01. August 2020 · Comments Off on From the New W-I-P · Categories: Uncategorized

It doesn’t have a title yet – but this is another snippet of the letters between two cousins, in the late 1930s. Yes, this will have to do with WWII, and the two woman correspondents are the granddaughters of characters in previous novels.

Letter, dated 24 April 1938, Postmarked Ipoh, Perak – Federated Malay States

Dearest Vennie: We have finally arrived at Tommy’s plantation, after hopscotching by railway, airplane, steamship, railway again, and automobile, until we reached the lovely little town of Ipoh on the River Kinta – all in very jungly and mountainous landscape, and not the least like the ‘great grey green greasy Limpopo, all set about with fever trees!’ We stayed the night at the station hotel, as we arrived very late in the afternoon and we were both exhausted beyond words. I honestly would not have been the least surprised to complete this long journey in a rickshaw! (We rode in one in Manila – a carriage pulled by a carabao – that is, a tame water-buffalo!) Tommy’s household apparently did not get the telegram sent from Singapore alerting them to our arrival. Well, never mind, said Tommy – I’ll telephone in the morning and Chandeep Singh will send the auto for us. (This Chandeep Singh is Tommy’s butler/driver/right-hand manager.)

I wrote to you from Hawaii, before we departed – so I hope that you received my letter, sent via airmail! In case it has gone astray, I had a full account in it, about how Tommy met up with the famous champion Olympic swimmer, Mr. Duke Kahanamoku, who was quite the resident celebrity where we stayed. During our week-long stay at the Royal Hawaiian, Mr. Kahanamoku made fast friends with Tommy – and even favored him with a long session in the water, tutoring him on the technique of riding those long boards at the crest of the waves. Tommy said it was enormously good fun, rather like riding a horse in a steeplechase at full gallop, although he barely had gotten the hang of standing up on the board before we had to move on. My husband has the unerring ability to make friends with so many people, and especially relishes the companionship of those who are expert at so many things. Mr. Kahanamoku was fit as the athlete he was in previous decades, comely and dark brown. I would have thought him a Mexican, on seeing him at first glance, like one of the Becker ranch vaqueros.

Anyway, at the end of our week-long stay, we boarded the Clipper for the long flight to Manila … oh, there were stops at a several miniscule islands scattered at convenient intervals across the Pacific, but we did not linger any significant length of time at them. We stayed a week at the completely luxurious and modern Manila Hotel on Rizal Park, recovering from the rigors (hah!) of the journey from Hawaii. While we were there, an old friend of Daddy’s treated us to a splendid dinner at the Army & Navy Club. Do you remember Daddy mentioning his old friend and pal, Chester, who thought his best bet for a college education was to take an appointment at a military academy? Like Daddy, Chester was the grandson of one of the old original settlers in Fredericksburg. Indeed, Daddy insists that Chester’s grandfather had once courted Great-Grandma Magda in the early days, but she decided to marry Great-Grandfather Becker instead. Still, according to all the family stories, they remained friends, and the Beckers and the Nimitzes were always on the best of terms thereafter. Well, anyway, Daddy’s friend Chester had just finished a tour as the commander of a cruiser in the Asiatic Fleet. Are you impressed? I was, terribly. I expect Daddy sent him a telegram – which caught him as he was heading back to the United States to take over some fearfully responsible duty, something called “The Bureau of Navigation.” Neither Tommy nor I could divine exactly what this meant. Apparently, Chester has spent the last couple of years with the Asiatic Fleet showing off the flag to the obstreperous Japs. Well, someone has to do it, although Tommy reposes enormous confidence in the Royal Navy when it comes to this tiresome obligation. Well, another thing which we must agree to disagree upon, the abilities of the British VS the American navies.

It was quite an enjoyable evening, though. I felt quite at home with Chester, almost as if Daddy had been with us – grave and blond and handsome. He reminisced to us about being a boy in his grandfather’s house, and the doings of Fredericksburg – where his grandfather was simply the most awful man for pranks and tall-tale-telling (or so said Daddy!), with the old Verein-Kirche in the middle of Main Street, his grandfather’s hotel and ballroom all tricked out like a steamboat grounded, and the little Sunday houses for the families from the outlaying properties who came to do business on Saturday and church on Sunday, and marvelous barbeques for any celebration. I would have felt most homesick, hearing him talk about this all, and Tommy nodding with the deepest interest and asking him to tell us more. My husband has done it again, charming the most unlikely people by taking such an intense interest in their doings. We went to see many of the sights of Manila – the hotel had a view over the vast bay where the Navy has moorage and that was simply the most spectacular scene.

Then, on to Singapore, which was really more of the same, only with British accents. This was where we went by steamer. Really, it was quite relaxing. Tommy presented me with a guide to the Malay language, which he says that I will simply have to learn as essential to my new life. I whiled away those days on the puttering passenger steamer, studying the pages of Fraser & Neaves’ Short Malay Handbook in Roman Characters. Tommy says that I will absolutely have to be able to cope in Malay, with the servants and plantation employees. Well – I could swing it in Spanish when I was growing up on the Ranch – now, hard could this be?

Depressingly hard, as it might be after a week or so wrestling with the vocabulary and pronunciation in that little red-covered handbook, although Mr. Song the Chinese cook speaks very passible English. So much for the use of the cooking book that I was given as a wedding present from Ivy. I do not have any use for recipes at all, as Mr. Song does all the cooking and resents very much any interference with his methods and the organization of his kitchen.

Sigh. I am getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Longcot Plantation is named after some grim and moldy stately pile in England, which, if you ask me, would be embarrassed at sharing a name with a plain wooden cottage with a tin roof, even though it sprawls in every direction and boasts a splendid garden and a very green lawn, kept carefully mown by the syce. (More about the resident servants later – Vennie, I now live in a veritable League of Nations when it comes to nationalities!) Tommy’s grandfather had some sentimental connection to the original Longcot House, I guess. But picture a simple wooden sprawl, with deep verandahs all the way around, and large stretches of windows covered sketchily by louvered shutters, if at all. It seems that the whole purpose of walls here is so that they may be as open to admit as much of the wandering and hopefully cooler air as is possible. Of course, mosquitoes and other flying insects are simply ubiquitous – we all sleep under clouds of mosquito netting. Nothing must be done to impede the fresh air, morning and night. It is hot here, which I admit – and humid. You would simply not believe the amount of condensation sweated off a glass filled with plain water and ice, after five minutes! Picture that structure surrounded by tall trees of a jungly-nature, beds of fabulously flowering shrubs, and a sweep of green lawn … it is so green, so lush, so burgeoning with tropical life … honestly, the Hill Country seems to be a barren desert by comparison. (Save in spring, when the wildflowers overwhelm …)

At any rate, when we arrived, all the household staff and the local workers were lined up at the edge of the gravel drive to receive us, as if we were royalty on tour of some splendid pile or enterprise. Honestly, can you imagine anything more personally embarrassing to me, everyone bobbing curtseys and bows, and calling me ‘Mem Peg’ and greeting me as if they were swearing eternal devotion to us and our bloodline? Chandeep Singh practically did; it seems that he served with Tommy’s father in some Indian regiment and followed him after the war to Malaya. Tommy has known Chandeep Singh for all of his own life and regards him as a kind of honorary uncle. Vennie … this whole thing is more complicated than I thought, upon marriage to Tommy. And you are the only one whom I may confide in. I will write you again, in more detail about our dear little house and the conundrums that I find there.

Love, Peggy

PS – how might one be certain of being pregnant? Since you are a nurse and have knowledge of these awkward things. Let me know, soonest.         

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