Grace Lavern Tilson, 1943
Last night Larry and I watched “Nightjohn” about a slave who breaks the law and teaches a younger slave to read. A disturbing story, not only because of what happens in the film, but also because of how it reveals a part of my own past. Through letters Dad introduces his family to the young woman he met in a bus station in Texas. She was a junior at Matador High School, about to turn seventeen. They come from two very different backgrounds; Dad, a Catholic, Yankee, son of Polish immigrants, who grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, spoke Polish at home, English at school. Mom is the daughter and granddaughter of West Texas cotton farmers, teachers and preachers. Some of my ancestors were missionaries among the Indians, others were Confederates. And even though the story passed down was, “We treated our colored people good,” they were still slave-holders. Ray and Grace would not have been called boundary crossers back then. But Mom’s mother, Stella, let it be know that she was not happy about her daughter marrying a Catholic. However, she did see the eventual marriage as a way out for Grace and an opportunity for a better life.
San Angelo Army Air Field
San Angelo, Texas
December 10, 1943
I received your letter dated December 6 and I sure did like it. I really never did expect a letter as long as you wrote for the short one I wrote. I am very sorry that my letter was so short. I hope and pray that my letter compares at least ¼ to yours. It was really, but really interesting.
I am so sorry to hear that you were so late to get in. Boy when ever I am late like that I hear about it, from my guardian, the commanding officer.
Say, that demerit system of yours is really something. Any time you want a three day vacation you just ask for it by being bad. I guess I would like that very much.
I just got out of the show. Did I ever see a crummy picture—- “Gangway For Tomorrow.” I’ll bet you’re wondering why I do this—-put a line like that—-well that makes my letters seem longer. You’ll be—-surprised it makes my letters about two lines longer. After I finish writing you this letter I will probably wind up laying bingo at the Service Club. Today is Bingo night.
I have two bothers and oh, yes, I also have a mother and father—-One of my brothers who is two years older than I am is in the Army in Italy. I shouldn’t say Army, cause he is in the Air Corps. He also is a Staff Sgt. Like your brother Bill, or W.R. as you call him. The last I heard from him he was in Naples. My younger brother is still a civilian, but I figure he will be in the Army as soon as he turns eighteen in May.
My dad is a Barber and on the side he buys and sells houses or cars. It seems to me every time I go home I find the folks have a new car for me. I sure do love cars.
I sure was glad you did not think I was rude talking to you at the bus station. I really did figure a beautiful girl like you would either be married or engaged. I figured also that you were about seventeen. As for being engaged, girls back home get engaged when they are 16.
I was so sorry that I was not able to see more of you. In case I should ever be in your neck of the woods would you mind if I visited you?
Say, as long as you are going to have a picture made, have one made for me. Please.
I guess I’ll give you little about myself. I am 21 years old, just turned 21, the 20th of October. I am from the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago. I graduated in 1940 from the biggest high school in the world. The name of it is Lane Technical High School. Its an all boys school and there are about 9,000 fellows enrolled. I graduated from a 4 year technical course wilth 1200 other guys. After finishing school I went to work in a Radio Co. I worked there a little over 2 years, and then I enlisted in the Air Corps. Ever since then I have been sdtationed here in San Angelo. My job here is one of the spokes in the wheel that helps train Bombardiers. I’ll guess I’ll close so until I hear from you I remain as ever.
Please write soon and send me a picture if you don’t mind.