January 1, 1945
Letters from Theodore Katz
Jan 1, 194(4)5 (oops!)
Dearest Helen –
The new year has begun auspiciously – with a turkey dinner of magnificent proportions – though, of course I can’t say the same for the mess facilities. As the next turkey dinner on the schedule is next Thanksgiving I fervently hope that this one is the last the Army will offer me – and I eagerly await to see what culinary delights you can accomplish with the vaunted bird. God, the way I talk about food, you’d think I was marrying you for your cooking – so I shall desist from such talk for a couple of paragraphs, at least.
In last night’s V-mail, I mentioned going to town on pass to celebrate the New Year, but neglected the details for lack of space. The town itself proved dull and drab – a fact that Jack & I found evident almost immediately. It was late afternoon when we arrived and spent our first hour wandering about the streets looking at what were purported to be points of interest, the usual wreckage and the usual denizens. At about this point, we met Tom Cuffari. (If you will look at the picture of the band that I sent sometime ago and fix your gaze on the guitarist, that will be Tom). He’d been into town the night before, which practically made him a guide for us tourists. So he proceeded to take us in hand and show us the town’s offering in the way of entertainment – which consisted of three cafés – one with an orchestra playing the most horrible music I’ve ever heard – seemingly trying to make up for a lack of quality with a plethora of volume. – And while we three grimaced and held our ears out of sonic pain, the natives waved their arms, stamped their feet, enjoying themselves immensely. The leader of the band was a violinist who stood up as he scraped a cigar clamped between a set of bulldog jaws and nodding his head to the irregular temp. The pianist was a woman with hennad [sic] hair and crossed eyes and gave one the impression of staring blankly at the wall when in reality she was deeply absorbed in the music in front of her. The rest of the players were of inconsequential appearance, and the alleged music soon drove us into the street. We tried the other two cafés, but didn’t linger long. About this time we began to feel the pangs of hunger (there’s that subject again) and began a quest for a restaurant. A civilian, upon questioning, directed us to what he said was the best restaurant in town, which we found to be in a hotel. We entered to be pleasantly surprised by a pleasing atmosphere – an empty one but pleasing nevertheless. When I say empty, I mean empty except for a couple of waiters and a woman, with her back to us, seated at a piano in a corner under a soft orange light – and playing the “Moonlight Sonata.” She presented a strange picture. A black spot of dress, a veritable bush of hair and two white hands fluttering like butterflies over the keys. A waiter informed us that dinner would not be served until 7 in tones that made it self-evident that we should leave and return at the proper hour. We nodded in assent and without a word slowly walked to the piano where we stood quietly waiting for her to finish. I edged around to the side to see what she looked like, but her hair covered her in such an envelopment that even from the side, it was impossible to see her profile. Her dress was black with loose, baggy sleeves – her hands small and slightly pudgy and on one finger she wore a marriage ring and another just about it – a great blob of gold – so large that it seemed that it would only be with great effort that she could lift her hand. She played on methodically, sometimes stumbling over a wrong note. But it was the way she played that fascinated me – the theatrical gestures – sometimes lifting her hands a foot from the keyboard and swaying back & forth, as if by these movements she could compensate for the lack of emotion invoked by her unimaginative playing. At length, she stopped with a flourished put her hands on her lap and remained still while we applauded while as whe winked at each other. Then she turned suddenly and I must admit I must have gaped. I remember an old movie version of “Rain” with Joan Crawford as Sadie Thompson – and this was the first thing I thought of. The same swirling untidy mass of hair – false eyelashes, so long that they looked like awnings, an over-generous mouth, the slight beginnings of a double chin – the entire face slightly puffy and dissipated. Then she spoke and the spell was broken – instead of the deep, throaty Crawford voice, out came a little, high pitched squeaky note – like a sparrow. In the course of the conversation we learned that she was the proprietess. Tom asked her to sit while he sketched her portrait and with obvious vanity she acquiesced. I carried on at the piano while Tom sketched and talked to her. When he finished, I looked at the sketch and then at him with raised eyebrows – for it was obvious flattery to the point where [it] didn’t resemble her. But his glance told me that this was intentional and I could see what was up. He’s always had a phobia for bizarre women and this was what he called an “in.” His technique was truly admirable and in no time he had made a date to do another “portrait” the following day and the two of them were gaily carrying on like old pals. As the time to dine drew close she left to attend to her business and we took a table. The meal was excellent but the quantity was small. The wine was good however. Our dinner was interrupted a few times by heavy anti-aircraft fire. We used the noise, in lieu of the usual New Years Eve noisemakers as we toasted the New Year with clinks of the goblets. Jack & I wistfully reminisced of last year and Tom’s avid eyes followed the propriestess as she moved in mincing steps among the tables. We left, and walked back to our area in the clear moonlight and thus ended our New Years Eve. I’ve just heard a loud “Mail Call”! – and instructed Dave to pick up whatever mail there is for me – and in a few moments I hope to have you with me. I’ve heard my name called a couple of times, so there must be something for me – and that means there must be something from you. The way the mails been coming lately – I can’t miss. Here it is now. Five letters. Here’s two from Sam, one from an old buddy in Normandy now. Ah – one from you – and one from India. Pardon me while I examine the contents of each. In reading I saved yours for the last – sort of like dessert. Sam is O.K. – but he’s getting those migraine headaches again – I doubt whether he’ll get back here – I hopes [sic] he goes home. I might as well add – me too! – The news from the other fronts is well. Your letter (the dessert) told of receiving word from Edith via Jack of my change in grade – I don’t like the word “broken” – you probably received my letter on that subject the next day. But your letter was wonderful. Did I ever tell you that you were terrific? It’s all ancient history now – but I can tell that you have a pretty good idea of what goes on. By the time I finished reading the letter I had a smile a yard wide – and inside, a little voice kept repeating “What a lucky guy!” –
Time to say goodnight. Give my regards to your folks and the girls –
All my love,