LETTERS FROM DADDY

Posted on July 20, 2012 by Marilynn and Sheila
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Our father was a quiet man.  He didn’t often share his feelings.  We knew he loved us, and that was enough.  Because he always worked for hospitals and not-for-profits, money was tight, and Mama had to watch the pennies.  Someone once told us that our father was one of the top three graduates of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy.  He’d joined the Beth Israel Hospital, as Chief Pharmacist, six weeks before he married our mother on June 9, 1936.  He later became Director of Pharmacy at the New England Medical Center, in Boston, a position he held for 23 years.

 

Daddy was on-call 24-hours-a-day, and the phone rang frequently after June 30th when the new crew of residents came on-board.  There were always questions about medications, dosages, and side effects.  Nurses couldn’t read the new doctors’ handwriting on their prescriptions, and residents hadn’t yet learned how to communicate with the nurses.  Eventually Daddy taught a course in prescription writing at Tufts Medical School, and things became a little less hectic at the beginning of July.  After a while, the operators didn’t have to break into conversations we were having with friends on the family phone.

 

We always knew that Daddy had an important job, and that it took most of his time.  He loved his job, and that was fine with us.  He was always at home for dinner or “supper,” as we called it, at 6:00 PM every night.

 

We were a family that loved greeting cards.  We kept Hallmark in business with birthday, anniversary, Chanukah, Christmas, Jewish New Year, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Passover, Father’s Day, and Graduation cards.  When we were feeling particularly creative, we often made our own cards.

 

It wasn’t enough for us to send just a card.  We always wrote “something personal” in every card.  We rarely sent sympathy cards as young girls because almost all of our friends survived the vagaries of the 1940s and 1950s.  Sympathy cards were for adults to send, and most of the time our family sent brief heart-felt handwritten notes.

 

Because Daddy was so busy with his job, he rarely had time to purchase cards, so Mama did it for him, and he would usually sign his cards to us, “Love, Daddy.”  That was good enough for us.  There was a simple economy of words, no economy of feelings.

 

It’s hard for us to believe that Daddy will have been gone 35 years next September 10.  We both left our jobs in 1975 when Daddy was diagnosed with colon cancer because we wanted to spend time with him.  Mama had been gone since 1962.  During those two years, we started our antiques business, and with thanks to call forwarding, we could involve Daddy in the buying and selling of the antiques we found at yard sales and flea markets.  Daddy had worked in Grandfather Brass’s junk shop as a young boy, and he still maintained his interest in all things old, valuable, and decorative.  We had two wonderful years with Daddy, and we believe that his involvement in the antiques business kept him going.  He spent only two weeks in the hospital and was watching a Red Sox game and eating chocolate ice cream shortly before he died, even though he hadn’t eaten ice cream for 20 years because he always said it didn’t agree with him.  The Red Sox won.

 

Daddy had kept his personal records up-to-date until the two weeks before he entered the hospital.  We found a list of all the bills he’d paid.  We didn’t say anything, but we knew Daddy wanted to put his house in order.

 

In going through his personal papers, we found almost 30 years of birthday and father’s day cards in the top drawer of his dresser.  He’d saved them, and in going through them, we could see how greeting card styles had changed over the years, and how our handwriting and our written sentiments had changed, too, as we grew from grammar school students to the “sweet young things” of the 1960s and 1970s, so convinced of our own sophistication.  We even found two dollar bills we’d tucked into one of the cards, money we’d saved from our allowance.

 

Recently, Marilynn came across some letters that Daddy sent her in 1968 and 1975, and two that she’d sent him in 1971 and 1972.

 

We’d like to share them with you, and the circumstances that surrounded them.  We still maintain that every family has a story, and our family was no exception.  These are five letters from a father who was very reserved and careful with his words and a daughter who was so like her father that sparks sometimes flew between them.

 

In 1968, Marilynn was working at a Research and Development Laboratory, at MIT as a secretary.  She had been told that she would be promoted to Technical Editor if she participated in a three-week course in technical writing that was being taught by the University of Massachusetts at Peabody House, on Nantucket Island.  Marilynn was living at the Cambridge YWCA at the time.  At the Research Center, the living arrangements were going to be nine to a room, dorm style with bunk beds.  Daddy had accompanied Marilynn to catch a bus to Woods Hole where she would catch the steamer to Nantucket.  Meaning well, he’d discovered that an acquaintance of his was taking the same bus.  This was in 1968 during the Civil Rights Movement, and Marilynn had just helped produce a Racism Workshop for local leaders at the YWCA.  Unfortunately, the acquaintance, an older man who’d grown up in a different time, decided to air his views on Civil Rights, and they were the opposite of Marilynn’s.  Marilynn was so embarrassed that she spent the 2-hour bus ride hiding behind a newspaper, relieved when he finally left the bus before it reached Woods Hole.

 

The steamer trip was cold and rough, and Marilynn spent the voyage huddled in her khaki raincoat wondering if she would have to sleep in an upper bunk in Peabody House, how she was going to share a bathroom with nine people, and how she was going to learn to be a Technical Editor in three weeks.

 

 

FROM: DADDY:  July 1, 1968

Letterhead

From the desk of

Harry Brass

Director of Pharmacy

New England Medical Center Hospitals

 

TO: MARILYNN on Nantucket Island

University of Massachusetts Research Center

 

Dear Marilynn,

Well, it’s Monday — another week of ups and downs at the Hospital.

 

Hope your trip was not too bad.  It was a very hot day in Winthrop, 92º — I went to the beach for an hour and a half – got a little sunburn.

 

Please take care of your self – It was wonderful speaking to you on the phone.  Call whenever you feel like it.  Reverse the charges.  I’m sure you can take care of yourself.  Eat well and try to rest.

 

Love,

Daddy

XXXXXX

 

 

FROM DADDY:  July 2, 1968

Letterhead

From the desk of

Harry Brass

Director of Pharmacy

New England Medical Center Hospitals

 

TO:  MARILYNN on Nantucket Island

University of Massachusetts Research Center

 

Dear Marilynn,

 

Well, here it is Tuesday – Temperature 94º.

It’s been very busy – Nothing much new  — Miss calling you on the phone – hope you are well.  Please write if you have the time.  I know Sheila and I would like to know how things are with you.  Why don’t you call us?  Reverse the charges.  If you need anything sent down, let me know.

 

Love,

Daddy

XXXXXX

 

 

FROM DADDY:  October 5, 1975

Letterhead

From the desk of

Harry Brass

Director of Pharmacy

New England Medical Center Hospitals

 

TO:  MARILYNN

Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, MA

 

Dear Marilynn,

 

Thank for doing so much for me during my hospitalization and at home.  It makes you feel so good to get so much love and devotion.  I know how much of an effort it took after a hard day’s work to make the visits to the hospital, especially with the goings on at work.  Thank you for the gifts that you brought to the hospital and to Winthrop.  You always bring something nice when you come to Winthrop.

 

Again, thank you for your devotion, care, and love.

Love,

Daddy

 

Daddy retired from the hospital when he reached 65.  He didn’t want to retire because he didn’t know what it was like not to work.  He first started working at six years old, packing cones in an ice cream cone factory, making five cents a day.  After a brief trip to Miami with Sheila, he taught a course in pharmacology at Northeastern University, and took courses in woodworking and photography.  Marilynn and Sheila still use the butcher-block dining room table he made.

 

Marilynn often wrote notes to Daddy encouraging him to try new things and reminding him that he had so much to offer others.

 

 

FROM:  MARILYNN, September 22, 1971

Concord Avenue

Cambridge, MA

 

TO:  DADDY,

Sea Foam Avenue

Winthrop, MA

 

Dear Daddy,

I just wanted you to know that although the days seem hurried and too brief, so often things you’ve said come back to me.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as “pay your bills” – or “don’t talk about other people.”

 

Often, there are moments of frustration.  Someone tries to put one over on me.  I keep trying to control my temper.  However, I find that the petty annoyances can be overcome.  Today I met a girl with whom I went to high school.  She was short and heavy.  Her teeth were badly in need of a dentist.  Her husband was a PhD. Candidate at MIT.  She thought I looked good.  It brought back the times I was bullied in school because of the extra weight I carried.  Somewhere she took turn in the road, one I almost turned down, too.  I’m glad I didn’t, and I wish I knew how I could make life better for her.

 

Do you remember the Pieta, that beautiful statue of Mary holding Jesus, at the World’s Fair?  We stood on a revolving rubber tread, and had one brief moment to look at it.  It was a masterpiece made from one piece of marble by one man.  What if he’d never tried?

 

Love,

Matsy

 

 

FROM:  MARILYNN, February 28, 1971

Concord Avenue

Cambridge, MA

 

TO:  DADDY

Sea Foam Avenue

Winthrop, MA

 

Dear Daddy,

 

This is just a note to tell you that I love you very much.  I guess I’m just a note person.  My job ties me up a lot, and I’m really a loner at heart.  I don’t know why I’m the way I am – part of it is the way I look at things, part of it is my upbringing (heredity plus environment).  You and I are very much alike in some ways.  You always brought me up to be independent.  So much of my life has been spent trying to help other people over bumps that sometimes I wonder what I’ll be doing with the rest of my life.  There’s so much in life if people would just take advantage of it.  I’m a goer and a doer, but even I forget, sometimes that there are other paths I can take, other things I can try.

 

I think of you often and hope you’re well.

Love,

Matsy

 

Every family has a story.  For us, it’s the story of the moral legacy our parents left us.  Mama taught us to cook when we could just reach the kitchen table.  Daddy taught us to be independent and do the best we could in everything we did.  We still remember waiting for him every evening, on the front porch on Sea Foam Avenue, the whoosh of the brakes as the bus driver dropped him off in front of Monty’s Dry Cleaning on Shirley Street, the sound of his footsteps coming up the stairs, and our shouts of “Daddy’s home for supper.”

 

 



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