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Hill Country Living

War Is Raging, But Homesick Calista In Philly Wants A Biscuit Mailed To Her

It’s a Wagner Letter Week so I thought I would pull a sweet letter from a time when our nation felt less divided. So here is a letter written one month into the Civil War. Maria’s big sister Calista married a Wagner and I’m pretty sure she is writing this letter from up in Philadelphia, Penn., back home to a young Maria down in Water Valley. 

This letter is so sad to me. She seems incredibly lonely. She also seems to really miss the outdoors and nature, as she’s stuck in urban Philadelphia and not running around outside in rural Water Valley.

She also generally mentions some of the black people she knows. This is a true rarity. I am always on the look out in these letters for any mention of African-American Water Vallians, a large and vital population of this town of which the Wagners just don’t ever seem to make mention. 

Man, I wish I had some of their perspective on what Water Valley was like one month into the Civil War. I am very aware that the Wagner experience was most certainly not like others’ experience here. And one thing these letters most definitely lack are voices outside the writers’ wealthy, white worlds. I think this fact says a lot about the writers. 

I find this letter interesting because the country is falling apart and Calista just wants someone to mail her a biscuit from home. It’s a fine line here between being privileged and oblivious and just being human. And while the world changes all around her, the blue bird still makes a nest on the gate post. 

At Home May 11th/’61

My dear little Sister,

I have just been writing to Maime and thought I would write you a little letter. You must be sure to answer it and tell me all about your little garden – ducks – chickens, and everything else you can think of. 

Maggie has just come from town, she had two teeth pulled and one filled this evening – her papa gave her a beautiful little white handled knife. I would  like to be at home to go fishing with you this evening, it is so warm, I know the fish would bite. 

Has the gooseberry a got ripe yet? 

I expect you and Corinne watch them very closely. We had a mess of pears for dinner today, they were not good like Mama’s pears though, nothing else is as good as what we have at home. You send me a piece of cornbread or a biscuit or something else that came from  her me. I think it would be “mighty good” way off up here by myself — sometimes I get right lonely and homesick sitting here by myself. I think if you were here how much company you would be for me. How do you get along at school? Has Mr. Hendricks whipped you yet? I hope not. Tell Corinne she better look sharp, he might get her. And I don’t want him to done that. Tell Corinne to be a good girl, tell her I am working her a pair of pantaletts. I think they will be very pretty. 

We have very pretty flower pots here in my room. What does Eugene do now a days? Shoot his pop gun? Give my love to all the family, white and black. You must be sure and write to me. Has Mamie heard from Sis since she left home? Give my love to Mrs. Thompson. Mr. Wagner sends love to you. I think I will be home week after next — give my love to Buddy. Tell him I think he might write to me.

Maria, I have a little blue bird nest with five little eggs in it, in the gate post.

Write soon to your sister

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