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#1614: Willa Cather to Helen McNeny Sprague, February 20 [1942]

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My dear Helen1:

Your Christmas card reminds me that I have never written you how it was that I completely missed you when you were in New York2. To explain this I shall have to give you a bit of autobiography. Some weeks before Christmas, 1940, I went into the French Hospital3 with a smashed-up right hand. I had hurt my hand up at Grand Manan4, and immediately when I came home I had to autograph five hundred copies of a special edition of Sapphira5, put out for book collectors. The whole edition had already been sold out, with the understanding that each volume would be autographed. It seemed as if I simply had to do it - a matter of good faith in a business proposition. I did not at all realize what it might do to me. My right hand became completely helpless and was put in a light steel brace. I went to the hospital because when one’s right hand is incased in metal and leather, one is practically helpless and a hospital is the proper place.

None of my Christmas presents were brought to the hospital (doctor’s orders) and only a few of the flowers. Some time in February I, at last, looked over my Christmas cards. Among them I found one signed merely “Helen Mc”. I recognized your handwriting, and gathered that you had spent Christmas in New Jersey6 and would have liked to see me. But it was February when I first saw the card, and I took it for granted that you would be at home, in Red Cloud7, by that time. I would have sent a letter to you then but, my dear girl, I was such hundreds and hundreds of letters behind - a new book always brings letters from everybody one has ever known and troops of people one has never known- - - it looked as if I could never catch up. I always try to answer the old people and ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩the sick people first. This time such pounds of letters came in from old people in the South; andand from aged people in Pennsylvania8 and Vermont9 who could remember the underground railroad, whose fathers used to hide slaves by day and speed them along by night! I spent March, April and May struggling with these letters (I really could have written another book in the time I spentput on my correspondence then). As soon as I emerged from this, Roscoe10 had his terrible heart attack11 and my only serious purpose was to go to him as soon as possible. I went to California12 in June, with my hand still in a brace. and Miss Lewis13 went with me, to help me dress and get through the difficulties of life generally. My orthopaedic surgeon14 had written to a very brilliant man in San Francisco15 who continued his treatment. And several weeks before I left Roscoe and his wife16, I was able to appear before them with a free right hand.

All this biography is tedious, I know, but I would like to explain why I did not write you. I could have dictated a letter, but I had to dictate so many letters, to dictate and I supposed you were in Red Cloud and would hear any news you wanted to hear of me from Carrie Sherwood17. She was the only person there who wrote regularly to me. And to be quite honest, I must say that my worry about my hand and my terrible fright about Roscoe made everything else dim and far away. I always meant to write you, at the risk of being tedious, why I did not acknowledge your Christmas card, and to explain to you that I did not in the least know that you were in New York for some time after Christmas. Such a letter is not very interesting reading, but sometimes one has to be drearily prolix in order to set oneself right, and I want to be right with you.

Surely, I am going out to Red Cloud just as soon as I can put up a good front physically - and I am well on the way toward that now.

Affectionately yours, Willa Cather