Edward J. Thomas - World War II

Below letter written by Edward J. Thomas and talks about going to the opera with his friend he met while both were stationed in the Aleutians.

Memphis 1943 Map Cover

Memphis, Tenn
Thursday 13 July 44

Dear Mom, Harry & Izzy:
You probably would be interested to know in detail just how I spend some
of my evenings here; so I'll choose a particular day and tell about everything I did during that time.

Last Thursday, July 6, I decided to go to the outdoor theater in Memphis
called the MOAT (Memphis Outdoor Amphi-Theater) to see the operetta entitled Maytime". Williams, the other fellow who came with me from Camp Shelby, bought the tickets in town Thursday on his afternoon off. He works in the Field Artillery Section and over there each man is given a half day off during the week in addition to one day off on Sunday. In our departmert such a thing hasn't been even mentioned yet and I don't think ever will be. The only time I'll be able to get off will be Sundays. Anyway,as I was saying, Williams bought, the tickets at $1.50 apiece and arrangsd to meet me downtown at the YMCA at 6:00 PM. First we had a shower and then we went swimming in the pool to cool off. The pool together with a towel, soap, locker, and checking of valuables is furnished free of charge to service men. That's why we indulge in this sport so frequently. Upon leaving the YMCA we went to Walgreen's as usual to get an icecream soda and a cold drink. Williams then began to worry as to how to reach the Amphi-theater even though he already had received directions from several sources. He told me that we could get there by taking Poplar Bus #l0 which passes by the amphi-theater. That was good enough for me, but not for Williams. He stopped practically every one he laid eyes on to have his directions confirmed. When we boarded the bus, he began to worry whether we would be able to tell when to get off. I was going to relieve him by asking the driver, but we were crowded into the rear of the bus and I gave up, thinking that it would be easy enough to tell when the bus passed such a widely advertised place as the MOAT. Also I assumed most of the people in the bus would be getting off there anyway. I obtained a seat next to the window and Williams went farther to the rear or the bus. In about 10 minutes we approached a large sign hung over the street and on it in big letters was written "MOAT". I stood up and saw Williams going to the exit door with a distinguished looking man who was wearing a trim blue coat and gray trousers. He was fairly stout and had a heavy, smoothly shaven, square face with refined features that suggested he was something of a man about town who at the same time was acquainted with some sort of culture, either business, gambling or art. I judged his age to be between 35 and 40. He was giving Williams directions as to where the MOAT was. All three of us walked across the street into a park. Williams asked the distinguished looking gentleman if he could tell us how to get back to the Fair Grounds.

"I haven't any idea," he said. "All I know is hew to go back and forth between my hotel and the MOAT. Anyway I don't think you'll have time to go to the Fair Grounds tonight. It'll be 11:30 when the show is over. Don't you think that's about time to go home?"
     "That is our home," we answered.
     "Oh, that's different," he replied. Then after some moments of silence
     he asked, "Where are you from?"
     "Los Angeles," Williams answered.
     "That's where I came from too. I'm here in Memphis with the operetta       as the leading man."

We looked at him to see if he was kidding us. He was very sober and casual
about it. We remained silent while thinking how strange it was for a leading
man to get to the operatta by bus. In Los Angeles or Detroit they at least
travel by taxi.
     "Howis the show?" Williams asked.
     "Oh, it's all right. Corny here and there, but just laugh it off and
     enjoy yourselves," he said as he parted from us by turning down      another path.

Wedidn't find the amphi-treater to be as big as we expected. I doubt
whether the seating capacity was any greater than 3000. We went down a slight slope to the sixth row on the extreme left, very close to the orchestra pit. The seats were just long wooden benches marked off for each person and numbered with paint.

The shortage of manpowter could be plainly seen by my noticing the orchestra. It was composed of old and young men mixed with women and girls. At 8:30 the stiff wall board curtain parted in the center and brought into view a singing ensemble of girls in costumes of the l840's. The setting was Colonel Van Zandt's garden. We watched for our leading man. He finally appeared as Richard Wayne, the cooper's poor apprentice. By the program book we had we found that his real name was Mortem Bowe. He had a blue smock over his suit am assumed the posture of a meek and humble man. With make-up on his face he seemed to be younger than ba appeared when he walked alongside of us. Soon his leading lady appeared and they both sang "In Our Own Little Home". Their voices were all right. Our leading man had a good rich tenor and the leading lady's soprano was satisfactory, but since they were outdoors their voices reached with hardly enough volume to drown out the chirping of the crickets. There were microphones all along the foot of the stage but they were barely of any use because the actors were too far away from them. For that reason I changed my mind about seeing all the operettas. If the music cannot be properly transmitted from the stage to me, there is no reason for me to go to an operetta. Without the music, there is nothing but a dated story, or as Cassanova would say, "Listening to an operetta without music is like kissing a girl without flesh. Of course, he would say it the other way around because an operetta would be of secondary importance to him.

The ballet girls came out and the leading dancer leaned too far over
and then suddenly slipped and fell. I faintly heard her say "Oh" as she
struck the floor. This slip, of course, was excusable because everybody,
no matter how good, now and then makes a boner. But what was not excuaabla
was the way many of the ballet dancers would go down to lie upon the floor.
Instead of doing it gracefully, they did it in jerky movements and angular
positions which reminded me of cows in the pasture settling down to rest.

At about 11:30 we left the theater. We went over to a street oorner
to wait for the bus going home. Instead of taking the long route by going
downtown first and then back to camp, we decided to take the shorter route
which we didn't know anything about. Williams asked some girls standing
behind us how to reach the Fair Grounds. They told him w1th their southern accents what buses to take and also said they were going in the same direction. Williams couldn't overcome his fear of becoming lost at night in this great big city and so when we stepped on the first bus he asked the driver for more information to be sure there would be no mistake. After a minute or so we had to change for another bus. Williams began to worry again and I told him that we were sure of ourselves now because we could keep an eye on the two girls going in our direction and that if we followed them we couldn't be led astray--a very strange thing to say in regard to trailing girls. After a minute or so on the second bus we stepped off and then boarded our last one. All the seats were taken and, therefore, I had to stand in the aisle. In one of the seats there was a drunken old toothless man in shirt sleeves and a straw hat. With a very rusty and grating voice he childishly talked and sang to the soldier sitting next to him. I Laugbed at the embarrassing situation the soldier was in and imagined what a predicament it would be for me if I were in his place. Suddenly the old man caught my eye and stood up. With a silly grin he extended his hand toward me. I was bewildered by being so suddenly accosted and didn't know whether to shake his hand or not. It was a case of either humoring or ignoring him. I looked around for sorne way to escape and in the meantime that hand remained extended waiting to be shaken. Not wanting to insult the man or make him think I was too snobbish, I idiotically shock his hand and wondered how the passengers on the bus were taking it. I didn't want to look. That's how my evening of July 6 ended.Before closing, I would like to say that I received a letter from each one of you and also the enclosed post card which a soldier friend of mine sent me from South Carolina. Besides that, I received the package containing my trousers which,although not smartly tailored, will do very well for a soldier of Memphis. For a momentI began to think of answering your letters, but if I did that I would never finish this letter because I am now in too much of a writing mood. I will save my answers for my next letter.

As ever, Eddie

PS: Gertie's letter came too. This was quite a week for mail.

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