Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Chewing Gum from a U.S. Cousin in Uniform

1946 letter from UK cousin to Harold Burk in the Bronx, NY
With heartfelt thanks to my paternal first cousin E, our family now is reading letters written more than 70 years ago by cousins in Manchester, England.

Connections Across the Pond

The letters were written by descendants of Hinda Ann Mitav Chazan (1865-1940) to descendants of my paternal great-great grandma, Necke Gelle [Mitav?] Burk. Hinda and Necke were very possibly sisters, both born in Lithuania.

Hinda married and then went to Manchester with her husband, settling there and raising their family. Necke married and remained in Lithuania--but six of her children left, going to North America. (I strongly suspect one son remained behind in Lithuania, based on photos passed down in multiple lines of the family tree).

The letters rediscovered by my first cousin E came from several cousins across the pond, addressed to my paternal grandma, my uncle, and my Dad. Although these letters are very ordinary and everyday, they reveal a closeness that nobody realized existed between the U.K. branch and the U.S. branch of our family. The Montreal branch of the family, Abraham Burke and his wife Annie, are mentioned in a letter as well.

These letters are also stimulating my overseas cousins to remember tiny but interesting details they didn't even think they could summon up after so long!

May 23rd, 1946: Dear Harold

The earliest letter so far is the one which I've excerpted above, mailed by my father's first cousin, once removed, in Manchester. She is writing to my Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978) in appreciation for a carton of sweets and other goodies he mailed to the Manchester family.

As shown in the excerpt at top, this cousin writes: "Very, very many thanks indeed from one and all of us. _[My daughter]__ in particular was thrilled beyond words when I told her cousin Harold had sent a parcel from America and when it was opened she turned it inside out and upside down and in all the packing papers looking for a packet of chewing gum that she was certain cousin Harold had sent especially for her! But the other sweets and caramels (I really should learn to say candies) more than made up for the missing packet of chewing gum."

The Cousin in Uniform

After I shared this letter with my cousins, a couple of them reminisced about my Dad's visit. One remembered getting a package of "American chewing gum" from a "cousin in uniform" who visited in 1945. The other had a flash of memory and confirmed that it was Harold, my Dad, visiting in his U.S. Army uniform!

The timing fits with what I know of Harold's Army service during World War II. With the war over, he was discharged from service in October, 1945. It would have been quite conceivable that beforehand, he was moved from Paris, where he was stationed in April of 1945. Probably he was sent to a base in England not far from Liverpool, waiting for a transport ship to bring him home to New York. Liverpool is fairly close to Manchester, and apparently he visited Manchester twice, according to my cousins' best recollections.

Months later, Harold posted the parcel of candies after seeing how much the young cousins in Manchester enjoyed his gift of chewing gum when he visited in person. Little did he know that decades later, those cousins would now be reading a letter written in thanks for the candies and sharing fond memories of the gum and the "cousin in uniform."

How grateful I am that my first cousin E rediscovered the letters and that my U.K. cousins are dredging up new memories of relations between our families!

No comments:

Post a Comment