The Annual Christmas Letter, circa 1900
Forgive the brevity of this holiday message. I have only a small quantity of ink and this one sheet of paper torn from the back of Mr. Smith’s store account book and will of needs write in a small hand and with a light stroke.
I wish I could say that we are all well, but after Bessie kicked the ladder upsetting George onto the hay rake, we have just had one hard knock after another. George only had the wind knocked out of him, landing on the handle not the tines of the rake, but poor Bessie was so unsettled her milk went sour and made the baby sick for nearly a week. The poor thing (the baby, not the cow) just couldn’t get any rest at all and we were nearly crazed what with listening to the little mite cry and cry. Finally, the old dear (the cow, not the baby) settled down and her milk got just as sweet again as white honey. She has always been such a good animal; we surely do hope and pray that she will stay well for the children have all grown to love her so, to say nothing of how highly we regard her milk.
The five older children are well except for Georgie who seems to have the same hard luck as his father. He didn’t fall on the hay rake, although it might have knocked some sense into him because on account of his hard head (just like his father’s) we are now grandparents with a new baby in the house – not the baby that got sick from Bessie’s milk, but Georgie and his wife’s baby born just five days after our youngest (the one who did get sick from Bessie’s milk). If it wasn’t for Georgie being so stubborn he would have let that girl marry Johnson boy across the creek, but Georgie just wouldn’t have any of it. That Bessie took off from our farm crying most piteously after George hollered at her for knocking him off the ladder and on to the hay rake. You know George is usually a very mild man, but he was so surprised that his voice just got the better of him. Georgie went running after Bessie who ran across the field to into that Johnson boy who was courting Patience Wilson. They were probably doing what younguns do (Riff Johnson and Patience, not Georgie and Bessie) and she started wailing, probably about how her mama was going to give her a piece of her mind when she found out what those two were up to. Georgie thought Riff was hurtin’ her (Patience not Bessie) so he pulled back and gave Riff a fistful of good manners. The boy just stood there with his face swelling up and bleeding and the cow moaning into the sky because everyone else was shouting and yelling. After all that Patience decided Georgie was a hero and she wouldn’t have any more to do with that Johnson boy after all. Georgie fell sick in love and nothing would do except he and Patience would be married and you can see what came of that.
Bessie seems to know she was the cause of all the fuss and she cries and carries on most all the time. This is pretty fine by us because her moaning is a bit of a lullaby song and with two new babies and only one cradle, we are celebrating Christmas with a babe in the manger and Bessie singing carols.
I hope that you and your family have good news to share and that you will be able to write again soon. We read your news about Cousin James position at the bank and the ice sculpture carved in his likeness for the holiday dinner at the Ritz Hotel. I expect it was fairly spectacular with his fine brow and long nose. George wonders if the bank would like to borrow a cow to model as an image for dairy investments? Bessie is available.
Your Cousin Amelia
Photograph: Barry, Kelley & Chadwick. Down on the farm, c1906. Photographic Print on stereo card. Digital. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 US. Accessed December 2010.