Friday, February 12, 2010

Black market prices, and plans for Frances' trip back east

This afternoon I had lunch in snowy Princeton with Georgia Upshaw, the daughter of Ellen and Ernest, who I mentioned in the last post.  She lives in Oakland, CA, and was in Princeton for a conference, so my parents and I joined her for lunch before putting her on the train to New York.  We didn't talk much about Ellen or my blog, because she was born just after Maj. Gillham returned home from Japan.  As the story goes, Ellen, who had two children around 10 and 11 years old, visited Frances and the girls in Robles del Rio and was so enamored with baby Martha that she decided she wanted to have more children.  The next year Georgia was born, and shortly thereafter a boy, who is now known affectionately as Doc.

In this letter there's not much new, but Maj. Gillham continues to show a slight frustration with his inability to get a handle on the family's plan to head east. 

5 Dec 1945

Dearest Darling,

Just received yours mailed 27 Nov. saying you were making preparations to leave, but you gave no specific data on your plans, other than the route.  When do you plan to leave?  When do you expect to be in Memphis?  What is Mother's new address there, if you know it?  When do you expect to get to Atlanta?  Do you intend to return or stay there?  This may get to you before you leave Robles, and it may not.

It sounds like a very interesting trip and I certainly wish I was making it with you.  Is anyone going with you?  It sounds like you have the car in pretty good shape.  Get it greased before you leave and once about half way across.  Don't drive too fast on those tires -- 50 MPH is tops -- and watch the oil , and I don't think you will have any trouble.

Many thanks for the needles.  I will see what I can do with them.  Money is not worth much here and on our 15 to 1 exchange, it doesn't go far.  Black market prices run Y20 for a pack of American cigarettes, Y10 to 15 per candy bar, Y15 to 25 for a bar of soap.  Kimonos are about Y1,000 and dime store articles are about Y10 to 50.  When you convert these prices into $ it is pretty steep if you pay money, but trading is illegal.  We get all our necessities either issued or through the PX at reasonable prices.

The Army has no whiskey available, but the Navy gets some.  A Navy officer cut me in on a case of Old Overholt bottled in band that he got recently and I got a fifth for Y19, or about 1/3 the price in the states -- it is tax free.  So far I have used only one pint of what I brought with me and I have given most of that away.  Everyone admires my pretty bottle.

The Japanese are making good progress in cleaning up the city.  I can see a marked difference since I got here.  They are certainly not lazy.

We have an interesting civilian working for us here in the offices.  He is a native Indian and talks with considerable accent.  He was the Tokyo representative for an English newspaper for a number of years.  He has a wonderful mastery of the English language and is our chief grammarian.

Call at General Delivery in the Post Office at La Jolla and El Paso.  I will try to have a note at those two places for you and also in care of Mother at Memphis.  It is nice to get a letter now and then when you are out on a long trip.

I hope Ellen comes through O.K.  I know she really wants one.

Get a box of Mothersill's Sea Sick pills and take them with you for the children.  I feel sure they will prevent car sickness, if you think there is any danger.

I am not too much concerned over what happens to me while over here.  It won't be much longer one way or the other. I have no indigestion, so you know I am not worrying over my job.  The main thing is that I have you to come back to, my darling.

Much love,



In this letter, Maj. Gillham states that he hopes Ellen comes through okay and that "I know she really wants one."  We can only assume that this refers to Ellen Upshaw and her new baby, as mentioned above, and that she was pregnant with Georgia at the time.

In this letter, Maj. Gillham mentions two products, one of which is still around.  Old Overholt Rye Whiskey is one of the few national brands of rye still available.  However, most Americans are probably more familiar with a famous spoof on the brand made in a 40s-era Warner Brothers cartoon, where a bottle is shown with the label "Old Overcoat."

An Old Overholt label, presumably from the 1960s.

There aren't any Mothersill's pills around any more, though.  The product first appeared in 1926 and was manufactured in New York and Montreal.  It was originally marketed as a seasick pill, but after the wane of steamer travel and the advent of international flights, sales fell off and the brand was pulled for good in 1966.

An undated Mothersill's label touting relief from
"travel sickness" instead of merely seasickness.

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