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Books and Beyond

Many people you know from history are included in the book “Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children,” c 2004. The collector of the letters was Dorie McCullough Lawson, and the foreword is by her father, well-known historian David McCullough. Paula Nemes at the Marshall-Lyon County Library recommended the book to me. I never get tired of opening “Posterity” to read another letter or two. It’s not the type of book where you start on page one, keep reading until you are at the last page, and then put the book back on the shelf.

The note card that is in my copy lists 14 letters. It was several months ago when I had planned to read some of these letters to women at Fieldcrest Assisted Living in Cottonwood on a Sunday afternoon. (I can’t go there now during the pandemic, but it sure is a dream that I can again someday.)

The first letter I planned to read them was written by John Adams to his daughter in 1797. It’s in the section “The Developing Mind.” Adams had just been elected the 2nd President of the United States, and he is writing to his 32-year old daughter Abigail (named after her mother). In the longest paragraph he advises her about educating her three sons. He doesn’t focus on subject matter identifiers, but he says to teach them characteristics like “prudence, patience, justice, temperance … (p.26). I thought we could share what we taught our children.

The next one was from Sam Houston in 1846 to his 3-year-old son. It’s in the section “Love.” Son Sam Jr. was the first child of Sam and his wife. The father is well-known in Texas history. The letter is mainly father telling son to love his Ma and Pa, Grand Ma, an uncle and aunt. I can visualize little Sam’s mother reading the letter to her son.

Next I wanted to read a letter from a mother to her daughter. It was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder to her daughter Rose, and is in the section “Good Work.” The year is 1937; mother is 70 years old, and daughter is 50. Laura first tells her daughter that in her desk she has just found some poetry her mother wrote and two songs her father wrote in 1862. Then she writes about Uncle Hi and his troubles farming. Now several sentences about flowers. Toward the end she describes the styles of women’s clothes that are out this spring — she thinks they are very pretty. She is reading a book, but in the evening she can’t write her book because then she can’t sleep.

Paging through the section “A Place in Time,” I stopped at the letter Harry Truman wrote to his daughter Margie (Margaret) from Berlin on July 25, 1945. Mr. Truman was president at this time, and his letter was written from Berlin. He writes her about going out to dinner with several people he’s been meeting with. He sends her the menu signed by J. Stalin and Winston Churchill.

I was reluctant to read a letter in the “Loss” section, but I did. It was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in February 1858 to her 14-year-old daughter Georgiana. It is interesting to see what she tells her young daughter. She describes how sad and tired she is. Specifically, she writes of missing Henry, her son who drowned in the Connecticut River when he was 19 years old. Her 18-month-old boy Charley had died in the cholera epidemic. Toward the end of the letter she writes “Weak, weary as I am, I rest on Jesus the innermost depth of my soul … “ (p. 229).

One evening I wanted to read a letter that would relax me, so I looked in the section “The Pleasures of Life,” and found just what I wanted — a letter Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his 6-year-old son Quentin in 1904. He tells his son that when he was out riding he saw B’rer Terrapin and B’rer Rabbit ahead of him. They looked “as if they had just come out of a book” (p. 166). They got out of his way as he rode by on his horse. Under his signature and “your loving father,” he drew the two animals.

I hope you have saved a collection of letters from the past. Here’s one I have that my Grandma Renner (Dad’s side) sent to my sister Janice when she was nearly 3 years old:

The date on the letter is Feb 12, 1932, and Ferguson, Ia. is written above the date.

Dear Little Darling Janice Mae,

I think you are quite a girl to send Grandpapa and Grandma a valentine. We will surely have to send one to you. Grandma is better than Grandpa when you were here last Sunday and Grandpapa is able to eat 3 square meals a day. We just had dinner. Uncle Merton brought us a big hog liver and is going to bring us 2 heads of his hogs so you see we will still have some thing to eat. Janice Mae you kiss little Brother for Grandma and there is X X X for you.

By By Grandma & Grandpapa

The people mentioned have all passed, but they are with me in this letter.

Your Marshall-Lyon County Library is open for take-out and homebound delivery. Call 507-537-7003 or email library@marshalllyonlibrary.org.

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