Greetings from Utah, the Land of snow and desolation!
Before I get into a description of the country - and scenes within the speeding train, let me give a parting tribute to the little family back in South Euclid, Ohio. My children may never "rise up and call me blessed" - but I rise up right now and call them blessed. Estelle is giving up - temporarily - her part time job as a dental surgeon's assistant to take over the big job of home-maker. She and Virgil, Jr., are lending me the train fare (as their father and I have lent all our money to Uncle Sam). Knox is doing a magnanimous thing. So I've got to make good.***
They say that to travel is an education in itself. Now I know why. You see the country, yes. But for real education, it's the people you meet that counts. On the ride between Cleveland and Chicago I sat with a woman who took me with her into a fascinating new world. She belongs to a family of newspaper people - her father, now 91, having been an editor for over 50 years. She married a fine attorney, who made an art of living. For 25 years she has been gathering material for a history of the Oregon country and now she is ready to write the book. When she told me her sister is a book-binder, I thought, "How dull!" But not in that family. Her sister has taken first prize in exhibits in London and Paris as well as this country. I wanted to know how come. She gave me an example. When California wanted to honor Walt Whitman, her native son - peerless poet and philosopher - they decided to publish a memorial edition of his "Leaves of Grass" - just 1000 copies. Hazel Dreis (this sister) was asked to make the binding. They would pay her $100 a book. She went down to Mexico, spent one whole year among the Hopi Indians, learned from them how to make cloth out of grass. She wove her own cloth - and bound those books by hand. It took her three years. Now you and I can understand why special editions of books are so expensive.
She gets most of her leather from England. But if her supply is exhausted, she no doubt will buy up some cattle, sell or give the meat to all her heighbors in Santa Fe, and take the hide for her books. She does her own tanning and dyeing. In a marvelous adobe home - the plot of which Mrs. Shields showed me - is the book-binding and print shop that the two sisters have set up. Mrs. Shields (my train friend) lost her husband just last June. He had always dreamed of a home like this for his old age, But diabetes and overwork took him off in his fifties, I take it. The rent there is $11 a year; the state allows you ten cords of wood a year per person - and all you have to do is haul it. Their little farm furnishes everything but electricity and flour, sugar and salt. My! What a paradise! I think I'll look around for a little place for Virgil and me in our old age.***
One of the highlights of the trip was the visit - by telephone - with Dell McQuiston Harmon in Chicago. The telephone is never as satisfactory as the face-to-face conversation. Nevertheless, in that big, strange city, her voice was sweet balm to the soul. Mr. Harmon is with the city treasury department. (I hope I heard right) and is now working night and day on the Fourth Loan. I hope to see them on my return trip. The La Salle station and the Chicago and Northwestern were both full of soldiers - with a minority of sailors. There were hundreds on this train - the "Challenger." A large number, belonging to the Army Air Corps, got off at Salt Lake City, Wednesday morning. They were grand boys. In this coach is the friendliest crowd I ever saw. Tuesday evening we got off the train at Cheyenne for supper - and then came back, to congregate in the center of the car, and sing until ten o'clock. By the way, the little restaurant in Cheyenne has a unique way of promoting the 4th War Loan. The little pats of butter were stamped, "Buy War Bonds." The weather grew colder as we neared Ogden, Utah, and the hills grew into mountains. Great piles of rocks were thrust up in grotesque formation. But the open spaces seem desolate. Often cattle - apparently shelterless - were wandering in the snow. I don't like such sights. The return-trip, by the Southern route, and up through Denver, will be much more interesting. Everyone on this train seems to be in throbbing contact with this war. Wives and parents, going to see their loved ones in camp - or on their way back. One beautiful young woman - on her way to San Francisco - to visit her husband, a Lieutenant in the Air Corps - lost her only brother in a plane crash.
The most distinguished looking man on this coach is in old ill-fitting civilian clothes. I wondered about him. Tuesday night he explained. He belongs to the Merchant Marine, and had just returned from encircling the globe. His ship was torpedoed near (censored. A hot place.) He lost all his clothes, except the dungarees he wore, but rescued the handsome leather suitcase that he bought for his wife - on which her name is inscribed. In it is a fur jacket he bought for her in Calcutta - of all places. Not one soldier has conducted himself in anything below the best manner. They make us terribly proud of them. A very drunk marine and a very drunk sailor got on the train at Chicago. The Marine, in his delirious joy, threw his shirt out the window. The inebriated sailor is the best harmonica player on our train. Every now and then we round up the four experts. My seatmate is a neurotic, highly temperamental, Italian designer from Newark, N.J., headed for Los Angeles and a long rest. He is alternately peevish and most affable, glum - and effervescent. He'll sit for a whole day, irritated by the pranks of the young folks - and then at night break out in a rash of utter frivolity, entertaining the whole car. Unhappily married, he is now looking for his "rib" he says. In other words he is looking for his real soul-mate. Now we are in the land of the sage brush. We are about three hours northeast of Los Angeles. By the way I do recommend the "Challenger" coach for travel. So smooth and easy-riding. Nice large dressing rooms. The meals are fine. A grand chicken dinner last night - including coffee, rolls, and ice-cream for dessert - 75c. Now the column must be full. But won't I have a lot to tell you in the next six weeks?
Florence B. Taylor
Next - 2/17/44 - Visit with Knox and Family in California
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