Edward J. Thomas - World War II

Below letter written by Edward J. Thomas

Memphis 15, Tenn
Jan 21, 1945 Sunday

Dear Mom, Harry & Izzy:

Christmas is racing away and is about now disappearing on the horizon
of the past, but I am still receiving new gifts in the form of concerts,
ballets, and stage plays which are being paid for from the $20 I found in
my billfold.

Memphis Concert Leaflet 1944-1945

The last performance I attended at the civic auditorium was a concert
given by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra with Margerie Hess, soprano, as
guest artist. The name of the orchestra sounds as impressive as the Detroit
Symphony but the orchestra itself' does not look as stable or permanent. The size of it is pretty fair, about 50 pieces, but it is composed of all
types of people, middle-aged men and women, girls, a sprinkling of sailors,
one or soldiers and a couple of 16 or l7-year old ROTC boys. This
description gives the impression that the orchestra was rather ragged
looking, but it wasn't as bad as that. The women, most of whom were violinists and cellists, wore elegant black evening gowns; the men, their best
starched shirts and swallow-tailed coats; and the harpist, a lustrous, white
satin gown.

Williams and I sat in the 6th row of the first balcony which wasn't too
far away from the stage for my short-sighted eyes. With a 50% discount, the seats cost us 90¢ each. A big round-faced man who sat behind us asked now long we were in Memphis. When we told him, he said that we must be Memphians by now. He then introduced himself and asked our names. He said he came to Memphis last summer from Toronto, Canada. At first he struck me as being some sort of salesman, but when he told us he was from Toronto, Canada, I thought that, perhaps, he might be a manager of some company's sales district. He talked about the difference in the weather between Toronto and Memphis and how the natives of Toronto wou1d laugh if they saw some of these colored boys here wearing ear muffs while the temperature was 50°. Before I knew he was from Toronto, I asked him if by any chance he was from Windsor. He said no and wondered why I asked. I told him I was from Detroit and that my city regarded Windsor as being part of Detroit. He was pleased by this and said that Windsor regarded Detroit as another part of its City, and then expressed hope for Canada and the United States joining up and forming one country. I didn't reply to this because the impossibility of something like that occurring prevented me from saying anything. He then aske us if we were acquainted with Memphis people and we, of course, had to say no. "Memphis people are very hospitable", he said. "Most service men don't discover that until they are ready to leave." I wondered what he was leading up to, but the orchestra interrupted us. The conductor made his appearance amid enthusiastic applause and started to conduct the Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor. The next selection was a long drawn out modern composition by some Howard Hansen entitled "Rcmantic, Symphony No. 2".

By her portrait, shown in the program, Margerie Hess seemed to be a
very slim girl. When she came out on the stage, however, she appeared to
be a big young husky prima doana, The dark plaid hoop-styled gown she wore
made her appear more buxom than she actually was. She had a strong, mellow
voice which was very pleasing. She was against giving an encore, but the
persistent applause made her sing Habanera (spelling?) from Carmen which
Rise Stevens sang in "Going My Way".

The orchestra then played some Waltzes from the Opera, Rosenkavalier,
by Richard Strauss. The music was just as scintillating and melodious as
waltzes by The Great Waltz King and in some ways even superior, and therefore it was quite a surprise to know that Richard Strauss isn't even related to Johann.

As an encore the conductor said the orchestra would play something
which sounded like "Pizzacato". Williams asked me what the name was.
I tried to tell him, but than asked the bespectacled WAVE sitting next to
me, as she seemed anxious to give the information. She said, "Horasticatta".
"Horasticatta?" I questioned.
"No, Horasticatta," she emphasized.
"Oh," I said, afraid to repeat it again, and turned to Williams. "It's
Horasticatta," I told him.
The WAVE overheard it. "It's Horasticatta." she said.
"Horasticatta," I repeated confidently to showI finally mastered the
"No," she corrected. It's H - 0 - R - A."
I felt like pulling my hair and saying, "For Pete's sake, woman, can't
you be lenient with me."
I turned to Williams. "Horasticatta," I whispered and then felt that
the WAVE overheard it and was anxious to correct me again. I tensely waited for her enlightening criticism and then became immensely relieved when I was sure she finally gave up.

After the concert was over, the WAVE asked me if I enjoyed it. I said
I did and asked her the same question. With an accent, probably Brooklyn-
Jewish or Brooklyn-Russian, she said she enjoyed it very much, but one
sailor who played the, trumpet spoiled the music. "He was to brazzy," she
said. Then in "Symphony No.2, Romantic" she detected many errors. She said
she knew the composition very well because she had heard it many times before. Then also she was disappointed in the entire orchestra because she was accustomed to hearing the New York Symphony. She said she was from Connecticut and lived close enough to New York to make frequent trips there. The stout, round-faced man behind shocked us by saying he was a
minister of a protestant church. in Memphis and gave us cards with his
telephone number on them. "If you care to meet any people in Manphis, just
call me up," he said. "I will arrange to get invitations from families
who will be glad to have you for dinner." We pocketed the cards and walked
out of the auditorium. the act of barging in on some strange family's dinner
didn't appeal to me very much, especially since I saw the movie entitled
"Sunday Dinner for a Soldier".

Another performance I attended was "A Doll's House" by Ibsen. It was
the best stage play I have seen so far. Francis Lederer and Lyle Talbot
were in it. I guess you remember seeing them in the movies. Also Jane
Darnell was in it, the old lady mom you so often have seen on the screen
playing mother roles. No discounts are given to service men for most of the
performances and this one was no exception. I had to pay $3.60 for a seat
in the 6th row on the main floor.

Also I saw some operas mich were given by the San Carlo Opera Co.
These were the first I have seen in my life. "Cavalleria Rusticanna" and
"Pagliacci" were given during one performance. The other opera I saw was
"Il Trovatore" which was performed the next day. At this opera there were
some ladies sitting on my right who at regular intervals passed their pair
of opera glasses to me. When I looked through them I realized what a marvelous view they offered from balcony seats. I could see the actors and their backgrounds like brilliantly colored paintings with every expresaion sharp and clear. I would than pass the glasses to Williams and when he was through they were returned to the first lady downt he line and the whole process of passing would begin all over.

About a week later, I saw "The Student Prince" which is an operetta
with music by Sydney Romberg. I learned how weak and thin are the voices
of operetta singers compared to the full, rich and experienced opera voices.

The seats at the operas and operetta cost me $2.40 each. No discounts
were given to service men. The only cheaper seats are in the peanut gallery.
Here they are $1.20. It was from there that I saw my first ballet.
I had to sit in this gallery because I hadn't reserved any seats beforeh and
Memphians seemed to have gone in a big way for the ballet by buying up all the good seats several days in advance. For other performances, they usually don't.

About 10 days ago I went to a photographic studio with Christy who is
the Italian fellow you saw in the snap shots I brought home on my furlough.
This studio is in Goldsmith's Department Store which I believe is the next
largest to Lowenstein's. We heard that this place gave one large photograph
to service men without charge or obligation. One thing I hate most is to
sit before a photographer and try to look pleasant, but the temptation of
a large free photo pulled me in. The photographer was a big husky girl
who wouldn't give me the opportunity to decide for myself whether or not
to smile for the picture. She sat me down on the stool and adjusted my
sitting posture by bumping her stomach against my back. I never before
witnessed such a unique method used to fix a person's position. She went to s
her camera and peered at me while I sat at the same angle and with the same
stiffness as the Tower of Pisa.

"You look so frightened," she said. "I am not going to bite you. Wet
your lips and smile."

I smiled like Stanley Laurel. Click went the camera and my idiotic
expression was recorded for posterity. Two poses like that were taken at
different angles.

I went a couple of days ago to the store to pick up my proofs, but found
they weren't ready. Since Goldsmith's isn't open in the evenings except
Thursday, I will have to wait until next Thursday before I can be shocked
and disgusted by those proofs.

I believe I'll have to collect my reserves together now and mak a
final blitzkrieg to finish this letter as quickly as possible.

I received letters from all three of you. Mom,I think yours came first.
I was glad to hear that you liked my present. I had a hard time deciding
whether to buy you one here or have Izzy do it. I finally thought it would
be better not to risk using my own judgment because the possibilities were
too great for picking out something useless or something you already have.

Your second box of candy came to me after Christmas and a few days later
a box of cookies arrived. I made a glutton of myself with those chocalates
and cookies. I liked them so much that I refrained as much as possible
from offering any to the boys around me.

The weather here is very fickle. Quite often it's chilly and drizzly
and once in a while we have a nice warm sunny day just like the first Friday
of the year. I remember that day particularly because I had the afternoon
off. I walked through the park downtown in bright sunlight. Some boys and
girls with no more on than they have in summer were feeding the waddling
pigeons and cagey squirrels. It was balmy enough to be a late spring or
early summerday in Detroit. Never before have I experienced anything like
it in January.

Izzy, so far I couldn't buy any #120 films. The PX here was entirely
out of all sizes for the past couple of months. I was told, though, that some
may come in soon and when they do, I'll try to buy about 4 or 5 rolls.
Of course, they vdll have to be purchased one at a time because not more than one can be sold to a customer each day.

When I read your letter, I recalled that I hadn't taken any pictures with
my camera as I had intended to. I better do something about it. When the
pictures are taken, I'll send the rolls home for developing.

The bowling scores you gave me were unusually high. I noticed one game
was 194 and another 181. It appears as if you are improving and I am degen-
erating. Since the last scores I gave you, I have averaged, for the three
times I went out to play, 130, 127 and 124. I am definitely being washed up.

Harry, it was a good break for you to have the transfer of the mink
delayed one month. It will give you a better chance to find out how you stand
with the draft board. I noticed through the papers that the draft situation
is becoming more serious than ever. This is quite an upset. Last year I
was expecting men to be discharged at this time and now I hear they are being pulled in more rigidly than ever. I would be interested to know what you think of your present chances for deferments. If they are bad, we could
put some pressure on Gladfelter and possibly have him take care of the mink
for another year.

Your reference to those 30 to 50 foot sailing vessels which you were
going to look over re-awakened the desires I had long ago for owning a good
sized boat. With such desires coming to life again, I don't see how it will
be possible for me in the future to settle down permanently. The prices
you mentioned will probably be within our range if we become successful in
our business, ani if we do, I don't see harl we would be able to resist making
a purchase, especially since we are located in a region which is ideal for
sailing-the most ideal inland region in the world. I am very curious to
know if you had the opportunity of going through these vessels and forming
an idea of what you could get for two or three thousand dollars.
Since I have no desire for establishing a record for long letters, I am
going to call it quits now and relax like a USO soldier should.

With love to all, Eddie

P.S. Mom, will you please give me the address of the writer's Digest. Your
last letter was just now received, giving me the address of the Etude Magazine, and the Memphis Map. Izzy, in case I have a chance to send you more cigarets I'd like to know what brands you prefer.

Fri. Jan 26 Auschwitz is liberated by Soviet Army. Sat. Jan 27 finds the last Japanese troops out of Ledo Road thus opening transportation routes from Burma to China.

On Fri. Jan. 28 Germany is removed from the Ardennes salient which effectively ends the Battle of the Bulge.

(from en wikipedia. American soldiers taking up defensive positions in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge.. {{PD-USGov-Military-Army}} Source: http://www.schweinfurt.army.mil/9eng/history/0013.jpg from http://www.schweinfurt.army.mil/9eng/history)

Valentine's Day Card to Mom - Feb. 1945

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