Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Cowboy Writes to His Sweetheart at Christmas

By Heather Blanton

This is a letter from my collection. I have no information on the author or the folks he references, no last names, location, nothing. I don't know who Mary and Charlie were, but I hope they never spent another Christmas apart. I have left the letter as-is verbatim, though I did clean up some spelling. I am struck by Charlie's vivid imagery. But back then, letter writing was an art. He seems to just let his heart and his mind wander dreamily. At least that's my impression. What's yours?  Merry Christmas, y'all!

December 26, 1881

My dearest Mary,

 You asked me to tell you how we spent Christmas on the ranch. I venture to guess, it was a far cry from how you spent yours in New York City. I can just see you in the December twilight, hurrying down the snowy sidewalk, your silk hem leaving swirly prints in the powder like little snakes, your dainty black books becoming wet and shiny as you bustle about. Then you dashed up the stairs to your brother’s brownstone to enjoy hot chocolate, the embraces of your family, and a true smorgasbord of food. I bet you had ham and goose, maybe even pheasant. Fresh fruits and vegetables. And desserts. Not just pies, either, but cookies and candy, because sugar is plentiful in the city.

You decorated your tree with delicate glass ornaments, glistening tin cut-outs, perhaps white porcelain stars? You hung presents on the tree as well--store-bought presents. I can imagine the pearl necklace from your parents only pales in comparison to your beauty.

On the ranch, things were different as different can be. I rode fence Christmas Eve. The wind howled and the snow fell in blustery, biting swirls. The air was so frigid it liked to have froze me to death. If not for the fence, I most likely would have lost my way more than once. Upon my return, I can say I was never so glad to see the warm glow of the bunkhouse windows.

Us fellas gathered Christmas Eve night in Mr. Chester’s parlor. Mrs. Chester and the two little girls did a fine job of decorating the tree with popcorn, red ribbons, cookie dough ornaments, and some holly berries. The family then presented all us hands with new neckerchiefs, wool socks knitted by Mrs. Chester’s sweet hands, and our own plate of butter cookies. Much to my surprise and delight, Mr. Chester promoted me to foreman as Jack has given his notice and will be leaving in a few weeks. To celebrate the occasion, Mr. Chester presented me with a new lariat. I am very gratified by this change in my status, Mary, for reasons you may deduce.

The boys and I went back to the bunkhouse and exchanged a few gifts. Pete. S. gave me a fine buck knife from his collection, and I gave him a pair of my spurs. I am ashamed to say I had lamented the gift a little until I was told of the promotion. The jump in pay will much ease the loss of the spurs. I suppose, though, a gift that is easy to give is not much of a gift.

I have several small gifts waiting here for you when you return, and one of greater import. We shall have Christmas in January, you and I, and celebrate not only the season that has passed but a bright and sparkling future. Especially so now. If you see things the way I see them, that is.

I cannot tell you how empty Christmas was without you, Mary, and I hope never to be parted from you again. That is bold of me to say. You know my heart, though, the words I long to say, the dreams I hope to share with you.

I can only say in this letter that I hope you will hurry home.

With deepest affection,



Paty Jager said...

The imagery in the letter is vivid. I could see the difference in their lives and feel the cold. Thank you for sharing, Heather.

Heather Blanton said...

I knooooow! I think he missed his calling. But a lot of cowboys wax eloquent about the West and their lives in it.