3.5 Letter Five: 1955-6

December 1955

Dear Family:

I’m hoping that this carbon letter will bring you up-to-date on us for our “vacation season.” I’m bursting with words.

The vacation was desperately needed after two weeks of preparing for it. Each child’s wardrobe and each child’s schedule had to be adjusted, prepared or changed some way. I was surprised to discover the number of people it took to take care of the things that I take care of by myself when I am home. Pretty important, I am! The day we left found me too exhausted to be excited and too apprehensive about leaving the children to be pleased. It took a good day and a half to relax me.

A delightful train trip started us off properly. A daylight ride up the Hudson with our bedroom on the river side of the car, dinner in the diner, a comfortable bed. I spent a large part of the night raising the shade to see what I could see…not much sleep that night with so much whirling around in my head. We reached Chicago on time to the minute, transferred stations, had breakfast in one of the stations (served by one of the many grumpy waitresses we met across the Lake Country), and boarded the local train for Freeport, Ill., nearest passenger terminal to Monroe, Wisconsin. That is scheduled to take 3 hours. The train was made up of one coach, a mail car, and a small freight car. The seats were almost luxurious, we each had a double seat, there was no heat, and the trip took almost 5 hours! By that time I was beginning to believe that I was truly on vacation with my Philip. So, we enjoyed the silly trip very much. John met us and gave our first look at Monroe, of which small city we do approve. The children have grown and changed, of course. But more interesting and darling. Mary and John are unchanged — we like them. We saw the Monroe Clinic and were impressed. It looks very promising for John. Mary still has her future to work out. Since Monroe is the “Swiss Cheese capital of the world,” Mary took us to a Swiss Cheese factory to see it made. That is a fascinating process: a combination of old world formulae and old world father-to-son rhythm and technique with new world efficiency and technology. The result product, called a full-cream cheese, is far beyond the swiss cheese we buy in the A & P and we are spoiled now. We had a family picnic and cook-out one day, a hike around the country-side another. It was a good, comfortable family sort of visit. Sunday morning John put us on the train, a different one, not as interesting, not as slow, and we returned to Chicago.

We checked in at the Conrad Hilton Hotel where we had fortunately made reservations months before. That is the old Stevens Hotel, largest hotel in the world, renamed when the Hilton chain took it over and redecorated. Next door is the Sheraton-Blackstone and two blocks down the Congress, all three packed solid for the convention. Right on Michigan Boulevard and near the Loop. I loved it. Perfect for me.

The meetings all took place in the various special rooms of the three hotels which was fine for Phil. Our convention overlapped by two days with the convention of the National Association of Bedding Manufacturers. I’ll have to admit that as I rode the elevators each day, I was unable without looking at the badges to tell which men were engineers and which had bedding on their minds. Many wives were expected and many attended. So the Ladies Auxiliary (of which I am not at present a member) had planned a good program to keep the women busy during the day when the men attended meetings. Being a bit of a lone wolf, I attended only one of their programs which was a guided tour of the Board of Trade. That was fascinating and all too short. I avoided all the morning coffees and afternoon teas as well as a fur fashion show (!). I knew before we went what I wanted to see in Chicago. I bought the best guide book I could find and, clutching it tightly in my left hand, I toured the city. I rode all forms of public transportation as well as taking one of the recommended sightseeing bus tours of the areas I couldn’t cover alone. I took a good look at Marshall Field’s, etc., but couldn’t manage to spend any money since they all had the same things Best’s, Lord & Taylor’s and A & S have. A real good orgy of window shopping, though. The Art museum which doesn’t begin to compare with the Metro. but had a good Picasso collection and a fine amateur veterans’ display. Aquarium. Staggering marble collection at the Elk’s Memorial. And so forth. It was all fun. But the best part came in the evening when I met Phil and we attended various parties of his numerous acquaintances among the engineers. A different party, a different place every evening. One of the low points of the meeting — I attended the luncheon of the Applied Mechanics Division which is Phil’s division of the ASME, and found myself the only woman in the room of over 100 men. I was embarrassed and wanted to leave but was restrained. And of course the chairman couldn’t let my presence there go unnoticed — oh no! Dear Nicholas Hoff! One of the high points — Bill Prager invited me to breakfast with him in the Park Row Room — alone, if you please. Phil and I had been eating breakfast, as befits our pocketbooks, in the Coffee Shop of the Hilton. Breakfast in the Park Row Room is a different affair entirely. Orange juice set in bowls of ice, good black coffee served demi-tasse the moment you sit down to wake you up and help you decide on your meal, anything you order served in quantities a normal person couldn’t possibly consume, seconds on almost everything, the handsome room very quiet despite the large number of people (all Bill’s age rather than mine — this must mean something) eating there, the cooking perfect, hot things hot and cold things cold (and sourpuss waitresses just as in the Coffee Shop). An adventure for me. I had to report in detail to my husband when I met him that afternoon. Theoretically, Bill calls me Thea and I call him Bill. Actually, I don’t call him anything, since I cannot overcome my original awe of him. He’s a dear. He’s quite shy and withdrawn and many people, I’ve discovered, including Nicholas Hoff, hold him in considerable awe. This added considerably to my pleasure in eating breakfast alone with him. But darn it! none of them saw me, I’m afraid. Oh well, c’est la vie, nicht wahr? When he learned Tuesday night that we were cutting short our visit in Chicago to take a quick trip to Minneapolis (we ourselves didn’t know till Tuesday afternoon), he asked to be sure to look up Steve and Julie, his only son and daughter-in-law, who are there.

The Minneapolis trip came about as follows. On Monday Dr. Goodman, second in command in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, saw Phil and told him that he, Larry, had called Phil long distance the previous week. But we had left already for Monroe. While Phil was to be in Chicago anyway, Minn. would like to invite him to come on to Minn. and give a seminar. Phil said that if his wife was agreeable (namely me), and if we could change and adjust various subsequent plans and reservations, he would accept the invitation. So, when I stopped at the floor desk to pick up my room key on Mon. afternoon, I found a letter from Phil:

“We are invited to Minn. If you want to go, then

  1. Call Frances in Kalamazoo and see if it would suit their plans to have us Sat. to Mon. instead of Fri. to Sun.
  2. Call trains and make all necessary new reservations and ticket adjustments.

I wanted to go, and I did. (Phil firmly claims that he took me on that trip to show me that his business trips are really dull affairs and not the long revels I had thought them, and to have someone to take care of his secretarial duties and his laundry. I must tell you that I had a wonderful, delightful, marvelous glamorous time and that I was a darn good secretary and laundress.)

On Wed. night we boarded a Burlington Zephyr for Minneapolis and found out how obsolete the Eastern pullman cars are. It was a raw horrible night in Chicago. Now I know what that wind is that comes in off the Lake. But our bedroom on the train was cozy and we slept soundly from Chicago to Minn. Where we found the city covered with snow and the great Mississippi frozen several feet out from each bank. We checked in at the special postgraduate dormitory where we had a large room and bath and then set, no arrangements having been made for our afternoon, to see what Minneapolis is famous for. The Minnehaha Falls were frozen but the flour mills were going full blast. That being one of Minn. chief industries, we made an appointment and were shown through the General Mills where I saw made the 2-lb. bag of flour that I bought this week. An interesting process. If we keep this up, we’ll begin to know a little bit about what people mean when they talk about the complexity of American technology. We were most amazed by the degree of automation we saw in these mills. Whole giant floors of machinery grinding and sifting, sorting, making mechanical decisions, regrinding, bleaching — and not a man in sight. It frightened me. I found it reassuring to come upon a girl packing with her own flour-white hands some sacks into several cartons.

That evening we were invited to Larry Goodman’s house where he mentioned casually, while we tried to conceal our surprise, that this invitation was occasioned by their desire to re-open the question of Phil’s moving to the U. of Minn. Phil truly thought that was a closed book. (I forgot to mention that MIT has given Phil a standing offer — terms to be discussed anytime he wants to change his mind. This is a true compliment.) We went to Minn. in all innocence. But Nicholas was not so naive. He told Phil yesterday that he plans to discuss this very seriously with Pres. Rogers!

The next day, Friday, Phil spent at their offices all day, meeting people, being shown around the campus, gave the seminar to a good attendance of engineers and one chemist, Steve Prager, who came right over when he heard we were there. I spent the morning recovering from a silly upset and the afternoon visiting the Betty Crocker kitchens with Mrs. Goodman who had gotten a baby sitter for the occasion. She is a Canadian girl, a pediatrician temporarily not practicing while she raises two small girls. We found the kitchens rather boring after the first enthralled glance and went on to a nice tea at Dayton’s. Where she proceeded to tell me what a nice place they found Minneapolis and all the nice things one finds in or near there. She did the propaganda a bit awkwardly and finally most gracefully said that she was hoping to influence me. Which I took as a compliment to my husband, of course. It was very pleasant. And as I said last January when we had been up at MIT, I don’t object to it a bit.

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I started this letter about the first of December. It is now January 20. My memory will have to fill in now.

We traveled directly from Minneapolis to Kalamazoo and were met by Frances. I don’t at this time-distance remember all the details of that week-end. But I do remember that we have a large family in Kalamazoo. Frances was a little concerned that too many people were being thrown at us at once. But we loved it. On one of the evenings there, Deed gave a family dinner attended by all and sundry including Uncle Bert. I approached that evening with trepidation, wondering if we would be stared at, talked at and questioned for a whole evening. Now I know better and love them all. Our arrival there was just a good excuse for a family get-together which they would enjoy having anyway. They were glad to include us in and they made that clear, but then they went ahead and had themselves a good time and were their natural selves. Best adult family party I’ve ever attended.

Uncle Bert takes things slowly with Aunt Mary keeping a close eye on him. But he looks well if not robust, he participated in everything, drank and laughed and seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly whenever we saw him that week-end.

Believe me when I say we saw everyone. In fact, I think we met everybody in Kalamazoo. Some of the older children were in evidence. John and Jane’s Priscilla is one of the loveliest girls I’ve ever seen. John and Jane don’t look old enough to belong to her. Met Jim Kirkpatrick and Johnny Howard for the first time. Sal is the gal I would like to know better. Of all those good people, she is my pet. Frances was a peach. I’m not sure we treated her kindly: one night we kept her up to all hours while we traced some interesting people through the Gibson geneaology. We got so interested in it that we are now wondering where the Hodge book is. Phil is sure there is one but we haven’t yet instituted a search. If you know, would you tell us. Phil was hopefully looking for some skeletons in the closet. No luck. But we did discover that Hanna Treadway (later Puffer) was captured by the Indians and later ransomed for 6 times the cost of Manhattan Island. This fact has delighted Sue beyond measure. Phil was also pleased to discover that he is related through marriage to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and to Daniel Webster. (P.S. Hannah Treadway was Sue’s grandmother to the 6th degree.)

Win showed us through the Todd company. I was impressed with that. Never realized before what a big operation it is. Large, clean, efficient looking, friendly and family-ish. Smells, too! The day before, Pete ? had beaten Win out in the finals of the turkey shoot. In expiation of this sin, Pete arranged a special tour for us through his place, the Upjohn Co. So Frances and Phil and I had a good look at the manufacture and packaging of the same vitamins that we take and the ones we give the children. And a good look at a tremendous manufacturing plant in operation with its employee benefits, its pressures, and its publicity.

It’s a great country. I’m glad it’s us.