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Old Letters

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For a long time, I would not read the old letters I had, on the basic principle that you don’t read other people’s mail. I am not sure where that principle broke down, but it did.

Not two weeks after I put together the pages of my great grandmother's letter, I dipped into yet another pile and found a letter that began, “My dear Elizabeth, De has just informed me that I have risen to the distinction of being an uncle..."

I skipped to the signature: "With lots and lots of love," it was signed, "Braxton."

I turned back to the envelope. It was postmarked February 27, 1911. It was addressed to Elizabeth Townsend, and it was from her brother Braxton Bryan, Jr., who was attending Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He is congratulating her on the occasion of my mother's birth.

I knew from the elder Mrs. Townsend's letter that the House at number 13 Apollo Street had been filled with apprehension. I also knew that the couple had already lost one baby. Even after this child, a girl, had safely arrived and Elizabeth was doing well, mother and daughter remained in seclusion. They did not name the baby. Morton had a headache that lasted for days.

It was as if the whole family were holding its breath. Mrs. Townsend mentions friends dropping by to leave cards as the days passed. "Even if you don't see them, I know it is tiring, though a comfort, and not as tiring as if they didn't come."

A week went by, another day and another. Then, as February gave way to March, apprehension turned to joy.

Braxton writes, "I know Mamma has gone wild -- not to mention you and Morton. I suppose you have named it! But what?

"Mother was telling me that you were feeling very well. I am so glad. The next time Mary comes up to see you, you might offer her the suggestion that she sit down and inform me what my young niece's name is.

Mother when young Mother when young Mother when young

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