More Than Anything in the World

Introduction and Historical Notes

During the last two years of my mother’s life, I often slept at our family home about an hour’s drive from my own home in the farm country of central Massachusetts, to help care for her while my brother Nick, her primary caregiver, was out of town.  These visits to my  family home in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, usually involved sleeping over with not a whole lot to do, my mother having gone to bed at dusk, and I staying up until midnight most nights, sleeping in the room she and my father once occupied, with no television, across the hall from my childhood bedroom.  Mom, after the sudden passing of my father in 1987, never slept in their bedroom again, and instead slept downstairs in the family “den” – the room where my father actually died – for the next 23 years until her own passing in December of 2009.

At the time, I had already been compiling data on our family tree and ancestry for a few years, and was obsessed with the infamous “box of photos” that my mother used to drag out on rare occasions for us all to look at when we were kids.  We all looked high and low for that box of photos during the first several years of the new millennium, with no luck.  It was never found until after she died.  However, during one particularly fateful night, I was staying in my parents’ room, and mom had gone to sleep early as usual.  I decided to raid her bedroom closet and look for the box of photos.  While I did not find the infamous box (which I now possess), that night I found something much more heart-rending and beautiful:  a box of nearly 1,000 letters that my parents wrote to one another during World War II. 

My father wrote to my mother every single day, with few exceptions, with always an apology and explanation if a day were missed, from March, 1942 to December, 1945 when he returned home, blessedly, alive.  My mother also wrote to my father every single day.  Unfortunately, only some of my mother’s letters to my father were maintained, this due, obviously, to the fact that my father would have had to ship them back to the United States, something that was not an easy task.  Nevertheless, he did manage to keep, and return, hundreds of letters that she wrote, and for that I am forever in their debt.

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  These letters were something my mother treasured, but never discussed with her children.  I would have loved to ask her questions, and discuss the times with her (and my father).  Unfortunately, that was not possible.  Nevertheless, I now consider these letters one of my greatest treasures, and it is my honor to be the keeper of this family heirloom.  In the year 2010, I spent several weekends taking those letters, one-by-one out of their original envelopes, and out of the box that would be now 70 years old.  I preserved them inside of plastic sheet protectors, in date order, and placed them into extremely large three-ring binders, and while many tears fell during the process, I managed to keep the pages dry.

The process of reading these letters, and absorbing the fact that I did not really know these two people (at all!) has been an emotional roller-coaster.  It has been at times gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, touching, joyous, embarrassing and uplifting.  Doing so just a few months after the death of my mother, and about a year after the death of my brother Frank (their first child) has been the most difficult and meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

I hope that upon my eventual demise, my remaining family members (nieces and nephews, since I have no children of my own) will continue to preserve this legacy of two members of “The Greatest Generation” – Sgt. Frank J. Mueller and Mrs. Frank J. Mueller R.N. (Marion Altenburg Mueller, R.N.).  Their nicknames for each other were Butch, and Baby Doll, and it is their love for each other that brought all of us here.

Following here are excerpts from my parents’ letters. 

My father ended every single letter, without exception, with the following valediction:

“I love you darling, more than anything in the world. Your loving husband, Butchie.”

And my mother, with hers:

“I love you more than anything in the world, and miss you my darling, sweet, handsome husband.  Love and kisses, your loving wife, Babydoll.  Here’s your kiss! MTAITW!”

Even by the time I was born (1960) and up until my father’s death, they signed every holiday and birthday card to one another with “MTAITW”.  We kids used to tease them, relentlessly about it.  It, of course, meant “More Than Anything In The World”, and is the obvious title of this compilation.

Kathleen S. Mueller

Spencer, Massachusetts

2010

 

 

HISTORICAL INFORMATION

 

FRANK J. MUELLER                                      MARION ALTENBURG MUELLER

April 21, 1918 – April 27, 1987                       March 5, 1920 – December 10, 2009

 

My father, Frank J. Mueller, is the only son of Frank O. Mueller and Marguerite Walsh.  The couple also had a daughter, Marjorie (Margie) Mueller, my dad’s little sister.  My father was a very talented writer, and businessman.  I like to think I take after him.  He worked as a civilian for the U.S. Army until he retired, rather young, in the late 1970s.  On the side, he prepared taxes for H&R Block.

My mother, Marion Altenburg, is the third of four children born to Ernest Altenburg and Lucille Blantyre Miller.  My mom has two sisters, Marjorie (Marj) who is two years older, and Gayle who is twenty years younger; and had one brother Ernest, Jr., the eldest, whom everyone called “June” or Ernie, depending on whether it was family or not.  An occasional letter or two from Ernie, who was also in the military at the time, may appear in this compilation from time to time.  The Altenburgs are distantly related to Henrik Ibsen, whose mother was an Altenburg.  Altenburg is also the name of the German royal family.  Mom became a Registered Nurse, and also went to art school.  She was a gifted artist, and a pretty good writer as well.  I did not inherit any of her artistic talent, unfortunately!  I can’t draw worth a hill of beans!

At the age of just 24, as most young men did in 1941, my father enlisted in the military – the U.S. Army to be exact.  He met my mother, a Registered Nurse, a few months later, on February 13, 1942 – the day before Valentine’s Day.   The two were more or less instantly crazy about each other, and got married on December 19, 1942, just days before Christmas, while my father was on leave, and on his way to his next assignment – a very typical thing to do for many couples of their age, during the war.  For some reason, they kept their marriage secret for 3 months, until March 19, 1943.  We believe it is because my mother was able to live in nurses’ housing at the nursing school at low-or-no cost if she remained single.

While my father served at Fort Riley in Kansas,  in the desert near Los Angeles and later at Camp Polk, Louisiana, my mother lived with her parents and her younger sister, Gayle, in Evanston, Illinois on Lawndale Avenue.   The letters began in Fort Sheridan, Illinois and continued until my father was transferred to The 4th Army in Louisiana.  For a time, in 1944, my young parents actually lived together in San Antonio.  There is no documentation from this time period other than postcards and letters sent to them from other people.  The only information I have about their time in San Antonio was that the cockroaches were as big as mice, and they placed the legs of their kitchen table into cups of alcohol to prevent the rodent-sized roaches from encroaching on the table .

After San Antonio, and on a moment’s notice, in November of 1944, my father was deployed to Europe very unexpectedly.  He was secretly whisked away to New York City first, and then took a ship across the Atlantic to England, then a smaller ship to France (that smaller ship sank – we’ll hear more about that later), and finally on to Germany where he spent the next 12 months until AFTER the war ended.  He was finally sent home in November of 1945.  It remains a mystery to this day as to whether he was able to get home in time for his third wedding anniversary December 19, 1945.  This was his goal, and it was all he ever thought or wrote about – how much he wanted to be home by their anniversary (they had been separated for the first two).  He was sent home from Germany in November of 1945, just before Thanksgiving. The last letter he wrote to my mother stated it could take up to a month to return, and he “sure as hell hoped” he would be home for their third anniversary.  A telegram sent in December 1945 from Brussels indicates that he was on his way back to the U.S.!

We may never know whether he made it back on time.  But he made it back, safely, and we do know that the two of them enjoyed many, many, many years of happiness, sorrow and everything in between before his hopelessly unexpected death from a heart attack in 1987 in Framingham, Massachusetts just six days after our shared birthday.  (I was born on my father’s 42nd birthday, which we also shared with his aunt Annie Walsh Sullivan – three generations with the same birthday, you can bet that we had a party every year.  My birthdays were always VERY special.)

Holidays and birthdays were extremely important to my father.  He was a genuine romantic – the kind of guy most women wish their guy would be like.  He counted the days and years between each anniversary, saying things like “Today, we’ve been married one year, 6 months and four days”.  He sent back wonderful gifts to my mom from all over Europe.  She kept every one of them, and now they are in my home, where I consider them as valuable as she did.  Throughout his life, for every Valentine’s Day, he would give my mother two cards “happy anniversary of the day we first met” and a Valentine.  Mom kept all of those cards, even up to the very last one he gave her in 1987 two months before his death.  My father absolutely adored his wife, his entire life.  Not once did I ever hear them fight or have a cross word with one another, and I am not exaggerating.  They were a power of example as to what marriage should be, and they were so grateful to have found each other.