grass came up - and of the back yard by the fireplace, though I guess that wouldn't have been much different. Oh yes, it would - I remember she was going to buy plants of some kind for the plant beds. Maybe it isn't too late for you to take a couple of Polaroids for us??

We've been most interested in the trauma you're going through down there with the fruit fly. If they have sprayed over your place, did they destroy some of the thousands of little ants we saw? Which reminds me, I moved the rug a bit toward the house (on the outside patio) and it was all wet underneath - had meant to turn it over to dry out and then move it to the covered patio maybe (I got that sequence backwards)x but not enough time or energy after George said we were leaving and got our plane reservations. In regard to insects, do you remember that the real estate man said the city would spray if they got too bad right there by the creek - and we noticed mosquitoes (we think) at night.

What has happened to our dog’s name? Or maybe I should say what kind of a place is the "Pets in Need"? --- As long as I'm asking questions, here are some more if you care to answer, as we're very interested. How did the party turn out, and how many came, and who - did you fix anything like snacks? Has Harriet been over?

Peter - I put a small booklet "CASIO" in the drawer of that two-drawer chest by the bed in your room, where I dropped some other more-or-less important items. When we got home, I found a booklet "CASIO LC-791", which I presumed belonged to the calculator you gave George. But the number thereon is 781, so I hope this booklet we have isn't the one you need for your watch! I can't decipher all the foreign language, but I don't think it says anything about a watch. By this time you may have had it fixed or have gotten the key that was lost, hope so.

I wonder how much of my conversation with Jed was passed on, as when I asked about our dog’s name, he was reminded that he was sposed to call "Pets in Need", and was looking up the number while I was talking. Doesn't much matter at this point, anyhow, but I did want you to know about the things on top of the washer in the garage that you mentioned wanting to give or send people (I didn't get that book wrapped for Jeffery (?)) Jed did say Shama wasn't coming to the party so you probably still have her kimona lying around. But maybe you gave Betty & Oz the book for Mrs. Montross.

I'm getting ready to have that long-planned rummage sale on Saturday, Aug. 1. Have everything clean and sorted in boxes according to categories (i.e., kitchen items, linens, etc.) so it won't take too long to price everything. Even have the tables and equipment needed ready. Only hope it doesn't rain.

Which again reminds me, Peter, that I didn't get around to finish sorting the sewing mending paraphernalia - it was all stacked in the closet by the computer when we left. If you don't have other plans for the thread, bobbins, trimmings, etc., I can always use that stuff, as I still do quite a bit of mending. There's no hurry about sending it - if you plan on shipping that box I mentioned in the last letter (hea;vy boots for Karen, cotton blankets loaned to you at N.Y., and games for less fortunate kids), just include the sewing stuff. As I said, there is no hurry, because I know your time is full until you get fully settled and all the book shelves put up, books arranged, and so on.

Sorry about so many xxx things - wanted to sample Joaquin's pizza and cheesecake, fix an up-to-date phone and address book for you, get bed-spreads for the boys (it's a shame I don't know what they like as Sears is moving out to the Mall from downtown, so everything is half-price).x

Oh yes, you may wonder (if you have any use for it) what I did with that big curtain that was on the wall by the living room in the old place. Well, to keep it x clean and out of the way, it is in your big old black suitcase in the garage. Since it sort of disintegrated when washed - it was very heavy for home washingx - maybe the best place for it would be the xvan up by Lucky's?? Do hope you can sell the sewing machine, typewriter, and white chest of drawers sometime - so they do not take up space. By the way, I saw chests something like that one (which you said you were going to sell) at a Thrift store for about $50. And that's up here!

Now for your health advice, P. I itch so much, particularly my shoulders - what do I lack?? Two sentences elided by Jed.

Note typed sideway in the margin of the page: One sentence elided by Jed. -- Did we leave Dad's hat there? Can't find it. -- Please send the book about touching, or hugging, I can't remember the name. It was new (Dad bought it for me when I requested it) and I had left it out to read enroute home. Think it was on your bed.

Monday a.m.

Had to quit last night - and now I've sort of forgotten some of the things I wanted to mention. Maybe my memory will get into gear as I "oil" it. Which brings to mind that George has taken the car to a x transmission place as it is barely running - another big bill, I spose. But we can't afford a new one. In fact, I'm beginning to think about parting with the motor home, altho' I would love to take a trip or two in it first as I really enjoyed living in it. Sort of like a play-house.

Paul and Linda and three will be here the end of the first week in August, and will baptize xxx McKenna Shay at the beach that weekend. Then they plan to play pinochle and visit with us before "crashing" for that long-awaited rest. I'll bet those plans don't work out - but I hope some others might - that they will get over to see Davxid and Karen and Jesse and Cricket the pony. Those folks are pretty much home-bound now as they are milking two fresh cows and have a paper route. The good guy, Pat, who comes to their rescue by doing chores at times can't anymore as his mother, with whom he lives, had a stroke and he has to feed her five times a day, besides other waiting on. Also, they are behind in their own work because of giving so much time to Gene and his selling out.

By the way, even tho it was not in the will, Karen may get Grandpa Ernie's truck as, fortunately, her uncle heard Ernie tell Betty (K's mom) that is what he Ernie wanted. That will truly be nice for D & K - they need a good vehicle to get wood, etc.

I have been off my sleeping pattern since returning home - the first week I had to nap every day, but after that phase passed, the night sleep hasn't been good. So a few nights ago, I got up about 1 and stayed up until 4 -- but found a job that could be done quietly, without awakening GV. Haven't had room for the cookbooks you gave us (some were duplicates, I believe) and the ones I brought back since you had similar ones, so sorted and discarded a good many that were published by x food companies, such as Centennial Flour. Now I have more to sell at rummage. Do you know, P., if old - 1930 and 1940 - cookbooks are at all valuable??

Vicki took Beth to a camp this a.m. - had to get up very early and take John to work on their way to Lake Stevens, up near Everett. But won't have to go for her since her friend's mother will. Hope E. gets a lot out of this adventure. V. is going to look for work all week, she says. They surely were disappointed when Dennis and Carmen didn't come since J. had taken the week off for vacation. However, he worked terribly hard on their place - new storage shed in the back, landscaped the back yard with tiers made of railroad wood (can't think of the word, and GV isn't here to ask)x and paved the area back of the house, extending the patio and forming a foundation floor if/when they want to build on. They surely have slaved, saving the turf and laying it on again after leveling, etc. Went out to their waterfront to work one day, but it rained. Perhaps we can help 'em sometime, they do a lot for us, particularly in giving us moral support. Guess John is good at that for everyone.

Now, oh yes - please reimburse us for the $20 we paid the garbage men that last day. And maybe Jexd will give me a raincheck on learning a bit about computers sometime? P. Have you met Joya's little girl (?) yet? Greet J. from us - wish we could have made a better impression, at least have been CLEAN!

We love you - please communicate.

Mother (and Grandma)

Handwritten sideways in margin: Did Pat refund some of your $400 deposit? How was “Annie”?

On the back of one of the pages of this letter, in my middle-school handwriting, is written a brief chess game, in some kind of narrow marker:

  1. P-K4...P-K4
  2. B-B4...QN-R4
  3. Q-B3...Q[?]-QB3
  4. QxBM

That question mark is a place where there might be another letter; if so, it’s obscured by other marks on the paper.

(I’m sure that I copied that game from somewhere, or that Peter or someone else showed it to me; I’m sure that I didn’t invent it, and I very much doubt that it was a transcript of a real game that I played.)

I just tried playing those moves on a (digital) chessboard, and eventually figured out that it’s intended to be a fool’s-mate-like game, in which white wins in four moves.

However, the notation is a mess. That second move of black’s, QN-R4? I can’t imagine what I could have meant by that, unless it was just a mistake; that’s not a legal knight move. I’m guessing that instead it should say QN-R3. And likewise, I’m not sure what could be moving to QB3 on black’s third move, other than the queen bishop’s pawn.

In algebraic notation, here’s the game that I think I meant to write:

  1. e4 e5
  2. Bc4 Na3
  3. Qf3 c6
  4. Qxf7#

But even when I write it more coherently than my original version, I’m not sure why black would essentially waste moves 2 and 3.


“eye exercises”
My optometrist had assigned me some eye exercises to do to keep my nearsightedness from getting worse. IIrc, the general idea was to alternate focusing near and far, to strengthen my eye muscles. I was never very assiduous about doing them, but I did sometimes.
fruit fly
This was California’s 1981 Mediterranean fruit fly (“medfly”) infestation.
“after George said we were leaving”
…That makes their departure sound abrupt and unplanned. I wonder what happened.
One of Marcy’s cousins, who was living in Palo Alto at the time.
“CASIO LC-791”
Both the 781 and the 791 appear to have been calculators.
A longtime friend of the family, about whom I remember almost nothing.
The woman who Peter was involved with; see next letter for a bit more.
The owner of the house we had been living in and had just moved out of, I think.

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