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#1541: Willa Cather to Irene Miner Weisz and Carrie Miner Sherwood, May 16, 1941

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Dear Irene3 and Carrie4:

I wanted to write to both of you very often within the last few weeks, believing that Carrie is still in Chicago5. I have been under great anxiety and stress since the middle of March. One of my oldest and dearest friends6, of the Pittsburgh7 period, died suddenly in San Francisco8. My brother Roscoe9, since the first of March, has been in the hospital at Colusa10 with a very serious heart condition (angina pectoris), so severe that it caused a lesion in the heart muscle. The doctor in Colusa is not very intelligent, evidently, but he did call in a man from Marysville11, of whom the best heart man in New York2 thinks very well. The local doctor, however, let Roscoe go for several months with a blood pressure of 220/120 before he called in any assistance. My doctors here think the eventual attack could have been averted, had the proper measures been taken earlier. I am sending you a copy of a letter from one of the older heart specialists here. This will make his case clear to you, and you will understand the dread and anxiety in which I have been living. I am going to Roscoe as soon as his doctors think wise - probably early in June. For the present they wish to avoid any emotion for him.

I think Elsie12 has not been informed as to the seriousness of Roscoe's condition, and I am not sending her a copy of this letter. Indeed, I don't wish anyone to know how serious Roscoe's case is, except Carrie and Irene and Mary13. Roscoe's wife14 would rather Elsie did not know his actual condition, as she (Elsie) is very excitable and would probably go to see him immediately. His best chance for the time being is to avoid any emotional fluctuation.

During these last weeks I have so often thought of you two, and I often wished that I could enjoy with you the great exhibition of French paintings in Chicago. I felt sure that Irene would persuade Carrie to go to that exhibit with her. All the time that it was in New York I was unable to see it. Doctors and massage and the care of my right hand15 have taken all the time and strength I had. Like my poor brother, I have been under a pretty heavy emotional stress, and much of the time have been very tired. The letters which poured in after the publication of Sapphira16 have touched me very deeply. It is impossible to answer all of them, but I have tried to dictate appreciative replies to the letters from people who loved Douglass17 and from old friends of my father18 and mother19.

I am sad to tell you that when I go West to Roscoe, I shall probably go from Montral20, by the Canadian Pacific. My doctor can get special arrangements for me over that road. Miss Lewis21 will go with me, as I still wear a metal gauntlet22, and must continue to wear it for several months. I cannot dress myself without help, and therefore could not travel alone. My hand is constantly improving, even though the gain is so slow. I now firmly believe that I shall be able to write again, though probably not using my hand in the old fashion — I have known other writers who worked with a penholder held between the first and two middle finger,s in order to save the thumb. Sigrid Undset23 and the dear Menuhins24 have been bright spots in this trying time. Sometime, my dear Carrie, I want to tell you all about Madame Undset. She was here last night and spent the evening. Every time I see her she brings a large peace and relaxation. She is just all a great woman should be — and on a giant scale. She is a wonderful cook, a proficient scholar and has the literature of four languages at her fingers ends. There is nothing about wild flowers and garden flowers that she doesn't know, and she is able to make plants thrive and bloom in her very humble and gloomy little hotel rooms. Besides all this, there is in the woman a kind of heroic calm and warmth that rises above all the cruel tragedies and loss of fortune that the last three years have brought. She simply surmounts everything that has been wrecked about her and stands large and calm;— she who has lost everything seems still to possess everything, and the small pleasures can still make her rather cold eyes glow with marvelous pleasure. She combines in herself the nature of an artist, a peasant, and a scholar. She is cut on a larger pattern than any woman I have ever known, and it rests me just to sit and look at the strength that stood unshaken through so much. Of course, of her son's25 murder in a German concentration camp, she never speaks.

Good-bye, my darling friends. This is for the three of you, Mary and Irene and Carrie. I wish I could share with you the pleasure and support I have found in this undaunted exiled woman, as I wish I could share with you whatever else is good in my life.

With all the old love to the three of you,

Devotedly Willie

P.S. What I write you about Madame Undset, of course, is confidential. She wouldn't like me to advertise her, even in praise. She is self-sufficient, and would never think of trying to make a good impression on anybody. But I want you three to share with me the pleasure of realizing someone who is so meticulous about her cookery and her scholarship, and whom the German Army could not break.