University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Letters Home from College

For the first time, I missed Christmas at home during my freshman year, to earn money working in a men’s clothing store, taking ambulance calls, and playing musical gigs during the holidays.

December 2, 1942  Postcard

Dear Folks: I’m dead on my feet with long work days in the haberdashery.

I’m really not much of a salesman but am glad for the experience. At least I’ve learned how to fold a jacket so it doesn’t wrinkle.

On my ambulance call last night we picked up a guy with a strangulated hernia and took him to the hospital. It was quite uncomfortable for everybody involved.

January 19, 1943

I’m enjoying my new courses greatly. When I get going on my new slide rule I often stay up late at night fooling with it. I’m already using it for problems in chemistry and math, especially for logarithms.

With the sun shining so nicely outside this winter it’s tough sitting in musty labs all afternoon. I guess I could take it if it were medical school, but I fear to waste away here before I ever get there.

In zoology lab. we have begun our fetal pig dissection. Finally, our first mammal! Chemistry is getting rough and English too, mainly essay writing — and the hardest thing — thinking! I was in charge of the class in our profs absence Monday and led discussion of a couple of Bacon’s essays. I’m doing better in French and it’s becoming more fun. History, however, is pure drudgery and takes too much of my limited study time. In philo. I’m doing a paper on a theory of life that relates natural irradiation to protoplasmic evolution, a new and fascinating idea. Don’t worry, it’s not necessarily atheistic!

In my personal reading I’ve just finished The Citadel and am halfway through Arrowsmith. Wonderful.

P.S. For my birthday I’d love a Roget’s Thesaurus and a Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary and desk stand.

P.P.S. Hey, Charlie. Practice that piano!

P.P.P.S. I was worried by your last two letters arriving unsealed. Why don’t you make Charles or the cat lick ’em?

March 17  Prescience

Prof. Mulvania says he thinks I have possibilities as a research worker (a “saircher,” he calls it, in his Scots brogue). I have a funny idea that’s where I’ll end up after medical school.

P.S. Looking forward to coming home on break. I’d like lots of home-baked bread with gobs of butter (none of that war-time oleo).

March 22  18th birthday

A crowning glory today, folks! Prof. Mulvania sought me out in botany lab. and asked me to be his zoology lab. assistant next year! I couldn’t get better recognition from a teacher. The Zoo. part pleased me particularly; not just General Biology lab. I told him I probably wouldn’t be here at all next year because of the Navy, but that I would love to do it.

I will try to be closer to my teachers in the future. I hang back rather than going to them for information and advice. For example, I simply can’t make myself approach Prof. Bly, despite having benefitted from his interest and support since childhood. Max Berndt-Cohen (Art and Philosophy) is the only prof. I find who is non-threatening or hasn’t a shell around him.

Thanks from me and Tark and my girl-friend, Garnet, for the package of cookies. Tark said: “Pretty good cookies, Blackburn!“ which from that Yankee is glorious praise. Much love.

April 8  Debate Team

We Sigs won the campus debate contest on the question: “Should we support a United Federation of Nations?” It was so great. Our constructive speeches the first night were horrible. We were quite lost. So we guys got together and tore up all our notes and plans and Tuesday night we just went out and did it. The judges were tied two-all. The audience had the deciding vote, which we won handily. Now the debate cup is ours — permanently.

P.S. Sick about your losing the ration book. Was that the shoe ration for the whole family for the year? Maybe also I shouldn’t look forward to any good meals when I get home. Thanks again for your help with ideas for the debate.

May 19  End of the Year

Dear Folks; Tonight was our last frat meeting. It’s hard to realize that freshman year is over. We had end-of-the-year business and round-robin testimonials and then a party with malts from Gils.

I have really enjoyed this Alpha Sig bunch. Life with them has taught me much that will help me in the Navy, and, I’m sure, in life afterwards.

Much love, especially to you, Mom. You’re really swell and I appreciate you more all the time. Henry, Jr.

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