3.3 Letter Three: 1953

Los Angeles: University of California



Since I can’t look forward to seeing you this summer, I’m going to console myself by trying to bring you up to date on us via letter. And then trying to keep you up to date via subsequent cards and letters.

Things you made for us:

The large green vase I keep on the mantel with the largest and tallest flowers in our garden. It’s a wonderful eyecatcher. And it makes an effective off-center balance for the painting of the eucalyptus trees in Palo Alto which hangs on the wall just to the left of the mantel. The small pitcher (lovely graceful thing) I use for roses usually and I keep that on the large cocktail table. Ashtrays are hither and yon. The crackled-finish is a conversation piece. The platter is a prize possession and is used all the time. It’s stood up amazingly. The lamp base Phil mounted in a slab of birch and it is our bedroom night table lamp. I put a plain shade on it so that the form of the clay and the grain of the birch would stand out. And last but not least of the ceramic pieces, the two birth plaques of the older children are still wrapped carefully in cloth and tucked away because: we want to mount them in birch and put them on our bedroom wall. But we want to know (and must know before Phil can do the mounting) if you will have an opportunity to make one about Betty. This question needs an answer soon. Don’t feel that we are pushing you to do it. I would like so much to have it. However, if you have no opportunity to work with clay, then of course you couldn’t do it. / We are not pushing you to do it, just to tell us whether or not you will. Then Phil will know how to plan the mounting. The sea painting is on the short wall over the couch, facing the wall of books. The small pictures are some up, some down. Tully liked the pussy so that is in his room. The charcoal one got quite fuzzy and I don’t know what to do with it. The smaller picture of Palo Alto landscape that you did a long time ago I have in the study. Do you remember the dirndl skirt with the merry-go-around animals? I remade it to fit me and wear it a lot. The children like it. Have you had a chance to look at the marked articles in Punch? Would Sid enjoy seeing it? I’ll send him several issues if you think so. We sent several to Mary and John and they are enjoying it.

Present activities of Susan; Tully; Betty:

We are about at the end of our visits to the psychiatrist for Sue. The results have been noticeable and very encouraging. Sue has been much happier; I’ve been happier and look forward with an easier mind. And she and I are working out a much better relationship. Psychiatrists should be more easily available to people. It is relatively so much easier to take care of an incipient problem such as Sue and I had than to try to cure an advanced problem like Bernice Rice. After all, if you stop to think about it, if her problems with her mother had been adjusted when we knew her, much of her present trouble might have been avoided. But a private psychiatrist charges $25. for the first visit and $15. each subsequent visit. Also 25 years ago it was a shameful thing to go to see a psych. Now it’s perfectly acceptable if you have the money. Under Ross-Loos it costs us $1.25 for each ½ hour appointment. Quite a difference. And Phil says that he can actually feel like a /(tangible) thing the improvement in our house.

Sue is a very busy girl. Her piano teacher has recovered from her auto accident and is giving Sue lessons again. Sue enjoys the lessons but is beginning to balk at practice. We don’t urge at all. But at Phil’s suggestion, I am beginning to practice again for the main reason that the idea of my practicing too has aroused Sue’s interest. I don’t know if that idea will work or not. She may continue to balk in which case we will give up her lessons for a while. I’ll keep you posted. Please make any suggestions you have on the subject. (P.S. I will probably not take lessons since they are so expensive but will confine myself to practicing the things Phil feels I am weak in.)

She went through a short period about a month or 6 weeks ago when it became a real problem to get her off to school. Then Phil had the bright idea that we should suggest ceramics projects for her to make for us. Things that I want to decorate the house; things that Phil wants in his office. So we had a family conference on the subject and she wrote down all our suggestions and put her list away carefully where she could refer to it. And it worked like a charm. She has made every thing on the list that her Daddy requested. She’s working now on the things I want. Nothing she makes shows any real art. But her enthusiasm for school is back up to where it should be. We are urging her to make you something but she is worried about the breakage in the mail. No luck yet. However, her drawings and paintings (we also requesting some of these without specifying subject matter, not wanting to inhibit or to dictate to her brush and crayons) are generally quite good. Though I must submit that her father is without a doubt the most prejudiced critic I’ve met yet. He’s as bad as Harry Truman. She is allowed considerable opportunity to draw and paint but is not taught anything. That is why we liked your suggestions for the art booklets for her. I’m going to need all constructive ideas for keeping these two gamins happily busy this summer. Her social adjustment has improved. I would guess her at about par for her age and school grade. Her reading ability I’ve already told you about. It just floors me. She has a really large reading vocabulary. And both she and Tully are developing good sized speaking vocabularies. Sue uses words you never hear a young child use.

And so does Tully. In fact his vocabulary so far outstrips his ability to pronounce that I sometimes have a most unhappy time trying to follow his conversations. He is quite a little man now. He attended the cooperative nursery group for two weeks. Then we took him out. Five of us mothers took the five children one morning each week. That is, I took all five children on Thursday morning, Elaine gathered up all five on Wed. etc. Thus each morning PT played with the same five children (good feature) at a different house (bad feature) and with a different mother in charge (bad feature). Also two of the children are 2 years old. And 2-year olds and 3-year olds simply do not mix well. Also 5 mornings a week is too much. Also I nearly ruined myself dashing around gathering up 4 other children from 4 widely separated homes while still having to nurse Betty when she chose and getting Sue her lunch and off to school on time right in the middle of the morning. Hope came over each time and helped me. If it had had all good features for Tully, I would have staggered on. But the crowning blow at the end of the two weeks was that he started to refuse to go to the bathroom which was unheard of for him. Once he toilet-trained himself, we have had no bathroom problem. But the 2 year old boy in the group had a bad problem. And it upset Tully too much. At that point Phil said “that’s enough of that. What are they doing to my boy!” I must admit I was relieved when this Thursday came around and I did not have to take the group. And however proud he was of being able to say that he attended school like Sue, he seemed much less tired and the toilet problem disappeared at once. There is an excellent nursery group in the neighborhood that we are considering for him for next winter when Sue is in school in the morning again (I hope! this afternoon session is terrible). It’s a permanent group where the mothers each help out and the fathers maintain the equipment and most important they have a regular trained teacher. However, we are considering it only from the point of view of Tully. In other words, this two-week experiment convinced us that we must think very carefully about whether or not he needs nursery school. Certainly we know that he does not need it now. Directly across the street from us is the Brown family. A very nice couple our age. Their little girl Nancy Lee is a few months younger but a big girl, his size. They play beautifully together. It’s amazing. They are like two cherubs with an incipient romance. She is a very shy child but is just fine with him. He would rather play with her than anybody else. The prize episode was his teaching her to ride a trike, much to her mother’s delight. Her father promptly went out and bought her a new trike. They now ride each other’s trikes. Tully’s trike really is not his. He outgrew the little one but Sue still claims the big one. Janie Lishner’s mother came to the rescue with Janie’s outworn bike which Tully himself painted a livid green. When we get Sue a two-wheeler (which she begs for regularly once a day) then he’ll get the big three-wheeler.

Betty, however, is not yet ready to complete the plan by taking over the little trike. She can’t sit up alone yet. But she can turn over from back to tummy. This incident should give you an idea of her nature. The other day she had a fussy crying spell due, I think, to teething. Sue and Tully were so surprised and upset to hear Betty crying (they having completely forgotten what the month of Dec. was like) that Tully put himself to bed in dismay and misery. And Sue buried her head in her pillow (fully dressed for school as she was) and cried as hard as Betty did. I had to comfort all three of them. Betty was crying; they could not understand it. Each year and each child make Phil a more doting father. When we get in bed at night he says “did you see what he did?” or “did you hear what she said?” or “did you see her look at me?” I see many children in a week. I know that my children are fairly normal. But I couldn’t convince Phil of that even if I wanted to. He knows they are superior and specially wonderful. He is a very good father. Fair and equitable and fond. Very even-tempered when he’s not over-working. Physically strong and mentally full of good ideas.

About Philip

Unfortunately, over-work is his vice. It seems to strike him every Spring, when other men’s fancies turn in another direction – or so the poets say. Oh well! Summer is a-comin’ in. He’s planning to convert our guest room into an office and work at home most of the time. And I expect that like last year, he will work a shorter day and have time to play and garden and do projects with us. He’ll go to AiResearch one day a week till his contract expires. He’ll go up to campus one day a week for mail and such business as comes up for attention there.

And this is probably a good place to touch on our future prospects. His contract with Airearch (private industry – he’s doing basic research on a problem involving jet engines; turbines or something like that) expires at the end of this summer and that should see the end of his project for them. So that he probably will not have another consulting contract with them, unless they continue work in a field in which he is interested. I’m very firm with him about that. Provided that he gets the promotion from UCLA, we will have 1) enough to live on adequately if not luxuriously and 2) security. Therefore, I can see no need for him to take a job for the money (provided we don’t inadvertently have a 4th child). Another job in industry must, like the present one for AiResearch, be interesting, instructive and professionally advantageous (i.e., provide opportunity for publishable research). His contract with Brown is now expiring which is why he is overworking. He and his assistants are preparing the final report and summary on two years of work. In the month of May which has 31 days, he worked 29½ days in his office. Phooey! The children and I are working on a football-type of cheer which we will chant on Sat. and Sun. mornings as he goes out the door: Stop that Van, etc.

About Finances

Sometime in July we should know if Phil got the promotion. Phil is quite confident. The only reason we have any question about it is that the title of Associate Professorship with academic tenure is usually not granted in less than 6 to 8 years. This is only his fourth year.

We feel that we are at last on solid ground.

We have paid our debts, thereby increasing our equity in the house by over $3000.00, in 2½ years. Our savings account has a small cushion for such unforeseeables as we cannot take care of with our current checking account. Our house is probably worth more than 18,000. now; we owe only the first mortgage, the remaining principal being $8900. Phil carries what seems like a reasonable amount of life insurance. In addition, each month under the University of California plan we put into a fund a certain portion of his pay check which portion is then matched by the Univ. The total sum will provide comfortable retirement. And under the new law, if money at the time he retires should have devaluated (inflated) the University will add a sufficient amount to guarantee a minimum monthly pension.

Concerning Thea

Me, I’m happy. I love California. I love my little home. My husband is wonderful. My children are well and fun and exciting. This third child and my 30th year are helping me to find myself. Much less frequently am I at odds with myself, with my life, with my fate. I’m easier to live with, I’m sure. I like myself somewhat more. There is much grey in my hair. But I think that some wisdom has come with it. Some of my days are crazy beyond description and I fall into bed at night utterly weary but more than a little pleased with myself. At such times I think of the book I ought to write but never will. Other days are just ordinarily busy. I do the marketing and cooking and light cleaning. I do the family errands, practice piano with Sue. I do the laundry and some of the ironing. I nurse Betty and play with her and teach her to eat from a spoon (much progress now) and drink from a glass (no bottle for her, says she). I play with Tully and with Nancy Lee or I take him to her house to play there. I teach Sue to cook and bake (she’s very interested; I bought her a children’s cookbook) and to sew (we are making a sleeping bag for her Rose). And every morning that I don’t have to be out of the house doing errands with the car, I set a project for the children such as playing with clay or dough or crayons or fingerpaints (I cook up the goop myself from a recipe I have in a handcrafts manual). During the day I do any visiting with my women friends. In the evenings when we have a baby sitter and some energy, we go out. Minus baby sitter, we entertain at home. (I wrote you, did I not, about the barbecue we gave in our backyard for all the members of Phil’s softball team and wives and children.) I weigh more than I’ve ever weighed unpregnant. Phils says it doesn’t matter what the scales say but how you look and feel. How do I look say I. You look fine says he but you have too much bulge on the tummy. So it’s tummy I am working on.

My reading diet is very light being also extremely short. But I have found that a serious attempt to study is, for me, incompatible with the proper frame of mind for doing a proper job of homemaking and child-raising. I hope that this attitude will not dismay you. There is a time and place for everything. I tried mixing them and was consequently happy at neither. I shall try to do the one truly full-time job alone now and save the other job for a future date.

And that is a picture of us as we now are. If you would like to keep this, I shall do the same with the carbon I’m making and shall try to keep it up to date for you. Perhaps then you won’t feel quite so far away.