DEAR BESS: The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman, 1910-1959 by Harry S. Truman
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DEAR BESS: The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman, 1910-1959

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Yes, this is a cache of letters to celebrate: Harry Truman from the family farm outside Grandview, Mo., to the White House--intact, expressive, unquenchable. After two years of jaunty, self-deprecating letters, Bess, who has once turned him down, says yes: ""I have always hoped you would but some way feared very much you wouldn't. . . I'm all puffed up and hilarious and happy. . . ."" Off by himself and lonesome (as he always would be without her), he soliloquizes: ""I seem to have a grand and admirable ability for calling tails when heads come up. . . I have tried to stick. Worked, really did, like thunder for ten years to get that old farm in line for some big production. . . . Thought I'd change my luck, got a mine, and see what I did get. Tried again on the other long chance, oil. Still have high hopes on that, but then I'm naturally a hopeful, happy person. . . . The poor gink who stands around and waits for someone to find out his real worth just naturally continues to stand. . . ."" In the Army, he finds his niche: the commissary he runs (with ""a Jew clerk,"" Eddie Jacobson) flourishes; ""New York is a very much overrated burg""; as an artillery instructor, he's ""handing knowledge (of a sort) to the Harvard and Yale boys""; promoted--""Can you imagine me being a hard-boiled captain of a tough Irish battery?"" Back home, he and Bess marry (1919); and for the next 15 or so years, until Truman enters the Senate (entailing separations from Bess again), the letters are few. Editor Ferrell, a Truman specialist, comfortably fills in the gaps with Truman facts and lore. HST hasn't time for lengthy ruminations now--but after visiting a sculptor and landing back in Washington politics: ""From the height of the aesthetic to the basement of the practical, and I confess I like them both. . . ."" In the Senate, he comments on colleagues (""I can't pay much on Nye, La Follette, Black of Alabama, and that brand. Wheeler and Bankhead of Alabama are workers""), on the occasional issue (""Whenever wages and hours come up he's against labor and for unlimited hours. My father was the same way""), on increasingly auspicious contacts (""It was a rather exclusive and brainy party. I didn't exactly belong but they made me think I did""). He doesn't, interestingly, think he's a hater: ""I do a lot of analyzing of my own reactions before I blame anyone else. . . . But I do like my friends."" There are mentions of the vice-presidential possibility--then, abruptly: ""I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches--all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right here in the study. . . . I can just imagine old Andy and Teddy having an argument about Franklin. Or James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce deciding which was the more useless to the country."" There's also, say, Berlin: ""Had Churchill on my right, Stalin on my left."" And always ""those I have on a pedestal at home."" The early letters are a tintype of rural life at the time, the later ones a reminder of the Jeffersonian ideal that Truman exemplified: he expected to get the presidency in hand, and truly believed ""the job will be done.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1983
ISBN: 0826212034
Publisher: Norton