Topics in Mrs. Lilienthal's Letters

       A few topics that recur in Mrs. Lilienthal's letters may interest her students. In this section I select some comments on Wartime, Hunter, and Nature and Travel. Many of these passages will appear again in my chronological treatment of our correspondence.

Ruth, Harvesting for the Women's Land Army
Harvesting for the
Women's Land Army

Wartime: 1942-1945

       In Mrs. Lilienthal's letters to me at college during 1943-45, we discuss war-related concerns that range from my summer work at a munitions factory to Mr. Lilienthal's various postings, and her own volunteer work in hospitals and on a farm. Our earliest correspondence debates my plan to spend the summer of 1943 working at a plant that made equipment for guns. Subsequently she alludes to the impact of wartime restrictions at Hunter, and to her husband's service both in the USA and in England. 

       When I wrote her about what I saw as my options for ways to spend my summer vacation in 1943, she sends detailed advice.

My point of view narrows your 5 choices to 2: summer study in U of A or defense work in a factory, the latter for the sake of the money and for any understanding it might give you of the physiological and psychological problems of the worker. Now that you’re beginning to feel integrated into the life at Ala., I think it would be unwise to dip again into the cross currents of NYC—unless it were as I say, in an entirely different area of activity such as there might be in a factory. I hope that you will decide to stay at U of A and adjust friends and play into a work schedule not vice versa. Obediently yours, RSL (4/26/43)

       Unwise perhaps, but I opted for the factory. That choice also meant that I could return to New York City for three months.

       After turning 18 in May 1943, I was eligible for a real job with paychecks, deductions for Social Security and a time-clock to record my arrivals and departures. My mother found a place for me where she worked, and rushed me through the application process.

       Ford Instrument Company, Long Island City, N.Y., made fire control equipment, meaning devices and parts to insure accurate aim when shooting. The guns involved, of many kinds and sizes, would then be mounted on ships and planes going into battle.

       Those three months at Ford Instrument stand as my only meaningful contribution to the war effort, unless it counts to endure restricted access to silk stockings, sugar, and gas, and to go to USO dances with men in uniform. Did defense work develop my empathy for the “physiological and psychological problems” of workers as Mrs. Lilienthal hoped? Hardly! At Ford Instrument I never met the kind of workers that my mentor envisioned. Highly skilled operators ran massive machines as well as intricate ones that could trim and sand metal pieces to nearly microscopic specifications. These were workers I found impressive, not oppressed. My summer job sent me running errands in the machine shops as well as doing desk work and filing. It was fun, profitable, and temporary.

       In contrast, Mrs. Lilienthal’s wartime efforts included volunteer hours and weeks as a nurse and a farm worker, jobs that were unpaid, and done in otherwise free time. Her activities were stressful, sometimes exhausting, and lasted for the duration. Also she spent most of the war as a wife-in-waiting for her soldier-husband. Meeting him in faraway places did include some holiday outings--still, her travel arrangements were difficult and expensive and the cities where they met were not always pleasant. She begins to write to me about such matters during August 1942: 

I have only lately arisen—although the daily Nurse’s Aid Training Course has and is also largely responsible for my silent seclusion. And further, pro patria, there has been the interesting experience of donating a pint of blood to the Blood Bank. (One husky male fainted while waiting for his turn!)

       She signs off with an emphatic wish: “Yours for a second front but NOW, RSL” (8/21/42) 

       A month later she breathlessly describes trying to combine nursing classes with her regular duties at HCHS.

I have been busy to the point of grappling with a cold invasion since school opened. Programs, classes, irregular student assignments, committee meetings of the G.O. [General Organization] and the assemblies and the project every noon and afternoon and a training course in Nurse’s Aide work in which I have just competed 35 hours of theory and 45 hours of ward practice in the Male Medical, Female Surgical and Pediatrics courses and an exam that I completed but one hour ago---with a pledge to the Red Cross to give a minimum of 150 hrs. of work per annum for the Duration---and I’m not going to turn back to find the subject of this long sentence so that I may end it with proper grammatical etiquette. (9/19/42)

       From October 1943 and until after the end of the war in Europe (May, 1945), Mrs. Lilienthal’s letters often tell of her husband’s training and service in the military. Also she mentions fulfilling her pledge to devote hours to nursing: I have just returned from giving service in the hospital and weary I am of spirit and appendages. (6/11/44)

       For three pages in this letter she focuses on a paper I wrote at the University of Alabama; she argues at length that I need a better grasp of themes in two novels I compared. Both implicitly raise issues of social justice; she concludes by suggesting a book that will clarify these issues: for a level-headed balance between the two [approaches] we have to read no novel: Henry Wallace’s Democracy Reborn. That book was indeed "no novel"; it was a newly published collection of Wallace's essays and speeches on politics, economics, and foreign relations. 

       At the end of this letter, after deploring my less than perfect grade in Psychology, she adds an instruction to look up a book that explores wartime topics: Read Margaret Mead’s And Keep Your Powder Dry. Then she signs off, “Yours, and Fondly, RSL,” adding a word of warmth to counterbalance her pages of sharp critical comments. (6/11/44)

       Other anecdotes about Mrs. Lilienthal at HCHS during WWII have appeared in Part 1: students recall such matters as the strains of starting the school day an hour earlier and RSL's reaction to a news broadcast that interrupted her class.

       In many letters she speaks of Mr. Lilienthal’s service. At midsummer 1943, she writes of the season, Half all gone! Horrors, and then describes her holidays.

I’ve not been having a very satisfactory vacation: making an entrance into the city each weekend to be with mon soldat, and making an exodus each Monday or Tuesday to be with the birds and bees. Each facet by itself is gloriosus-a-um but I don’t like the numerous transitions. (8/2/43) 

       At least her soldier in training is near and has weekend leaves to join her in Brooklyn.

       During that fall, she looks forward to getting together with her husband for far more than just a weekend.

My Man of the Week hopes soon to be my Man of the Hour. His basic training terminates at the end of October, and there should be a sugar plum available to in the form of a short furlough. (10/24/43)

       In November, she includes two vignettes, one about Mr. Lilienthal’s next posting, the other describing and an evening she spent on Broadway.

Mr. Lilienthal spent five swiftly moving days with me. After a voice thick with yams and magnolias woke me last Sunday morning, I learned that he is now stationed at the Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. So, if I can get reservations, I’ll go there for the Xmas holidays. (11/21/43)

       As she tells the other little wartime story, she quotes what I take to be a Brooklyn accent.

Broadway is fully illuminated once again, and the crowds of a Saturday night are such as usually make a New Year’s Eve. Last night everyone seemed good natured—except a heavily roughed Mabel who frowned at all the feet. The boy-faced soldier she was with said, whassamatta Babe doncha like peepul? 

       A month later, the soldier’s wife goes to Atlanta for Christmas only to discover that winter can be dismal even in the deep south: Shivering greetings from an icy cold and drowning wet town. I haven't seen a peach or green leaf. New York is not worse and much better. (postcard 12/26/43)

       Early in 1944 comes good news about her husband’s chance to get away from Georgia, if only temporarily.

The Lilienthal ménage enjoyed an unexpected bit of luck. Ye spouse was given a special assignment somewhere in Pennsylvania and a 5-day leave before returning to Georgia. We frolicked thru our favorite haunts and emptied the family till. Ergo, the female now has misery with her sinuses, second battle of the season. O the vindictiveness of the body parts. (1/23/44)

       Near the end of the letter, among other bits of advice, Mrs. Lilienthal asks me Have you read Archbishop of Canterbury’s Soviet Power

        A letter in Spring 1944 comments on aspects of my college work and jokingly asks me not to mention Alabama’s fine spring weather while NYC has only rare fine days. She closes with Yours against Fascism in its obvious, subtle, and obscure forms. (3/11/44) 

       Could that refer to political trends on the home front? If I knew then, I don’t now. 

       The letter is written on beautiful beige notepaper bought from the Chinese War Relief agency, and showing an oriental scene.

Click on letter for transcription.

Letter - Spring 1994

       Mrs. Lilienthal joined her husband in Georgia during Hunter’s Spring Break in 1944. Her descriptions of their good times in Atlanta alternate with wry observations about the South.

What with darlin and sugar and honey and sweet practically handed over the counter with each purchase, I wonder what the Atlantans do by way of a love vocabulary when they’re "flying in tall cotton.”

Mr. Lilienthal was free weekends and evenings, and we had much fun walking and talking and going to moron movies and eating horrible ice cream confections. We attended a Holiday Service and drank much Sweet Passover wine. We went to an Oscar Levant "concert with comments" . . . (4/30/44, p.1)

       They greatly enjoyed the musical evening and Levant’s wry comments. She tells about it for a full page. Then she adds a sociological analysis of the city. 

My beautiful stay in beautiful Atlanta was a beautiful dream. There were streets and streets of pink and white dogwoods and magnolias and spirea. Income 10,000. There were streets and streets and streets of clanging trolley cars and boarded windows and brick dust. No accounts. (4/30/44, p.3)

       Her closing words are: Yours for F.D.R,

       After the final rush of Hunter’s spring 1944 semester, she describes another whirling occasion when her soldier comes home between his assignments.

Mr. Lilienthal has been at Camp Ellis in Illinois, since May. He just returned there and is awaiting further transfer-- wherefore I am at home awaiting news of the transfer so that I may perhaps go to his new locus. We had a hex and a jamboree of his two weeks’ furlough. I remember a whirlpool of Finals and Theatres and Regents and city streets and office Records and restaurants und so weiter. (7/5/44)

       In midsummer 1944, RSL sends me a postcard from Oneonta, N, Y. about her not-quite-holiday as a volunteer harvester for the war effort. 

The beloved spouse is overseas, so I have joined the Women’s Land Army and am living close to the serl [sic] for my country ‘tis of thee. Only my back protests. (8/1/44)

       Evidently I wrote back to her sounding dubious about her working holiday, because her next letter jokingly questions my commitment to war efforts like hers.

Now come, you isolationist, surely you know that the War Manpower Commission has authorized the U.S. Employment Service to urge people to spend their vacations harvesting the nation’s crops so that we civilians those servicemen + Europeans and Asiatics can eat next year. Being a very cause-minded cooperative + Democracy-loving creature, I signed up for two weeks of plucking string beans from their maternal plants. (8/12/44)

Ruth, in the bean patch, 1944
RSL in the Bean Patch--1944

Ruth, Pushing a wheelbarrow, 1944
RSL Pushes a Wheelbarrow--1944

       Then with wry wit she sums up her mixed feelings--pride in her success as a farm volunteer, yet relief that the two weeks of stoop labor are finished.

Though I went with visions of having my old bones carried off the field, I managed to retain the vision without seeing the actuality. Oh my lumbar, ischial + iliac ligaments! Nevertheless I was the champion harvester in a group of 28 [females], aged 14 to 60!

Next year I shall go again, if the need is still present and if my back + left knee have recovered. (There, those provisos should take care of that) (8/12/44)

       Her husband’s overseas posting turns out to be in Britain. In an April letter RSL mentions his holiday trip: Mr. Lilienthal has been visiting Scotland, and has praised it warmly. He even stood on a bus queue for 2 ½ hrs. to see Loch Lomond! (4/2/45)

       A few weeks later she mentions how much she misses him:

Spring came a long while back in April, but was scared away cold--and is most timidly approaching this time. Mr. Lilienthal is still in England; the prospects are that he will still be there come many more months. Waiting is weakening. (5/23/45)

       Although the battles in Europe had ended, no one then knew when the troops would be released to come home.

RSL Speaking of Hunter

       In her letters to me at college Mrs. Lilienthal occasionally mentions the stress of her work at Hunter, and comments on girls I knew there. She may be irritated by academic demands, but always speaks warmly of students.

       In September 1942, she writes about both grappling with a cold and juggling many responsibilities: Programs, classes, irregular student assignments, committee meetings of the G.O. [General Organization] and assemblies, as well as frequent noontime meetings and the classes she attends after school to qualify as a Nurse’s Aid, a role she took on as a wartime volunteer.

       During the spring semester of 1943, she refers to the changed scheduling that resulted from wartime regulations. In February she writes:

This morning, 6:15 clanged at me and I rammed into the school building at 7:30 A.M.! Misericordia: I felt like The War Effort. Nineteen minutes are allowed for the Gulp-Your-Lunch-period, and three minutes are the new limit for the new-dash-to-your-next-period’s-room. (2/2/43)

       And the letter ends: Three different preparations for tomorrow bid me say . . . G’Bye for now, R.S.L.

       In April she comments again on her distress about the wartime scheduling:

The early hours leave me much more exhausted than I ever was at 1:00 and 2:00 than I ever was at 3:00. On Thursdays, I teach 7 periods (from 1 thru 8). The maximum is supposed to be 5. More time you say—huh! Furthermore, since the periods are 5 minutes shorter and the syllabus has not altered its dimensions, I must give more written work --- and there it is, waiting for my red crayon pencil. (4/4/43)

       My friend Jolie Douglass, who also wrote to me at Montevallo, admires RSL's manner at the start of the day; Jolie poses as annoyed with our teacher's brisk composure:

Oh, yes. I plan to do away with Mrs.Lilienthal in the near future if she doesn't stop looking so goddam cool and efficient and scientific and methodical at 7:55 A.M. At that hour I hate the world. (4/7/43)

       Clearly, her students never suspected that Mrs. Lilienthal dreaded those early hours of double daylight savings time. Rita Wexler, who was graduated in 1945, praises RSL's positive attitude during those dark days of war and the inspiring way she would cheer up her students when they arrived in the dark.

       On a lighter note, Mrs. Lilienthal tells me about mixing end-of-semester school duties with festive gadding about while her husband returns home in June, 1944.

We had a hex and a jamboree of his two weeks furlough. I remember a whirlpool of Finals and Theater and Regents and city streets and office Records and Restaurants und so weiter (7/5/44)

       During our later years of correspondence, Ruth’s discussions of trends at Hunter reveal some tenets of her educational philosophy.

       In the Fall semester of 1949, she finds her work load too burdensome, too discouraging, while also bemoaning the sickening hiatus between theory and practice. She adds that she finds surcease through her own studies of voice production and three different points of view regarding correct body control (12/18/49).

       Critiques of Hunter predominate in a letter at the end of the spring semester in 1952. We have a male principal. Yes a male [a male symbol]. To this startling news, she adds unhappy prophecies: God wot what will happen in the next few years. Maybe even the core curriculum, maybe even coeducation (6/7/52).

       For comic relief, she quotes a list of bloopers saved by her friends in the English department from the essays written for Hunter's entrance examinations:

“She was too young to go stedy, to old to sat home.”

“My mother gave me music lesions.”

“My voice rang out almost as eloquent as a professor would speak.”

“The blossoms were all out and we looked lovely with a background like this.”

“I like to pudder in the kitchen.”

“When you are 13 like I am, you are in a turnabout.”

“Rain befell our little town.”

“Those wreckless teenagers.”

“My plans having failed to go swimming”— (6/7/52)

       In December 1955, Ruth looks back over the Fall semester and finds it troubling that a new national policy has called for the pledge of allegiance to include a religious theme.

Is the Lord still wrestling his way thru the public school system? I returned from sabbatical leave to hear our girls declaim “One nation, indivisible, under God, with Liberty and Justice for All".

       Also, she deplores the speed-up system for drilling some seniors, finding it a mistaken policy for students as well as an added strain on the faculty.

The unreasonable demands of the school schedule are suffocating: continuous doubt, committee filing, evaluations, confusion, and now College Advanced Standing Program. At the end of the day, selected seniors meet to be pumped with pre-digested, concentrated pabulum so that they may be excused from the Freshman course in that subject, at college. In my youth, we raised the banner for ENRICHMENT, not ADVANCEMENT! (12/28/55)

       Recognizing that those who lead the "vanguard of panaceas" for education always insist that enrichment and advancement of this kind can occur together, she sighs "what self deception." Parenthetically she asks whether I heard Robert Frost’s interview “in which he said that the greatest conflicts have been between GOOD and GOOD?” (12/28/55).

       During the summer of 1962 Ruth writes at length, responding to what I have written to her about my children and my teaching, discussing JD Salinger's writings, and telling me how much she enjoys the season:

These summer days are a lark for me. No early morning snow-tracks into the subway, no pursuit of resistant children, no dealings with administrative pinheads. Instead --- awaking to the noble light, reading, studying coordination. . . . (7/15/62)

       Even though she is relieved that school is out, she thinks back over the Spring semester at Hunter with satisfaction:.

You will receive this year's ARGUS which is, in my opinion, not one of the best issues. Lynn Visson and Carola Dibbell are uncommonly gifted and will be at Radcliffe in the Fall. The English Department thinks that Carola is the most creative individual we've ever had. The piece I liked best was Nikki Raymond's No Hard Feelings. She's an astonishingly brilliant ninth year student. She speaks only with breathless excitement, like you. (7/15/62)

       She beams as always when students succeed, delighting in their talent and promise.

       In the final section of Classes and Beyond I included Mrs. Lilienthal's 1990 exchange of letters with Ruth Misheloff, a student who remembered her warmly. With equal warmth, Mrs. Lilienthal thanks Ms. Misheloff for her beautiful letter and speaks of the students at HCHS as precious individuals. RSL's pleasure in recalling "Hunter Girls" has not lessened across her lifetime.

Seasons and Skies

       Scenes from nature and notes on the weather occur over and over again in RSL's letters. As she dates a letter she often adds a phrase that invites her reader to share the setting, like I’m sitting on the roof of my apartment, in the Blessed Sunshine. (6/8/42)

       Warmth is always welcome. In the next month of summer in l942, mid July, she comments below the opening date of her letter Temperature is what it should be, and I love it. Then she expands on her bent for sweltering. We have returned from the cool trees and quiet lakes to the heat-muffled building and steaming people---all but me. I am more alive than dead. (7/19/42) And if the weather falters, she complains: August 28, 1942, and disgracefully cool it is. When winter comes, she says Plague take the Thermometer. (2/2/43)

       Just as weather is never too hot for her, spring never comes too soon. She waits eagerly for the warmth she expects in April. Spring in fact, But not in deed (4/3/43). At the end of the month she finds the season both beautiful and healthful:

The daffodils yellow a whole hillside in the Botanic garden. The squills and scilla are sitting pretty. The poplar catkins fall heavily to earth and wriggle like worms for a few seconds, and the SUN is beginning to dispatch my sinus troubles into 1944. (4/26/43)

       Along with the date of her letter on November 21, 1943, she welcomes a bit of Indian Summer. 

Mean old winter has retreated
Backstage these past few days.

       The weather must, of course, return to normal: Sky cloudy, mercury low. (1/23/44)

       From 1942 to mid-1945, Mrs. Lilienthal is writing to me in Alabama as I go through college. The seasons she loves come sooner in the South.

No, don’t tell me about your delightful weather. I thank you. The single days of proper weather we’ve had, have been like swift dance steps that spin right back into the month of March. It always seems like a cheating effrontery. (3/11/44)

       Sometimes she mentions fog: Foggy as London, (9/19/42) In London Fog in Brooklyn (7/11/46), or blustery weather: How the winds are rude! (6/11/44)

       Rain is rarely noticed, but she does tell how it interfered with one memorable holiday.

I returned home last night---must have been washed down from the heights of Peekskill to N.Y.C. S.L.[New York City Subway Lines]. But my stay there was not without its ADVENTUROUS aspects inasmuch as we were still in a canoe when the worst storm began to pelt us and lash about. We were not above being fussed and twitted about whilst sherry and hot tea and blankets were tossed into us and onto us. (8/3/42)

       More typically, her letters about holidays feature enjoying nature. Her postcard from a summer stay in Jeffersonville, N.Y., begins We’re loving the air with the trees and chickens. (7/7/42)

       Visiting the South for the first time in April 1944, Mrs. Lilienthal admires the lovely spring flowers that line many prosperous streets with their pink and white dogwoods and magnolias and spirea, making Atlanta look like a beautiful dream. But then she comments pointedly on the grim contrast she sees in the dusty streets of the poor.

       Returning from Atlanta, Mrs. Lilienthal delights to welcome the season back in Brooklyn.

Spring was an actuality yesterday, for the first time. People swarmed into the streets, children shed their coats when they were beyond the parental range of vision, the older adults sat on park benches and swooned in the warm sunshine, and magnolias n narcissus n tulips n grape hyacinths n forsythia n the cherry trees were aburst in The Botanic Garden. (4/30/44)

Distant Lands

       Another topic that Ruth writes joyously about is travel, especially going abroad. Her most lengthy description of an international trip is also the earliest one. She and Charles went by freighter to South America in 1949, traveling with a few other passengers, a Columbian crew, Scandinavian officers and a much-admired Greek captain. She includes lively characterizations of other travelers, and of shipboard conditions, especially the food. She is awed by their passage through the Panama Canal: which impressed me mightily and washed away my puny anticipatory urges.

       From the Pacific Coast the Lilienthals take a train inland for six hours from coastal humidity thru jungle thru plateau thru the Cordillera, a mountain range, to Cali! There she says she would like to live some years.

Temperature always friendly; a fertile, fertile valley that yields two crops a year; and surrounding and receding hills. The sunsets were glorious and astonishing. Plantations of sugar cane, banana, coffee, orchids. The tropical fruits were luscious and heavenly: papayas, mangoes, curubas, lulos! (12/18/49)

       During the 1960’s both my life and Ruth’s change dramatically. She retires in 1962 and I complete my Ph.D. in American Literature in 1965. She still teaches yoga, while also studying Zen Buddhism intensely. In the 1970’s she will teach that discipline and its philosophy at the New School for Social Research. With my new degree, I move to Virginia to become an assistant professor of English at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

       The next summer, 1966, the Lilienthals plan to visit me. I’m so pleased that I perhaps overdo my recommendations. Reviewing my long list of suggestions, Ruth replies it’s great copy you write for the Chamber of Commerce [of Norfolk], and seems quite amused that I praised the Dismal Swamp Canal Road! (6/10/66) among favorite waterways and attractions near the Atlantic Ocean. In her next letter she confirms their plans for an August visit, names the plays they want to see in our theaters, and says she’d love a whole morning or afternoon in your Municipal Gardens. But she does not want to see Norfolk’s military landmarks: I detest War Memorials (7/20/66).

       During their years in retirement, Ruth and Charles continue to delight in traveling. For some of their trips, however, Ruth describes their favorite places on tightly written postcards--some of them have been lost.

       In 1968, they went to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Russia. After getting back to Brooklyn, she writes mainly to answer my letters about events in my career, and to plan our summer get-together in New York. She merely lists the five countries visited and a dozen cities within them, adding no details on either scenic landscapes or fabled monuments. Her summation just says excitement, elation, exhaustion (7/27/68).

       But she recalls those 1968 travels happily; much later, in 1983, she writes about them again when Ernest and I tour the Scandinavian countries. She recaptures three vivid spots in memory:

AHH--STOCKHOLM! Suddenly there was a workman ‘a la MARISOL or George SEGAL, emerging from or descending---into a manhole. Great POP—ART.

AHH—UPPSALA! I loved the University Library and the contemplative atmosphere of the whole town.

AHH—HELSINKI! What a stunning University Campus! First taste of venison. Firsts are the most. (7/27/83)

       Firsts may be the most, but Ruth also finds great joy in repeating the shipboard experience of cruising. The destinations, of course, are firsts in 1970: Aruba, Curacao, Caracas, Trinidad. On a postcard from Aruba she sends a joyous quatrain (4/21/70).


       In 1974 when touring Portugal and Spain, Ruth names such cities as Lisbon, Seville, Granada, Madrid, and Salamanca. Then she ends her travelog by giving her highest praise to scenes in the countrysides:

No palaces, no barracks, no fortresses, no cathedrals---- can compare with fields of glistening wheat, of red poppies, of olive trees, cork trees, Eucalyptus trees, Scottish Broom, etcetera! (5/29/74)

       Her students would be more pleased than surprised to hear their teacher speaking well of trees. Many recall walks on Park Avenue and in Central Park, and remember how Mrs. Lilienthal taught them the names of such species as ginkgo, sycamore, horse chestnut, and ailanthus, and asked them to make careful drawings of the leaves.

       When my husband and I flew to Greece in l978, Ruth wrote to us in Athens playfully evoking both her balmy day in Brooklyn and her memories of sailing in the Mediterranean.

On this late afternoon of May 21, the sky is blue, blue and the air clear, clear. I look upward again and again but cannot feel that you have been swallowed by this or that flying fish. (5/22/78)

       She then recalls some of her favorites among the Greek Islands with exclamation points, perhaps to suggest increasing delight: Delos! Mykonos!! Santorini!!!

Back to Nature

       Across later years, Ruth’s characteristic ways of savoring the natural world still include both some lengthy scenic descriptions and more frequent small sensory glimpses. In December 1964, her note begins NO SNOW YET. And in 1967, as always, she finds cheer in the coming of Spring. Even here---at last! --- The snow has vanished. The crocuses have emerged, and the green buds are busting from the bushes. Even I feel a fine heave-ho. (4/21/67)

       Perhaps Ruth's most lyrical evocation of cosmic beauty appears in her foreword to Namu Dai Bosa (1976). Describing the skies and the turning seasons at the Dai Bosatsu monastery, she glories in the scenic loveliness while suggesting transcendent power: a natural setting where students are surrounded by the irresistible teachings of dawn, twilight, sun, moon, stars, morning mists, raindrops, snowflakes, ice forming, ice melting . . . .

       During the1980's, the last decade of our correspondence, Ruth continues to remark on the skies and the weather. Her July 1983 letter begins:


       Her letter to China postmarked 7/8/87 begins with this earlier dateline: It’s a bleak day in June 1987. Then in April, 1988, Ruth again chooses trees for an image to welcome the season soon to come.

The gingkoes patiently
Wait their future to
Exhale green buds--

Editor's Note: In 2004 when I first re-read Mrs. Lilienthal's correspondence in sequence, I noticed how many topics came up repeatedly.  Here I have selected just three to trace; the first two partly interweave with her Hunter years and the third, Travel, inspired her to create full,  fervent and happy descriptions.  Other subjects were vital to her, as well.  Books absorbed her always, more steadily than seeing the world.  For most of her life (as she told me about it) the theater and movies and music interested her a great deal.  Her husband and family, her political concerns, and little vignettes from daily life enliven many a passage.  The only other subject I review separately is her devotion to Zen Buddhism;  for that chapter I depend on documents and interviews much more than her personal letters to me.  See Zen: Ruth Becomes Chigetsu.

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