Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cigarbox Letter Number One

“Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing.” –Christina Baldwin from Storycatchers
How many people actually write letters these days? I know I don’t. With email, Facebook, Instant Messaging, and Twitter why would we? But, there is something exciting about receiving that envelope addressed to you in the mailbox. Imagine what it would be like if the only way you could communicate with those far away was through paper letters via snailmail. Our instant world would slow down to a crawl. Could we stand it?

I have decided to discover these letters with my readers and not rush through them. So, I have not read or for that matter opened the letters. Each one has been placed in chronological order according to postmarks. While sorting, I found I have two sets of correspondence, but I know from reading the first letter that they are connected. This project is becoming more interesting. Our first letter—and the oldest in the box—was written on April 17, 1898 in Manila Philippines. A few days after the writing, Spain declared war on the United States. I have to assume this solider was stationed in Manila because of the tension between Spain and America.

Meanwhile in Georgia the first batch of Brunswick stew was made on St. Simons Island. General Edward Loyd Thomas died in Indian Territory on March 8, 1898. A hurricane struck the coast near Cumberland Island and killed 108 that summer. President William McKinney visited Atlanta before the end of the year. Women did not have the right to vote and are at the mercy of their fathers, brothers, and husbands, not to mention sons if they happened to be an elderly widow. I have keep this young man’s punctuation and grammar.

Here is our first letter dated April 17, 1898 from Manila

My Sweet Little Friend:
I hope you will excuse me for writing to you as I am a perfect stranger to you. 

My sisters and even Geo. Has told me, and spoke of you so often, that I feel as though I have always known you, and in fact I must know you even if it is just in the mail.

I called you sweet because Geo told me some time ago, that you were, and the girls say you are very nice, and I know they would not tell this Big Bro. a story.

But this is the funniest part, I only know your last name and I have forgotten your first name, or else by mistake, it was never told to me.

I think it must have been a slip. Now “Sweet”, did you in one of Geo’s letters, write a few words to me inside one of the envelopes?

Did you ever write anything on the outside of a letter to me?

Do you know I am going to try and come home for a while when I get back. But you must not tell my folks. I want to surprise them.

Did you, or have you seen any of my pictures? If you wish to exchange say so, and I will send you one of my small ones I had taken here, but will get you a good one later.

I want you to write your own free mind and let me know my position with you. I do not want you to let me write you and make a fool of myself unless you wish to hear from me. You see some girls let a fellow write and write and then show his letters to other girls and have a good laugh at his expense. I do not like that kind of behavior as many can tell you. And they will also tell you that no girl ever made a fool of me twice. But this does not interest you.

Now “Sweet Girl” I hope you will write. Even though I know this is a great deal to ask of you, but please send a letter if only to say my correspondence is not cared for. 
Your’s in Hope A.C. Bates 
Please tell me all about my folks and tell me how they are getting along. 

Best Bates 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How This Blog Begins

For Christmas this year, I received an old cigar box, Banquet Hall Little Cigars. Inside was a collection of twenty-six letters, several advertisements, a receipt, a photo, a tiny change purse, and a lock of blond hair. The letters and advertisements date all the way back to 1898. This is a collection of memories of one Miss Mattie Westmoreland of Royston, Ga.

I was so excited. My fiction-writing gears began to turn. I had a project, a new writing project for 2010.

After an extraordinary amount of interest in the contents of this box from friends and loved ones, I decided to share the material. I mean after all if an artist so feels the desire to create after reading my posts, so be it. We will not experience the same emotions and therefore will not produce a similar product.

This box is too good to keep in my work room and not share. So, it is my idea to post the contents of a letter every week for the duration, along with my own observations and research. In this way we'll all enjoy the letters together and what better way than in a blog format.

I thought I would begin with researching Mattie Westmoreland, which has brought me absolutely nothing thus far, but I'm not sure research on Mattie is necessary since my project will be fiction and spring forth from the content of the letters, or I hope so anyway. That's the plan, if there is a plan. What happens if they are duds? What happens....

Hey if nothing else I will read some letters written over a hundred years ago. Keep reading and feel free to comment. ;)