In 1951 my 15 year-old mother sent a copy of John Dickson Carr’s “The Three Coffins” to the US troops in Korea. On the inside cover of the book she included her name and address. She has only a vague memory of sending the book and doesn’t know why she put her contact information in it.
In October of that year she received a letter from a member of the US Navy Hospital Corps who received the book. She wrote back and they exchanged a few more letters over the next year.
While this was probably a common occurrence – after all, she ended up marrying a sailor whom she met through the mail—I was struck by the quality of the Corpsman’s writing.
Here’s the first letter:
21 October, ‘51
Unfortunately we are not acquainted. For a brief rundown, here is why I am writing you. I don’t know where it begins, actually, as far as you’re concerned; but as near as I can figure your name and address was in a pocketbook entitled “The Three Coffins.” Somehow the Marine Corps got the book to Korea and it was passed from Marine to Marine to be read (in as much as reading material is scarce here.) Yesterday a Marine that had been hit by shrapnel was brought to me for medical treatment. Where I fit in comes now. I’m a Navy Hospital Corpsman on duty with the Marine Corps in Korea. (The Marines have no Medical corps of their own so the Navy trains corpsmen to fight with and treat wounded Marines.)
Anyway, he had finished reading it and gave it to me. Your name and address were on the inside flap. Ordinarily, I would have paid no attention to it, but being from Chicago I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to inform you your book came a long way and helped a good many men since it left the league at Park Ridge. The Marine and myself on behalf of those who had it before us, send our thanks. If you care to write and possibly hear of the Orient as I have seen it in the last few months, write and let me know.
I can’t tell whether you are a boy or girl (though I think the latter.) Being interested in human psychology, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to clear a mystery. Will be waiting to hear from you.
Years and years ago when our love was still young Dean confessed to me that a particular Patti Smith song (don’t recall which one, but it was sweet) reminded him of me so while I never loved Patti Smith’s music (never took the time to listen, I suppose) I kept her in a special place in my heart and didn’t mind when Dean played her music.
About 5 years ago Dean read an article in the New Yorker praising her tour that year so we got tickets to see her at the 9:30 Club. It was a fine concert and she and her band performed well and were gracious to the fans (unlike Bob Dylan who was an asshole when we saw him earlier that year at the Merriweather Post Pavilion) but it left Dean slightly disappointed — the performance did not live up to the New Yorker review. Plus unless you are a “VIP” you have to stand the during entire performance at the 9:30 Club.
I get emails from the 9:30 Club about upcoming shows. The 9:30 Club is owned, in part, by Bethesda resident Seth Hurwitz (and father of a middle school friend of my son). Seth and his partner also operate the Merriweather Post Pavilion, and promote concerts at most other venues in the Washington DC area including Baltimore. So when I received an email from the 9:30 Club announcing that Patti Smith would be playing the next evening at the Ram’s Head I suggested to Dean that we go. He was all for it. A few minutes and $90.50 ($35 per ticket + $13.50 service fee + $7.00 tax) later we had tickets to see Patti Smith.
We spent the day puttering around the house and considered eating dinner in Annapolis, where the Ram’s Head is, but decided to save some money and eat at home. We left home around 7:15 hoping to arrive in Annapolis about when the doors opened so we could get a good seat.
We arrived in Annapolis, parked the car and walked to Ram’s Head Tavern, giddy with the excitement of doing something unusual. We remarked at the quaintness of Annapolis and wondered if our daughter had ever been there.
Once at Ram’s Head we had to ask where the show was being held and were pointed towards a giant guitar on the wall. We showed the woman at the door our ticket and after a few moments of confusion said. You’re in Annapolis at Ram’s Head Tavern. We said we knew. She said, your concert is in Baltimore at Ram’s Head Live. We didn’t know there was more than one Ram’s Head.
I must have had a look of utter dismay on my face because she said, you don’t want to waste that — here, I have a table for you. She showed us into the music hall and sat us at at small table near the stage where we were treated a Christmas concert by the John Blount-Dave Tucker Big Band.
Luckily we like big band music. We’re lucky it wasn’t country and western.