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AS ALWAYS, JACK by Emma Sweeney


A Wartime Love Story

by Emma Sweeney

Pub Date: April 10th, 2002
ISBN: 0-316-75858-2
Publisher: Little, Brown

The letters reprinted here from the author’s father to her mother were written in 1946, so the subtitle promising “a wartime love story” is a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it was and still is a love story.

World War II ended just a few months before handsome, clever Navy pilot Jack Sweeney met pretty, charming Beebe Mathewson. After a rapturous fortnight-long courtship, he was shipped to the Pacific, where he wrote letter upon letter, sometimes slight, always sincere. Emma Sweeney, who was born after her father’s plane disappeared south of Bermuda in 1956, found the missives (tied with a faded pink ribbon) following her mother’s death in 1985. That discovery was an emotional revelation, profoundly meaningful to her—and those who like to read other people’s mail will also get a particular frisson from them. Others may find the correspondence a mildly interesting time capsule from nearly 60 years past. In the nifty argot of the period, Jack writes to his “honeybunch,” his “honeybunny boo,” and signs off with “SWAK.” He is “batty” about Beebe. She’s “the bee’s knees,” no less, and he wonders if her boss is “a wolf.” Apparently she’s not as amused by radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly as he is, but they agree on the music of Perry Como. He describes movies and card games and includes little rebus sketches and cartoons. He writes truly funny things, discusses his “sox” (careful with his penmanship so it doesn’t look like “sex”) and expresses concern that his girl may be putting on weight. (When she doesn’t think that’s so funny, he apologizes: “all I wanted was to be sure I could still put my arms all the way around you.”) The motif throughout is Jack’s passion. He is besotted with love, and within days of his return, they are married. In ten years, they have four sons. Then, still a Navy pilot, he apparently crashes somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. He never saw his daughter, who meets him best through these love letters.

Fibber and Molly are long gone, but Jack Sweeney remains the romantic, young Naval officer forever.