February 03, 2005

A Love Letter

It's a family joke that my mother-in-law grew up in prison. And the funniest part is, it's completely true--when she was a young girl her father, Barnett Huse, was the assistant prison warden at Folsom and later San Quentin prisons in California. As the Number Two man at the prison he was entitled to live with his family in a nice house that was actually inside the prison walls. They also had a houseboy, a Chinese man who was devoted to little Barbara. He was a convict, of course; according to Jane's family lore, he'd been a ring-leader in the Chinatown tong wars in San Francisco.

But I was speaking of little Barbara's father.

During WWII Barnett Huse was given command of Camp Roberts, a prisoner-of-war camp in the California desert. The POWs were Italian and German soldiers. The phrase "POW camp" has an ominous, alarming ring to it, but Camp Roberts was no Stalag 17; it wasn't even a Gitmo. There was no fence; the nearest water was 50 miles away, as Barnett informed new prisoners, and he was giving no hints as to the direction. If any prisoner wanted to run off to go looking for it, well, maybe somebody would find him before he perished of thirst. Meanwhile, here's a sack of fresh onions, and garlic, and other food stuffs; you get to cook for yourselves. Let us know when you've used up the onions, we'll get you some more.

Onions! Garlic! The prisoners hadn't had fresh vegetables in months. And they got three square meals a day, and they hadn't had that in months either. Truth to tell, I gather that few were all that eager to run off.
They were all released after the war, of course, and some of them stayed here; others returned home to Europe and later came back to the States to live.

Lest you should think I am painting an overly rosy picture, my mother-in-law has a letter to Barnett from a German officer, a doctor, who was an inmate of Camp Roberts. It's a remarkably warm, cordial letter; evidently the commandant and the doctor had become good friends.

But all of this is by way of introduction. Barnett and his family had a cocker spaniel named Judge; during the war, Judge stayed home with Barbara and her mother. Once at Camp Roberts, Barnett acquired a springer spaniel named Lady who accompanied him all over the camp, growling at prisoners who got too close. And on April 16th, 1945 Lady wrote a letter home. It's neatly typed, and I imagine she must have had some help. It reads as follows:

Dear Judge:

I trust that you will pardon my writing you this letter, for altho we haven't been introduced I'm sure that you must have heard about me. So that you will get some idea of what I really look like, I'm having some pictures inclosed which were taken with the man we both manage - the fellow who likes to think that he is our master. Now these pictures don't particularly do me justice - they were taken at a time when the Mess Hall was open for business and I just couldn't get my mind on the silly business of a picture when I could have been over at that open door waiting for some chow. So, most of the pictures will show me sitting down, this being the only position where they could keep me semi-still and looking at the man with the camera. I've been told that you like to eat - well, it's my favorite pastime too - and I don't believe in letting anything interfere with it. however, when we do meet I can only hope that you remember that I'm a Lady and get out of my way when there is FOOD in the offing - otherwise I'm pretty handy with my teeth for other purposes than eating. Mostly my disposition is very good, and I hope you're the same. But, then I guess I just can't expect too much, considering the family we belong to; they are enuf to spoil the manners of any dog.

I've had a pretty busy day keeping track of this master of ours; made some inspections with him, only places I miss going with him are into the mess halls - damn it! Right now it is time for us to take a short walk and then I'll crawl under his bed. By the way, do you snore much? They tell me that I snore like a freight train, but my master reaches down under the bed and swats me and I turn over and keep quiet till he goes back to sleep.

Sure hope I get to see you before very long - I'd like to look over the collection of bones in your back yard. Good night now, give my love to your two Mistresses and tell 'em our master loves them very much also.

Love and best wishes, from


Posted by Will Duquette at February 3, 2005 07:56 PM