In October/November 1955 I moved with my family from Detroit, Michigan to San Diego, California where we joined my father, P. Frank, who had obtained a position as a technical artist with Convair aeronautical. My fondest memory of that journey was stepping off the DC-3 airliner, which had flown us from Los Angeles, and walking into the very small terminal located on Harbor Drive. This was the beginning of a new chapter in my life and leaving the trauma and hurt of my toddler years.
My father and grandmother Addie Mae, would get letters from Sophie and Grandmama Antoinette (Sophie’s mother,) requesting photos and information about me, but I never saw any of those family photos, or movies of my previous life, until the year 2002. Unfortunately, some of the movies have deteriorated to the point at which they are no longer viewable.
I didn’t see or meet my biological mother Sophie again until 1977 when my wife and I traveled through Europe on a delayed honeymoon—it had been 24 years since Sophie and I last saw each other. Upon entering Sophie’s apartment, the first item I noticed was my high school graduation photo standing on the television set. As I looked at that photo, I began to wonder how she came to have a copy. Then I remembered my father telling me she kept in “contact” with me through Addie Mae. Sophie was never allowed to write to me directly. She told me during this initial meeting that my father said she could write to me as an aunt, but not as a mother. Her reply to this order was “I am the boy’s mother, not his aunt.”
The following letter is one of the first ones I received after moving to the U.S. Apparently a neighbor from Detroit was visiting Paris and by coincidence, walked to the perfume counter at Galleries Lafayette where Sophie worked.
My Darling Child,
I have a very nice work and many strangers especially Americans in about 15 days ago, I had a very nice lady which was living on your street in Detroit and I told her I had my son over there she asked me your name and she promised me to come to see you but before, she must come back and get a package for you. I wish she won’t forget.
My Danny will you excuse me for that bad writing, but I can’t write correctly English. Become a big boy and learn French because that way we can write each other in French it will be better.
Sweetie, I press you very hard in my arms and kiss you many times make a prayer for your mamay, and never forget darling you have only one mother and she is in Paris.
Kiss, kiss, Your Mama
Shortly after moving to San Diego, I received my first letter from my grandmother, Addie Mae:
My Dear Pal, My Dear Buddy, My dear Friend, my dear Sweet Grandchild. God bless you very good. I know that you have been looking for a letter from me and when I came home from the airport I wanted to write so very badly but I was so tired and weak. I was very sad because we were such good pals for a long time and again I was very happy because I could see God’s hand guiding your father. Yes, Danny, altho I miss you very much, I am still so happy for you, your Mama and Daddy.
I am very happy that you like your school. I want you to make your Mama and Daddy proud. I want you to be the smartest boy in class. I call you my pal and my buddy because of all the good times we had together. Do you remember the weddings we went to and how you enjoyed the cake and punch? Do you remember the dinner we went to and you fell in love with the little 12-year-old girl? You had such a wonderful time with her. Well, I went to a tea and she was looking for you. She was disappointed to know that you had moved to Calif. She sends her love. Everybody was asking about you. The tea was wonderful. I was mistress of ceremony. I will be going to the Christmas dinner soon. I am going to a dinner Friday night. O how I will miss my friend.
Sister Allyson had her birthday party. Do you remember her birthday comes on the first of December? Do you remember that you had your picture made with her and that you helped her cut the cake? O what a glorious time we had that night. You and I went to so many dinners and receptions and we always had such a wonderful time.
I am so glad that you remember the good times we had together in Germany. Yes, we had a lot of fun with the book “Chicken Little.” I hope your daddy brought it from Germany. Don’t let “your brother” get a hold of it. When he gets big I will buy one for him and he will have a “Chicken Little” of his very own. I want you to keep yours as a keepsake.
I bought two cards for you and can’t find the funny one with the balloon on it. But I am sending the dignified one. I also sent the tie with the ball on it. I hope that you get it for your birthday. Do you remember the wonderful birthday party you had here?
O yes, do you remember in Germany, Grandma taught you how to sing Jesus loves me and that I put a beautiful picture of the baby Jesus right over your bed? And do you remember that Grandma had to give you a first class good spanking for spitting at her, you were a little boy and that you didn’t know any better. Sometimes little boys have to be spanked when they are naughty, you have outgrown all of that now and you are so big and so helpful and so beautiful and so good. I am so happy that you are going to Sunday School and Church. People that obey and love God get along so much better in this world. Anyway, your Mommy and Daddy are so good to take you. Let me know when you have learned the 23 Psalm. You almost knew all of it when you were here. That is a task for your father to help you learn it. I gave him the magazine that I was teaching from.
Your Uncle Amos was here and he brought a friend who could play the piano. He may see you in Jan. Did Mr. Norton come to see you? The ice cream man from our Sunday School, where you, your Daddy and Mommy used to go and get ice cream.
Everybody misses you, all of your playmates, Rusty, Butch, Buster, Doran, and Danny.
I hope you enjoy your birthday party. Kiss your mother and Daddy and brother for me.
Your brother did get a big kick out of teasing Grandma. Tell him that I will be there to see him this summer and that he better be sweet.
Danny, you have such a great big sweetheart. You love everybody. Your heart is like your mother’s and daddy’s big and generous kind and lovely. Room for everybody.
First and last don’t forget that you said that you want to be baptized just like Jesus was baptized.
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Photo courtesy of the author.