My mother had perfect penmanship. Her writing looks like the examples posted above the blackboards in my elementary schools. Here is the first page of her first letter to Hastings, her husband, who has left for Tucson to train as a Naval officer.
The holes in her letter came from my father’s punching all the letters for a file in which he kept them beginning in 1944.
How she developed this art I have no idea. After her death
I discovered a cache of her most important letters
under the bed in the guest bedroom at 1532 Maryland in Houston.
This was a collection of dozens of letters she wrote my father during his service in the Navy during World War II. He had kept them in a brown
legal file folder marked “Mary’s letters,”– along with telegrams that announce vital events to the couple..
I will not print all the letters, but this is the first of them. Mary probably wrote this letter after Hastings boarded a train for Tucson, Arizona, for officer training. Home movies of the time show five of us — including Mary and Judge William Pannill, my grandfather, — walking with Hastings to the train. My brother Fitz (2) was with us. I was four and called “Willie.” In the movie, Hastings wore what seems to be his cadet uniform. His commissioning as an ensign took place January 1, 1944.
Her letters take me back to World War II, of which I remember little. They do show how life was tumultuous on the home front as well as in the war zones.
Of course, you must know how I felt when the train
pulled out with you on it. I felt as though I
could not stand it. Of course I am standing it,
and will stand it, because of you. I feel
if you could take it as bravely as you did,
I can. I am so proud of you, and love you so much. I realize now more than ever how wonderful you’ve been to me at home, and how much a part of
my life you are. I don’t see how I can face the
long days with no Hastings to come home to me.
I was￼ so blue when you had gone in [to the train],
and Thursday night slept with your picture on the
table beside us, Willie and me. We moved into
the children’s room the day you left. [The couple
owned a small house at 2223 Colquitt, Houston, where they lived with
their two sons, William and Fitzhugh Hastings, Jr.
The departure, of which we have brief home-movie
footage, might have taken place in Houston.] I rented
our bedroom to Mrs. Gilliland and her boy for $50
– for one month. Mr. Gilliland has been transferred
to Corpus, and he left Sunday for there. So as
soon as midterm exams are over, they will go
to join him. I was pleased to get a little extra
income – especially as I am to be gone these two
weeks. I am living for the day when you are home
again, even for a few days. I hope you can let me
know if you will be able to come at the end of
your two months. I will be glad to see
each day come and go, and pray that you will
soon be with us again, for good.
The pictures are wonderful, and they help
me so much, just to be able to see them,
and remember the day we went to the photographers!
I spent the afternoon at Nellie’s [Nellie Merino
was Mary’s sister]. Zona [wife of Mary’s brother, Leo] wants me to
come and live with her, but I don’t know how that
would work out. They are going to sell their house
– and she wants to buy another, and she said she
would be glad to keep the children while I worked.
Of course, they don’t know that I’m not going to be
able to work. Carrie [Hastings’s oldest sister] is
sitting here preaching and of course, I am writing
what she says.
I exchanged your shirt for a white one at Rolle’s
– and will mail it with your￼ laundry bag –
I found a lovely shoe kit at Ward’s, and if you can
use it, I will get it. So let me know and I will get it.
I am crazy to hear see how you are getting along,
and if it’s as hard and tough as we had heard.
Do you think you will be able to hold up to it?
Ercel [Aycock, husband of Hastings’s sister Adeline
(Hoolie)] went over to Dallas today
to try the Navy, and they turned him down. Too old
and too heavy.
Everyone was thrilled over the pictures, and we are
having a terrible time deciding which one. I am
so anxious to see them.
I washed breakfast dishes this morning and supper
dishes tonight. Hoolie fixed supper (scarce) but good.
We miss you so much but I can’t describe it to you.
Willie asks why you don’t come on back. I can’t tell
him you won’t be back for a long long time, I’m afraid.
If you can, write me often. I am living to get your letters
and to know you miss me and love me. Please let me know how
you are coming along – and what you do. I am pulling for you,
and want you to come through with flying colors.
I talked with Barbara [unknown] a day or so before I left.
She was prattling as usual.￼￼￼ ￼￼￼I told her I felt we owed
some on the bill for the night at the Plantation – and
she said Oh no – it was Harold’s party – as he was
the “senior officer.” I nearly cackled. Do write me
and I will try to write you a note every day or so –
I love you and want you to be home – but will
be waiting for you –