Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Richmond in 1910 from a postcard.

Seated beside the woodstove, which still had a good burn going from supper, Flo sipped her black tea from a china cup and began to read her cousin's letter.

My Dear Flora,

I was so glad to hear from you again. I thought you had forgotten me, until Marion, in her part of the letter, told me you that you both were thinking of me.

(Ah, yes, now she remembered. Back at Easter Marion had sat her little sister down to write a letter to the man. "If you are going to be in Boston in August, you must write Henry to tell him, she said. It is only right.")

It does me good to read a letter from you and Marion. It makes me feel young. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write back. Dr. May was away for three weeks and I was alone and busy. No patients died and a few got better.

It is truly sorrowful about yourself and that neighbour boy. I can sympathize but cannot really appreciate the situation never having had experience in that line. (Agh, she must have told him about Harry D.) With respect to your other problem, the school problem, that I can help you with, as I have spent all too many years as a student - and with some success.

First let me say that you are too hard on yourself. First year Academy is difficult and St. Francis does have high standards. Those standards have served me very well and you should be able to shape them to your advantage, too.

First off, I think it best to focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses. I seem to recall a day a few winters ago, when I attended a skating party with you and your sisters in Melbourne, how graceful you were on the ice. How effortlessly you got from one end of the rink to the other, without any waste of effort. You were easily the best skater among all the women there, and I'm sure it didn't come out of nowhere. You likely have a mix of natural talent, an enjoyment for the sport, and you have put in many hours of practice (although it may not have seemed as such).

Success at school is also a matter of talent and technique and application and also of having a clear goal - wanting to get from 'here' to 'there'.

With composition, now, it is probably very much a case of 'practice makes perfect.' If you are, as you say, on the fine edge of failing, I suggest you approach the teacher for advice (teachers, I find, are usually glad to help a student who wants to help himself). Make no excuses and put no blame anywhere except squarely on yourself.

In this way at grading time, the teacher is likely to see the glass half full, rather than half empty when he reads your paper.

As for Latin and Algebra, I can give you some concrete strategies for exam time that have worked for me in the past....

And he did.

Then he ended his long letter. Sorry for this rambling note. I am still quite young and foolish. My best wishes to Aunt Maggie. And I hope to hear from you again. PS. When are you coming to Newton Center? If you come I promise to take you and Mae to Hyannis Beach in my Stanley Steamer. (This place is one of the prettiest in all of America!) But first you must pass your year.

Your loving cousin,