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#2969: Willa Cather to Jane Wyndham-Lewis Priestley, July 2 and 3, 1942

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My dear Mrs. Priestley1:

Many months ago I had such a dear letter from you. I was deeply grateful for it and would have answered at once, but I was suffering from a very serious injury to my right hand - a broken tendon of the thumb3. And now I know why thumbscrews were used in old prisons.! Nobody seems to know how a 'crocked' thumb can hurt,; except John Masefield4, who does such adequate poetic justice to it in "The Everlasting Mercy"5. Those dreary days are past, but my hand is not yet very strong.

The story you told me of your war emergency nursery made me feel more than ever humiliated that so many of us seemed to be sitting idly by. But now I have a little more spirit to write to my English friends, because in our clumsy way we are really trying awfully hard to be of use. We don't get around very fast, and we waste a good deal of time and effort. But our friends in England6 will remember that a drowsing lion can spring to its feet and take position much quicker than a recumbent elephant can perform the same act.

Last summer, while my hand was still in a metal brace, I had to go to San Francisco7 to be with my brother8 who was critically ill from a heart leasion. The heat was terrible, the journey difficult. But one day paid for it all. I went by the Santa Fe (railroad) and when I awoke one morning at Las Vegas9 the whole world seemed different. All the way from Vegas to Albuquerque10, on either side of the track, the "rose acacia" (Robinia hispida) was in bloom. For miles west of Vegas (before the sun got hot) the silvery, gray-haired foliage still held the dew drops—they trembled with the thud of the train. Last winter brought rains to New Mexico11 and Arizona12 such as they had never known before. The Rio Grande was full. All the Indian Villages, Santo Domingo13, Isleta14, Laguna15, had been newly whitewashed, and the tamarisks trees were green and violet as I had never seen them in the eight years when I used to go there every summer16. What I saw for the whole day, from Las Vegas to Williams17, was a sort kind of apotheosis of the whole country, where I made horseback and wagon journeys before the days of cheap automobiles. That day did me in for a week, but it was a grand way to be done in—made one feel like the burning bush18. I never go back to that country now any more—haven't been there since 192719. Santa Fe20 and Taos21 have become self-conscious and "literary"22—and dress the part. Several quite decent-seeming women whom I knew there have divorced their husbands in order to devote themselves to "writing". Americans are sometimes discouraging—especially the women. Almost any "attitude" pleases them more than any reality. Perhaps some day I can put on a white wig and black goggles and take a long automobile trip through the Southwest. Since 1927 I have spent many summers on an island23 in the Bay of Fundy24, where I have a little cottage. Only fishing people there—herring & lobster fishing.

This is a rambling letter, but I thought you would like to hear news of the Southwest, where God is still good to trees and little adobe towns, and only woman (Enterprising Woman!) is vile25. —— I never got to Rainbow Bridge26, remember: you have it over me there. I expect you've been to lots of places I don't know. But they are all lovely & Good to remember in wakeful hours, aren't they?

Faithfully yours Willa Cather