Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Year's Day 1920 -- "Our Year"

It was January 1st, 1920, when Edwin Harleston finally proposed to Elise Forrest, who had been studying photography in New York City. Nearly seven years had passed since the day they met, and though she was instantly smitten, it had taken him a very long to fall in love. She must have been ecstatic to read this letter.

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.

My Little L,
Happy New Year. I am so glad to hear of your having a tolerably pleasant time at Christmas. I had been straining my nerves to have that good news from you, for you are such a poor little creature when you wish to be so.

We had a rather quiet and uneventful day here, my only diversion being a little dance that night in chilly Dart's Hall where I took Hilda Johnson Jackson.

As usual, Santa Claus forgot me but I found pleasure in making a few gifts to as many folks. ...

Perhaps next Christmas we shall have the same old condition again, but somehow we always seem to survive -- I remember one I spent away from home with not even the price of breakfast, but I heard a good sermon that day and was happy ever afterward. ...

I am glad to learn that you are doing a little work sufficiently good to "charge" people for it -- keep it up, it is good practice. Find out for me, please, every fine point about photographing a drawing and a painting for patent reasons -- we may need it someday.

When you have leisure afternoons and evenings, stop up at the N.Y. Public Library and ask to see the collection of "prints" and photographs of paintings and of course you will go to the Metropolitan Museum, Fifth Ave. and 82nd St. via the Bus at a dime (?) and see what artistic posing and lighting and arrangement mean. Is this too asking too much of my Little One? In other words study! study!! study!!! That's the way to become a shark.

Today I had occasion to look through a batch of my mother's old papers and letters and found some documents which I had read often. Some of them are of pleasant interest to me. Others are somewhat sad. But two in particular are of general interest. Of these one is the Bill of Sale delivered to my great-great grandmother in 1804 when she bought herself and Flora her little daughter from slavery -- brave woman. The other is the deed of emancipation and manumission which she presented to her daughter Flora in 1820 that this daughter might marry then as a “free person of color” not being owned even by her mother. This was my great-grandmother.

That was a hundred years ago. Nineteen Hundred and Twenty must be our year.

It may seem like a hundred years to you since first we met, and it has been a fairly long time, but then your know we have not been in love that long – I didn’t know you and you surely didn’t know me, but love did come – it grew with me, which is safer than a flashing spurt. You must know that I regard it as a holy thing that has no relation to opportunity in the sense of furthering one’s position either socially or materially else I should have been married already and have had much of this world’s goods.

But you know I am not made that way and so I have waited, and you came. Maybe the future holds something fine in store for us – maybe not, but I will bet my chances that if we continue honest, we shall fare happily – you know they say “all the world loves a lover."

At any rate this is “our year” – the month, I cannot say for I must get ready for the material phase of the matter and you know what that takes.

Within a short while I shall be able to say, for we must do this thing right. Of course I love you; of course I want you, of course we will marry, and of course it will be this year and before Scorpio crawls up the sky too. ...

Goodbye! Happy New Year! Our year. ...

With love,

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