Thursday, June 10, 2021

Talking Back to Myself: How I Learned to Sail and Soar


My dad sailed with his pals on Lake Michigan in the 1930s. I have the photos to prove it. 

I inherited his love for sailing and at ten years old, I was sailing alone / on my own in a small 13-foot sail boat. My dad taught me during the summers we spent at Cross Lake just north of Antioch, Illinois. He was a good teacher and the lake was little, but always he or my mom would be on the shore watching out for me.  I loved being on my own on the water, gliding along quietly, sailing and soaring with the wind.

 After I graduated college, at the age of twenty-two, I defied my parent and went solo to San Frsancisco to live and work, most likely inspired by the song California Dreaming – that was all I knew about that beautiful city. While there I sailed on Lake Merced in a one person Sunfish and also sailed a few times on the San Francisco Bay with a youth hostel group. At the end of one year, I returned to Chicago to find a mate, get married and become a responsible adult.

 Soon enough I married a fellow Chicagoan and we settled down. Now and then I’d meet someone who had been sailing on Lake Michigan, but in a strident internal voice, I told myself, Your time for solo adventures is over, and added apologetically, Sorry. You can’t go sailing.  I never questioned the voice. I wanted to be a “good wife,” in the best early 1970s sense: putting my husband’s wants and needs first, internalizing his unspoken message “You can’t go off on a solo adventure; it is would put our marriage in jeopardy.”

The marriage didn’t last and in the 1980’s I fell in love with a woman. We would have married if it had been legal. Still I wanted to be a good partner to Katy, wanted to please and support her, and my inner voice continued to warn me not to go on solo adventures.  Except once when against her expressed displeasure, I got up at the ungodly hour of 5am to take Tai Chi classes at the lake. My little assertion of independence felt like rebellion. You might be asking: wasn’t I already a feminist and rebellious, living with my ladylove? Bravery takes many forms and it took all the courage I could muster to take the classes, going against what I perceived as Katy's wishes. 

Katy and I were no longer together when I found information about Brooke Medicine Eagle’s “Singing the Sacred” camps in Montana. Attendance at the camps promised excitement, enchantment, a real adventure. Still my inner voice said, No. You can’t go. This time I talked back, Yes you can. You can go to this camp, on your own / alone. Remember, you did things like this years ago and you can do it now.

Twenty-two women attended the camp. We slept in tents and each day we were awakened by a camper who drummed outside our tents and sang:

Waken, Oh awaken, from your dreaming, birds are singing in the tree-tops…

Waken, Oh awaken, something’s coming, something beautiful for you…”

Our days were beautiful, full of singing and chanting, while we walked to our meals, when we were outside, on rainy days sitting in a circle in a Yurt, and once in a deep dark cave where our songs echoed against the walls and ceiling.  Sometimes we would sit in the tall grass and drum and sing for hours. In this photo I'm on the far right, playing on a big drum, with a short hair and sun glasses. Other times Brooke would share Native American teachings with us. 

Before camp ended, Brooke gave each of us a name to reflect our new selves. Mine was “Soars with the Drum Call.” Brook explained that I could “soar” beyond my life as it had been and the drum call would remind me to listen to my own heartbeat, to my own true self.

The name might have been inspired by our horseback riding experience. I had shared with the group my life-long fear of horses which went back to a summer at Cross Lake. I was nine or ten years old, small and short for my age. I had been lifted onto the back of a horse which seemed very high up and very scary. Right away, I asked to be taken off. My friends spent the afternoon horseback riding, while I waited in the car.  My camp sisters encouraged me to get back on the horse. I was still short and small; the horse was big and most likely someone had to help me get on up on the horse. I was uncomfortable in the saddle but it was lots of fun.

I got back on a horse in Montana. It was time to get back in a sailboat in Chicago. This time my inner voice said joyfully, Yes you can. You can go sailing.

I signed up for lessons at Burnham Harbor, just south of downtown Chicago. We would learn to crew with others, sailing on a 25/30 foot boat. Signing up for the lessons was easy. Getting to the lessons was hard. My inner self was freaking out, How will I find Burnham Harbor? Where will I park when I get there? I’ll get lost and be late and they will sail without me. I left home early, found the harbor easily in plenty of time for our first on-shore class.  I continued to freak out, worrying, Will I ever learn what to call things on the boat?  Will I be able to tie the knots?  I can’t tell which way the wind is blowing.  Will I be kicked out of class? I’m 55 years old and stupid compared to the youngsters in my class.

 I hadn’t even gotten on the boat yet! 

Over the course of the eight-week class, I learned some of sailing terms. I never learned how to tie knots and was never able to identify which way the wind was blowing but they let me on the boat anyway. The teachers were at once patient and impatient and never kicked me off the boats. And I learned to sail! Actually what I learned was to be part of the crew.

The next summer, I took more sailing lessons and got a little better at crewing and took part in some evening races on Lake Michigan.  We never won a race, but it didn’t matter. We sailed at sunset; all the boats had colorful spinnaker sails ballooning out, catching the wind, sparkling in the late afternoon golden sunlight. We were sailing. Soaring. I was in heaven! Later that same summer, I took private lessons on a Sunfish in Wilmette Harbor. During my fourth lesson, I sailed by myself, with the instructor nearby. But I was alone / on my own. Loving it!

I stopped sailing because of health problems, but kept soaring. In 2001 I went on my first trip out of the country by myself, to a Yoga retreat in Cancun, Mexico.  While there, I wrote in my journal: “Action starts with bravery. Bravery for me at this time is traveling to a new country by myself.  I’m scared but I do it.”

I'm 77 years old now. And my heart beats steadily for which I am most grateful. And my inner voice still speaks to me, these days softly and graciously saying, At your age it's perfectly ok to stroll along the lake  front with friends and enjoy watching the sail boats. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

About the Clara's Stories

 The Clara’s Stories are a blend of fact and fiction. The stories are an imagined memoir told in the voice of my aunt, Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory. In these stories I have embellished the facts, and I imagine that Aunt Claire would have given me permission, using the words of the fictional character Carme from Isabel Allende’s book A Long Petal of the Sea. Carme says, about making up most of the travel accounts in her journal, (It’s ok) to embellish the facts, because … life is how we tell it.”

 And taking my imagination even further, I like to think that if Claire were able to talk to me from the grave, she would say:

 “Betsy, I was a non-fiction writer and often made up parts of stories to fill in the blanks. About my own life, I held onto some secrets to protect myself but it no longer matters. I’m dead. What do I care! My stories are your stories now and you can embellish them however you want."

 ****

Claire LeBrint was born in Chicago in 1914. In 1967, she married for the first and only time at age 53 to Rolland Metzger of Dixon, Illinois. She died at age 88 in 2002.

 Claire was my mother’s younger sister and she was our family’s eccentric aunt, different from our mothers and most women of her generation who married young, made a home for their husbands and embraced – more or less – being housewives and mothers.  Unlike them, Claire was a single woman, working in various office jobs. After she married Rolland and moved to Dixon, she became a free-lance writer and got some pieces, including play and book reviews, published. Every once in a while, she would send me copies.

 But the real attraction for me and others started with the smile that lit up her face when she was with anyone, friends, acquaintances, people she met briefly and especially – so we felt – with her seven nieces who lived near and far.

Yet, as open and loving as Claire was with so many, there was no getting around it – Claire’s parents and four siblings didn’t appreciate her life choices and her animated personality. They wondered about Claire, like the nuns at the convent wondered about Maria, in the opening song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music:

 How do you solve a problem like Maria? / How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? / How do you find the word that means Maria? / A flibberty-gibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Unlike the Mother Superior in Sound of Music who helped Maria follow her dreams, the LeBrint family mocked Clara, as the family called her, for what they considered her fanciful ways. If they had the words, they would certainly have identified her derisively as A flibberty-gibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

When we were growing up, we nieces didn’t know Claire. She would show up now and then for family gatherings. But she didn’t engage with us, nor did we engage with her.

Then in 1969, when I was twenty-five and newly married, I sought out Aunt Claire who was also (somewhat) newly married. She and Rolland welcomed me and my husband into their life, and I embraced Claire for the very reasons the family rejected her. Claire brought life and joy and silliness to us and eventually also to her other nieces. She laughed easily at the little stories we would tell her and qvelled over our little and big achievements. She gave us silly birthday gifts, tchotchkes (trinkets) that she had around: cheap necklaces with plastic beads, scarves with odd patterns. Nothing we ever would wear. We loved those presents because they were so-Aunt-Claire.

Rolland and Claire called each other “Dearie,” which we thought was wonderfully sweet, since no one in our families used any endearments with each other or with us.

We had an open invitation to visit Claire and Roll (pronounced Rahl) in Dixon, especially in summer for the annual Petunia Festival. And on your first visit to Dixon, you made the compulsory visit to Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home, while they would groan about Reagan, “that horrid man,” and his disastrous trickle-down economic policies.

Besides visiting them in Dixon, Claire and Roll frequently came to Chicago and stayed in the cottage in Lakeview that Roll inherited from his parents. They would grab me or one of their other local nieces and take us to plays, using the comp-tickets play-reviewer Claire got. As the two aged and became hard of hearing part of your responsibility at plays was to whisper, loud, so they could hear some of the dialogue.

 ****

 Roll died in 2005, three years after Claire, and I got the 36” x 40” oil painting of Claire done during her pre-Rolland years, by her friend the painter, Yasha Kaganov. The painting features Claire wearing a light-colored blouse with rolled up sleeves, a plaid skirt, and a summer hat perched at an angle on her head. She’s sitting with legs crossed, gazing out dreamily. The painting hangs in my living room and I often meditate on this young woman, the Aunt Claire I didn’t know.

I also got Claire’s photo albums and scrapbooks along with boxes and files containing a jumble of undated photos, as well as the stories and articles Claire wrote, some typed and many more clipped from newspapers and magazines. The task of looking through this mess of papers, and what Claire would have called “what-nots,” was daunting and I set everything aside.

A number of years later, when I started to look more closely at “the Claire stuff,” by chance (to this day I don’t know how) a small undated graying newspaper article, titled “The Painting Went Up” and authored by Claire LeBrint, came to my attention.  It was about Kaganov’s painting and this is what Claire wrote:

     


I reflected. Who was this woman who, in her thirties or forties lived “in a closed up little office and (had) a tight little career girl apartment… and tight thoughts, too?” And what was the dream she once had?

I hoped in Claire’s writings, photos, and “what nots,” I would find the answers to these questions and much more about her younger years. I found some answers, some hints of answers, but much remained unknown. And with Claire’s posthumous permission, I have filled in the blanks.

 Betsy Fuchs, October 2020

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Clara's Scrapbook: Early Memories of My Siblings*


           
In the early decades of the twentieth century, some professional photographers traveled the neighborhoods, bringing ponies to fancy up the pictures. Families paid extra to show off the kids on and around the pony. “What a photo to send back to the family in the old country,” my mother would say, adding “Won’t they be impressed!”

After our family got a Kodak camera in 1924, we took our own photos, at home, at Lake Michigan, anywhere and everywhere. But before then on a few rare occasions, we had formal photographs taken by a professional photographer. In one, I’m sitting happily on a pony with a tooth gapped-grin on my face, wearing a long-sleeved slightly oversized white dress with a peter pan collar.


In front of me and the pony, my older brother George stands, wearing a white shirt, dark colored knickers and athletic shoes. Next to George are my “twin” older sisters Mary and Rose. They weren’t twins, but that’s what I called them. They were one year and a few months apart in age and different in stature and looks, but like twins they lived in their own shared world, to the exclusion of everyone else, especially me. The photo isn’t dated but I would guess I was 3 1/2, George 5, Rose, 6 1/2 and Mary 8. The twins are both in white knee length dresses, with white stockings and they are holding hands.  Around the same time, the twins, at the insistence of our fully Americanized same-age cousins, learned how to stop speaking English in a Yiddish sing-song kind of way. And the cousins taught them how to dress properly for school, in bright white starched and ironed blouses, clean pressed skirts, with their shoes polished daily. 

In another professional photograph, taken before I was born, a very young Rose and Mary stand side by side. Rose has a serious look on her face; Mary’s is more quizzical. Rose is fair skinned favoring Father’s coloring and has a chubby baby face and fat arms. Mary who is a bit taller than Rose is swarthy, taking after Mother and if once she had baby fat, it’s gone. They are wearing not-quite-matching white dresses that hang almost to their ankles and large white bows in their hair. Most likely these dresses, and the ones we girls are wearing a few years later in the pony picture, were bought to last through growth spurts and were saved to wear only on special occasions. Mary and Rose have almost identical brown leather high-top shoes and are holding little porcelain dolls, also dressed in white. Just like the pony, these dolls must have belonged to the photographer. At home all we had were Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that Mother made out of old flour sacks.

The twins got to hold the dolls. I got to sit on the pony. Lucky me! Or maybe lucky them because in 1921 Mary and Rose had a second professional photograph taken of the two of them, dressed like twins in matching outfits, looking self-assured and a bit smug, especially Rose with her head cocked to the side.

Neither George or I, nor three-year-old Perle had our pictures taken professionally in 1921.

The twins had each other and I had George, who allowed me to tag along as soon as I could toddle after him. And shortly after George went to full-day school at age six in 1918, I had baby Perle who was born a few months later. From then on until I went to full-time school in 1920, I had Perle to play with. When she was a baby, Mother let me feed her and dress her and rock her and when she got a bit older, Perle toddled around after me.  Perle was so much better than a borrowed porcelain doll or the home-made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.

So, in our family among the siblings, Mary and Rose made a twosome. And for a time there was me and George, then there was me and Perle.

Thinking back to this sibling configuration, I realize this is how we stayed into our adult lives. Mary and Rose together, the married women with husbands and children. George the only boy making his way on his own. And me and Perle, the two unmarried spinsters palling around, that is until 1965 when Perle tragically died too young at age 47 and 1967 when I finally married for the first and only time at the ripe-old-age of 53. 

*Note: This is another story from Clara’s Scrapbook: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the Life of  Claire LeBrint Metzger.  At this time Clara's memoir ian on-going work in progress by Claire's niece Betsy Fuchs. 


The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 

b 1914 - d 2002

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Spaciousness of Books (in the time of Covid)

Twenty-first century clutter traps me
fills my time and in a daze my days disappear
What with Facebook and Messenger and FaceTime, Twitter Email YouTube Wikipedia Blogs Podcasts Texting Internet Research and now due to Covid Zoom Gatherings and Facebook Events 
Twentieth century paper clutter is still around still abounds 
mail delivered daily: donation pleas, advertising come-ons
-- tossed out
magazines mailed monthly: AARP, Consumer Reports and more
-- kept in baskets
handouts printouts notes from classes, events, workshops, all on Zoom!
-- kept in files and piles (like my emails, maybe to read or to need later)


Yet in my house there are books
  on shelves
    on tables
      on night-stands

many old 
a few new

some purchased
-- before my library re-opened

now thankfully some from my library

some from friends
 -- cautiously carefully borrowed


Books with their solid feel
and their sometimes temporary status
I read them now
(unlike my Kindle long gone, its electronic books unread)


Books in the twenty-first century are
unique      a treat      rare

and when I curl up in a chair
  and hold a book
    and feel the paper
      and turn its pages

when I read and reread and mark parts I love
  with sticky notes or paperclips or highlighting
      or when I underline

my life is spacious and slow

in the old-fashioned twentieth century way



This poem published November 2018 at https://www.poetsandpatrons.net/
Revised Summer 2020 to reflect changes brought on by the Covid Sequester


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Clara's Scrapbook: Webbed Fingers*


I was born with webbed fingers and my immigrant mother was sure she had been punished by the evil eye for having left her mother Rosa Menkes in the “old country” at age eighteen, to come to America. Mother believed this even though Rosa insisted that she leave because pogroms against the Jews were getting worse.

I was the fourth child born to my young immigrant mother in six years. Her eldest two daughters, Mary 4 ½ and Rose 3, were finally able to watch out for each other. But her only son George was not yet 2.

I was born at home, in our cold-water flat on Chicago’s Jewish West side. The midwife announced, “It’s a girl!” Mother must have been disappointed that I wasn’t a second son, but I was healthy – wasn’t I? After the compulsory cutting of the cord and the slap on my tiny behind to get me breathing, the midwife counted my fingers and toes and it became apparent that the evil eye was present.

My tiny hands might have been closed into fists and if so, the midwife would have gently opened them and seen a pinkie finger, a tiny mass of finger/bone/skin and a thumb. The index, middle, and ring fingers were conjoined; the same with my other hand. Conjoined! Even if the midwife was familiar with this condition, she most likely would not have said it out loud to my exhausted mother. Perhaps nothing was said and there was some surreptitious pointing, or the midwife quickly wrapped me up in a blanket and handed me to Mother and figured that the awful truth would come out later.

My fingers were joined each to the next by a thin layer of skin, like the webbing you see between the bones in a bat’s wing. Each of my webbed fingers had two joints, not the “normal” three.

As early as 1902 surgery was being done to separate conjoined/webbed fingers . Some years later, it became the practice to do the surgery on children between 6 months and 2 years old. I must have had the surgery as a young child because my earliest memories, from age four or five, are of having ten fingers. But on each hand there were three stubby fingers, a few with nails, others without.  

It was my reality and I never asked nor did the family ever talk about my fingers. I’m sure the kids in the neighborhood and at school made fun of me. I don’t remember, or more likely I repressed the memories. I’d rather imagine that friends and strangers instead looked away and no one asked due to fear, embarrassment, politeness, whatever.

With my ten fingers, I can do most everything anyone else can including writing a readable script and typing the manuscript for this book! And still to this day, no one asks or talks about my fingers, which I must admit look a bit odd.

My fingers were the first of many disappointments Mother had with me. For her entire life I remained a single working woman and a dreamer, and as Mother frequently reminded me I never did anything she could kvell about to her family and friends.

It was sad very sad for me and Mother and for our relationship. I’ll get into the details along the way, but for now I’ll end my finger saga with an assessment of the two of us that I wrote in my journal in 1982, “I inherited my mother’s uncertain nervous system. In fact, a teacher, in about my second grade told me to tell my mother I was a ‘nervous wreck.’ And I did.”

Those who have known me a long time would tell you that I often get “nervoused up” over little and big things. But please don’t worry. To quote from that wonderful lyricist Steven Sondheim:

Good times and bum times
I've seen them all and, my dear
I'm still here

Yes my dears, I’m still here!

I finally married at age 53, two years after Mother died. In Dixon, Illinois, where I live with my husband Rolland Metzger, I’m a minor celebrity: a published writer, a newspaper reporter, and a gad-about who tries (and sometimes succeeds) in helping my fellow Dixonians with their life-problems.


-------

*Note: This is another story from Clara’s Scrapbook: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the Life of  Claire LeBrint Metzger.  At this time Clara's memoir ian on-going work in progress by Claire's niece Betsy Fuchs. Claire, the narrator of these imagined stories, writes them at age 80 in 1994 .


The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 

b 1914 - d 2002

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Solstice-Hanukkah-Christmas Prayer

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
at this time of the winter solstice
at this time of the crescent moon
  At this darkest time of the year
we light lights and give thanks, in our overlapping traditions.

Strangely and sweetly
we greet each other in fellowship and friendship
with wishes for health, merriment, good food, good company and Peace on Earth.

Strangely and sweetly
we come together and pray to you 
with thanks for miracles noticed and remembered
  At this darkest time of the year:
for the miracle of the return of the sun
for the miracle of victories over tyrants
for the miracle of a small crucible of oil that burned for eight days
and for the miracle of the birth of a baby who brought illumination into the world.

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
as we light lights
  At this darkest time of the year
generation after generation, year after year
we ask again for Your help Your love Your comfort Your support
that we may be partners with You and with each other
to bring our greatest hope our most desired wish our highest need: Peace on Earth.

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
May it be so. May it be so.

Prayer inspired by “Hanukkah Lights” in the Unitarian Universalist Hymn Book, Singing the Living Tradition


You are welcome to print this prayer and/or copy it into a file and share it. 
This is my holiday gift to all. 

Betsy Fuchs
betsywfuchs@gmail.com 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: Jesus Pena de Alonso 1930-1941


I find fifteen letters and two postcards from Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain. Jesus and I were matched up by our foreign language teachers when Jesus was fifteen and I was seventeen.  Jesus’ first letter is dated November 5, 1930, the last March 11, 1941. He wrote in Spanish and I replied in English. We continued to write on and off after we both completed secondary school. For eleven years!

I don’t remember my Spanish anymore so I had my good friend and neighbor Alex Alvarez, a Spanish speaker and an avid student of history, translate Jesus’ letters into English. Alex told me some about the tumultuous history of Spain in the 1930’s and acted as a consultant to me while I wrote this story. Thank you Alex.

Just like in the U.S. a lot was going on in our two countries during the time Jesus and I corresponded. Of course, lots was going on in our young lives. It makes my head spin just thinking about it. 

In the U.S, we had the depression and FDR and the New Deal and the beginning of World War II. And I became a working girl, more interested in having adventures and pursuing creative endeavors than in getting married. In Spain, political unrest led up to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Jesus attended University and then went to work in his father’s factory. He must have witnessed much of the war, since many of the battles took place in Madrid (the capital of Spain) and the surrounding areas. Jesus didn’t write during the war, and after our correspondence resumed, he mentioned the war only briefly. Who can blame him?

Looking at Jesus’ letters (and envelopes) today, I am struck by his beautiful script.


In his letters, Jesus addressed me as Clara, my birth name. I liked that.

For the first couple of years, Jesus’ letters were friendly and informative. I don’t have copies of my letters to him, but I can infer some of what I wrote in his letters to me. We wrote about our interests – his in football (soccer), swimming, and travel; mine in writing, journalism, and theater. He wrote me about “an ancient royal castle … converted into a museum” and sent me postcards of the beautiful salons in the castle. I wrote about the much younger skyscrapers in Chicago and sent him a postcard of the thirty-four story Tribune Tower. Today thirty-four stories seems like nothing, but in the 1930’s the new skyscrapers were amazing, tall, architectural marvels.

In 1932, I sent Jesus U.S. currency and he attempted to send me Spanish currency but couldn’t.

Dear Clara,
I had written a letter to you, but because I had sent along some currency, the Central Post office refused to mail it.

Alex explained that during the early 1930’s the Spanish government forbade sending currency out of the country due to the on-going political crises.

Jesus’ letters continued along this same line, breezy and conversational, until 1934 when we exchanged photographs. His was a studio portrait and I liked how he looked with his half smile, bedroom eyes (or so I perceived them), slicked down hair, and beautifully tailored suit. I was mildly charmed by the inscription that read (in translation) “To Clara as a token of my admiration and fondness Jesus.”

However, Jesus was majorly charmed after he received my publicity photograph taken for an amateur production of the play Death Takes a Holiday, in which I had the lead role of Graziela.

Claire LeBrint Publicity Photo 1934

From that point on his letters became romantic.

From October 1934

Beautiful Clara,
I don't know how you dare to call me a flatterer after sending me a photograph so superior to anything I may have imagined. Truly, the more I look at your photo, the more difficult it is for me to believe that you are an American woman, as the beauty of your eyes is not surpassed by the Grenadine dolls.

The letter continued with a brief reference to the trouble in Spain “…the police have been using my car, they have even requisitioned many automobiles,” and ended with more affection and devotion towards me.

Furthermore, dear friend, I continue to maintain much serenity, as I have never had the joy of having at my side someone as precious as you. My most respectful tribute, Jesus                

Being compared to a Grenadine doll (from Grenada, Andalusia Spain) seemed a high compliment. Alex found a picture of a 1950’s Spanish doll and made a Xerox color copy for me. Color copying – what a marvel of technology. We both agreed that this must look something like the “Grenadine doll” Jesus referenced. What a compliment Jesus gave me!


Little did I know that Jesus’ romantic feelings would grow into an obsession and possessiveness toward me.
From February 1935
. . . I have a sister who was also taken with the idea of becoming a writer like you and who now has abandoned those ideas because she is soon to be married. Has the thought occurred to you of doing the same?

As you have asked me to advise you in the past, I hope you will allow me to advise you now not to leave the house, so you will find no diversions, you will speak to no one, you will be dressed in your oldest dresses. And if you will be following these suggestions, I believe that when the time comes, you will be spared the inconvenience of marrying the man who would have to murder your husband.

I knew that Jesus’ letters indicated he was “crazy-in-love” with me. But did he really imply that I should stay home, alone, away from all guys and that if I should happen to marry, he would come to the U.S., murder my husband and expect me to marry him? I thought Alex had gotten the translation wrong. “It’s right for sure,” he told me and added, “I even had a Spanish teacher friend of mine from Sauk Valley Community College double check my translation and she confirmed I got the crazy-talk right.”

You might be asking yourself why I continued writing to Jesus.

I was having fun doing some heavy-duty flirting in my letters to him, goading him on, encouraging his growing attachment to me. We girls did that kind of thing, and my girlfriends loved to read his crazy letters. It was our own personal soap opera and I loved being the romantic lead.
Besides, Jesus was far away, as he wrote in another letter when he was again pondering whether I was married or not, “If it happens that you now have a husband, tell him that he lives because of the distance between Madrid and Chicago.” 

There is so much in Jesus’ fifteen letters, and I was getting tired from reading them and thinking back to when I received the letters. But before I put them away, I decided to skim through the rest and a few sections of letters jumped out. First was the letter Jesus wrote after the Spanish Civil War ended.

From September 1939
. . . I am sure you can easily understand the many circumstances which have prevented my writing to you during these trying times.

And then I found the only letter where Jesus referred to experiencing the war, where he used the war as a reason to threaten my male friends. In my letters to him after the war ended, I must have casually mentioned the guys I was seeing (not seriously) and continued teasing him, flirting with him. No harm done, I thought. Not so for Jesus.

From June 1940
. . . As to those two boyfriends . . . after three years of being witness to war and guns and shooting and killings, they would not pose the same obstacles as was the case previously.

That letter frightened and shocked me when I received it in 1940, as it does to this day. His threats were no longer funny. The amusing soap opera had become a horror story.
It took me a long time to reply to that letter, as Jesus wrote in March 1941, when he chided me that he “was not able to read (my) last two letters because (I) didn’t mail them.”  True I wrote several letters that I tore up and I have no idea what was in the letter I finally sent.
But I finally was done with Jesus and wrote him one last letter. I remember that my message was short and to the point and it went something like this.

Jesus,
It is not acceptable that you continue to make threats against my gentlemen friends. You have no right to claim me. You are not my boyfriend, fiancé, nor will you ever be my husband.

This correspondence is over. Please do not write me anymore.

Claire LeBrint

Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain must have gotten my message loud and clear. He wrote no more letters and you better believe I was relieved.

But, as they say, it was fun while it lasted.

This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .

The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002