Vlado and Mary Liz, 1957: Part 3

What a year 1957 was for Vlado – from late January until the end of May, he worked night and day on the Suez Canal Clearance Operation, and then he was stricken with Hepatitis; which he had contracted in Egypt, and it took months to recover from that. In all this, there was the consolation of letters from Mary Liz, who remained optimistic in spite of the challenges that kept them apart. Her letters end in September, sometime before Vlado returned to New York, at the end of his convalescence in Switzerland.

It was also a challenging year health-wise for Vlado’s sister, who had suffered a brain concussion – and for their father, who had serious heart troubles. Fortunately, for the ailing Fabry members there was Maminka, who nursed and cared for them all. It was a rare thing for all four of them to be together for an extended period of time, and I imagine she must been happy to give them all her attention.

7 July 1957

Congratulations!!!

and thank you for letting me know how you are. It’s such a relief to picture you sitting up and starting to enjoy life again. Yet every time I remember what you’ve been through I literally shudder. But you sure are made of stern stuff Vlado, that steak & 4 eggs for breakfast routine of yours must have helped too.

I hope you’re convalescing well. It seems as though with this illness the convalescent period can be trying since you feel like you’re “raring to go” whereas you’re actually not completely healed. And especially with Vlado who is so enthusiastic.

Karol read me parts of your letter to him – his came before mine & he knew how anxious I was – and you’re already thinking of the U.N. I know you have to but “take it slow”.

Now about my Trans-Atlantic phone call. I realized that you would be upset when you heard about it. But as I mentioned in my subsequent letter to your sister, I was sure they would not tell you until there wasn’t any chance of it aggravating your condition. As it happened, I had just heard from Karol that you were sick with some liver ailment but he didn’t know how serious it was. And when I tried to find out from Miss Cerna whether you were in the hospital and what your condition was, (it’s either good, fair or critical over here) all she said was that you were sick for a couple of weeks, that you would be for a while yet, and didn’t say whether you were in the hospital. So I hope you understand why I couldn’t tolerate it & had to call. It is fortunate that your sister speaks English – otherwise I’d have been completely frustrated (incidentally I’ve been promoted to French IV, but I was in no mood to try speaking that). It must have been difficult for her since she didn’t know who in the world I was. Actually, I knew I probably wouldn’t speak with you, if only due to the lateness of the hour. I just wanted to know how sick you were.

It’s wonderful though, to be able to speak with someone on the the other side of an ocean. Sometimes I think we can do anything if we try hard enough. I mean the scientists can.

But since you seem to be getting along alright I can wait until September to speak with you. I’m dying to see you again (have I said that before?) but realize that, after the attack you had, you need two months at least to rest up. Anyway, you’re in good hands so there’s no need to worry.

Love,

Mary Liz

P.S. My father keeps asking me how you’re coming along.

P.P.S. My letters end abruptly but that’s me. I’m trying to improve on it.

Geneve, 9.VII.1957.

Dear General,

Please forgive me for the delay in answering your letters, but it was only this morning that I got the permission to get up a bit,- and besides, even if I had been allowed to write earlier, I would have hardly been able to. For three weeks my fever never dropped under 104 – it was apparently all my fault, my body fighting against the illness instead of letting itself go – and even now I am still quite shaky. But I was really glad that I managed to finish the report before the virus started its dirty work – the first symptoms showed up on my last day in Holland – and I must have had a presentiment of the things to come that made me so eager to do the job before embarking on a vacation. Luckily the incubation period for the infection is 6-12 weeks, and that gave me ample time to clear the decks.

I am very grateful for your letters which cheered me up a lot, and I want to thank you sincerely for your kind words as well as for the thoughtfulness and effort of writing to me so often. I admit frankly that up to now I am still in a stage where I cannot bring myself to think with too much interest of any future work projects, but I am sure that I shall return to them with eagerness as soon as I recover. I will have a hard time to live up to the flattering words that you used about me in your letter to Mr. Stavropoulos.

Central Europe has the most marvelous summer-weather it had since decades – up to now I was in no position to appreciate it one way or another, but as I am recuperating interest in my surroundings I begin to realize what perfect mountain-climbing conditions I would have had if I had not let myself so stupidly be involved into an illness. For this season I will of course have to forget about mountain climbing and restrict myself – at best – to tame little walks along comfortable paths in some health resort.

My sister has unfortunately still not quite recovered from her accident, she still suffers occasional loss of balance and of memory, and so her wedding plans were again postponed until later. I am a bit sorry for mother with her two patients – she wouldn’t hear about my going to a hospital and insisted on nursing me all along – but she seems to take it well and claims that at least she was able to have a real long visit of mine this way. She remembers you and talks of you very often, you seem to have made quite a lightning contest and left a deep impression during the few minutes she was able to enjoy your company. My father also asks to convey his regards.

Thank you again for everything, and “au revoir”. Please give my best to Mr. Connors.

Respectfully yours

Vlado

Geneve, 10. VII. 1957.

Dear Oscar,

The doctor allowed me since yesterday to get up for a couple of hours each afternoon, and I am taking the opportunity to write to you and to thank you for your interest and for the very kind words you wrote to me and to Olga. I am feeling much better now, my temperatures are near normal (although for three weeks they never dropped under 104) and I am starting to feel interested in my surroundings again. But I still feel very shaky and tired, and spend most of the time asleep – after all, the kind and quantities of food that I am allowed to take in could hardly provide enough energy for a sparrow to keep alive. I don’t think I have even been so limp and listless before – I have literally to force myself to get out of bed, although normally I can’t stand it to be bedridden. But I hope that this sorry state of affairs will improve now that I am over the hump.

The weather during the past three weeks was about the best that Europe had in many a decade – hot but dry, with unblemished blue skies and radiant sunshine. Not that it made any difference to me at the time, but now that I am beginning to take more interest in life I feel a little pang of regret thinking of the perfect climbing conditions that I could have enjoyed if I did not let myself get stupidly involved into my illness. Well, it doesn’t look that I would be fit during the rest of this year to do any more than a few tame walks along the promenade of some health resort, so it seem to matter how the rest of the summer will shape up. I am glad though that I managed to finish my work on the UNSCO report before I got knocked out of circulation – I must have had some sort of a presentiment about it which made me rush the job. At this point I should also apologize for any trouble that I may have caused to you and Costi by my letter to Gen. Wheeler complaining about Sullivan’s position. I was already feeling unwell at the time and rather sorry for myself, and Sullivan had been a very sore chapter in the life of UNSCO, so I just blew up. Thanks for the reassuring words.

My doctor still refuses to commit himself in any way as to the time it will take until I am fit to travel back to New York and to resume my duties. I shall let you know about it as soon as I am told myself.

I hope you manage to enjoy some nice holiday with Molly and your daughters this year, and that you will have a pleasant summer. Please give my best regards to them.

With my best wishes,

sincerely yours,

Vlado

Geneve, 20. VII. 1957.

My Dear One,

thanks for your two letters (30.VI and 7.VII) and for all your love and thoughtfulness that showed and shone through them – it made me feel like packing up and flying to you right away. But on second thought I rejected the idea again – I don’t think I could bear it to have you around in the grumpy, messy and lazy state of mind in which I am now, it wouldn’t be fair in any case. I do look a bit less Oriental now (except for my eyes) but otherways[sic] I still seem to be in a sort of physical and mental doldrums. No wonder, with the amount and kind of food that I am allowed to eat even a kolibri-bird would have troubles keeping alive[Vlado means the family Colibri of Hummingbirds.-TB] (seems providential that I had gotten so fat in Egypt and could burn away the stored-up mass like a camel its hump), but even the few crumbs that I swallow seem to have troubles getting through my stomach and knock me out for a couple of hours after each meal. I would have never believed it if anybody had told me that there will be a time when I shall voluntarily (sic!) betake myself to bed and actually enjoy staying there. I don’t remember ever having been so limp and listless before, just as shaky and ready to drop as an aspen leaf in October. Somehow it doesn’t even bother me just to float along – at first I fought the doctor trying to get him to let me get up and out, but by the time he allowed me to do so I lost interest and the energy to make use of my new freedom, and now I have literally to force myself out of bed. It took me four days before I gathered enough determination to write this letter. Not much to be congratulated upon!

Apart from giving you my latest medical bulletin, there is hardly anything else that I could write. My mental activities are limited to reading news magazines and extra-lightweight literature a la Forester, Chesterton, and Hemingway, with occasional Huxley or Anouilh thrown in, not to speak of Francoise Sagan and a ghastly Nevil Shute. I certainly don’t let the international situation worry me, far from it; although they[sic] are a few things to worry me nearer-by – my sister is still in a very bad shape from her accident and my father had three attacks during last month – and all this has of course further ramifications that will have to be thought out and decided upon soon, for my sis regarding her planned marriage and for father whether to let him continue working, but all this is still too complicated for me to bother right now. My apartment situation in NY is in a mess too, I may have to call on your help for storing awhile the things I have there if I decide to give it up – it would be a three-cornered project with Karol supplying the key and packing, Harry my car for driving and you the expert and dependable management and, if you can, a bit of an attic or closet space. I shall send you an emergency signal with instructions if it comes so far – although, on second thought, I remember now that you are off to Cape Cod, so it shall have to be somebody else. Anyhow, I don’t think it will really be necessary. By the way, how long are you going to be on the Cape – better let me know your address so I can drop you a line there in case I come back before you.

You can see my muddled and wobbly mental state from the way this letter reads – but between the lines I hope you can see the real message which is lots of love.

Vlado

P.S. Father sends his best, and decided to brighten up the envelope a bit to make up for the poor letter. Thanks to your Dad for his interest.

Here is just one example of Pavel’s cheery envelopes:
Pavel Fabry envelope drawing

29 July 1957

Well I finally got off to the Cape – arrived here at Chatham 8:00 Saturday morning after an all-night train trip. This has convinced me I should learn to drive – but definitely. It really wasn’t so bad – had a fascinating conversation on electroencephalography with a doctor we met. While I was at the hospital I saw it practiced on a Puerto Rican woman – but she was so scared of everything that the result wasn’t too enlightening -. Still it does prove a lot.

Chatham is a quiet little town and we’ve seen all there is to see so far. Yesterday we bicycled around and today we had some fun with a motor boat. However the water was sort of rough and we had quite a time leaving a certain island that we had stopped at. Especially since there were lots of rocks that you could be dashed against.

On Wednesday we plan to go to Provincetown.

It was was so good to get your letter. It came just before I left and quite unexpectedly since I know you’re feeling so lousy. Still I had wished I’d hear from you.

What I meant by “Congratulations” was that I was so glad your fever had gone down and that the worst was over. Even tho maybe it’s not so apt an expression, I couldn’t think of anything better at the moment. But it’s quite natural that you should feel so weak and it’s just as well that you float along sometimes.

I’m so sorry to hear about your sister & your father – Karol had told me about Olga’s accident when he told me about you; but at that time he thought she was getting along all right. And she sounds so sweet in her letters. -It never rains but it pours I guess.

Your father’s envelope was just the cutest thing. Hope he’s feeling better and tell him thanks for his greeting.

However, no letter of yours needs brightening. And if you knew what it means to me just to read that you do care, you wouldn’t think so either.

As far as your apartment – even tho I won’t be back till sometime August 17th, you could get in touch with H.S. (my father, that is) since the space is there for any of your things. He’d be only too happy to do something.

Really don’t know where I’ll be for a couple of weeks – probably be moving around. But from 10 August to 17th I’ll be in the Berkshires – address is: Chanterwood, Lee, Massachusetts. It’s supposed to be mid-way between Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Only don’t tell me your coming back till you’re actually getting on the plane (a post card would do). And please don’t feel you have to write otherwise, because I understand.

All my love,

Mary Liz

Commerorative Medal letter

7 August 1957

TO: Mr. V. Fabry

FROM: A.G. Katzin, Deputy Under-Secretary

SUBJECT: Commemorative Medallion
United Nations Suez Canal Clearance Operation

A medallion commemorative of the Suez Canal Clearance Operation has been struck by the Smit-Svitzer consortium for their own distribution among personnel, salvage officers and crews associated with them in the operation.

They have requested that one of the medallions should be presented to you on their behalf and it is suggested that you might like to acknowledge this gesture direct to Mr. Murk Lels, Chairman and Managing Director, L. Smit & Co.’s International Sleepdienst, Westplein 5, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

This medallion is one of thirty-two which the salvage consortium have distributed as a token to certain members of General Wheeler’s staff who participated in the field operation and to representative members of echelons of the Secretariat and others who assisted generally in the operation.

Suez Canal Commemorative Medal obverse

Suez Canal Commemorative Medal reverse

Geneve, 23.VIII.1957.

My Dear One,

I hoped to be with you by now – but it still isn’t quite that far yet. I am going to be released from sick-leave status by the end of the month, though, unless some new trouble shows by then. Seems I really managed to make a mess of myself. Then they want me to take a convalescing cure for two or three weeks – which I wouldn’t mind too much as I shall be allowed to go on walks and to spend the time in the mountains (or rather, unfortunately, under them). I’m still weak, listless and irritable, but I’m sure that will pass when I’m able to live more normally. I can eat a bit more now – an absolute starvation diet by my usual standards but quite an improvement – although I still get cramps whenever I exceed the slightest bit the norm in amount or kind, and nothing will do but the most carefully supervised home cooking. And that is supposed to last for another three months – how cheerful!

My future dietary problems caused me also to change my mind about my apartment. I don’t know whether you heard, but my landlord had some troubles with the house owners (who want to make a cooperative and force old tenants out) about subletting the place, and as a result my sub-sub-tenant, David Sisson, had to move out in May a few weeks earlier than his agreed date (which was to coincide with my planned return). The situation was apparently smoothed out, but the threat that the sub-tenant may have to leave the apartment at short notice persisted, and so I wrote to my landlord that I did not consider further bound by my lease as of May. There was some correspondence in which he asked me to remove my belongings and I claimed difficulties. But after learning that I shall have to rely on home cooking because my diet will still be too restricted to allow me relying on restaurants I decided that I may be best off keeping the place (where I can go home for lunch) even if it will be only for a short time. Two days ago I wrote to Mr. Crandall that if he did not yet find another tenant, I am willing to keep the apartment. At the same time I wrote to him that if he has rented the apartment and still insists on moving my stuff out, he should get in touch with you. I hope it won’t be necessary but if it comes to the worst, would you be kind enough to see to it that my things are properly packed and put away – maybe Harry LeBien could help you taking the stuff away, and of course if you can keep it for a while in some attic it would save the need to crate the loose items that do not fit into the two empty suitcases I have there. There are two packed suitcases, a rucksack and a lot of loose stuff in the two closets (bedroom and hall) that I used; if I remember well, I left there also some small bags, some packed and some empty. You will, I hope, recognize my radio, embroideries and dishes and glassware – if not, a commission consisting of you, Karol, David Sisson and Mr. Crandall should be able to decide on the ownership of each item found in the bedroom, living room and kitchen. My books were on the lower shelf on the right of the bed. The biggest problem will be the kitchenware which I left out so that David can use it, but where some items belong also to Mr. C.. I hope you don’t mind this nuisance but it is a great comfort to me to know that somebody will take good care of my interests if it comes to it, and I know I can rely on you!!!

Au revoir soon – and all my love –

Vlado

8 September 1957

I sure was disappointed when I read that it would be later still. But it’s much wiser and, of course, only fair since you didn’t have any vacation. You must be having a wonderful time; wish I was there.

Thanks for the pictures. You certainly have made good progress. Being able to sit up for your meals really means a lot, doesn’t it. What really hit me in the other picture (besides your horizontal position) though was the look on your face and the way your hand lay so limply. Don’t ever do that again! – get sick, I mean.

And the beard is interesting. I guess it was hard to shave in bed. But wasn’t it uncomfortable during those hot days?

I look kinda different too – got my hair cut. But since I haven’t a decent picture you’ll have to use your imagination. Hope you like it too, because I do – lots.

So far I’ve heard nothing from Mr. Crandall. I’m glad you recognize my dependability. My mother told me it would come in handy. I just like doing things for people like you, though. So don’t worry about it being a possible nuisance.

Hope to see you real soon, darling. I love you –

Mary Liz

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