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Old Letters

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I have old manuscripts and records of births and marriages and deaths. But the old letters provide a glimpse that is so much more personal. Often they are hard to read, not just because the context is missing, but also because they are handwritten and faded.

But now I was all attention when a third letter turned up, postmarked March 8, 1911, addressed to Elizabeth Townsend, care of her father, the Reverend Corbin Braxton Bryan, Sr. It was written in the frail hand of Sarah Worthingon. She was in her seventies, and she was Elizabeth Bryan Townsend's Great Aunt Sally.

I had seen this one before, but had not taken time to decipher it. This time I persevered.

March 8th, 1911

My dear Elizabeth,

By this time, I hope you are able to read a few lines from your old Auntie, who wishes you to know how truly she rejoices with you in the sure joy which has come into your happy life. I was so glad to get your dear Mama’s letter telling of your safety and that it was well with you and your daughter.

How strange it seems to think of you, sweet child, as a mother, and [your] dear Mama as a dignified grandmother. I am sure, next to you and Morton, no one will enjoy the precious babe more than she will. I also feel important, for your wee lassie is my great-great niece. It is time for me to feel the weight of my increasing honors!

Give my love and sincere congratulations to your husband; he is indeed fortunate in the possession of two such treasures. That your darling daughter may ever be a blessing and a comfort to you is the earnest prayer of your dearly loving Auntie.

S Worthington

I have had these letters for years, but I had never read them. It was only this spring that they came together in my hands to conjure up the vivid picture of a child arriving in this world and receiving the warmest possible welcome. It was as though the same welcoming committee stirred and reassembled.

It is an abiding comfort to think of leaving this life in terms of rejoining those who have gone before us. The people who wrote these old letters are all long gone. And now the child who was once so warmly greeted, this much-loved daughter, niece, great niece and grandchild, has rejoined them. All that remains in this world is a packet of old letters.

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