#1940: Willa Cather to May Willard, December 30, 1940

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Miss Cather dictated this letter to me on Sunday after Christmas3, and I am hurrying it off without her corrections, as she still cannot use her right hand at all.

S. J. Bloom4
My darling May6:

I went into the French Hospital for my hand7 some days before Christmas, and your wreath was hung up on the screen beside my bed on Christmas Eve. I had written and telephoned all my friends to send no flowers, but your wreath and the Menuhins'8 and my brother's9 violets and a box of holly from England10 got through, and these gave me just enough for Christmas. I went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve in the hospital chapel, and enjoyed it more than I can tell you in a brief note. You may remember that I came here for ten days last May, for a rest and care when I was very much exhausted. One can seldom repeat a beautiful experience, but this second stay has been even more gracious to me than the first. It was necessary that I should go to some hospital to have my hand treated, and the general doctor and the surgeon whom he consulted were kind enough to let me come here, rather than to an ordinary humdrum New York hospital. In this place I can hear the lovely French language about me all day, and there is something to feed the soul upon. It is, of course, a Catholic hospital, but the Sisters do none of the nursing. My special nurses are French and Italian and Irish girls, and the superintendent of nurses is a Scotch Presbyterian from Canada11! One of my nurses (the one most in attendance on me) is Olympia Fumagalli12, the charming Italian girl who accompanied the wife13 of the former President14 of Chile15, whom the President16 sent home to Chile on a Government bomber. She spent some weeks in Chile, and can tell me the most interesting things about life on a bomber and about life on a great estate in Chile. All my nurses have nice voices and speak such excellent English. I think you can see now why I like to be here. Among the nuns there are several gay and witty Irish Sisters who were educated in a convent in France17. Their French is nearly as bad as mine, and it is very jolly to hear them mix up genders — makes me feel less humble.

I suppose I must go home18 about the fourth of January, for Sigrid Undset19 is coming to dine with me on the night of the eleventh and that is a date I wish to keep. But I shall go back to New York2 and the modern world with a sigh. I do not know why it is, but here all the horrors of the world seem far away. There is a kind of beautiful faith and calm here. All the cooks and servitors are French and they never hear from their wives or fathers, but they carry on.

You may want to hear something about my hand. It is getting on nicely, thank you—improving slowly but surely. But the important thing to me is that my mind seems being cured of all its shocks and hurts. The Hitler20 world has been absolutely blotted out for me, and I seem to have been living in the safe and sound and not exaggerated kindliness of beautiful traditions, that are centuries old and will last throughout all time to come.

You must excuse this incoherent letter, for I shall not be able to correct or alter it by a pen and I have probably made a curious jumble of my syntax. But some experiences are very hard to communicate, and this deeply happy Christmas away from the world is something I could not explain to you or even to myself: but it has been wonder for me.

A Happy, Happy New Year to you, my dear, and all my love.

WILLA CATHER
Per S.J.Bloom Secretary