…as in the rabbit….
So began a letter that my father, Harvey Schatzkin, wrote to Macy’s in the winter of 1946 – four years before I was born.
He and wife Ellen were living at the time in an “inflated white house” in Milltown, New Jersey – building their lives together on the early fruits of America’s post-war prosperity. For a vehicle, they owned a surplus Army Jeep, and as they assembled their household, they purchased a lot of stuff from Macy’s Department Store in New York City.
Problem was, Macy’s kept delivering their purchases to a factory on the other side of town.
So my father wrote Macy’s a letter.
Letter-writing was one of my father’s talents. For decades now, I have been sitting on a trove of letters, essays and stories that he wrote. All along I have been thinking I might one day do something with them. It seems that day has arrived.
Mostly I am spending time with the letters that Lieutenant Harvey Schatzkin – a radio operator for the United States Army Air Corps – wrote to Ellen Gould of St. Louis, Missouri – his future wife, my future mother – after they met in December of 1942. They met on Dec 7, 1942 –, one year to-the-day after Pearl Harbor – had one date the following week, and decided that they were destined to spend their lives together.
This being in the middle of World War II, though, Harvey returned to his post; they did not see each other again for more than three months. But throughout that time, and for the remainder for the war, they wrote letters to each other. I have all those letters. They offer an amazing account of True Love in A Time of War.
For the past several weeks, I have been reading those letters aloud and dictating them into digital documents. There might be a book here, but what I’m mostly thinking is that maybe my sister and I will read them into a limited-edition podcast of some sort.
As these letters reveal, the romance between Harvey and Ellen was powerful and sweet – and they both knew at the time that their experience was unique and profound. Ellen captured the spirit when she wrote in the winter of ’43:
Darling, we were too lucky to fall in love the way we did. Our whole future life will be tinged with the excitement and romance of the beginning. Let’s don’t ever lead a commonplace life. We’ve such a good beginning for an exciting one…
Yes. My mother really wrote that to my father. But when she wrote of an ‘uncommon’ life, I don’t think it turned out quite the way she was hoping.
As most (some? any?) of you know, Harvey died in 1958 at the alarmingly young age of 37 years. Up until then, they had led the quintessential postwar life: a beautiful home in an affluent New Jersey suburb, two cars, three kids and a dog, Lionel electric trains in the basement, a little wooden sailboat anchored on the edge the nearby river, memberships in a golf and a beach club, and a circle of equally fortunate friends.
And then Harvey got sick.
And then he died.
And life, commonplace or otherwise, went on for the rest of us.
Harvey Schatzkin harbored aspirations of being a writer: Hence the trove of letters and essays and stories – and rejection slips from the publications that he submitted to – that I found in a trunk in the attic in the 1960s.
As near as I can tell, he was actually published just once: in the summer of 1948, when somebody at Macy’s found the letter he’d written and asked if they could use it for the basis of an advertisement in the New York newspapers.
This is the letter that Harvey wrote to Macy’s:
7 December 46
R H Macy’s
New York City
During the past couple of weeks three packages intended [??] for my wife and I were delivered elsewhere.
Now, my name is Harvey Schatzkin, I’ll repeat that so you won’t have any trouble: HARVEY (as in the rabbit) SCHATZKIN (as in nothing in particular). My wife’s first name is Ellen and the last name we share mutually. We live in a little white inflated home at 40 Columbia Ave., Milltown, N.J.
Now, also in Milltown is the SAGAMORE METALS COMPANY – a fine upstanding firm I am sure, and a very honest one, for every time you leave one of our packages with them, they call us up and tell us about it.
Thus we come to the crux of the matter for which it may come as a great surprise to you and yours from Jack Strauss on down: NEITHER MY WIFE NOR I ARE NAMED “SAGAMORE METALS.” Possibly you have me confused with my cousin old Jasper Sagamore Metals or with my maiden aunt Esmeralda Sagamore Metals, Inc. – the one we call “Inky.” But you certainly couldn’t be thinking of me – or my wife.
So, fellows, how about dropping down and discussing the problem with the chap who drives the UPS truck out our way? You might say, “Hi again – (I suggest the informal approach since you wouldn’t want them to go out on strike again) and go on to explain the difference between SCHATZKIN, and SAGAMORE METALS. You might also point out that the factory is at the opposite end of town from our home, with an address that is no way a dead ringer for ours the way their name is.
One other point in case there is a clause in your UPS contract that states that packages for the Schatzkins must be delivered to Sagamore Metals. It’s okay with us. We don’t want you to have any more labor trouble. Just let us know and will try to arrange a shuttle service to their factory.
Trusting that you can get this matter worked out without another strike, I remain
Very Truly Yours
(no relative of a metals factory of a different name)
P. S. Merry Xmas unP.S.
Subsequent correspondence from Macy’s indicates that the problem was resolved shortly thereafter. But two years later – in the summer of 1948 – Macy’s wrote again and asked if they could use Harvey’s letter as the basis for an ad. On August 18, 1948, this ad appeared in the pages of several New York City newspapers:
While always writing on the side, Harvey spent his career as a ceramics engineer, eventually becoming the CEO of ATCO – the household tile factory that our family owned in Keyport, New Jersey. Had he pursued his calling, who knows. He might have had a career in advertising. He might have been a MadMen. But for that he would have had to live into the 1960s…