Upcoming “new post” NEWS! Charles M. Bernier, (aka, Moe, Murray, Chuck)

Now that I am finally “on a roll” working on content for my “V-Mail . . . ” book, I have decided that I will use this blog as a posting place for Dad’s letters. My book is not so much the letters themselves as it is the inspiration to look at life–in his generation, mine own generation, my children’s generation–and to challenge readers to look at their own lives in a memoir’ish, social commentary’ish kind of way.

The book will be a multi-generational study of different themes expressed in Dad’s letters; each chapter will start with excerpts from the letters which provide the impressions, beliefs, and challenges of a 19 (then 20 and 21) year old young man, and will progress through the following two generations. Ultimately, I hope to provide some insight for future generations.

Since I focused considerable effort on transcribing each letter, I would like to make them available to anyone who might want to read each in its entirety. I will begin uploading letters as they correspond with the current dates of the year . . . the first letter will be posted on March 1st, as that is the date on the first letter Dad sent home in 1943. I will welcome questions, comments, and anything you might be moved to share!

My goal is to complete the first two chapters of the book by the time I post the first letter … wish me luck!


“Twas the Night Before Christmas . . . “

In an effort to “complete” a piece of creative writing before the start of 2012, I tackled the classic Christmas poem and used it as a template for my own family version. It was more difficult than I had anticipated! (hope you enjoy it)

‘Twas the night before Christmas at the Lead Ass Inn
Not a soul had forgotten their faraway kin;

The stockings were hung on the bookshelf this year,
To help the Red Room appear far less austere;

The children were working on muscles with Dad,
Vacation from college had made them both glad;

So Mike in the gym, and I in the kitchen,
Had just figured out how to minimize bitchin’;

When out in the yard there arose such a noise,
I left my potatoes in fear for my boys.

Away to the entry I ran like a mouse,
Tore open the first door and tripped over Klaus.

The moon on the icicles hanging above
Cast a glimmer from heaven which sparkled like love,

When, what to my curious eyes should appear,
But husband and sons in their gym-sweaty gear,

With a look in their eyes, so hungry and tired,
I knew that I had what their muscles required.

More rapid than ravenous donkeys they came,
And I welcomed them home, and called them by name;

“Now, Nicholas! Jacob! Now, Charlie* and Mike!
Come to the kitchen, I’ve something you’ll like!

To the warmth of the kitchen! To the nicely set table!
Now come on in! Sit right down! Show me you’re able!”

As laborers that before royalty know,
When invited to dine with them, and plan to go,

First up to the showers like eagles they flew,
With towels, deodorant, hair products, too.

And then, with much giggling, I heard from the rooms
The descent of feet on stairs, sounding like booms.

As I waited for them, and expected them soon,
To the kitchen they came with a Christmas Day tune.

They were dressed  in Melanzana**, from their heads to their feet,
And their urgency said it was past time to eat;

Computers and iphones they’re never without,
And they looked like mad scientists abolishing doubt.

Their eyes—how they twinkled! Their faces how cheerful!
I knew over dinner we’d all get an earful!

Their brains were both filled with “the latest” they’d learned,
And with happiness shared all the knowledge they’d earned;

The “interwebs” demonstrate “knowledge is power,”
And provide a week’s worth of “stuff” in an hour;

The boys shared new songs and cute memes and fun sites,
We listened and questioned and laughed between bites.

They were happy to share with their parents their world,
And we laughed as our past became truly unfurled;

A wink in their eyes and a shared chuckle, too,
Soon let us know that our brains would grow new;

They spoke with gusto, but were quick to explain,
And never let on that our questions were lame,

And after our dinner when bellies were full,
And one to the other, to the stairs did they pull;

They sprang to their rooms, after smiles and warm hugs,
And away they both crept into bed like good thugs.

But we heard them exclaim, ere they fell from our sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, may your futures be bright.”

*   Our "guest" cat, who spends more time at our home than his own
**  Leadville's own made-in-store outdoor clothing shop


SOOOO happy to post this photo because it means that I’ve completed the typing of three years worth of Dad’s letters! And what an adventure these past few months have been. Now the real work of creating “the book” must begin. Fortunately, I’ve got a plan . . .


Fact checking …

…visiting Mom and Dad November 8-15, 2011

Although I’m not quite finished uploading the letters yet (I’m close!), I didn’t really need an excuse to travel back to Boston to spend some time with Mom and Dad. I’m sure I’ll hear stories that didn’t make it into the “Censored” letters!



From Texas A&M to Lehigh

School days continue to challenge Dad, and I start to learn little bits about his younger brother Jackie/Jack/Jake (it does not surprise me that he calls his little brother different names as he also signs his letters in a variety of nicknames including Murray, Moe, Chuck, Charlie . . . not yet Charles). I wish I had some of my uncles letters, as I understand he was very funny! Perhaps my cousins could find some?


Old Tyme Sayings (we should bring back!)

As I continue to type Dad’s letters, smiling all the while (because it’s fun to imagine my Dad writing them as a 20 year young man), I’ve been gathering remnants of the lexicon that was fashionable in the forties. I will add to this list as I come across sayings we rarely hear nowadays (and please feel free to add ones you might hear from your great, great relatives!):

  • The old duck (a 74 year old European story teller)
  • Chum around together [hanging with your peeps]
  • t’other [as in, you take one, I’ll take t’other]
  • I’m back in the chips again [after being paid]
  • Pretty classy [I suppose we’d say ‘stylish’?]
  • Weather is wetter than babies’ diapers [how’s that for a simile?!]
  • Those so and so’s [i.e., sonsofbitches]
  • Fair to middling [feeling only okay]
  • Full of vim and vinegar [fiesty!]
  • Get dolled up [so you’ll be looking fine for your babe]
  • Terrific [used to express excess or something horrendous ]
  • You’ld think… [an unusual contraction]
  • Methinks… [perhaps he was trying to be “classy”!]
  • ___ will come in mighty handy [fill in, “the dollar you sent”]
  • I’m a’raring to go [so look out, world, I’m ready!]
  • That fellow is really tops [and is probably a swell chap!]
  • Spry young man [lively, energetic, fun]
  • Stepping out [hitting the town, looking for action!]
  • Perchance [quite the elegant way of saying ‘perhaps,’ or ‘maybe’]
  • The laundry “did me dirt” last week…[didn’t come back dirty because it didn’t come back at all! Our much more crass saying today would be, “screwed me over”]
  • Gaily decorated tables [the word “gay” continues to evolve from the original meaning of “bright” or “cheerful”]
  • Someone ‘put us wise’ to an empty barn…[now we might say “schooled us” or “told us about”]
  • So I can’t kick too much [can’t complain too much]
  • On the blink again [not working quite the way it should]
  • All the Gilder Snerds and Vander Snoots of the town…[the upper crust of society–and perhaps “upper crust” is slowly becoming obsolete!]
  • Swell…as in, “You’ve done a swell job on your homework, Jimmy,” or, “The dollar you sent in your last letter was swell!”
  • No soap! [for “it’s not happening,” or “no way”]
  • Umpteen times [I now use the word “kajillion” for large numbers]
  • Here I am hale and hearty [and probably feeling “swell”]
  • Bitching to beat hell [what the fellows did when unhappy]
  • Fellows [dudes]
  • Jalopy [a car which needed lots of TLC to stay running]

I’ll keep my eyes peeled (yuck!) for more swell saying!



From Camp to College

I learned today (from a letter written home in August of 1943) that I came by my sharp-shooter skills honestly! Dad evidently won “big money” back in the day:

“Last Thursday I was called up in front of the company, with six others, at retreat. We were the high scorers in the rifle competition. The company commander congratulated us, shook our hands and thanked us for making a good showing. The first prize was $10. I got $7.50 as second prize and five others received $5 apiece for tying in third place.”

I do not believe the army gives cash prizes anymore for demonstrating skills proficiency!

He then presents his latest challenge (torment, fad!) to his family in his typical matter-of-fact way:

“As I sit here thinking of what to write, I am afflicted with a new torment. My latest fad is heat rash. This is similar to poison ivy and spreads like hell. It is very itchy.”

I can see him sitting there on his bunk bed, pen in hand, thinking of what news to send home . . . scratching!

Shortly after receiving his commendation for weapons skills performance, Dad was finally picked up for advanced schooling and sent to Texas A&M. His first induction to college life, however, was all but academic:

“Yesterday we started our college work. We were presented with grass cutters and told to have a certain part done by noon.” 

Army boys at college were still, first and foremost, army boys.



Our Kathy

vessel of acceptance, love
and understanding

Her internal light,
Radiant beyond compare,
embraces us all

Challenging us to
release the pain of our past,
to overcome fear,

Knowing that today,
here, now, is reality
we must not deny

Everlasting gifts
she gave to us, joyfully,
through sparkling bright eyes.

[rest in peace, my beautiful cuz]


Elbow Grease and Cookies!

It seems that nothing would stop my father from writing home, not being in a tent, not “forgetting” to bring his pen! Letters sent home the last half of May, 1943 focus on the drudgery of camp life (and the seemingly endless guard, cleaning, kitchen duties!) and the smaller things, like not being able to buy treats.

“If we had any more inspections I would have dropped from nervous exhaustion. We have to shake our blankets out daily and five minutes later they are full of dust. They should call this Camp Dust instead of Camp Swift.”

Despite the drudgery, he always seems to keep his dry sense of humor.

“Monday I was hit with my old faithful “K.P.” I would rather walk twenty miles than do K.P. It’s really rough.”

K.P., or “Kitchen Patrol/Police,” is the equivalent of being a busser/dish-washer/floor scrubber at a fast-food restaurant…with no chance of earning tips!

“I got your letter yesterday with the dollar in it. Thanks a lot. Paydays are few and far between in the army . . . . The candy & cookie situation here is quite desperate, as the P.X.s have very little stock and what they have is bought up by fellows leaving for overseas. Any donations will be most gratefully received.”

The thought of a “desperate” cookie situation initially makes me chuckle, but the reality of not having them available because of the war situation makes me feel guilty about what I have in my cupboards right now. “Cupboards”? Does anyone use that term anymore?

When the blankets have been shaken and the kitchen cleaned, there is still work to do:

“Talking about windows, every Friday nite we have to clean all the windows in the barracks for inspection. Besides we have to get down on our hands and knees and scrub the floor. So you see I’ll be quite useful when I get home. If and when I do get home I want you to make me wait outside the kitchen about fifteen minutes before meals, as I might get too lonesome for the army. We have lines for everything, even when we go to town. When I get home I might get too soft if I get right into a movie or can eat immediately.”

And frequently there’s the talk of going home . . .


Flowers for Mother

I try to imagine the changing expression on the face of this young man as he enters the dance hall in May of ’43:

“We finally had our dance Friday nite and although it was nice, it wasn’t quite as nice as I had expected it to be. At any rate it was nice to get out of camp . . . The girls were nice but kind of old for us young squirts. It seems that the young girls are either away at school or are employed in defense work.”

Looking for love. I wonder how old is “kind of old.” Cougars? I shudder.

For his next letter, he clearly went out of his way to find something special for Mother’s Day. 

“Here’s a few more flowers for you on Mother’s Day. I hope you had a nice one. I said some extra prayers for you at Mass this morning. We went to Austin over the weekend and it was the first time I’ve been in a civilian church since leaving home. It was small but nice and reminded me a little of home.”   Touches of homesickness become a common thread. The frequency of his letter writing–often daily–reminds me of my own daily Facebook time. I, too, feel a longing to be . . . to stay connected with the people who mean the most to me.