One of the side benefits of Urban Archeology is the opportunity to visit places we (my daughter and I) might never have gone otherwise. Last weekend, with a purpose and a GPS we permitted ourselves to waste a little time and a little gas in search of a story in Naugatuck.
On what I would consider a fairly busy street in Naugatuck sits a small two-story home with a front porch and not much lawn before the road comes roaring past. It is a small but prominent home that must have stood out on this street when it was built.
Inside, the living room and dining room were packed with people and items. Spying a pile of books, we aimed for that corner of the room. There was someone ahead of us and I noticed he had in his hand some old papers. I winced internally, fearing that I had missed what little there was here. As he stood to get a price on his selection, I was relieved to see he only wanted a single book and was merely organizing what he left behind.
Then it was our turn, and though the pile was small, I uncovered three World War II-era letters. These letters rarely have much detail, “V-mail” to and from servicemen were highly censored and not much can be gleaned from them today. However, the correspondences I had found were very unique and intimate and not passed through any censor.
The first two letters were sent from soldiers inside the U.S. waiting to ship out. These military buddies — one whose language is really uncensored — show a sense of purpose, determination and honesty mixed in with an “arm-around-the-neck” buddy-buddy feel to them. The third letter from a 16- to 17-year-old female cousin is a “good” letter.
A “good” letter from home, which may be a dying art thanks to the brevity of email and texts, should be intimate and informative and carry the right tone. This letter contained all that and more — good geographical references, events, anecdotes, and likely made the reader feel at ease. Though her recounting of the things she did could have made the reader terribly homesick, it was clearly good enough to keep for almost 70 years.
In the letter, written from Naugatuck, she mentions grammar and high school graduations under rainy sky and a leaky tent. She lists a trip she took to Lake Quassapaug, which includes the addressee’s mother accepting an impromptu invite, and is talked into riding the carousel there. She then recounts a trip she and eight friends (listing them all) took to Savin Rock amusement park. This letter is very folksy and friendly with plenty uses of “gee” and “swell.” It made me homesick for a time in America that seemed carefree and simpler, despite the fact that there was a war going on.
Unwittingly, she captures small town America in 1940s Connecticut and all inside a small envelope.
Take a look at pages from the young cousin’s letter, then stop by the blog for the uncensored “buddy” letters (rated R for language).
Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.