Some families leave their descendents money and property, photos, documents, jewelry, and various keepsakes. My family never owned much, and by the time I was born, had lost the little they owned, so my only inheritance, other than DNA, is this letter written to my great-grandmother, Emma Kendall Olive, by a cousin, and my grandfather's gold watch chain that I have used to flatten the letter for the photograph. The letter is marvelously vivid, and my grandmother gave it to me when I was a teenager. I've enjoyed it hundreds of times since then, carried it with me to Africa and back, cringed aghast at its racism, and laughed at its naive account of the courting habits of middle class "whites" in rural North Carolina in the nineteenth century.
I wore the watch chain as a choker in my youth, and now I occasionally wrap it several times around my wrist as a bracelet.
I made a transcription of the letter a couple of years ago when I began searching for a library that might preserve it, and I have finally found an archive that wants it and is likely to make it available for scholars of social history and the history of racism in the USA, so I will be mailing it away soon. I will hang onto the watch chain a little longer.... (And yes, I took my great-grandmother's middle name, which was her mother's maiden name, as my own surname. I legally changed my surname to Kendall when I was in my 20s.)
Here is a bit of the letter:
Aug. 13, 1893
My Dear Emma,
I should have written sooner but I went to Goldsboro on Friday after I came from your house and just returned from Goldsboro Thursday night. I have been having a good time this summer. First I went to Manly, that place where my heart dwelleth, then to Staley where my sweetest cousins are and then again to Goldsboro the home of my best friend in College. What was there to hinder me in having a good time. All of the three visits /
have been just as pleasant as I could ask for, and Emma let me assure you that I certainly did enjoy our trip to your home. Indeed I enjoyed it more than I had expected, although I had expected a fine time. ‘Tis true I didn’t meet many ladies but I didn’t go up there to meet new girls but to see my cousins. You and Jess are two good ones, and yes you thought I could not make you sit on my lap. How do you feel about it now? Cass hardly believed you did sit on my lap when I came back, and she said she knew you didn’t hug and kiss me Tuesday morning when you called Jess and said, “meet me sister meet me.”/
We missed the lawn party Monday night but actually I enjoyed the night more spent as it was than if there had been a crowd there. Emma you shurely [sic] have improved wonderfully since I saw you three years ago. Not so much difference in your face and features in general except you are portlier and finer looking but your manners are so much easier and refined. You don’t appear at all cramped and your carriage is graceful and winsome. In short you have that general polish that nothing but refined association can give. And a sweeter more amiable disposition and/
character I have never found in any girl. If you were not my cousin I should be more cautious about what I say but you know I don’t mean this as flattery, and I know, or I would not say it, that you will not be affected by these things said by a sincere cousin.
Tell Jess that her fellow didn’t treat me white when I was up there and I don’t forgive him for it either. But Chas. Weedon is a white man. Wish I could see him again. Will and I had a fat old time coming home that day. It rained for two or three miles after we left Staley and right hard a part of the time, and just about the time it quit raining the buggy wheel ran over a stump and broke the bottle/
that wine was it [sic], but fortunately it just broke a small hole near the top so we drank out some of the wine and plugged the hole with paper and laid it a side for a while but it kept leaking so that we drank it all (that is all that was saved for we lost about one fourth of it) before we got to Pittsboro and got another bottle full there to bring home to them. They don’t know but what that that I brought is that that I started with. We got home about eight oclock that night but the road was very heavy all the way. I was almost sick Wednesday but was all right when I rested well. Thursday I was busy all day getting/
ready to go to Goldsboro. We started with the crazy negro Friday morning and had no trouble with her. She called me “brother Johnie on the war path” but would do anything I told her. That night and on until I left down there I was with Prince, my special friend at College. Friday night we went to a lawn party Saturday and Sat. night were spent about town some how, and Sunday night we took some young ladies to the Catholic church. Prince had told the young lady I was with that I was very dignified and she must act likewise when I was about and she is no more dignified than Jess so you may know how amusing it was to see her try to assume the role of dignity. But she soon/....