Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Dere Mable—Love Letters of a Rookie

By Edward Streeter
Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1918
Reviewed by James Patton

Dere Mable Can Be Downloaded from Project Gutenberg

Edward Streeter (1891–1976) was a native of Buffalo, NY, and a graduate of Harvard, where he served as an editor of the satirical magazine the Harvard Lampoon. Throughout his writing career satire was to be his principal genre. After college he became a reporter for the Buffalo Express.  In 1917 he joined the 74th Regiment, N.Y. National Guard, which became part of the 108th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division. 

While in training at Camp Wadsworth, SC, Streeter and others started a newspaper for the division which they called Gas Attack. Streeter wrote a humorous column for the paper that he called “Love Letters of a Rookie,” which were  purported to be letters from a poorly educated trainee named Bill Smith to a girlfriend named Mabel Gimp. These letters featured his wry comments about army life, practices, and procedures. 

Streeter published a short collection of these "letters" which was titled Dere Mable—Love Letters of a Rookie. The text was supplemented with 35  cartoons by fellow Doughboy Bill Breck. It was a runaway best seller with middle-class Americans. I have two copies, one came down through my mother’s family and the other through my mother-in-law’s family; I first read Dere Mable when I was nine years old. Streeter published two more volumes of this material, entitled That’s Me All Over, Mable and Same Old Bill, eh Mable. Each was less popular than its predecessor. There was also a "copycat" book authored by Florence Elizabeth Summers called Dere Bill: Mable’s Love Letters to her Rookie.  

The genre is similar to the "Busher Stories" by Ring Lardner (1885–1933), which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post beginning in 1914. Some of these were collected into a book titled You Know Me Al, published in 1916. [Lardner's Busher also made it "Over There." We reviewed his accounts in Treat 'em Rough: Letters From Jack the Kaiser Killer  HERE. MH]

Army Food Always Runs


In the original Dere Mable Streeter sets the tone for his subject in his "Dedication to all of the Trainees," which includes the following descriptions of them: "…Taking things as they find them. Vaguely Understanding. Caring less. Grumbling by custom. Cheerful by nature. Ever anxious to be where they are not. Ever anxious to be somewhere else when they get there". . .  This sounds a lot like my draftee Army of the 1960s. 

Streeter’s satire comes out constantly in Bill’s homespun expressions and witticism. Readers chuckled at his delightful misspellings, his misuse of words, his misunderstandings, his malapropisms, his naïve or backward takes on his circumstances, his awkward attempts at male chauvinism, his insensitivity, and his catty remarks about “Mable’s” friends and family. 

Here are a few typical quotes. All of the misspellings are [sic]:

The only place there flat is on the map. Where our tents is would be a good place for a Rocky Mountain goat… The Captin says “Pitch your tents here”. .. I guess he thought we were Alpine Chasers. Eh, Mable? But you probably don’t know what those are.

You Walk a Post But Their Ain't No Post


… I’ve been doin guard duty. Seems like I’ve been doin it every night… Guard duty is something like extemperaneus speaking. You got to know everythin your goin to say before you start. It’s very tecknickle. For instance you walk a post but there aint no post. And you mount guard but you don’t really mount nothin.  And you turn out the guard but you don’t really turn em out.

Well I got to quit now an rite a bunch of other girls. Thanks agin for the box altho it was so busted it wasn’t much good.

Captin and I had different ideas about runnin things. One of us had to leave… Hed been there the longest. I left. Hot headed. Thats me all over.

Chair Mable. Thats French. I didn’t expect you to know what it meant tho.  The YMCA are learnin me French now… The only difference between French and English is that there pretty near alike but the French don’t pronounce there words right... A poilus Mable is a French peasant girl and they say that there very belle.

The other day we was all lined up in the company street and the sargent  says  ”Inspecshun Arms”. I lays down my gun and rolls up my sleves. Just to show how tecknickle the Army is he didn’t want to see my arms at all but my gun.

Streeter's Greatest Hit

After the war Streeter went into banking, occasionally contributing short stories and articles to Post and McCall’s magazines. In 1938 he published his first novel, Daily Except Sunday, and over the next 31 years there would follow nine more humorous works. His biggest success was his second, Father of the Bride, which he published in 1949. Made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, it was a box-office hit. There was a sequel made in 1952, a TV series made from the sequel (1961–2), a remake of the original in 1991 starring Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, and a sequel to the remake in 1995. Still another remake is reported to be in the works.

You can read Dere Mable and the two sequels on Project Gutenberg. 

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