Friday, August 15, 2014

A Piece of Time

For the last few weeks I've been listening to the book tapes to China Dolls by Lisa See.  I have enjoyed the characters and plot, but what I have found most intriguing are her descriptions of clothing, the items people could not obtain during World War II, and how much people shared what little they had with others who had even less.  In one scene Grace, and Ruby dress up for a movie shooting in Hollywood, but they didn't have any nylons, so they painted their legs with makeup and drew a black line down the back to look like a seem in their hosiery.  When I listen to the words of a story I do a much better job of imagining scenes and internalizing the emotions of the times.  Consequently, the characters in her book have been on my mind.

Last night I sat down on the floor to continue sorting and reading items that have been stored for decades by my Aunt Della, my grandmothers, and my mother.  From a fragile yellowed envelope a picture dropped to the floor.
The inscription on the back of the billfold size photo read, "Della, I am in a Filipina Dress.  Suppose you copy this one together with your picture.  I mean this mine and your together.  How about a Filipina and an American lady friends together....Herminia."  My Aunt Della was a well known photographer in Wichita, Ks.  My guess is that Herminia wanted Della to take a picture of the two of them together using the negative she sent.  

There in my hands I held someone's story, not Grace's and not Ruby's, but who was this woman? The picture along with its negative and another photo were sent to my Aunt Della on "8 August 46" from "Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, P.I." (the Philippines)  She wrote a seven page letter in tiny cursive writing, and occasionally I used the magnifying glass to read her words.

My Dear Della,
     I was with that undefinable thrill upon the receipt of my most expected letter from you, but much to my regret I was not able to answer at once.  I am trusting to your kind heart to forgive me for the present.  I was confined in bed for a week, a victim of severe cold, headache and high fever.
     Now a days the weather is not so favorable.  The rains are here again....
     Your letter brought to each and everyone of us in the family an endless and in comparable joy.  Friends and relatives who visited me when I was in bed and even at times now read your letters.  Also I showed them your pictures.  They are very glad and say that I'm fortunate indeed to have acquired an American lady friend, so good and nice as you are.  It seems to me they are jealous of me, and the more I feel proud of you, cause they are also professionals like me but they go no lady friend like you.  Perhaps its Grace from Above, for had it not been for your brother we should not have come to know each other.  

Della's brother was my father, who spent four years in the Philippines during WWII.  My imagination has no limits as to how Herminia and my father had connected, but I'm most certainly thrilled to see that he connected her to his sister.  Herminia, later goes on to talk about her family and ask all about Della's family and even names Della's friends.  So I assume the friendship has gone on for sometime.  In the paragraphs about family she writes:  Don't forget to remember me to the Lt. and wife whenever you write them.  I hope to receive a picture of them too.  The Lieutenant would be my father and his new wife Helen.  They married in May of 1946.  

It seems as though Della has been sending Herminia care packages.  In one package she sent a cigarette case and Herminia writes this:  Luckily, you have come to get all the things I like.  They are my weaknesses too.  Only perhaps the cigarette case will be of no use for I don't smoke.  Instead I'll place them in my cabinet as souveneir from you......But Oh! Della, you have touched me very much with those Nylons.  I have been long dreaming to have even one pair of hose Nylons.  You know since the Philippines was liberated we were hoping to have those but in vain.  Every time I go to Manila, I should like to buy one for me but could not find any.  Last month, my last visit to Manila, I went to Dept. Stores where American goods are sold but no stockings still.  All ladies clamor for Nylons.  

Such a great story, hidden in boxes and drawers for over 50 years.  Her language, her undefinable thrill in receiving packages and letters (like mine in finding this), and descriptions of feelings really tug at my heart.   I'll keep reading and digging, and continue to share Herminia's  story and maybe finds some answers.  


  1. They must have been pen pals. I remember my cousin putting on leg makeup since she didn’t have hose. That was around 1944. I don’t remember her painting the lines on her legs, though. jp

  2. LOVE it! To be continued . . .

  3. You have some amazing history in your boxes of “things”. Fun to dig through, I’m sure! nv

  4. How interesting! May be the seeds of a novel!! ss

  5. What you have is a treasure trove! I can't wait to hear more.