B to Z, Par Avion

Wednesday, May 20, 1970

Dear Beryl,

Thank you so much for your letter and your views, it has really helped me see that all is fine and as you say,  I am really lucky to have such a close family and also to have such a good penfriend as well!  It was so much easier to write those things down and mail them off rather than get into an emotional discussion face to face with someone here that I do not feel would fully understand my feelings.  When people talk it is often too free, not a considered opinion don’t you think, but by writing it down it helps you sort it all out, a little like tidying your cutlery – or underwear drawer !  Yep, all my knives and forks are in the correct compartment, facing the right way, and my old garter belts have been thrown out!  Can’t ever imagine needing those again!

I have come down to the coffee shop today, it is a warm day here and I have a table by the window, such a good place to watch everyone go about their business.  It seems  though that that the subject of the day being discussed here is, “Who would you rather be ?  Doris Day in Calamity Jane or Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity ?”  Well, this is what the three women in the booth near me are discussing, and even Rhonda the waitress has got involved too, in fact I think she may have been the one to first ask the question.

So first up we have Ida Bratcher.  Now Ida, a widow these past six years, was a teacher at our local school, taught fifth graders, retired now, prim and proper, just as you might expect.  From what I overhear she says she would be Doris Day.  Yes I can agree with that, not the character Calamity Jane, but Doris Day, yes I see that.  Likes to imagine herself as the typical girl next door, but she can certainly shoot from the hip when required and you never know if she might just be toting a gun beneath her skirt.  You get the picture.

Bonny, on the other hand, Bonita MacKenzie, now she is quite decided that she would be Shirley MacLaine, and again I have to agree with that.  Even the character of Charity Valentine is fitting because her father owns the local dance hall, not as seedy as that in the film you understand.  The dance hall used to be an attraction for miles around but it is on the decline these days, hasn’t kept up with the times.  Bonny will inherit the business one day and I would not be surprised if she has a few ideas up her sleeve.  Oh dear, how Daddy will have to be prepared to turn in his grave I would suspect !

As for Myrtle Alvey, a well built-in truth, more overfed -spinster who owns the local florist and gift shop, she seems undecided as of yet, but perhaps I can be of help here.  In the film of Calamity Jane, Doris Day would quite easily recognise Myrtle, not as her love rival Katie, but as the horse she sits behind when riding the Deadwood Stage!

Rhonda, dear Rhonda, well I see her as Shirley MacLaine, most definitely, not because of her lifestyle or morals you must understand, no she is a lovely girl, but she has a fiery attitude, she is tempestuous and fun, although underneath there are some still waters that run very deep.  The sad truth is though that she can’t seem to find anyone to dive into that depth, she just wants to be loved and she cannot seem to find the right person.  I do wish she could.

I went to see Sweet Charity last year when it came around, it was a girls night out, I went with my sister Jocelyn and Rose, a friend of ours and we so enjoyed it.  Gus stayed home, not his sort of film.  Be honest, what woman wouldn’t want to perform that dance routine with the top  hat and cane ?  What woman would not want to have those legs?!  I think Gus would approve of that!

Watching out of the window here I see old Benedict Browning getting out of his truck across the street.  I do not drive but I see as how he certainly shouldn’t be.  He is so slow and frail as he walks, so unsteady, you wonder how he is safe to drive that big old pick-up truck, can barely get in and out of it.  I swear that when the local shopkeepers see him pull up they have time to go out back, have a coffee and take a short nap before he shuffles through the front door.  Benedict used to work at the undertakers would you believe, until, so I am told, there were complaints from the families that their beloved and dearly departed looked in better shape than he did  !  Cruel, but that is what people said !  He keeps himself to himself since his wife died.  They had one daughter but she went off with a local married man and last I heard she had died.  The wife of the married man moved away too, start afresh I would assume.

Well now, what do we have here?  Minerva Mae Gillespie is heading into the newspaper offices.  It is well known there is no love lost between her and the newspaper owner, Jock Shewmaker.  What could she be wanting there?  I don’t think they have shared a civil word, or any kind of word outside of the court house since the time Jock published a story about her father.  It did not show him in a good light over  some business deal he had with the local government offices to resurface the main streets and as a result he lost the deal and with it a lot of money.  Minerva is now married to a government official from a nearby town and certainly knows how to hold a grudge.  She vowed, quite publicly too, that one day she would “bring him and his two cent paper down”.  As a rule I think if Minerva promises anything, rest assured, one day she will deliver!  What is it they say?  “Hold the front page!”

Talking of news there has been some very worrying unrest here in the past few weeks, I wonder if it has made the news with you in England.  Four students were shot dead by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio just a few weeks back.  They were all at a demonstration against the US involvement in the Vietnam War,  something that is becoming increasingly passionate here, particularly it seems amongst the students.  Then just last week two more students were shot during another demonstration in Jackson, Mississippi, although from what I read this was perhaps more about Civil Rights than Vietnam.  I do so worry about how the world is these days.

On yet another issue there was also some unrest at the Kentucky Derby, a big event and very popular horse race held for many, many years at Churchill Downs in Louisville.  This year though, and what sparked the trouble,  was one of the jockeys, Diane Crump is her name, and yes, she is a woman ! Imagine, all the serious problems around us in the world, Vietnam and civil rights, but oh,  it seems the men did not take to the notion of a woman jockey one little bit!  I think there was trouble when she rode in a race a few weeks before and the police had to protect her !  I am not one of the womens liberation members but really, in this day and age I am all for equality and equal pay.  If Calamity Jane can ride a horse then why not Diane Crump!  She didn’t win but she did finish and she was not last.  Anyway, it is the horse, called Fathom, that was doing all the hard work, she just had to hold on for dear life !

They are still in discussuion here about Doris Day and Shirley MacLaine and seem oblivious of the unfolding saga of Minerva Mae Gillespie!  By the way, I would put myself down as Shirley MacLaine, although I think others may have me as Doris.  I was just thinking about Charity Valentine and how sad I felt for her at the end of the film, have you seen it?  She seemed such a nice, fun woman, not proud of her past and what she does and wanting to move on in life, to find someone to love and be loved in return, heck, isn’t what we all want, you know, underneath it all ?  Rhonda here, I so wish she could find a decent man who would love her, they would receive so much in return, I just know it.  Then there is old Benedict over there, still shuffling to the door of the hardware store, must have been a time he was a little quicker off the mark at the prospect of some loving.   Corrella Statum of course, she already had her mysterious wedding dress all packed away in the box.  Our cousin Virginia who had to disappear, leaving her mother and siblings behind.  I bet love was involved along that rocky path.  Did she ever find it?  So many of us save up to take a one way ticket out of our home town only later wanting to hitch a ride back.  Even Myrtle there, she must long for someone who appreciates the back end of a horse!

And then there is my Denise, my lovely Denise.  She has found someone she loves and who loves her.  Okay, maybe I don’t fully understand it all but, do you know what, I accept that.  She is happy and because of that, so am I.

So to close with the words of Charity Hope Valentine herself,   “Here’s to the Fickle Finger of Fate !”

Write soon,



This is one of the letters written during the 1970’s between penfriends Beryl in England and Zelma in America.  Read more on ‘B to Z, Par Avion’ at  stephen-carrico.co.uk

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I love to write and hope you enjoy that which I share on this site. Please also take a look at my other work on stephen-carrico.co.uk

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