A Letter from My Father

I couldn't find any photographs of my father in 1941, but the ones in this post come pretty close: my mother took them in 1942, when the two were first dating.

Some days I just love the internet. Thanks to that magical web—and to the research and kindness of a woman named Joan Weissman—I recently caught a glimpse of my father in his youth.

Joan is a textile artist who lives in New Mexico. Last week she emailed me out of the blue to ask whether my father had lived on West 108th Street in New York in the early 1940s. She had discovered a letter from an Abe Weisblat living there addressed to her mother and had found my contact information on the internet.

My brother did a little quick research and established that the Abe Weisblat in question was indeed our father. Joan supplied more information.

Her mother, Mata Rubin, was born in Poland but lived in Romania until she was 16. At that point Mata and her family moved to various locations before settling in New York, where she went to high school in the early 1940s.

Joanie (you can tell we’re already friends since I’m calling her Joanie!) told us that her mother hadn’t talked much about her past and had died of cancer in 1970, when her children were teenagers. Their father had kept souvenirs of Mata’s past in a box but had found looking at it painful. Now, after his death, Joan and her two siblings are going through the box and digging up details of their mother’s youth.

“Obviously, there was a lot of trauma,” Joanie wrote, “but from the letters I’m now discovering, she also had wonderful friends during the war years, and many meaningful relationships we knew nothing about.”

Apparently, my father was one of those friends. The letter from Abe to Mata was postmarked in 1941, when Mata was just 18 and Abe was 21. Joan mailed us a copy.

I had a feeling the letter was going to be pretty special when I read Joanie’s original note about it. She wrote that “the most surprising thing [was] that his heartfelt letter from 1941 seems to predict exactly the kind of person he would become, and the work he did. So, when I read his bio, I was sure it was the same Abe Weisblat.”

Here is a segment of the letter. In it my father is describing a trip he has taken to the Mid-Atlantic and New England states (with a brief stopover in Canada). I have corrected Abe’s spelling and punctuation just a little, something he frequently asked my mother or me to do. (He was a wonderful talker but not a polished writer.)

This country, especially in Vermont and New Hampshire, seems to be just as it might have been a hundred years ago. All you see for miles is mountains, green fields, more mountains, more green fields. Imagine going to a place where, when you want to wash in the morning, you have to go down to the lake with some soap—or in the better places, you have a bowl and a pitcher of cold water to wash yourself—a place where there are more cows than people (that’s true in the state of Vermont), where the kids go to the movies in their bare feet—and places where they don’t think at all about the war! They argue they have more important things to think of—their cows and their crops.

I could go on and on, but the point is that here are people that I have been looking for, people not interested in just going further economically, or becoming powerful. They’re poor, but they have enough to eat from their crops, and so they are satisfied with life. They don’t have to worry about hating people. Above all they are real people—people that could not be false. Maybe it’s because they live so near to the soil, and so haven’t been too much affected by our industrial life.

Ye Gads! I’d better stop this raving, before you think I have become completely mad. The point I wish to make is that in your letter you’re afraid that you won’t meet the real people, because they don’t exist. But believe me, Mata, they do. And when you meet them you will realize how wonderful they are, and how we who think we are the smart ones are but empty shells.

In some ways Mata’s letter was written by the man I knew in later years. It foreshadows my father’s career in agricultural economics, a field that wasn’t at all “natural” for a Jewish boy from New York City but that fascinated him all his life. It also demonstrates the enthusiasm and heart he always showed to his family, colleagues, and friends.

And yet … this document is also the letter of a stranger to me, an idealistic youth (with perhaps a slight bent toward socialism?) who displays a touching naivety.

The combination of old and Abe young Abe moved me. We seldom get to see the trajectory of our parents’ lives with clarity. I only knew Abe in his maturity; my parents waited a long time to have children!

It shocked me a little but pleased me greatly to get a glimpse of young Abe … looking out into the landscape of the country and his life with happy expectancy.

I am grateful to Mata for keeping the letter and to Joanie for getting in touch with me. Most of all, I’m grateful to my father for being such a rich role model. I plan to keep on cultivating the traits he exhibited in his letter to Mata—curiosity, optimism, warm heartedness, and enthusiasm.

My father certainly never smoked a pipe when I knew him--so either he smoked the things only briefly or this is a pose. (I lean toward the latter!)


20 comments on “A Letter from My Father

  1. Sara Stone says:

    Tinky: what a small world, and what a treat to learn something new.

  2. Esty says:

    Tinky, I enjoyed reading about your father. I loved him very much, and he was such good person. I have fond memories of my visit in Mass.
    Keep up the good work.
    All my Love,

  3. Cara Hochhalter says:

    What a wonderful glimpse of your father at an earlier age…and time in history! Wonder if he would still feel the same way about these hill towns today?

  4. deb says:

    What a great chance to see your father as a young man. I don’t think his essence ever changed.
    Love always

  5. Jerry says:

    Wow, great glimpse into the past!

  6. Jack Estes says:

    Thanks for another great story, Tinky. What a terrific glimpse of your father’s life. Priceless.

  7. BumbleVee says:

    like Sara said….what a small, small world it has become!! Imagine somebody finding something like a letter from someone …tracking you down and it being your Dad….. sheeesh….. who would ever think it possible…how strange……

  8. Martha Banwell says:

    Tinky, how wonderful to learn these things about your father. We so often find out these treasures when we can’t ask the questions we should’ve asked decades ago. Martha Banwell (AIS a hundred years ago)

  9. Doris Matthews says:

    Oh, way too cool!

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      A treat indeed, Sara. Esty, he was fond of you, too. Cara, I don’t think his affection for country life ever changed. Deb, very true. Jerry and Jack, great and priceless indeed. Vee, strange … but lovely. Martha, how fun to hear from YOU! Doris, cool is my specialty. (Well, I’d LIKE it to be my specialty!)

  10. Randy Barker says:

    April 28, 2012

    Hi Tinky,

    Yes I enjoyed reading about your Dad, but I don’t recognize any names fron the ADC days, I overlaped with you folks at Los Banos. I was first at UPCO (1965-66, and then at IRRI 1966-78. Your Dad was the first occupant of the ADC house
    across from the College Country Club and next dooe to the Sisons, Jess and Dolley, who have both passed away.

    Next I knew you were with ADC in Delhi. I was trying to get a project approved
    by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Your Dad had a friend Kisin Conongo high up in the government. We would meet wih him for an hour and afterwould I would ask your Dad, “what did he say.” Kisen talked in parables and it took several meetings before I could understand him without help.

    Last dinner I had with your Dad was in NYC when he was still at Rutgers I believe before moving to Massachusetts.

    I guess I will have to forward this note to my seven children in the hopes that one of them will take up the charge.

    Good luck from Ithaca, New York where we had 6 inches of snow last Monsay,

    Randy Barker

  11. Eleanor says:

    Amazing. .. thank you! One of the things that has really changed since his observations is Vermont. It sounded like paradise back then, and thank God the mountains are still there. I lived in the Green Mountain State for 7 years, played in the Vermont Symphony, and visited most recently in 2013. Gone is the sweet, innocent outlook, but the children we saw were wearing shoes (not all progress is bad 🙂

  12. Mary says:

    Loved reading this, Tinky. Thanks for sharing. Your dad must be proud of you.

  13. Tinky Weisblat says:

    Eleanor, my mother used to say that where we live in Massachusetts now resembles the Vermont of her youth (fortunately with shoes for the young) so we’re fortunate. And Mary, what a dear thing to say. Thank you both!

  14. Thomas Hallett says:

    Where do you think the photos were taken? The second one seems to feature the fixture in the background. Is it a statue or memorial of some kind? Abe wears two different outfits in the pictures, so it is likely they were taken on different days. And the pipe? Wow! I remember Uncle Bruce and others of their generation trying pipes instead of cigarettes, but they never really caught on. Love, Tommy.

    • LaTinque says:

      My guess would be that the second one with the public art or whatever, was an academic setting. Maybe Stevens Hoboken Academy? As for the top one, I’m guessing somewhere in New Jersey–maybe even Maplewood. So true about the pipe; my Uncle Jack is the ONLY person I know of that generation who kept smoking one….

  15. Chikako says:

    Just amazing! West 108th is not far from Columbia on 116th Street where I went to Business School. Simply miraculous and you are right about this magic of the web.

  16. Sara says:

    Your father’s letter is a treat to read, Tinky. I miss the days of good correspondence. Your blog gives an insight into the admiration you had for him. Lucky you

    • LaTinque says:

      He was pretty terrific just talking, too, Sara. And I know just what you mean about “good correspondence.” I love email, but I send and receive very few letters–the sorts that last.

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