I bought a box of love letters at a flea market, and since several of my nosiest friends wanted to know what are in the letters, I decided to transcribe them here as I work through them. I type fast! Good thing because it’s a big box. Now, keep in mind this could go any which way: super boring, depressingly sexist and/or racist, fever dream sexy, or just a sweet snapshot of a couple of white kids in the 1960s at college (most likely scenario).
Anyway, here’s the first letter to Miss Karen K., of Chicago, Illinois from… I’ll find out at the end because the return address is just his college logo, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The letter is indented, my comments are flush left. Because it’s my blog and I get to comment.
September 25, 1960
Guten Abend Meine Liebchen,
Oh god, I hope he’s not a nazi! Here’s hoping this stays cute and doesn’t get dark (who am I kidding? I love when stories take a turn).
First off, I will attend to your “questionnaire.” The itinerary includes the football game Sat. afternoon which will be over about 4:30. After the game we will probably wander around campus, have dinner and let you get dressed for the dance in the evening. The dress for the Homecoming Dance varies. Specifically, for the girls anything from just dressy to formal is worn. The norm centers around semi-formal. Some girls wear formals, other come pretty close. Doesn’t help much. Specifically, for you, a lot depends on what is most convenient. I’d prefer something more or less formal. Use your judgement.
I’m gonna call it right now: engineering student. Just a feeling. Also, what does “more or less formal” mean? I’m guessing it means “formal”? I appreciate that she sent him a questionnaire as I like a girl who is detail-oriented!
The affair is supposed to be semi-formal, but that sometimes covers quite a range. A lot of girls coming in from out of town don’t want to bring formals because they take up a lot of room and are difficult to keep “un-crushed.” However, I like to dress up and I’ll be dressed semi-formally. I am not that familiar with women’s clothes to really be any more specific. Maybe another girl’s opinion would be more helpful or at least aid in your decision.
Pretty sure he just told her to dress the hell up but only if it works for her. Side-eying this a little bit but it’s 1960 and she asked a probably engineering student what to wear to a party!
Anyway, Sunday, I don’t know what we’ll do, exactly, but casual dress should be sufficient.
Bow chicka bow bow? And probably hungover to boot.
I’ll let you know of any new developments regarding Sunday.
My parents are bringing you down here, so it might be a good idea to get in touch with them, although there is no hurry, of course.
(Reading that last statement over it occurred to me that it sounds sarcastic. I certainly didn’t mean it that way. Please excuse.)
What the hell is he talking about?
Right now, I can’t think of anything particularly besides what I told you already, but undoubtedly I will between now and Oct. 8, and I will transmit the information to you.
In your plight caused by registration and “orientation” I am your whole-hearted sympathizer and veteran, one year removed.
Ooh, details! He’s a sophomore and she’s a freshman! But Karen’s address is the south side of Chicago. I wonder what school she’s attending?
Registration is bad with the exponent of 20,000 some odd students. And some students are very odd which only adds to the mess.
But registration is repeated for me every semester so that I won’t forget the results of ultimate chaos. Fortunately, certain little tricks learned each semester abbreviate much of the difficulty. And orientation week comes only once. Registration only kills one full day and the rest of the time I can laugh at the new freshman (just refilled my pen).
Dude, unless I’m mistaken you’re ONE YEAR ahead of her. So you have laughed at the freshman… once… just last month?
But I still look forward to registration with dread. It is because of the backward system of registration this university uses that I don’t have the schedule I wanted and have a Saturday class. Therefore, a have a six-day week, and a one-day weekend. Can’t be helped though. I won’t cry. At least Sat. morning won’t be wasted.
Is there anything more banal than the complaints of college sophomores?
A bit of consolation for you, “Experience is the best teacher.” Probably come in handy in the future.
I take it back. The wisdom of college sophomores is even more banal than their complaints.
A comment on snowstorms and blizzards in early October. Don’t put it past Champaign weather. All things are possible down here. It snowed on Mother’s Day May 8, last year, so a blizzard in October is not out of the realm of possibility.
HE IS INSUFFERABLE
But I like that he’s clearly got her last letter with him and he’s addressing her points one by one. He’s basically peacocking his College Experience at her while also ticking off all the questions she asked and points she made. This is good letter writing form, in my opinion. As a member of the last generation of letter writers, this is exactly what I would do when replying to a friend’s letter back in the dark ages before constant communication.
My regards to Bean also.
Keeping in mind the violence with which she generally greets me, even she hads never before [sic], I am dubious about whether or not I can stave her off if she’s glad to see me and is welcoming me back. However, it really doesn’t worry me. The greetings of her mistress are much more important.
Aw, Bean is her dog! And the greetings of her mistress are more important! CUTE.
Your consolation for having to stay at home would be enough to keep me from going.
Hmm. I’m guessing she wasn’t sure she could make it to the dance (maybe she needs a dog sitter).
We had a football game here last Saturday. We trounced Indiana, 17-6. Actually, we should have had three more touchdowns, but we goofed three times. On three separate occasions we were within 10 yards of the goal line with four downs to work with. But we fumbled them badly. In the last half of the last quarter, our blind quarterback passed the ball from the 15-yd. line directly to an Indiana man behind the goal line instead of our own receiver. A black mark against Easterbrook.
He had an open field and would have ran the ball pretty close to the goal line on top of all that. But we beat ’em.
I love the use of the royal we by sports fans.
Last year we played on a wet field and lost to Indiana, but after an initial charge down the field at the beginning of the game, Indiana played the defensive for the duration. All they could hope for was to keep the ball out of their own territory. We play West Virginia next week and Ohio State for our Homecoming a week after that. I love football weekends, esp. Homecoming this year as our campus will have a charming addition, which will add joy to my life. If you didn’t come, I would haunt you, so we’re even.
NICE SAVE, with the cute ending after boring the shit out of everyone with football for a full page. I’m guessing she made a joke about “haunting” him? Feels like a callback to me.
Your letters do me no end of good. You are without doubt wonderful, and your second card was better than the first. Now you’ve exposed yourself to the possibility that I’ll send you cards. The fact that you do think of me is alone enough to make me happy. I’m going to get all trite and mushy here pretty soon but your letters do more than give me happiness and satisfaction. They give me peace. You must know that you are with me at all times, not physically, but in a more important way.
YOU GUYS. Awwww.
And now I must say au revoir also. Sweet dreams and pleasant memories. My love to you and your family, but especially to you.
Love ad infinitum,
HIS NAME IS RUSS. KAREN AND RUSS 4EVAH.
P.S. You won’t “overtax” me by requests for letters. I’m not that busy. My only fault insofar as letter-writing is concerned is that I procrastinate. Procrastination will be my Waterloo yet. Please don’t interpret my not writing as indifference. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We learned so much in this first letter!
- Russ is likely a sophomore at University of Illinois in 1960 (so, 20-ish years old). He’s close enough to his parents that they are bringing his girlfriend to visit for homecoming.
- Russ *really* loves football and lording his college experiences over his girlfriend.
- Karen is likely a freshman at a college in Chicago (19-ish years old in 1960). Her mailing address is the South Side of Chicago.
- Karen had a dog named Bean that was cute, possibly aggressive.
Worried that you’ll miss one? See a chronological list here.