Dear Cousin Caroline,
This morning I told Mama how I might have to run away and marry a bear if I don’t find someone to call my own true friend. These mountains are near to spilling over with children, and none of them is worth two cents. They are all too old or too young or just plain disappointing.
It’s the least fair thing in the world. James has got Will Maycomb down the road who is full of fun and mischief, and Lucille’s friend Ivadee is a year younger but seems just the same as Lucille, wanting to play House and
School Teacher all the day long. Baby John is too young for friends, but when the time comes I am sure he will have a gracious plenty and I will still be sitting here on this porch by myself with so many things to say and not a one to say them to.
If you are a twelve-year-old girl looking for a friend in these parts, you are in a sad and sorry way.
The trouble about saying such things to Mama is that she’ll make you regret it. “You have a nice cousin in Raleigh your age you could be friends with,” Mama said. “It is a sin and a shame that you two don’t know one another.”
Daddy was sitting at the table working out a knot in Old Dan’s harness. He looked up at Mama and said, “The reason they don’t know each other, Idy, is because your sister don’t want nothing to do with us, and she don’t want her children to have nothing to do with our children. That’s the sad but true truth.”
Well, that set Mama to crying and moaning and groaning about how she was an orphan girl, her mama and daddy being dead and her only sister gone off the mountain to Raleigh to be a rich doctor’s wife.
I could see that I was not helping matters by standing there, so I went out to the porch, where I do my best thinking. I sat on the steps and wondered how was I supposed to make friends with someone who I never even laid eyes on. That seemed fairly unlikely to me, especially if that person’s mama was against the idea from the get-go.
Could that be true, Cousin Caroline? Does your mama really not want us to know one another? I’ve never heard of someone not wanting to know me. I surely want to know you.
I believe this is a matter that needs to be cleared up.
Here is how I come up with the idea to write my cousin Caroline a letter. I was out feeding
the chickens a few mornings later, happy to be outside, since Mama was in the kitchen, her face still full of gloom. I knowed that until we got Mama cheered back up again, life would be miserable for all of us. She’d forget to put sugar in her pound cakes and make us take baths twice a day. Why, she’d probably serve us bowls of water for Sunday dinner instead of chicken stew.
I felt so strongly that if I could just meet my cousin, we would become the best of friends, and that would make Mama happy. Maybe the thing to do was steal away on Old Dan and ride to Raleigh. The problem with that plan was Old Dan was not a good riding horse. He had ideas of his own about where to go and how fast to get there. Another problem was that I weren’t quite clear on how to get to Raleigh, which would slow down my trip considerably.
Then I thought about how maybe I could hop the train that went down the mountain to Morganton, and then catch another train to
Raleigh. Then, when I got to Raleigh, I could buy a map and find my way to Cousin Caroline’s house. But what if she weren’t home? And what if I got caught riding the rails like a tramp? Didn’t a person go to jail for that? Did they put twelve-year-old girls in jail? I reckoned they might, and then Mama would cry even more, and everybody would be more miserable than before.
And then it come to me. Why, making friends with my cousin was the easiest thing in the world! I stomped up the front steps to the house and found Mama in the kitchen.
“I am going to write Cousin Caroline a letter!” I told her. “Just give me a piece of paper and consider it done.”
That cheered Mama up tolerably well.
Pencil and paper in hand, I walked out to the porch, sat down on the top step, and commenced to writing. After my introductory remarks, I added some things I thought Cousin Caroline ought to know about me straightaways. I thought it best to mention
that I have light-red hair that some call strawberry, but no freckles, and there are some that say I am cursed because of it. I don’t believe in such a thing as curses. Dreama Brown’s granny told us a tale of conjure ladies who live on the far eastern shores and wear gold hoops in their ears and put spells on folks. That sounds interesting to me, but I don’t believe in it.
After I wrote about curses, I wondered if that was the right way to fill up a letter. What did children down in Raleigh talk about and think about of a day? How did they fill the hours? Did they have chores that kept them busy all morning, the way that me and James and Lucille did? Might could be that if your daddy was a doctor, you didn’t have to do a thing in your life, just lean back on your fancy bed and eat candies that your butler handed you one by one.
What did I have to say of interest to a girl with a butler and probably a maid who buttoned the back of her dress every morning?
Well, I told myself, Lucille buttons my top back button for me, so that’s almost like having a maid. I laughed to think of what a sad and sorry maid Lucille would make, bossing everyone about and saying, “You’uns pick up your own mess, I’m off to play tea party with Ivadee!”
Lucille would not think twice about sending a letter to our cousin, no matter how many butlers and maids they might have down there in Raleigh. That thought give me courage, and suddenly I had so many things to say, I didn’t rightly know where to start.
My pencil raced down the paper as the words tumbled out. I wrote about the time Will Maycomb brought a live chicken in a flour sack for Sunday offering, and I wrote about the summer I was nine and went through a spell of sleep-walking, how I kept climbing out on the roof and Daddy ended up nailing my window shut, even though I never once fell off.
I wrote about how James got a fishhook
caught in his hand this past May and made me pull it out because the sight of his own blood causes him to faint straight to the ground. I wrote about our old dog, Bob, who run away when I was four and who I have never once forgotten.
I had about a hundred stories at the tips of my fingers, and I decided to write down every last one and let Cousin Caroline pick out her favorites. I sat there on the steps until supper, telling one tale after another, sure that once she read my letter, my cousin would certainly want to be friends with a girl such as myself.
I hope you will write me back, Cousin Caroline, and tell me such things as the color of your hair and when your birthday is and whether or not you like to read as much as James does. I don’t care for reading myself, as I get squirrelly sitting all alone. But I like it when Mama reads to us of an evening from the books of Charles Dickens and Sir Walter
Scott, which a missionary lady give to her when she was but a girl over on Cub Creek Mountain, and your mama was also a girl sitting by her side.
Arie Mae Sparks