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“There’s a letter from Erma I want you to read” said Evelyn. “It’s good.”

I heard this every time I went to visit Evelyn and she was right the letters were always good.

Erma had a style of writing that was so natural and vivid in their descriptions. I loved getting to read them.

Erma Morcum Stull and Evelyn Hill Silvus both were born and raised in Leechburg, Pennsylvania.No one has been able to tell me when they became friends but it was certainly in adulthood.  Erma was 4 years older than Evelyn and would have been off to college before Evelyn started the local high school. Whenever they became friends it was a wonderful closeness. Erma lived all her life in the house where she was raised and Evelyn in the house where she married and raised her own children.  In time, Evelyn was old enough that her family wanted her to move closer to them in North Carolina. It was a hard decision but Evelyn did move and from that time, the very day that she left, Erma began to write letters.

I met Evelyn in May of 2004 and despite the age difference, around 50 years, I felt we were 2 peas in a pod.  When I started to read Erma’s letters I knew we were all in that garden together. Early on I started to dream of taking these letters and compiling them in a to and fro format. After Erma died in 2010  I again felt the pull to tell this story.  Evelyn at one point told me that some of her letters to Erma were found in the house but they did not make it to her lost in the cleaning up that happens after someone dies.

Evelyn died in April 2015.  I was with her and had the privilege to be treated as family.  As I helped clean out her house we found all the letters from everyone who had written since she moved to North Carolina. When I held all the letters from Erma in my hands; carefully organized and stowed by Evelyn in bundles I knew that now was the time to put this story to paper.

I had hoped to be doing this with Evelyn; re-reading Erma’s letters and hearing the story of their friendship as we worked our way through. Instead it has become my journey from North Carolina back and forth to Pennsylvania with so many questions.  Over the years friends and family let go of letters, journals, and scrapbooks.  I don’t have Evelyn’s letters to Erma. So instead I want to talk to you about living through the last century and the amazing events that shaped her and Evelyn’s lives. I want to tell you about friendship. Not the kind that despite how ever much time apart you can start right back up but a friendship where you do see each other every week. You travel together, take classes together, garden and cook and discuss politics.  Perhaps there is even a chair in the house that is yours and when you are gone the empty space is so distracting.

“There’s a letter from Erma I want you to read” said Evelyn. “It’s good.”

 

The letters need to be read from oldest to newest

July 3, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

Last night I cut seven sweet pea stems and brought them in. Not yet a “Cambridge” bouquet”, but a nice little clump of color; some wine color and pink added. Last Wednesday a team did come up from Friday’s Nursery. Two girls! I looked at them in surprise, for the beds I had in mind were man sized challenges. Weeds that needed dug out, grasses, dock, comfrey, a mess. The girls were simply wonderful. The beds of overgrown chaos now stand clean with hostas, heucheras, pulmonaria, hellebores, astilbe, and veronica in distinct clumps. So pleasant to look at from the house. The bed in front of the grape arbor is cleaned at present, no goosenecked loosestrife at all, and all the prickly around the holly, espaliered pear and chimney corner stands clean. The “Annabelle” hydrangea is full of beautiful blooms which can now be seen and enjoyed. They tied the sagging clematis up and trimmed out the corner azaleas. As sort of a farewell wave, I think!, they edged the front beds where the petunias are and which are rarely done, and that side bed which contains only weedy daisies but which I’ll now try to straighten up. The Kousa dogwoods, by the way, were very good this year – all three.

It was almost a foregone conclusion that you would like Charleston! I’ve never had the carriage ride. It would be great seeing the city with Vim and Dave. So appreciative. It truly has atmosphere. Churches, cemeteries and moss-hung oaks. That Market! and houses turned sideways to the streets. I have seen Middleton – from the river! – but do you remember Camille and I; then Frances and I stayed in the house in Old Charleston owned by the owners of Middleton Place? When Frances and I were there were were served breakfast with silver and china from the old Plantation (so we were told), I can still picture it!

What did the heart monitor show? A week trial would be a good picture of how things are. I will be anxious for your next letter. Ann is faithfully coping with my extra B12 shot which I have to go to the Medical Center for every Tuesday in July. Last week was so hot and enervating that we extended the trip to include lunch, but neither of us had strength for a movie. That was the evening she and Terry brought down a big room fan for me. Naturally it has been cooler since. Even lower humidity!

Because is just popped into my mind. Yes, I do know the book about the town in England that quarantined itself for the good of its neighbors. I got the book on Christmas for Barbara and read it before I sent it.

I lose faith in the veracity of Arthur Rubenstein’s memory of his youth. Every lady of consequence so far has yearned to go to bed with this fresh faced youth from Poland. I’m just about to his twenties now in the memoir.

Love Erma

May 30, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

What fun! I sat right down to “The Eyre Affair”. Nearly all of the place names had connections in my mind. One summer with Dorothy (Miss Hudson) we “did” the Welsh border countryside. All the Englishisms: “looked a proper Charlie”; “passing out” parade at police college; and the super inventions: “translating carbon papers”; “a 2B spell-correcting pencil”; and I liked ” a sarcasm early-warning device”.

I suppose most of the inventiveness came from Jasper Fforde’s mind, but I like to think of him sitting around with friends discussing the implausible. The near riot in France, Raphaelites on the Fourth anniversary of the legalization of surrealism! The fun he had with names: 496 John Miltons at the conference. And one of the diary writers, “Millon de Floss” indeed! I wonder how many literary allusions I missed. One troubled me. It was familiar yet I could not get a handle on it. “Mycroft” I associated it with Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t dredge up a single fact. Could you? My volume of Holmes does not have an index of characters and associates. Just reading to come across it by chance seemed formidable. I spent a half hour leafing and glancing and there it was! In the story “The Greek Translator”. Sherlock’s brother, even better than Sherlock in observation and deduction but without the energy and incisiveness to ever follow thru. I’ve never been a keen Holmes reader, tho I admired that Mt. Lebanon police super, Varelman, who organized the Pittsburgh branch of the Baker Street Irregulars. I did enjoy settling the point and at breakfast time this morning discovered my interrupted and unfinished supper of last night. Do you know a Clarice Cliff teapot? Something like our Fiesta ware. Curves and Swirls in Art Deco fashion? I thought the “Global Standard Deity” was/is quite a good idea – for those who must have a father figure with a Plan and who must have a Hereafter. The church need not be quite so irreverent as Jeoffrey. There, a schism already.

On the downside some of the dialogue was pretty banal, even unbelievably crude as between Thursday and Daisy! As with many books and particularly detective stories, they seem to run down at the end, lose steam. Then again, stepping into literature appeals to me; the time vortex does not. Did it strike you that every time the Goliath Corporation was mentioned it could have stood for the United States? Although it is stated as part of British structures.

It has been a ho-hum Memorial Day. I’m so glad that work at the cemeteries was done last week. I bought petunias for the borders of beds at the front of the house and last night spaded the bed in front of the big window and planted two dozen plus petunias. The morning was wet and seemed cold, tho about 58degrees. I never went out at all. I made potato salad, the first of summer, I used four eggs from Sidney’s chickens. She had free hour and came to help with weeding. She weeded to free the monkshood (afterwards in adding to my notes, I find I’ve had that monkshood for 18 years).

Love Erma

May 24, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

Thanks for the little square of information – and the picture of Francine du Plessix Gray. It knocks my mental picture haywire. I thought of a commanding, de Gaulle type! I read her book on Simone Weil and I think you did too. I may try to get “Them” as that period and the people there-in interest me. I’ve already pasted the little cutting into the Dmitri – interview magazine. I’ll send the Ruth Reichl on to Erika as that is her field and I’ve given her too a Reichl book or so. The article on the garden tended by Eudora and her mother will interest June. She recently sent me a page about first – or rare – editions and their cost. I’ll send it on to you. I certainly don’t need it back.

Paul’s wedding was very nice. She wore white satin. There was also a netting over all from shoulders to hem with a slight train; this was embroidered here and there with small sequins. Only Rosemarie came from Ohio. She picked me up and was transportation to the church and to the Fire Hall and home. The Gilpin ladies of the auxiliary had a really delicious supper ready for, I should think, about 150 guest. The twins who are twelve were attendants in the wedding party. Very sweet. Sherry’s grandchildren, four and three, were like fairies in their white dresses. They were flower girls, but restless!! during the ceremony..

Wade had been trying since my birthday to get the C.D. of La Traviata in which Dmitri is the father. In it Kiri Te Kanawa is Violetta. Both Borders and Amazon failed to come up with a copy and I was resigned to think its time was passed. In the mail a day or two ago was a package from Arkival Music, an address in Florida, and there it was! I hope it is a legitimate source! I’m keeping the address in case of need again. Wade said they had received a nice note from you.

Thanks so much for sharing “Imagined London”. I read it in two evenings. It aroused so many memories of both places and books. Quindlen cuts quite a swath across detective literature too. I could recognize all those authors and characters. But did you read “Forever Amber”? I remember well when it was the rage, but I never felt any great urge so it remains unread. I’ll keep the book long enough to make some notes, particularly the more modern authors Quindlen has read, Martin Amis for one. I was greatly interested in her description of up-to-date Southwick. I used to have a recurring dream of crossing Hungerford Bridge and going down to the water on the South side. It was not pretty. Dark and thick. I must have been haunted by a movie I had seen.

This is to be a rainy week. I tried to get the mowing started today. After about an hour the rain started in again. The grass was already too wet to do a pretty job so I did not try to get out again. Cory had spent two hours with the weed eater just short of two weeks ago. You can imagine the banks were again pretty spikey when he was able to come again. He is a good hearted young man and has offered to come for an extra added hour when he can.

Were you arguing all along with Malcolm Gladwell on the article about TV games!! Surely he was playing devil’s advocate or just reporting the results of studies. No doubt, however, lots of people might leave the article concluding that TV games are just as good a way to spend time as reading. He was only dealing with alertness and I’d concede that children who might not be readers anyway could gain in attention, watching for clues, etc. But where in TV games does on gain values of loyalty, kindness, love, sympathy and all the other virtues and sins of life! And those paragraphs on the disadvantage of reading!! Beginning: “Reading books chronically understimulates the senses” What is he talking about! And to say, “Books are tragically isolating” Their great preserve.

I did picture du Plessix-Gray as in at least her sixties. A lot of New Yorker writers have age upon them – to their advantage. They are able to see more of the picture. Fortunately there is a lovely crop of young writers too. I think of Hendrick H. and Denby – I think – as well as our interesting Adam. His wide interests and queer bits of knowledge.

Love Erma

Cleaning out Drawers

Dear Evelyn,

Yes I have been cleaning out drawers and am writing this letter on stationary from the Leisure Lodge Inn in Dunedin, New Zealand. That was a wonderful tour.

Betty (Mr A wife) got home on Saturday. I expect it was a bit traumatic. Her good friend Connie went down in the morning to install a hot plate so that Betty need not go down “those stairs” Connie calls them. By arrangement Connie stopped here on her way down and I sent a pizza (from the Schwann’s Truck which I now have stopping once a month), a box of frozen broccoli, some cookies, and half of the red velvet cake Wade and Barbara left for me. I am so glad Betty is in her own surroundings. And I’m sure Harmanville would not release her until there is a fair chance she can manage – tho it won’t be easy. Her son was staying for a couple of nights.

Wade and Barbara were up one evening last week. To introduce me to Humphrey (the new Pomeranian) who weighs about 3 pounds now. How such a little body can produce so much energy is a puzzle. To their usual question of “Is there anything you need?” This time I had an answer, “Yes, toilet paper.” My usual order for four rolls of Scotts was given in on Tuesday but when delivery was made on Wednesday that item was marked “out”; and no substitute was made! I was using my last roll. Well, when Wade and Barbara got here they had: 12 rolls of toilet tissue, 4 rolls of paper towels, golden delicious apples, bananas, a half dozen tall cans of Chunky veg. soup, 4 tall cans of Bush baked beans in varieties I didn’t know about, a couple of cans of mushroom soup, a dozen ginger cookies and a cake – red velvet with cream cheese icing!

The martin house is up. Besides putting it together and bringing it home on Sunday, Cory and the younger brother Todd dug the hole and cemented in the bottom piece (in a plastic sleeve so that the pole can be taken down) On Monday eve Cory put together the other 3 pole joints and the box was raised on high.

Love Erma

April 10, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

Did you get to follow “Tosca” yesterday? I enjoyed it so much – well, if you can “enjoy” “Tosca”. It is the one I heard in Rome, performed, I believe, at the San Angelo castle. Did you notice the New Yorker refers to Salvatore Licitra as “the next Pavarotti replacement candidate”? I thought his voice was wonderfully rich and beautiful, tho the New Yorker reviewer goes on to say, “but the performances of Maria Guleghina, an agile veteran in the title role, and Mark Delavan, a confident new Scarpia, are more satisfying”!! I’m gradually getting to feel a little familiar with the new generation of names. Anyway when the tenor sang “Recondita armonia” I realized it is on the Jussi Bjoerling CD that Albina gave me. I’m glad I can replay it. Also I’m glad you have taken to him so admiringly. This re-stirring of interest in opera was such a boost this winter. Kay Steiner, bless her, gave me her opera attendance booklets from Tito Capobianco’s time. twenty some. I had stored them in the barn – even floor space was giving out here. Last week I brought them all in, dusted them off and will manage somehow. They are beautiful booklets.

I was sitting by the dining room window this Sunday morning, reading, when I heard a siren, saw the police car followed immediately by another. I watched long enough to see they went toward Bagdad, not Schenley. I thought briefly of Betty. Around noon Jackie Caporali Payne came over to tell me it was Betty, a heart attack, tho she was puzzled at why the fire truck? Evidently, I missed that part. I’ve tried to get in touch with Betty’s active friend Connie in Hyde Park, but there is not answer there. Perhaps I’ll know something before I mail this.

Thalia has not opened here, tho the bank daffodils opened overnight. All the yellow daffodils along the kitchen wall are out now and standing tall, at least 114 on a rough count. Anemones, blanda the low kind are blooming, mostly blue, an occasional white.

I’ve learned a bit more about Betty. I found I had the complete name of Betty’s friend in Hyde Park so by evening I go to talk to her. Betty’s son Andrew had been at home overnight because they planned to cut down some trees today. They were on the third one when Betty did not get far enough away and the top branches struck her. I think torn ligaments in one arm and of course sore ribs. Nothing about heart in Connie’s report. Betty was life-flighted to Tarentum hospital where they worked for an hour and half on her arm. After all that it is expected that they will bring her home tomorrow. Will keep you posted. Just awful to have it happen to Betty.

While I was trying to accomplish some cleaning in the garden, my new neighbor Mrs. Miller, her son and the dog came over. We walked around, for really the daffodils are especially bountiful this year and them the son said he would help with garden work but since he was in his bare feet it meant going home for shoes and when he returned he brought his wife and baby(10 months) . Then Jackie came over for news so I did not get any work done while Patrick worked, then Mr. Altman came. He had not heard about Betty and we tried then to get in touch with Connie. I am just exhausted after that kind of afternoon!

Mr. Altman was telling me today that his hands no longer tremble! True, they are steady on his knee now. He is taking – I hope with the doctor’s direction – magnesium tablets. He is sleeping better. So there is much improvement. But for all that he is not planning any garden. He must watch his wife Betty constantly, but he is taking care of her which is better than being in the house by himself. He is not made for solitude and the contrast was too great, too sudden from the hospital and its activities and constant to and froing to his house alone was dispiriting.

Love Erma

April 2, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

The sweet peas are planted!  I got them in yesterday, April 1.  It’s not until I read the directions that I’m reminded “soak the seeds”.  I just put them in the ground for the soil is quite damp yet. Also on April 1,  I dashed off a note to Corey Rupert to see if I could count on him again to do the finish up mowing. Around 1 o’clock in the afternoon Corey dropped in to see if I’d want him again! This, of course, was before he could possibly have received my note, so it was satisfying that our minds ran in the same channel.

June and Caryl came up Wednesday to see the crocuses. For 4 days they were out in full, a carpet again. I had made a meatloaf, so I added a few things and we had supper together. I thought Caryl had more to say, seemed more cheerful tho still in a sad state of forgetfulness. June is really good to her, no more impatience.

The lavender is cut back, limed and fertilized, the whole bed by the outside kitchen weeded, trimmed and ready for the daffodils to bloom.  On the shady bank where the “girls” and I worked, the miniature daffodils (tete a tete I believe) bloomed the next day as if in gratitude. There are 15 flowers but only about 6 inches high.

Krissa (Bill and Sally’s daughter) sent me the Dmitri review also – in a very easy type size. I’m tempted to send it right off for you to keep, but I’ll delay long enough to have two copies made instead of using the miniscule copy. Krissa also sent along the program notes! I’m not experienced enough to read into the nusic all that the knowledgeable people hear. (That last encore song was a traditional folk song, “Night”).

When I cleaned a book shelf, I kept out “The Gulag Archipelago” for I had never faced reading it I’ve had it for years. I’ve been reading old, neglected issues of the New Yorker and the one I currently finished was early April 2003. But in it was a David Remick review of a recent book, “Gulag: A History” by Anne Applebaum (Washington Post). In the course of the review he speaks of the (1974-1978) earlier book: “a best-seller, a sensation in the press. Hundreds of thousands copies sold at the time went unread. Countless copies sat as still as cinder blocks on the bookshelves of earnest purchasers.” Bingo! just describes me. We shall see if I get to it now. Who wants to be depressed over “man’s inhumanity to man” more than exemplified by the present.

Love Erma

March 26, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

I did get to town late in the afternoon on Thursday. I had already mailed your letter in the morning. Since this card is for spring and not Easter only, I decided to keep it until I could add a letter.

This Saturday opera is just over. Were you listening? I heard “Cavalleria” and “Pagliaccio” years ago with Tom Evans and others. The scene when the curtain rises with the church (cathedral?) dominating the square and all the peasants in bright Sicilian colors remains printed in my mind. Nothing of the music or even the story, except for a feeling of tragedy remains. When I heard the Intermezza I realized that was familiar. In “Pagliaccio” I remember the singer who stood before the curtain went up and sang. The unusualness impressed me, I suppose. I have that re-recording of Caruso singing arias from these operas. I must get into the window seat where they are stored. Daily I’ve been looking for “La Traviata” to arrive or the order I have in at Borders for Tchaikovsky pieces. And daily I’m disappointed until it is depressing. And then today things smiled on me; a call from Sidney saying she and Hope would come over on Tuesday and work in the garden! ! A letter from Anna saying how well Trevor is managing with his amputation. I had worried, for being at home is so different from the care in a hospital. I had just in the morning mailed my collection of state quarters (in a book) to him and a book for Anna. And the third good thing on this same day was receiving a note from Jolie inclosing the New York Times review of Dmitri’s Carnegie Hall concert! What a good review it is. The print is so fine that Jolie made a copy with large letters. I am so glad there are two copies so that I can send one to you. But even better, suppose I send you the big print copy, then when you have read it, you send it on to Albina to keep. (of the three of us her eyesight is the poorest) Meanwhile I’ll have copies made of the original and send yours to keep of the small print variety. It will be easier to store.

Yes, I read the Umberto Eco fiction. I can’t pass up a name like William Trevor or Ann P___? (she wrote the “Shipping News”) I quake when I begin one of her stories for I know she will pull me into whatever quiet desperation she has in mind. Going back to Umberto Eco his first sentence – I looked it up – Is “My memory is proglottidean, like the tapeworm—” I remember thinking “up to his old tricks”. Of course, I don’t object to new words, even hard ones, but I object to having them dragged in unnecessarily. In this case even now I don’t catch his point, for the word means a segment of a tapeworm that has both male and female reproductive systems.

Did you think Margaret Talbot did a good objective article on Judge Scalia? I thought she made clean – clear – cuts in foggy legal thinking. The term “originalist” is new to me in this connection. I guess I have heard “original intent”. On the other hand John Updike’s article on Kierkegaard did not enlighten me much at all. Perhaps because I usually like what he has to say, I may have expected him to clear Kierkegaard up once and for all. And for John Lahr to like the immature fun of that quite dreadful “Spamalot”! Am I just getting cranky? Maybe it goes over better on stage.

(By the way reader Evelyn and I loved Spamalot and I have happy memories of our going to the play together.)

What plants have arrived so far from Dave and Vim’s splendid monthly gift? Albina and Charles brought me a red miniature rose – one of those Canadian grown with such dark healthy leaves. They can be counted on to last well in the garden. Mr. Altman brought me the traditional Easter lily with two blooms open and five to come. It is sweet smelling. The pink azalea I’ve had for several years is re-blooming nicely, the white orchid still has four flowers, and Maggie’s cyclamen has upward of twenty stems of purple bloom now. It has done marvelously this year. I will repot it later this year, I surprised how long the flowers last, two weeks and no sign of fading.

Love Erma

March 22, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

If the celebration for the birthdays was on Saturday, you would not hear anymore of Saturday’s opera than I did. It was Don Carlo. At about one that afternoon Joyce stopped in. She was back from Norway. I neglected to ask when she would go back. We had a nice visit – with only tea and toast as offerings. She left at three and I listened for about 1/2 hour. At least I didn’t forget this week. Then Barbara Maher stopped in. She is taking the Master Gardening course at Kittanning and wanted to borrow some books. Joyce is taking a part of the course too and she says it is a good sized class. The opera was very long, almost six o’clock, so I must have heard an hour at the close – the great “Mio, Carlo” baritone aria anyway.

Albina and Charles came in on Sunday afternoon, Palm Sunday. What a nice visit! I’m glad they are really managing some time away from home. They had been away two nights and would stay at Bobbie’s Sunday night before heading home. Wade’s work took him to San Francisco where he met up with Sean and Anita on Fisherman’s Warf. Wade and Barbara once had abalone on the warf, but Wade says that dinner is now $72. He had sea bass. Then he went on up to Seattle where he visited his cousins on Shirley’s side. Wade seemed so happy to have a visit.

Yes, I to have “How to Read Like a Pro”, or whatever the exact title is. I fall for subjects like that. I’m cleaning shelves, I came across “Sesame Lilies”, a find in that long ago box that contained “Far from the Madding Crowd”, and “Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall”, a very old complete “Robinson Crusoe” etc. Ruskin’s book begins “Being now fifty-one years old, and little likely to change –.” He lived for another thirty years. I’ve just looked it up. He died in 1900 which surprises me as I put him back with Tennyson. Well, I’ve just looked that up too. Ruskin was ten years younger than Tennyson and Tennyson didn’t die until 1892.

I’ve re read a booklet Kathy once gave me : “Good Reading” by a favorite member of the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society. He writes an essay on these landmark books: Pride and Prejudice, Huck Finn, War and Peace, Theroux’s The Great Railway, Bazaar, Frankenstein, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, The Bear (which was my introduction to Faulkner and I did not like it over much, but even I could see the descriptive power – almost like Conrad). To continue: almost anything by Turgenev. In this essay he speaks of his father remarking, “I’d give anything to be able to read “Don Quixote” again for the first time.” He goes on about the special joy that rises out of innocence that can’t by regained in after readings. He had a project in which he alternated reading Henry James and then Turgenev for contrast. “But the campaign lasted thro only half a dozen of James stories, because I was so overwhelmed by Turgenev that I could no longer wait through James to get back to the next Russian story.” An impassioned reader! The last essay is on “The Sun also Rises.” It was a nice mixture. You will notice the Russians are well represented.

Remember when we had an interest in the different Utopias? So the New Yorker article on Bronson Alcott struck a nerve. I knew of his peddling days, for I can remember here of peddlers stopping in with a suitcase of lace, needles, rick rack, etc. and the picture stayed in my mind when I read it about Alcott. I must have been quite small when peddlers were summer events. Umbrella men too. Does it seem odd to you that rural life would touch this kind of life, not the towns? Then George Gershwin. I suppose you too remember the movie on his life where the upright piano swung in the air to the window of an apartment?

Must get this in the mail. I did not get to town for a single Easter card. I will be getting Kathy’s bunny out. The enclosed Scottie might do for the triplets to trace around.

Love Erma

March 8, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

After acres of white for ages, the weekend was sunny, high 40’s and almost 60 on Sunday. The fields were brown again and snow was left only in shady patches. This morning it is 20 degrees and snow is everywhere again. Of course it is very pretty, clinging to the evergreens and outlining every branch.

Yesterday Albina sent me a CD of her singer, the tenor Jussi Bjoerling. Do you remember him? Albina says he died of drink. For thirty or forty years, he has been her passion. Among the arias is that Nessun Dorma (from “Turandot”) that fascinates me. “None shall sleep” is the translation in the notes. Alan Blyth who writes the notes says, “Bjoerling’s famous and irreplaceable record of “Nessun Dorma” was seldom off the turn-table of my windup gramophone. It reminds me of the most potent moments of tenor singing every committed to disc.” My stage at the present with all these arias is; I know that. What is it? Some are settling into place, particularly if I had them on an old 1950 Caruso re-recording that I loved. “Lacrima Furtiva” for instance!

Margie and Bob who are in the Orlando region for two weeks write that the weather is rainy and cold, but they have been visiting museums and art galleries – and in the evenings catching up on Academy nominations. Margie was impressed by a Tiffany collection – the largest in the world.

I’ve just finished a book Margie left for me “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. I vaguely remember when it came out, perhaps from the similarity in names with Lewinsky’s “friend” who spilled as much. Was her name Donna Tritt? For as well written as the book is the title is so tame and colorless. It is about five students, the special students of a Greek scholar. They try to induce themselves into that state of hysterics – a night time effort – like the old Dionysian festivals where one is out of your own skin. (Really unbelievable). Anyway they kill some one – the farmer on whose land they intruded. Bad enough, but when they begin to fear that one of them will betray them, they kill him too. Utterly grewsome but fascinating! Drinking and drugs are unbelievable, yet the college conversations and relationships ring true.

I have to be conscious of the mailman’s time. I used to just dash into town with a letter when I missed. Now I have to back down the driveway. It’s a long time since I could turn in the barn yard.. And the roads don’t tempt me to drive.

I have talked to Jimmy Skomo about the creek (straightening) and the bridge (stonework underneath) and he says he will look at it. Still the result of the hurricane.

Did I tell you I fell again at my own door. I tried to sweep snow from my boots before opening the kitchen door and my feet scooted right out from under me.

Surprising that you can still furnish berries from your garden here. No, I think paper whites have only one season. I’ve had shoots come up but never flowers. Yes, amaryllis are astounding in their beauty. Are Jimmy and Francis back from the cruise? Eye filling scenery anyway. I’m scrambling too to finish off New Yorkers.

Love, Erma

February 9, 2005

Dear Evelyn,

Philip McConville has just picked up the mowers for their spring over-haul. Things are on the move. Last Saturday Sidney brought her weeder to see if she would take me on too. It is a “Go”, but one will not know until the season begins just how much time she can give me. Still it is encouragement. Sidney brought along Lucy one of the grandchildren – a personable little girl, eight years old.

May I say one more time how muddy the barn yard is! One can easily get hung up, wheels spinning.

February 15, 2005

A beautiful spring like day, sunny, 50’s. Ann took me to Valley Hospital to have a heart monitor attached. A check on how the changed medicine is working. Atenolol vs Lanoxin.

A funny story – I think you remember when Gregory Claypool came to the door to pick up his beautiful book on the Great Wall of China? I never thought of him, as the last news was that he was in Florida. I thought it was Paul Myers at the door. I see him about as infrequently as Gregory. So I addressed him as Paul to which he responded, ” I’m not Paul, I’m Gregory.” Well when I was in the waiting room at the hospital another person came in with a friendly smile directed at me. In great surprise I exclaimed, “Gregory, what brings you here?” You’ve guessed it. The first words were: “I’m not Gregory, I’m Paul.” It is so funny it happened within days of each other.

Margie is coming up tomorrow and we are going to shop. Hose, panties, bath powder, books. The books will be for children – infants. Did I tell you there is to be a shower for Maggie on the last Saturday of February? (Baby is due April 2). As an addendum to the invitation which included the usual information about where they registered; is the sentence, “We are also asking that you bring along a children’s book for Maggie and Anthony to read to the little one.” The purpose is admirable, but I disapprove of that whole procedure. No matter, I’ll follow thro only my gift will be books only. I’m not going to actually go but I’ll mail a couple of books. Then Dana Garland, my friend up on Bolivar, will have a baby shower in March and Bill and Sally Kean have a first grandson now.

Evelyn the Eugene Onegin arrived back yesterday. I hope you truly liked it. Wade and Barbara have ordered La Traviata – with Hvorostovsky – but it is not arrived yet. I am excited to expect it. With a poor start at preparing for Oscar Night, Ann and I have not done badly lately. We have three of the five nominated for best picture. I am not interested in seeing “Ray” or the Clint Eastwood film – which will perhaps win. It has so many nominations and evidently more of a story line than just boxing. Ann intends to see both Then on Sunday Ann, Terry, Jolie and I will go to Cheswick to see “Hotel Rwanda” and on Wednesday Ann will make lasagna again and I will make a salad and we will watch “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” at her place. I will be satisfied.

I will enclose Anna’s letter. Anna from England. How quickly one’s life can change. The letter and picture of her dining room are the only things in this packet that I’d like to have back I’m always sorry to ask for anything to be returned, but you know how I am. Gregarious as Anna seems to be, rather-hail-fellow-well-met, her dining room looks unfriendly. Perhaps tho all extraneous objects were removed as the table replaced the old one. I thought you would appreciate Anna’s views on fox hunting especially in the light of the New Yorker’s long article on the subject. I sent that whole issue to Anna. There were two articles on Iraq which would interest her – as that is where “Charles” is stationed. The dreadful one about the coming wars. The fox hunting article was a sort of bonus. How early her signs of spring are. I’ve not yet seen a Robin.

I seem always to finish in a hurry to make the mail. It’s because I just don’t pick up the car and run into town with late mail.

Love Erma