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Letters from Jan: Readjustment
Compiled August 2016


Background:  Before the invention of e-mail — and long before instant messaging and texts and tweets and all that — people used to write letters.  Lengthy letters, on actual paper, thoughtfully composed using proper English.

An acquaintance would write out her thoughts by hand and mail them to me.  A few days later, I'd receive her letter and compose my answer using a machine called a “typewriter,” which enabled me to retain a “carbon copy.”   After mailing the reply, I'd file my copy and her original letter for posterity.

And thus, dear posterity, I’m able to retrieve the messages I exchanged nearly half a century ago with my Oberlin College friend Janet Elaine Olson, who passed away in 2015.

I wrote Remembering Jan for this website.  Then I compiled the present article, consisting of excerpts from dozens of her letters.

What did we write about?  Among other things, we continued to discuss our separate romantic situations, hers especially, but I’m keeping that part mostly private.  She wrote candidly about her emotional ups and downs, from camping to working her way through med school.

I’ve divided this entertaining collection of correspondence into four quarters.  Click away!

Jan in our Oberlin sophomore yearbook


Finishing college, pondering relationships and God



We go our separate ways as graduates



Further adventures lead finally to wedding bells



Jan becomes a doctor and a mother



Start of 2nd Quarter . . . Readjustment

In the year following graduation, Jan and I began pursuing education beyond our bachelor's degrees.

I spent the summer working at my father’s auto dealership.  In September I would enroll at Syracuse University in the master’s degree program in radio and television.

Meanwhile, Jan had not yet been accepted into a medical school, so it would be another year before she was going to be able to start training to be a doctor.  She needed to find temporary employment.

First, however, she had to finalize a heartbreaking decision she had made on her last day at Oberlin.  She wrote me afterwards that she did so while she and her mother were visiting her sister in Madison, Wisconsin.


Friday, June 27, 1969

from Jan Olson
        c/o Mrs. Albert G. Robinson
        Pilot Knob, N.Y. 12844

Dear Tom,

As you noticed from the postmark and the return address, I am not in Madison.  I am spending the summer at Lake George, cooking, keeping house, and doing odd jobs for my 84-year-old grandmother.  I get room and board and $10 a day.  Plus I can swim, sun, climb mountains, pick blueberries, read, think, write letters, and loaf.  It’s a rough life!

I was in Madison for five days, during which time I learned how to paddle Lynn’s kayak, spent $50 for sandals and clothes, and broke up with [my serious boyfriend].

He drove up after his final exam.  The reason I broke up with him, since you are wondering, was personal.

Besides, things aren’t so simple as 1-2-3.  It hurts to try to talk about breaking up as if it were no more than some scientific event to be described by F=ma, where we seek to list F1, F2, and F3.

I have sent out 19 letters of job application.  I have one nibble already:  a job as senior lab technician in pharmacology, doing analytical chemistry on blood serum, for Stein Medical Laboratories of the duPont Company.  The job starts in August and pays $7,300 a year.  If I want, I can live at home [at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania].


Wednesday, July 2, 1969

All sorts of companies, university medical centers, etc. have sent me application forms immediately.  Dr. James Orr of the Massachusetts General Hospital called my home to see if I wouldn’t work with him on research in steroid chemistry.  Four or five other doctors from the Harvard Medical area are also interested in me.

I got a good chuckle about answering a question on the Eastman Kodak application form.  They asked you to list your publications.  Someone in the technical recruitment division is going to be surprised to read:

“We Went Camping — With Our Parents!”
(an article about a wilderness canoe trip published in HIWAY, the magazine for Presbyterian youth)

I love it here at the Lake.  It’s incredibly beautiful living among the birches and the fragrant pines, listening to the gurgling and the sloshing of the crystal blue water upon the shore.  I like preparing meals and doing other work for Gogo, and chatting with and enjoying my aunts and uncles and cousins.

Last Saturday, six of us had cocktails (I had ginger ale; I’ve decided never to drink C2H5OH) and dinner at Mary and Sid’s cottage next door. 

Several nights ago there was a full moon and a warm, frisky breeze which chased wisps of clouds across the sky.  Carolyn (one of my aunts) went down with me to the back dock, and I went “skinny dipping” (i.e., swimming au naturel).  It was the first time I’d tried it.  What fun!  The water is like velvet against your skin.

Parental Units

When Mom and I were out in Madison, Wisconsin, and staying with my sister Lynn, we weren’t allowed to venture outside the house in anything but sandals.  Lynn didn’t want to be embarrassed by our garbing ourselves in a style entirely inappropriate to Madison.  Mom and I each bought a new pair of sandals cut to fit our feet exactly at Cecil’s Sandal Shop.  I haven’t worn another pair of shoes since.

My parents (especially Mom) have been very good about understanding and respecting my desire and need for privacy and independence.  They leave everything about choice of job, place to live, etc. entirely up to me.

Also, except for one comment from my mother, my parents have said absolutely nothing about my breakup.  (Bless them for this.)  My mother knew that I was in pretty bad shape emotionally for several days after I got back from Madison.  She just stuck her head in my doorway one night and said, “I know that right now there is nothing that Daddy or I could say that would be right, but I want you to know that although you’re very unhappy about it now, I think that someday you’ll be glad you made the decision you did.”

Live for Today

I see that you’re getting scared about leaving home, and you are wondering if you’ll ever be happy again.  I know kind of how you feel — I get a little panicky myself at times — but I’d like to remind you not to forget one thing.  Life has something valuable and something that is fun every minute, whether you are in transition from one plateau to the next or whether you are securely seated on a conveyor belt with a well-known destination.

Don’t be disappointed with any moment in your life’s course.  Don’t wish you were elsewhere — in the past or in the future.  You are in the present, and each present moment is as important and worthwhile as any other single moment in your life — whether it be a happy moment you remember from the past, or a future moment that you wish would come to be.

(So much for today’s lecture.)

P.S.  Know why I wrote the above?  ’Cause I’m scared to death, and uncertain about where I’m going, and lonely.  But I love it here, and I am happy!

Please do write when you can.


I did write on July 10.  Among other things, I reacted for the second time about Jan's revelation that she had broken up with her longtime boyfriend, whose name I've replaced with X in the following excerpt from my scientific-jargoned letter.

I debated whether I should say anything more about the subject — whether that would only make things hurt more for you.  Please remember I'm not trying to be crude, or to make light of your feelings or anything.  I'm trying to do what I can to help.

Let's assume that you definitely will not reverse your decision, that the breakup is permanent.  If this postulate is correct, several corollaries follow.  They follow immediately, but they do need to be stated.

One is that sometime in the next few years you'll have to find someone else, if you want to have a number of children, that is.  There's a theorem that it's impossible to love (in this sense of the word) more than one person at a time.  Therefore, if you're ever going to love someone else, you'll have to get over your love of X.  (Boy, does that ever sound harsh and unfeeling.  But it's true, nevertheless.)

A second corollary which follows from the postulated permanency of the breakup is that it won't do any good now to brood about it.  It's over and done with, and the questions of whether you were fair to him and whether you made a wise decision and whether you should have waited longer and so on — they're all irrelevant.  (That also sounds harsh and unfeeling.)

This logical analysis recommends the following course of action, then:  Forget about X, cease loving him, forget about the whole incident; free your mind to concentrate on your work (next month) and your studies (next year) and to learn to love someone else (whenever you find him).

All right, now I'll be realistic.  What I just said is impossible.  Unless there is some ground for disliking a person, it is very difficult to fall out of love with them just because the situation suggests that that might be the thing to do.  You can't help thinking about him, at least not for any length of time; dismissing him from your mind, and thinking of some other young med student or whatever as a potential husband, is simply something you cannot do.

Yet you have to.  The logic may be unfeeling, but it is valid.  When you leave Gogo's house to go to work in a lab somewhere, you will have had sufficient time to have gotten your thoughts and feelings recomposed.  So go out into the world as a free and independent person, refusing to allow yourself to brood about what might have been if only.

Making an incomplete break with X would be very unfair to yourself, depriving you at the same time both of his love and of anyone else's.  You've made the break; now even though it hurts, you'll have to eventually make the break complete.

...I've come to a decision myself this summer, after watching some of the energetic brats and haggard parents that come into my father's garage.  If at all possible, I'm going to avoid having children.  They're just too much a disruption of the well-ordered adult life, taking too much energy and time that could be better spent in other ways.  Besides, there are already more than enough kids being born in the world to perpetuate the species.  Now all I have to do is find a suitable wife-candidate who agrees with me about this.

Well, I suppose comments like that also sound harsh and unfeeling to you.  Sorry about that, but I'm just a harsh and unfeeling person.  I don't care a thing about how you're getting along up there, whether you've decided on a job, or anything.  Be sure not to write.


Wednesday, July 16, 1969
Apollo 11 Launchday

Dear harsh, unfeeling Creature,

You know something?  Your last letter contained the soundest advice that I have received since I called my brother long-distance in San Francisco to ask for help on how to break up!  Thank you.


Tuesday, July 29, 1969

Yay, Apollo 11 !!!  I watched about 50 hours of TV during those remarkable eight days.

Yesterday I walked four miles barefoot in the rain to get your letter, and today I’ll walk the same four miles in the rain to mail this to you.

Once again a letter from you has fortuitously arrived at one of my loneliest hours.  (Good timing; thanks!)  The first time was when, on my nineteenth birthday, you were the only person to remember me.  Yesterday I was lonely because of the contrast between Sunday and Monday.

Sunday I was in the company of Mary and Sid, Gogo, Mommy, Daddy, Ken, our canoe “Windswept,” and Bruce Babcock.  We canoed, hiked, and had a picnic on “my” island between rumbles of thunder.

Monday all of these had left.

I am utterly tangled up as far as Bruce goes — there are too many conflicting inputs.  He writes to me regularly, describes me as a “special friend,” and plans to see me again sometime soon.  If I could know that he thinks of me as just a little sister, I could accept it and move toward other horizons.  I am almost ready to believe this — except that too many things remain unexplained.

Agonized and vulnerable, I am trapped in a prison of hope.  (Actually, this experience is good for my soul.  Up until this time I have been pretty much a center of attention.)


Friday, August 15, 1969
from Buck Toe Hills Road, Kennett Square

It sure is horrible to be home!  I’m back to the “lovelies” of traffic, smog (ugh), and lots of people who expect one to wear shoes!  I really had it good at Lake George ... it was so beautiful, and there were no pressures of any kind.

I have been exceedingly busy since I got home just “getting settled” and all sorts of other stuff.  One of my first purchases was a red ledger entitled “Family Expense Record and Budget Control No. 1754½.”  If I am careful (i.e., stingy), I can have enough in my savings account by next August to put me through two years of medical school!

Yesterday I bought shoes, a jersey top and another miniskirt.  I’m lowering the hem two inches on this and my other miniskirt, so that I can wear them to work.  (You know, they don’t sell skirts any longer than mini-length anymore.)

Today I went in to Stine Labs and introduced myself to Dr. Tom Wood, plant supervisor.  The ride in takes over ¾ hour, since Stine Labs is on the other side of Newark, Delaware — almost to Elkton, Maryland.




Sunday, August 31, 1969

I have a pet mouse.  She is so tiny that I named her “Mini-mouse.”  The other day she caught a cold:  her eyes were watery, and she sneezed two small, mouse-sized sneezes into my hand.

I have been busily applying to medical schools.  Hardest is writing one brief paragraph describing all my hopes, dreams, and aspirations and the life experiences which led to the development of these hopes, dreams, and aspirations!


Sunday, September 21, 1969

Guess what?  I am now a happy car owner.  I own the happiest car in the Hills.

I ride to work in a carpool of two with Dr. Culik.  He came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia in 1947 with a scholarship to Michigan State U., where he got his PhD and met a young woman professor, whom he married.  They have seven children.  Dr. Culik is very intelligent, and has a quick sense of humor.  Plus he is a very thoughtful and kind man — one of the most wonderful persons I have ever met.  He ranks with Miss Dolliver (Oberlin’s former Dean of Women) and Dr. Worby in J. Olson’s Treasured Book of Heroes and Heroines.

Yesterday Bruce made the drive to Chester, PA.  He’ll be going to school at Crozer Theological Seminary — ¾ hour from Kennett Square.  He stopped at Chester to pick up his room key and then drove on to our house for supper and an overnight stay.  He headed back to Chester to unpack and get settled at about noon today.


Sunday, October 5, 1969

Your film work sounds like fun.  I wouldn’t mind making a movie myself.  I think I’d shoot people.  (Didn’t suspect that I was the violent type, did you?)

Yesterday was a marvelous adventure.  Bruce picked me up at 9 AM, and we went to a football game at Swarthmore High School.  (Bruce’s field work is teaching high school Sunday School and being clerical advisor to the youth group at the United Methodist Church of Swarthmore.)  Then we picnicked, talked, and explored at Smedley Park.  Next I was introduced to Crozer Theological Seminary, about six miles from Swarthmore.  We went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and then saw a movie.  We got back at 11:30 PM.  (How’s that for a date?!?)

Last Wednesday I went “stag” (“doe”?) to a singles dance at the duPont Country Club.  Lots of good people.  Mostly 21-30 years old — bachelor’s, master’s degrees, PhD’s.  I met one young man (B.A. in psychology, M.B.A.) who later called me (we talked for 1½ hours on the phone; ulp!) and one evening came out to visit.  He is an original.  I like him all right, but don’t want to date him.

Have you asked Miss 218 Miles Avenue out yet?  (Or am I being impertinent to ask?)


Jan sometimes was depressed.  Other members of her family were similarly afflicted.  For example, she would tell me in the fall of 1992 that she had recently had a recurrence of major depression — her eighth episode.

Not until 1999 would a psychiatrist officially diagnose her with “manic depression” or bipolar disorder.  Seven years later she wrote, "I am doing fine, except for being hypomanic at the moment.  That means I am in a continuously wonderful mood, am not bothered by anything (including spending money we don't have), and have lots of energy and plans.  I am in touch with my psychiatrist every day or two, and he keeps increasing my medicine."

The middle of October 1969 seemed to find her in one of those manic states.


Monday, October 13, 1969

My work is exciting; library books are vividly, humorously “relevant”; the weather is gorgeous; and I’m in love!  Woops — that sounds too real.  It is; the world is a beautiful place!  I even wrote a poem yesterday.

By now you must be sure that I have totally “freaked out.”  Having no defense, I’ll just comment:  no comment.

Work:  I have been very busy.  Most fun = playing with our “EPIC” — a fancy calculating machine/computer with a memory which sits on a desk top.  Latest challenge = decapitating mice with a pair of scissors and removing their brains intact for biochemical assay.

Books: especially A Man Against Insanity, by Paul de Kruif (author of Microbe Hunters).

Weather:  the best of comfortable, colorful fall.  Clear, starry nights — great for jogging.  Also, last week I saw Mars, Pluto, the rings and three of the moons of Saturn, the double star in the Big Dipper, and an airplane, through a neighbor’s telescope.

I’m enjoying my happy mood while it lasts.  Correction: I’ll make it last!  (Happiness is not an end, but a way of travelling.)  I was bemoaning my situation, when I should have realized that things will never be like this again!  How much more lucky could I be, right now?

I agree with your idea of getting to know someone as a friend before getting to know him/her as a date.  The best male friends I have known have been “just friends” first and for a long time.  I know that dating is a way to get to know people and all that, and I have enjoyed lots of datey-type dates in my day, but personally, right now I have absolutely zero interest in The Grand Dating Game.  Yick.  It leaves me cold.

I’d better not advocate this type of thinking too strongly, though — some people need to be encouraged in the other direction, maybe.

You might be interested in something I wrote on a med school application.  I surprised myself by frankly and honestly answering the question, without stopping to think how my answer would be read, analyzed, etc.  The question (with half an inch space for the answer):  What is your goal in medicine?  I wrote:

“I hope that one day I will be able to help individuals to reach toward the best within themselves:  that they may discover or become reacquainted with the faith and understanding and courage which lead to peace with one’s self and love for one’s fellow man.”


Sunday, October 26, 1969

I have had problems with loneliness, too.  I have discovered something which serves at least temporarily as a cure, though.  Whenever I find myself getting really lonely-depressed, I give myself a good shake by the shoulders and remind myself that “a person all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package.”  Then I think of some of the people I care about and realize that most of them have lonely hours, too, and that they would probably appreciate knowing that someone cares.  I try to use some of the energy formerly expended in feeling sorry for myself to do something thoughtful for someone else.  It is amazing how this simple change in perspective can drive the loneliness away.

As for your pessimism about meeting someone you could marry — don’t forget that 50% (or more) of the human race is female, and that all female humans want to get married someday!  As for finding a woman who doesn’t want children — that’s not likely.  It is instinctual for a woman to want to bear and raise children.

About a week ago I bought a second-hand English bike from Dewey (my boss).  Now I have a vehicle for every occasion, almost — a car, a bicycle, and stilts (for picking apples and watching parades).


Sunday, November 9, 1969

Don’t give up on a girl after just one date!  Lawdy!  Shy, quiet people take time to know!

Last week I was feeling unbearably oppressed by living at home with my parents.  You see, they are extremely overprotective in some areas.  For example, they worry excessively about my being out at night.  One night when I stayed out very late, they became frantic and called the State Police in three states.  They were certain that I had had an accident or had been mugged or something.  I was very sorry to have caused them needless hurt and pain, but my gosh!  There just isn’t any reason for them to be so darned fearful!

Now I am expected to tell them just where I’ll be, and when I’ll be home (by 11:15 PM).  Back to pre-high school days.  I can scarcely tolerate it.

Then it occurred to me that there is absolutely nothing keeping me at home.  I can leave any time I wish.  I have a car — completely paid for — and more than $1000 in the bank.  I can pick up and move to Colorado if I like.  And maybe I shall.

I’ve got another plan, though.  At the end of next summer, I am going to take six weeks and set out to see the United States.  Camping, of course.  Actually I won’t see all the U.S. — just the southwestern states (Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Las Vegas), California, and then to the Tetons and back across the Dakotas and the plains states.  Ken (my younger brother) wants to go with me, and we’ll include one or possibly two other persons (friend or relative).  I can’t wait!


Sunday, November 23, 1969

Today I am feeling so happy that I can hardly bear it.  Je crois que quelqu’un qui a pris mon couer me tient chère.

Not knowing French, I showed this sentence to Su Morris, a classmate at Syracuse, and asked if she could translate it.  “I believe that someone who has captured my heart holds me dear,” she said, giving me a strange look.

My interview at Jefferson was rather blah.  I only talked with one person.  He said that Jefferson looks at grades and MCAT sores.  My grades are un-extraordinary, although he admitted that my MCAT scores astounded him.

I have appointments for interviews at my all-time favorite — Rochester — on December 15th.  December 15th is one of my lucky days.  That day (in 1964) was when I received my letter of acceptance from Oberlin.


Friday, November 28, 1969

Last Monday I received an engraved card which read:


It is a pleasure to inform you that you have been
accepted for membership in the Class of 1974 at the
Thomas Jefferson University

So I can be a doctor!

I will go to Rochester on December 15th as planned, and will also continue to consider Hershey and Yale.

At work, I am helping to plan the experiments we do, and I am almost completely responsible for the statistical analysis of the results.  I am using all the statistics I learned at Oberlin from Mr. Goldberg and then some.


Over the holidays, Jan was one of the bridesmaids when her brother Carl was married in “a 5:13 candlelight ceremony.”

Sunday, January 11, 1970

Christmas week at the Olsons was one busy bustle of panic and commotion:  parties, bridal-and-groomal shower, family photograph, Christmas, wedding.  Carl and Joanne had their honeymoon in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama.

Starting February 2nd, I will be taking an extension course at the U. of Delaware on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:30-6:00 PM.  The course is Applied Statistics: a terminal course for engineers and physical scientists.  The duPont Co. will pay the $120 tuition if I get a C or better.


Wednesday, January 21, 1970

The most exciting thing that happened to me this past week was that on Saturday I was vacuum-cleaning my room, and I blew a fuse!  (I protest; it had only been a week since I last vacuumed the room.  It couldn’t have been that dirty!)

Recently I have been amusing myself by painting with water colors.  You know, it’s great to be able to come home and “waste” time any way I want — without feeling guilty in the least!  I really recommend a year off after 16 years of studying.

Sunday, February 15, 1970

Did I tell you that Yale turned me down?  I discovered (too late) that I was a dumb-dumb even to apply there.  There are exactly four schools out of 102 which discriminate on the basis of sex in their admissions policies.  The four are Albany, the U. of Tennessee, Women’s Medical College, and Yale.

Friday I went to Penn State Medical School at Hershey.  WOW!!!  Mark my words:  in ten years, Hershey is going to be recognized as the best medical school in the nation.  They are starting something really fantastic.  If you come to visit here, I’ll tell you about Hershey.  I’ll still go to Rochester if accepted there — just because Hershey is still a little too new and unfinished and in-the-middle-of-nowhere to beat Rochester.

The most marvelous thing that happened to me last week (excepting the events of Friday the 13th) was that Rhonda, one of my pet rats, had fourteen babies!  I spend most of my free time at work peeking into the box which is Rhoda’s home and watching Rhonda and her fourteen red, squirmy, wrinkly, little baby rats.  They were born some time Wednesday morning early.  (Rhonda bore them, and as each one was born, she bit off the umbilical cord, ate the placenta, and licked the baby dry — all by herself in the dark of night without any previous instruction!)  By Thursday, the little rats had already doubled in size.  When I go back on Monday, they will be covered with fuzz, and their eyes will be open, and they’ll be struggling to walk.  And — though I haven’t run out of enthusiasm, I’ve run out of space!


Tuesday, February 17, 1970


Sunday, March 8, 1970

I saw Funny Girl last night.  (Have you seen it?)  It really packed a wallop emotionally.  I identified very strongly with the heroine.  On the way home I couldn’t even speak.  I don’t know quite what happened, but that movie hit something deep in me and left me (temporarily) practically autistic.  I couldn’t even cry — until this morning when I bawled for half an hour.

I did in fact see the movie Funny Girl.  However, it did not render me speechless.  I guess I did not identify strongly enough with Nicky Arnstein.

Do you get the impression that this correspondent is — well — batty?  ...I get that impression, too.  (It’s probably some serious psychological hang-up.)


Wednesday, March 18, 1970

Did you have a happy St. Patrick’s Day?  I wore my bright orange blouse [as I did at Oberlin] and was rewarded to hear the comment, “There goes a Troublemaker.”

Today I had my first exam of the 1969-70 academic year.  I may have gotten a “100,” or I may have made some careless mistakes.  We’ll soon find out.  (With only one course to concentrate on, and only one male nearby to date, surely I should get an A!)

Speaking of that male, guess what.  Nothing serious will come of our relationship.  You know why?  Because I decided that (a couple of nights ago).

I was getting into such a turmoil of ups and downs that I actually made myself physically ill.  (Sleepwalking and fitful sleep, loss of appetite, upset stomach, etc. — leading to the Gruesome Green Heebie-Jeebies and a temperature of 99.5° F.)

Briefly, my feeling is this:  Any guy who has known me casually for three years and on a dating basis for six months and has not fallen totally head over heels in love with me just does not sufficiently appreciate my charms.  Hence I shall move on.

(Whaddya think of that?)

I guess that is just as well; I’ll be a free, unattached young lady in medical school and will be able to concentrate wholly on my studies....

Here Jan started to write another word or two, thought better of it, crossed it out, then added an asterisk leading to a footnote: “Curious?”

Meanwhile, I have written some darned good poetry.  It’s great for reliving anxiety and frustration.  When I am rich and famous (three-time Nobel Prize winner and president of the AAAS) and dead and gone, they’ll publish my poetry posthumously.


Tuesday, April 7, 1970

My sister got a job offer today from Bell Labs.  This is really wonderful — especially as nobody but nobody is hiring PhD mathematicians, physicists, and aerospace scientists this year because of the cutback in federal funds for research and because of the business recession.  The starting salary is incredible — more than ten times my father’s starting salary with the duPont Co.!

Now I’ll know whom I can borrow from if I get desperate.

If Lynn decides to accept the job, she’ll start working after Labor Day.  Her work:  Research on anything that interests her in applied mathematics!  I have seen a copy of Dr. Lynn’s thesis.  I can’t even understand the one-paged abstract!

Crozer Theological Seminary of Chester, Pa., is going to merge with another school to avoid bankruptcy.  Of all the cities in the U.S. they could move to, guess where Crozer Theological Seminary is going next year?

Hint:  They merged with Colgate Rochester Divinity School.  That fall, both Jan and Bruce would be studying in Rochester, New York, within walking distance of each other.  Would this lead to a reconsideration of her decision the previous month to “move on”?  Stay tuned.

Enclosed is a sample of my poetry.


Up in snowbound Syracuse, I received Jan's poem on a Friday.  I had always found it easy to fall into the rhythm of iambic pentameter like this and this, so that same night it took me only three hours in my room to dash off 78 lines which I titled “In Reply.” 

Alaskan winter nights last all day long.
The snow lies deep, the sun but briefly shines.

Here too I sometimes feel myself alone
And need communication with some one,
Some spirit, some idea, some other self.

Communication!  One-way, two-way....
In seeking it, I try the radio,
My short-wave set, which stands inside my room
In this Alaskan hut.  The night is dark,
The wind howls cold outside my bolted door,
But here inside, the set’s tubes glow dim orange.

I search and listen to the short-wave sounds:
A whoosh, a crackle — then the BBC!
Through the unimaginable space
That separates that continent from this,
A barrier of distance that had made
A silence, lonely, dead, between the two —
Through that space now flies a symphony!

The sound is low-fidelity, it’s true;
Each individual instrument is not
Completely recognizable by tone.
Yet still the melody can bridge the gap.
Distorted, noisy, yet I hear Beethoven
Coming through the short-wave set to me.

“Oh, let thy magic bring together those
Whom earth-born laws and fashion now divide.”

It’s strange.  A melody can bridge the gap,
Successfully can cross the silent space,
Despite the problems of transmission that
My short-wave set inherently displays;
But yet a single note, much less complex
Than this Ninth Symphony I hear tonight,
Could not be heard on my short-wave device
With any semblance of its beauty left.

A single beautiful and gentle flute
That trilled with joy one single, silver note
Might seem to me a warped old violin
That’s out of tune, for that is how it sounds
On my old out-of-tune receiving set.
The static hides all beauty of the tone;
Melodic beauty’s all that can be heard.

Of course, that would not be the case
If we were dealing with a better set.

Well Tuned Contraptions can, so I’ve been told,
Receive a flute-tone broadcast very well;
But, sadly, they’re no longer being made.

I used to have a Tuned But Tinny set;
On it, I think, a flute-tone might convey
Some meaning, although not its full import.

But on a Badly Out-of-tune-now Box,
A set whose wavelength doesn’t match the source,
A flute-tone broadcast might as well be drums.

The moral, then, is “Send a melody!”
Inside you now are flutelike silver songs;
You want to reach out from your soul to touch
The Other with your music; well and good.
But now, of all the music in your soul,
You breathe one note?!  One note is just a sound.
A thump.  Breathe threescore notes!  Or fourscore!  Five!

Make melody, so that the B.O.B.
Cannot mistake your notes for random noise.
One note may not get through; a symphony
Will surely reach the untuned listener
And either be switched off, or tuned in well.

     (I know you are a lady, and I’ve heard
          The rule that one should not “too forward” seem,
     That one should speak not more than one small word
          About one’s personal romantic dream.

     “This is the way things are.”  Must they be still?
          Must fashion, custom, rule your life for you
     Until uncertain sleeplessness does make you ill?
          Must ladylike restraint prevent your view?

     The one who does reveal herself soon knows
          Her place with him in whom she can confide.
     “Oh, let thy magic bring together those
          Whom earth-born laws and fashion now divide.”

     So dare then, lady, to reveal your mind
     When doing so may help you peace to find.)


Sunday, April 19, 1970

Thank you very much for the poem!  I have read it over a number of times and still find something new with each reading.  And the ending:  a parenthetical remark which is a sonnet in itself!  Wow!

The advice isn’t exactly applicable to my present situation, though.  It’s not as if he doesn’t know that I am and/or have been interested in him.

We went up to Oberlin last weekend.  Fun!  And very rewarding.  Only Jay Bassin and the Havilands knew that I was coming, but it was absolutely uncanny how just the right people showed up at just the right times!  For example, I was in one of the South Hall lounges talking to Bernice (a good friend of mine, one of the maids), when who should walk by but Audrey Daines.  I said, “Hi, Audrey!”  She said a nonchalant “Hi,” and then did the perfect double-take.  “JAN!”

Of course it snowed in Oberlin on Saturday!  Meanwhile I was getting caught up on all the news of my last year’s section from Nancy Alexander, who lived next door to me.  I felt as though I could have left Oberlin yesterday — except that now I am peaceful and pretty happy there, whereas when I was an inmate, I was frequently miserable.


Monday, May 4, 1970

I am sitting glaring back at a most ugly black beast with buggy eyes, a snout, and thirteen creepy legs.  My boss gave it to me because I have severe arachnophobia.  (It was the closest thing to a spider that his wife could find.)


Sunday, May 31, 1970

I had my final exam in Applied Statistics on May 20th.  Mr. Hoerl said that I had done very well and that I had earned an A without any question.  He said I ought to be a statistician.

I got a letter from Rochester about a week ago listing students looking for someone with whom to share an apartment.  There were four women on the list.  Two of them were first-year medical students:  a Janet E. Olson, Oberlin graduate, and a Jean L. Olson, Mt. Holyoke graduate.  I wrote to Jean and asked if she’d like to share an apartment with another J. Olson.

I got another letter from Rochester advising me as to what kind of microscope I need, as well as what books, dissecting instruments, and lab coats I will be required to purchase. It is beginning to look as though someday I may actually be in medical school!


Tuesday, June 2, 1970

For the past couple of weeks I have been running around getting lab tests, being bitten by smallpox bugs, etc.  Monday (when I become 23) I get my physical exam and polio booster shot (or sugar cube), thus completing the medical requirements which are a prerequisite to entrance at Rochester.

Jean Olson and I are rooming together in an apartment in the Graduate Living Center.  The apartment will have stove, refrigerator, and sink garbage disposal, and it will be furnished.  Cost: $67.50 a month (per person).  Not bad.


. . . End of 2nd Quarter



Finishing college, pondering relationships and God



We go our separate ways as graduates




Further adventures lead finally to wedding bells



Jan becomes a doctor and a mother




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