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Reading Helped Pass Time In Earlier Quarantine

Hill Country Living
By Coulter Fussell

It’s a Wagner Week and I keep hearing on the news that we are “living in unprecedented times.” Well, maybe unprecedented times for us alive right here, right now but there has been quarantine around for a good while! And the Wagners know all about it. Sometimes the quarantine was mandatory and en masse, sometimes it was poor ol’ Jesse holed up in a room somewhere. 

In this undated letter, Jesse’s very, very special friend from her time at Wellesley College suggests some books that sound pretty good and asks about a radio. I so wish Jesse could have watched Netflix back then. 

I edited out the first page or two of the letter due to it being about the writer’s family members we don’t know. I wanted to get straight to the traumatic cataract surgery. Can you imagine having cataract surgery in, like, 1904? No thank you!!

Dear Jess,

….I am telling you about the family but all the time I am thinking how rebellious I feel that so much that is hard seems to fall to your lot. With your physique you ought not to be doing that strenuous work. You do well, I know, but I have to feel it takes too much out of you. I would like to have a little, and more than a little, left of my friend. By hook or crook do get the fates to let you come north this summer.

I thought Mother was never coming home last year from Newport: she didn’t til October 15th when all the tenants moved out; then we went down for Thanksgiving and she stayed another week and got sick to her stomach so that she did not get home again till just before Christmas. She is well, had a birthday last Friday. 87th, lots of fun over at Patty’s, but is quite deaf.

Mattie has had a bad time but is coming out of it all right. Last fall she decided to have an operation to remove cataracts; then a physical examination revealed she had high blood pressure so that had to be reduced, then the operation, successful in itself proved to be a great nervous shock so that it was a good six weeks before her mind cleared of its dreams and nightmares. She is alright now but she hasn’t recovered her strength — she grew very thin — and on account of her condition has not had her glasses adjusted. She’s well now, however, and everything will be alright.

I recently read two books I liked very much: both because they were based on real life, perhaps. “The Cold Journey” ( the members of an English settlement captured by the French and Indians and taken to Quebec) and “Shipmates” — a Maine woman who goes to sea with her husband in the ;80;s and ;90;s.

I suppose you take no books in quarantine: have you a radio? Did you have Scarlet Fever when you were young? We never did and I think it is a dreaded disease. I think you are fine: but all the  same I wish you didn’t have the chance to be. I do pray the worst is over. I think Corinne will be grateful all her life to you.

You must find a great deal of happiness in Katherine.

It really begins to looks as if this letter would last all through quarantine. Especially, if like the children, you can hardly read the writing.

With love and please share as much of yourself as you can,

Mary Spink

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