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#1540: Willa Cather to Mary Willard, May 6, 1941

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Dear Friend of Many Years1;

It is bitter that I should be unable to write to you by hand3. I have waited for some days to turn to you, because I seemed unable to utter anything but a cry of grief and bitter disappointment. Only Isabelle4's death and the death of my brother Douglass5 have cut me so deep. The feeling I have, all the time, is that so much of my life has been cut away. May6 has been my friend since I was twenty years old7. She was the first person who was kind to me in Pittsburgh8, and the first person there whom I had the joy of admiring. there. She dated back at least two years before Isabelle, and was the most vital and vivid part of my early years there. But you know all these things. I don't know why I am trying to tell you about them. As soon as I got Mr. Knapp9's letter, I asked Edith Lewis10 to telephone Ethel Litchfield11 for me, as gently as she could. But Ethel hung up the telephone: she couldn't talk. That night, however, she called me up and asked me please not to quit this world before she did. "I can't go through it again, Willa, I simply can't!" That was just what I had been feeling all day about Ethel herself. You see, that little group formed itself some years before you came to Pittsburgh, Marie - May and Ethel and Isabelle and I. We were all of us so young then, that and we melted together, as it were. People who came later were never a part of that very very first design.

Later there was Cecil Sharpe12 and the glorious folk dancing period, when everybody seemed to recover their first youth. I was in New York2 then, working hard but, as you will remember, I went back to Isabelle for long visits, and used to attend the folk dancing classes. It seemed to me that all of the dancers, men and women alike, really had taken a dip in the Fountain of Youth. Oh, those are beautiful days to remember! Isabelle often said that in the outdoor dances, May ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ looked the youngest of them all and she was certainly by far the best dancer - - -.

I haven't seen Ethel since I talked with her over the telephone that night. We both felt that it was better not to meet. She has gone down to Washington13 to take care of her Dutch grandchildren for a time, and their importunate activities will engage her mind for the present , I hope.

My brother Roscoe14, as I think I wrote May, is ill in a very small and very hot California15 town, Colusa16. He had a heart lesion as a result of neglected angina. Two heart men have been procured from a distance. They have written me intelligent letters and the two best heart men here have had all the details from them. They all agree that my brother should not see me before the first of June. I hope he will then be well enough to be moved to San Francisco17 with me.

I beg you, don't try to answer this letter, Marie. Don't even acknowledge it. I know that letters like this are painful to receive and yet, I know it is true that it helps one just a little to know that one's old friends share one's grief - - - grief is a poor word anyhow; what I mean is that terrible sense of loss with which one wakens up in the morning and lies down at night. Something lost out of oneself and out of one's world and out of the very air one breaths.

All this winter when I have been literally helpless and often so discouraged about my right hand, just thinking about May and all the things we had to talk about together would brace me up a little. I love my brother Roscoe dearly, and I am longing to see him, but it was with May that I wanted to talk about all of the strange things that have happened in the world. That was the thing I looked forward to with joy.

With Love and Happy memories Willa Cather
Miss Mary Willard1, 864 Francisco Street, San Francisco17, California. NEW YORK, N.Y.2 MAY 6 1941 2 PM