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Monday, December 25, 2017

HILDA'S ADVICE TO WRITERS | Letter to ERM, March 13, 1946

Hilda van Stockum painting for her class at the
Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vt., about 1948.
Dec. 25, 2017 – HvS here chortles over surprising  questions about writing from wannabe writers. One of them seemed to think that the needed trick might be in the type of paper she writes on. It is posted here for the first time, just typed up from the original handwritten letter by my son Jay as a Christmas gift to me. John (aka Timmy Mitchell)
Hilda Marlin
3728 Northampton Street NW
Washington, D.C. 15
March 13, 1946
Dearest Husband,
Your presents were brought yesterday and I don't think you've ever bought us anything that was such a hit. The crucifix is beautiful and so is the Sacred Heart picture. Of course Jesus's face is not one hundred percent satisfactory, but how could it be? I only know too well how difficult it is, but it is at least dignified, artistic and in your good taste – a picture you can honor. And perhaps, in time, I shall even get to like the face, for it is not an insignificant or insipid face. 
The medals touched us all very much. You selected them with great love and care – Saint John the Baptist for Johnny (though his patron saint is really Saint John the Evangelist), Saint Therèse of the Infant Jesus for Olga (though her patron saint is Saint Teresa of Avila [Carmelite nun and mystic, born between Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America and the beginning of the Reformation- JTM]. It would have done for Brigid because she took Therèse as her Confirmation name, but she fell in love with The Blessed Virgin, so she took that). Saint Robert for Randal is correct, and he was very pleased with it. So is Saint Cecilia for Sheila and Saint Elisabeth for Lissie. 
I think I shall have to take Saint Michael for no one else wants him and I can use him very well, battle as I have to with the Devil in many forms. I was also very touched with the brooch – The Virgin and Child surrounded by my children. Very appropriate. Only what if I get twins next? You shall have to give me another brooch. 
You have never given me a present that pleased me so well. I have rearranged the pictures in my room to do justice to the Crucifix and Olga now gets the Crucifix May [Massee] gave me. If you should manage to be in Paris again I should like a French and Latin missal. It might be useful in Canada. I've lost my own missal and they seem to make such beautiful art in Paris, perhaps you can get me a really artistic one. I wish we could go to Paris! I am terribly happy with your presents.
We also liked van Heuven very much. He is in trouble, though, for he has thrown up the job he took on account of his mother, who hated his being so far away for six years and now he has got to have a job and he hoped you could get him one at PICAO [the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization, of which Spike was Secretary]. He is going to see you when he gets back to London. He seemed a more mature and thoughtful person than Biereus. Biereus reminds me a little of the other Biereus I knew (Wim).
Hans Brinker (World Publishing Co.) arrived and looks very nice. I think the colored pictures reproduced beautifully. I also talked before a professional writer's club and had a roaring success. They were in fits of laughter.
There was one lady who asked me a silly question.
"What do you think of ‘Angela’ for a dog's name?"
"It depends on the dog,” I said.
"Oh, it's a sweet dog, but my son won't allow it to have that name."
"Maybe he is embarrassed, walking around with a dog called Angela," I suggested, and everybody roared. 
There was a school teacher who said she had wanted to write all her life but never got so far. I told her to keep a diary of what went on in her class to make a start. 
"Oh!" she said intensely. "Oh! Is that how you do it? Do you use a looseleaf notebook or a plain? Or would a five-year diary be better?" She clutched at me as if I were a lifebuoy, and the questions I had to answer convinced me that it is most unlikely that she'll ever write a best-seller. To tell you the honest truth, I rather wondered what she taught the children. But she was touchingly grateful for my advice. 
Of course I told my usual repertoire of how I started to write and used birth control on my books – and how I became a citizen and said [when asked by the immigration officer why she hadn’t reported that she had a second child when she applied for citizenship a year earlier–JTM]:
"If you wait any longer I'll have three.” 
But there was one part that made them almost faint with laughter and that was especially for the benefit of aspiring writers. I said that you often asked me what I found to write about my most ordinary children and that I told you they'd be no use unless they were ordinary. And I went on to say that the things you gossiped about in real life, and envied and thought thrilling were boring and unconvincing in literature – that it was the normal that is needed in books rather than the abnormal. 
"So," I said, "the duller the life you lead, the less brilliant your companions, the more humdrum your surroundings, the less exciting your occupations, the more successful your books." 
And that was such a paradox to the aspiring writers they simply gasped for breath. Well, I was in my blue heaven. 
Otherwise, I'm a drudge. I managed to make some kind of dinner for Mr. van Heuven but the oven door broke and what with all my temperamental children I have quite a time of it. But I refuse to get flustered and we're very happy, thank you.
Did I tell you that Johnny said: "Jesus is a sport, isn't He?"
Today he said: "I wish Mammy was small, then I could knock her down." 
He came to bring me an onion out of the garden.
"Do you like onions?"
"No," I said. "But when I was a little boy I did." Profound silence.
Then – triumphantly: "You never were a little boy! A little girl you mean!" 
He showed me his doll [my sisters promoted gender-neutral play – JTM]. "I want it to be real,” he said.
"I can't make it real." I told him.
"Then who can?" he asked.
“God," I said.
"Then how do we get it to God?" he said.
Granny. Olga Boissevain van
Stockum, about 1948. (She
died in 1949.)
Randal is getting better. Doctor Deyrup says if we hadn't caught it just then he would have had pneumonia. Yet she had been three days before and judged that he wasn't very sick and if I hadn't checked the symptoms so much she might not even have come again. But I didn't like the sound of his cough. An ordinary cough has a liquid sound – and a croupy cough is a bark. But this was a falsetto cough with a nasty twang, completely dry. It sounded like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. We really were anxious about him. 
Miffy told a horrible story about a man he knew who had what they thought a "mild" case of flu and suddenly developed kidney complications, was rushed to a hospital and only saved through liberal application of Penicillin. 

Mother said, so tragically: "I don't want to lose a grandson as well as a son, and especially not one who continually reminds me of Willem."
But thanks be to God he is all right now. If all goes well he may get up tomorrow and on Friday I have to take him to Group H[ealth] for an X-ray of his chest. [Randal turns 80 next month, and has six children – three girls including his eldest and youngest, and three boys.–JTM]

Very fondest love from 

Your wife.

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