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#2391: Willa Cather to Virginia Cather Brockway, Margaret Cather Shannon, and Elizabeth Cather Ickis, September 10, 1945

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Dear Virginia4, Margaret5, and Elizabeth6:

I write you because I knew your father7 so much longer than you knew him, so much longer then even your mother8 knew him. We were close together in years and close together in sympathy from the beginning. There was a time when I first graduated9 from the University of Nebraska (and a poor school it was!) when Roscoe and I were put in a hard position for young people. You have heard, probably, that in the year 1893 all the crops in the state10 were burned up. My father11 had a big farm under cultivation. Fortunately he gave up operating it, for this drought continued for nearly ten years. And then was the time when things were very hard at home in Red Cloud12. Your grandfather took an office position with the Security Investment Company in Lincoln13. Your grandmother14 spent a good deal of time up there with him. I got my first newspaper job15 in Pittsburgh16 and sent home as much of my salary as I could. Your father stayed on in Red Cloud as Principal of the South Ward School17. He was practically the father and protector of the younger children. I am quite sure your Aunt Elsie18 and your Uncle Jim19 and Uncle Jack20 can never forget his protecting kindness.

While I was working in Pittsburgh, the newspaper people21 always managed to get my transportation back to Lincoln in the summer, so that I always had a few weeks at home in the summer time and Roscoe was always there. We shared our responsibilities and talked over the prospects for the younger ones and wondered how we were to get on along along through the world at all. Things looked very dark but we were always so happy to be together that we carried the troubles rather lightly.

When I had any free time I was always writing a little, simply because it interested me more than any other form of recreation -- I wrote just as people who are really fond of music love to strum on the piano. Your father was always then and ever afterward my soundest and best critic. I used to think he knew the inside of my head better than I did. We always met at home very summer until your father married and went to Wyoming22. Then there were several years when we were separated, -- but only by distance. I went to23 England24 and to France25 working my way along by newspaper correspondence26. By this time I had a fairly good position in the Pittsburgh High School27 as head of the English Department.

Roscoe and I were not much together again until some years after his marriage although we wrote to each other very very often and never in the least felt apart. I was not able to spend any long time with him until I went for that never-to-be-forgotten visit28 to Lander29 when the twins were just one year old. That was a long visit and it was one of the happiest chapters of my life. I do not think I have ever been in a house anywhere which seemed quite so attractive as the home Roscoe and your mother built for themselves in Lander.: With the Wind River Mountains against the sky, and the little River flowing in the backyard -- if I had ever settled in a place like that, I could never have left it. Your mother and father and I made wonderful trips up into the Wind River Mountains which were then unspoiled by automobile roads and traffic. We went to a great many places on horseback and I remember horw your father's critical eye was upon me to see whether I would flinch when a horse swam with me for the first time. Those were glorious days and I shall always remember them with pleasure and gratitude. But what I remember best, and value most, is that your father was always such a fine gentleman toward every member of his father's family and in his own family. He simply can't couldn't be anything else.

His early business career was in a free world, and there was something joyful and romantic about it. The whole setting at Lander had something of the Old West. But though he lived on into times when business had become more systematized and had hardened into "high pressure salesmanship" he never became in any sense a salesman. The dirt of it never touched his finger tips. He never tried to put anything through or put anything over. He let "business" come to him; he didn't go after it. His father was just like that, and his grandfather30. This inheritance ought to make you always a little prouder than many of the people with whom you will be thrown, and a little more careful to keep yourselves up to that level.

I am afraid this is a queer kind of letter of condolence but it is the only consolation that I can find, now that my comradeship with your father is cut off. I had just written him a long letter31 and signed it, when the telegram came from your mother. And when I wrote her32, I sent also the letter which I had written to him.

Good-bye, my dears, you will, I am sure, always remember your father's gentleness -- and gentility.

I am cutting my stay here short and will go down to New York33 in about ten days from now. I'll have to stay over for a few days in Boston34.

I am sending all three letters to you, dear Margaret, because I am not so sure of the address of either of your sisters. Please forward them for me.

Lovingly to you all, always Your Aunt Willie