My cousin, Nancy, sent me a sentimental treasure: eleven letters written by my mother to a neighborhood friend serving in the Army during World War II. The friend was Frankie Kotnick, whose family lived near my mother’s family in Sheboygan.
One of the Kotnick kids–maybe Frankie–lived in Frankie’s parents’ house, and at least one of their children was a friend of Nancy, my cousin. When the children were cleaning out the house, they found letters from my mother that Frankie had saved. They offered the letters to Nancy, who shared them with other Lorenzen family members, including my Uncle Gibby and Aunt Ruth, siblings of my mother. After that, Nancy generously sent the originals to me.
The letters, written from 1942-1944 when Mom was 20-22 years old, present her as a young, single woman–someone I never knew. She loves to dance, she drinks, she hangs out on “Prange’s corner” with her friends, and she is “getting sick of this small town stuff” in Sheboygan. She enlists in the Civilian Defense Home Guard and applies to the Civil Air Patrol, hoping for a job as a telephone operator or a secretary somewhere away from Sheboygan. She confides in Frankie that “if a person wants to earn money or try to amount to something Sheboygan is the wrong place for them.” All the action and the big money, she says, is in cities like Milwaukee and Chicago. She admits she has it good living at home, but tells Frankie “my Mother and Dad would put their foot down if they knew I wanted to to (sic) this. You know how parents act when it comes to something like that” (referring to moving away from home).
The letters provide a glimpse of my mother’s youth and the early 1940s. Her sentences are filled with “gee” and “swell”–apparently the slang of the day. Mom goes to lots of movies and dances, and mentions how much she loves to dance. She confesses to a fascination with slot machines. (When she and Dad went to Las Vegas, she won on a nickel slot machine in the days when real nickels fell out of the machine.) The envelopes have three-cent postage stamps and the cancellation mark says “Buy war bonds and stamps.” The envelope of a December letter has a Christmas seal on the back. Mom mentions that Grandma was in charge of sugar rationing coupons for her area and spent a lot of time on that job. Mom also tells Frankie that she wants to buy a used bicycle, but can’t find one for less than $28–more than a new one costs–so she’s decided to keep using her brother’s bicycle and wait until after the war to buy one when bicycles (metal) become more available again.
One day, my mother and her friend, Lorraine, got fed up with their jobs in Sheboygan and simply failed to show up for work the next day. They took a bus to Milwaukee instead. You can read the letter about that experience below. I think moving to Milwaukee and being independent felt the same to Mom as going away to college felt for me. Freedom!
Mom died 22 years ago, and I still miss her greatly. Reading her letters to Frankie was like spending time with her again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing these, Nancy.