Constance to Norma
May 2, 1918
You’re a terrible correspondent and there’s no excuse for it. Fleurette and I are left stateside while you march off to France. We had a few decent letters when you were in Paris and a passable selection when you arrived at your secret location, but lately you’re sending us nothing but an occasional “I am well” to let us know that you’re alive. Are words also being rationed overseas, even short ones?
I’m beginning to suspect that you wrote a year’s worth of brief, perfunctory letters already—did you do them on the ship?—and now you simply select one to fit the circumstances.
It’s true, isn’t it? That sounds just like something you’d do. To wit:
Yours of a month ago read in its entirety: “All is well here and the meals are decent. Work continues apace.”
Two weeks ago we were treated to: “Health is good. Food ordinary but adequate. Work proceeds as expected.”
Yesterday the postman oughtn’t to have bothered, so light were his duties. “Am well. Expect the same for you.”
Really, Norma! Not even a mention of the decent, ordinary, adequate meals this time?
It’s bad enough that our letters take weeks or even months to reach each other. Can’t you put something in them that’s worth the wait?
For the better part of 1917, when you were still here in New Jersey, we were treated to almost daily dispatches from Fort Monmouth. You seemed to have no difficulty in recounting names, personalities, conversations, arguments (mostly there were arguments, as I recall, but somehow the Army decided to keep you anyway), and, if anything, excessively detailed descriptions of the military’s pigeon messenger program, its small triumphs and all too frequent setbacks. Why, then, is it so difficult to put down a line or two now that you’re working on the very same program in France?
Meanwhile, here I am in a boarding-house with twenty other women. A letter from overseas is an occasion: we all gather around the parlor in the evenings to read them aloud. Just last week, Kit in 3F had a letter from her brother about a French mutt his unit picked up. He even drew a picture of the dog. I’ve heard tales of dances with officers (not that I expect you to dance with an officer), pitiable descriptions of wounded men coming out of surgery and asking how many limbs remained, and accounts of air raids that would set your hair aflame.
Pages, Norma! Pages and pages they write. The soldiers, the nurses, the ambulance drivers—every one of them has something to say about the war, except you.
I know that your work with the carrier pigeons is of great importance and must be cloaked in secrecy. But once—just once—give the censor something to do! Let him go to work on a four-pager. As it is, he hardly need hold your envelope up to the light to see that it contains nothing of interest to the Germans (or to your family, for that matter). He can probably tell by weighing it how little ink has been spilled.
We’ve never been apart in our lives, and there you are, half a world away. Couldn’t you paint a picture of the sort of place you’ve been sent, or give some general idea of the goings-on?
If nothing else, I hope you’ll take seriously my suggestion to keep a diary, and to make a record of anything that wouldn’t be allowed past the censors. I put three notebooks in your trunk when you left, and I’ll send you more if you like. I’m convinced that if you don’t write something down for us to read when you return, you’ll come home and say that you single-handedly won the war and there’s nothing else to tell. Well, there is quite a bit to tell, so get to it.
Constance (and Fleurette, if she were here, but she hardly ever is)
Norma to Constance
June 6, 1918
Dear Constance (and Fleurette, if she can be found),
I suppose you’re feeling puny down there in the parlor at night, when the others are reading their letters. I hate to think what sort of people you’re living among, but if a letter from France is all they have to prop themselves up, I suggest you let them cling to their small triumphs and get on with your own work, or have you run out of saboteurs to chase?
I’m in a village in France that I cannot name, doing work I’m not allowed to describe, with the aim of defeating the Germans, which you already knew. What more is there to say?
Food is nourishing, bed is clean and dry, the war goes on.