19. Five Dates, Eleven Hundred Letters and Fifty-Five Years Late

19. Five Dates, Eleven Hundred Letters and Fifty-Five Years Late

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

Five Dates, Eleven Hundred Letters and Fifty-Five Years Later

The U.S. Army arranged their brief meeting in September 1944. Nathan Hoffman, a soldier from Texas, was waiting at Camp Shanks in New York to ship out for the war in Europe. He decided to use his first leave pass to visit the Big Apple only thirty-five miles away. Little did Nathan know that what awaited him that night would change his life forever.

One of his fellow soldiers — whose parents lived in the city — wanted to drop in and surprise his parents with a hello. No one was at home, so Donald rang the doorbell at a neighbor’s house where his parents often went to visit. Evelyn, the neighbors’ twenty-one-year-old daughter, answered the door.

“Where’s my mom?” Donald asked.

“She’s in Brooklyn with my folks.”

Donald nonchalantly said, “Say, I’m on a pass with two of my friends from Camp Shanks. Care to join us downtown?”

Evelyn and one of her friends agreed to go. The soldiers and the young ladies took off for a night on the town, escorting the Texan on his first tour of New York City. The evening ended with dancing at the Bal Tabarin in Times Square.

Before the evening was over, Nathan asked Evelyn, “Would you see me on every pass?” The vivacious young woman replied, “Sure! I’d love to!” Nathan used each pass to see Evelyn, for a total of five romantic dates.

On date number two, the handsome, serious soldier and the attractive, quick-witted young woman again laughed and danced at the Bal Tabarin. The band played “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Dates three, four and five passed all too quickly, with Nathan visiting Evelyn at her parents’ home each night. They hoped for more dates, but the army intervened again.

Nathan’s division was restricted to camp. At the camp P-X, Nathan ordered Evelyn an orchid corsage, and wrote on the card in his neat script, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The corsage arrived for Evelyn while Nathan was on the ship to Europe, and she wore it proudly to the high holy day services at her synagogue, thinking, “How nice if he were here with me.”

Before their fifth and last date, Nathan and Evelyn had vowed to write daily. And they kept that vow. For the next sixteen months, the soldier from Texas and the girl from the Bronx sent each other eleven hundred letters.

From the beginning, they were much more than just pen pals. Letters to him were addressed, “Nat dear,” while she was “Evelyn dearest.” He wrote candidly in his October 26, 1944 letter:

Baby, I am not asking you to make any promise with regard to the future... who knows how long it will be before the other end of our round-trip ticket to the States. I do know, though, that I want you to feel about me as you do now for a long, long time because it is mutual and maybe both of our prayers together will help our wishes materialize.

The sweethearts identified their favorite passages in books they were both reading and then compared opinions. While Nathan was still in England, Evelyn described the record albums of classical music she bought. She asked him, “What do you think of fine music?” He replied by sending her a program from a concert he attended in an English cathedral. He wrote that he especially enjoyed Symphony No. 5 in C Minor by Beethoven.

The Texas soldier turned out to be very special to Evelyn. They enjoyed the same music, books, art and entertainment, had the same religion and philosophy of life.

Despite the German surrender in May, Nathan remained in Germany during the summer of 1945, wondering whether he would be sent to the Pacific if Japan refused to surrender. In June, he wrote Evelyn, telling her he would understand if she chose not to wait for him. It would probably be another fifteen months before he could return.

The courtship continued, and their letters gave life to their transatlantic romance.

Their letters dated August 8 through 15, 1945, record their mutual celebration, a celebration tinged with a somber recognition that the world was forever changed:

August 8, 1945 — Nathan [in Germany]

Evelyn, from this day on the world as it has been up to now is through. The A-bomb and its successors could become a Frankenstein eventually destroying its creators and the whole planet.

August 11 — Evelyn [in New York]

Now the end is in sight, a matter of days. Shredded paper comes from the office windows at every new announcement. People are touchy and suspenseful. This time they say there will be no unofficial V-J Day. We’re all waiting for President Truman’s peace declaration.

August 11 — Nathan [in Germany]

I’ve just heard the good news about the war. Honey, I’m so happy I could holler, shout, raise hell, cry and do anything. If someone tells me it’s a false alarm, I will keel over and drop dead. Hopefully, now the whole damned war is “kaput” and this wholesale slaughter can be brought to an end.

August 15 — Evelyn [in New York]

The sirens are wailing. The noise and celebration in the streets are deafening. I can hardly steady my hand. I have a deep peaceful feeling and a million prayers of thanksgiving. I can’t remember what peace was like. Most of all, it means our husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends and relatives are coming home. We can start our lives again. Pray there will be no more wars.

After the peace declaration, Nathan had to wait his turn, while the soldiers who had fought in Europe the longest went home first. September, October and then November dragged on. The sweethearts grew impatient with their matchmaker, the army. In all their letters, an electric undercurrent of anticipation for their sixth date grew stronger.

Everywhere his unit was sent, Nathan carried with him in his one duffel bag the hundreds of letters Evelyn had sent. Before he finally received orders to go home, he needed to lighten his duffel bag for the trip. He sent the letters home by mail in a twenty-three-pound package.

Nathan’s final correspondence of the war, penned on the last day of 1945, reads like this:

This should be the last letter that I shall write to you from here. When you next hear from me it will be by phone or in person.... S’long, honey, pucker up, ’cause here I come... with love.

When Nathan returned home in January 1946, Evelyn was there at the Discharge Center to meet him. A month later, on February 24, 1946, they were married in Nathan’s family’s synagogue.

•  •  •

Fifty years later, as they renewed their vows in the same synagogue where they were married, Nathan shared: “After fifty golden years, I can say that our years together seem to me but a few days because of the love I have for her. And I would wait for her all over again.”

“World War II brought us together,” said Evelyn. “In Hebrew, we have a word beshert — divinely appointed, meant to be. That is what Nathan and I are, beshert — we are each other’s perfect soul mate.”

The twenty-three-pound package of letters Nathan had sent home from the war, along with the letters Evelyn had lovingly saved, are now preserved within two large, bound volumes. The Hoffmans compiled these letters in book form as a labor of love to pass along as a special legacy for their children, grandchildren and friends.

On September 9, 1944, among eight million people in New York, Nathan and Evelyn fatefully crossed paths.

Five wonderful, whirlwind dates, eleven hundred letters and fifty-five years later, their love that endured a war is still going strong.

 

~Amy Seeger
Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul

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