Not everyone is a letter writer.
I remember when I was about 8 or 9 years old my mom made me write my best friend a letter every week.
See my best friend had moved out of state when we were 6 and by the time we were in 3rd or 4th grade, our mothers expected us to be weekly correspondents. I remember I was required to fill a whole page of paper and tell my friend everything that had been going on with me in the last week. Problem was I didn’t have much to say. I regularly filled a lot of the page with “I miss you sooooooooooooooo much.” I could make the “o” in “so” fill the whole page.
My maternal grandmother was a letter writer. Her name was spelled Joan but pronounced Joann. The family story goes that my great grandmother, Clyde, did like the way the spelling of Joann looked but she liked how it sounded. So Clyde, who was named because her father just knew she was going to be boy, named her second daughter, Joan but pronounced it Joann. Joan was a woman of few words. She was notorious for writing a brief note to us on an index card, putting it in one of those small envelopes, sticking a stamp on it and dropping it in the mail.
My mother was a much better letter writer. She typed her letters on her Remington manual typewriter. When I was away at camp for 28 days each summer, she would write to me every day. And long letters – several pages long. She would tell me everything that was happening at home – from things the cat was doing to friends she’d gone shopping with to the weather.
Maybe it’s those letters from my mother – so detailed in their everyday – that lead me to KCB’s letters and my obsession with them. It may have started with the dress but the letters are where it’s at!
KCB was an incredible letter writer. Not a great wordsmith but a wonderful letter writer. Her letters are detailed and honest. I don’t think she ever imagined that someone would read and study her letters or her life. But the letters she wrote (and saved) fill in the blank of her life that time has created.
KCB wrote this letter to Jane after arriving in Saint Petersburg. She repeats a lot of this information in a series of letters to a variety of relatives and friends over the first few weeks in Russia.
November 5th 1894
My dearest Jane,
I cant tell you how much pleasure your letter gave me – The first I have had from any of my family since I came to Russia. We are passing very dull days here in the hotel. It is trying on the children specially – tomorrow we expect to close arrangements for an appartment (sic). But as there are some alterations and repairs to be made and we furnish it ourselves, it will probably be a month yet before we get into it. It is a beautiful appartment (sic) in most respects. A superb salon and dining room. The walls elaborately decorated so they will need very little. The owner will paint and paper whatever is needed and enlarge three bed rooms. There is also a stable for three horses and the rent includes fuel and electricity carried wherever we want it. Not the fixtures or the cost of the electricity, but the other would cost about 1500 roubles, so it is quite an item. The cost of the apparment (sic) is 4500 roubles a year for three years, and we are very well pleased. It is quite a bargain. It is on a very broad boulevarde (sic), in the most fashionable and healthy part of the city. Very convenient to the Legation. It has not the water view but is close to the River, and has what is better here. I think a southern exposure, so we will get all of what little sunshine there is. 4500 roubles is about 2250$. There will be in one row and all opening together if necessary, and facing south, with large windows, first a library, then a large salon, 30 feet square or more I should think, then a smaller parlor, which we will furnish at once, (the salon can wait some months), then two beautiful bed rooms, for ourselves and the little girls. Then there are four other bed rooms opening on the court, a dining room, perhaps 20 feet square and anti room for cloaks etc. Also a good sized hall, servants quarters – kitchen upstairs etc. The floors are unusually handsome, all the front rooms and dining rooms beautifully inlaid. It will be a great pleasure to be settled. Did I write you me saw Mr. Boggs in Berlin? We were very much pleases with him. We have not concluded any arrangement with him yet, but we want to get him if we can. We cannot afford it while at a hotel. The governess comes by the day at present, but we do not pay her any more.
We are doing pretty well in our French. I have been closely confined to the house because I had no black dress. I have a very pretty one finished today. It is trimmed with crepe and has a detachable train, for special occasions. I will a waist made to the skirt I bought to travel in for every day.
You can imagine my delight to find a little church here, called British American, and Congregational, to meet the views of more people, but the pastor really a Presbyterian (sic). I have not met him yet, was out when he called. Clifton was pleased with him. We went to hear him Sunday, and was specially pleased with the sermon. It was so appropriate and sensible. It was a memorial service for the Emperor. I could not go for the reason stated. We all hope to go regularly after this. I have bought a seal skin cap. I find too, I must have a jacket for walking, the long velvet for lined wrap, called here a “shuba” is too handsome also too heavy for walking, so I have ordered a cloth jacket wadded with (illegible) for walking. I have also bought for the little girls and myself suitable, high, warm over boots, also white knit shawls for the head and face. Some of these are the softest finish prettiest things you ever saw. Hand suit. The little girls cost about $2.00 a piece. Mine which is finer and larger cost five. They have them large enough when open to cover an ordinary size room and so soft and fine you can crumple then in one hand a part in your pocket. These cost any where up to a hundred dollars or more. These are very essential to ones comfort and are very pretty. The Russian ladies think more of having them handsome than of most articles of their toilette. I don’t know what the children would do without Sheppie. He plays horse with them, and baby and anything they want him to play.
Clifton is making calls on the Ambassadors today. I have tried to keep very quiet, because our rooms at the hotel are five stories up, and there are no elevators, and it seems too much for ladies to climb. None of the hotels here have public parlors, every one must receive her guests in her own parlor. I hope for great results from the Colorado trip, and am glad it did not have to be taken before we left N. Y. I wrote a long letter to Fanny soon after getting here. I am glad she was pleased with the photographs. Is (name illegible) married yet? When and where?
The Runyons entertained us very handsomely in Berlin, and Mrs. Runyon went with me to get my linen and china. Table linen there very cheap. I only bought for family use. I will have to get both linen and china for entertaining later. Our gorgeous coachman and “chasseur” must put on black for six months. Great love to you all. Your devoted sister, K. C. B.
No idea who Jane is. She might have been KCB’s sister in law – James G. Carson’s wife – but I can’t find her name at this moment and I want to finish this post. She might have been one of the many young people who stayed with the Lees at Hazelwood during and immediately after the Civil War. KCB often refers to members of that group as “brother” or “sister.” Clifton didn’t have a sister named Jane but he did have a sister named Frances. She might have gone by Fanny and KCB’s references a Fanny in the second to last paragraph of the letter. Maybe Jane is married to one of the Clifton’s brothers?
Since KCB’s letter home on November 3, 1894, she’s decided on an apartment. She says
It is on a very broad boulevarde (sic), in the most fashionable and healthy part of the city. Very convenient to the Legation. It has not the water view but is close to the River, and has what is better here.
Oh to have an address! I know CRB moved the Legation from the Quai de la Cour near the Winter Palace to Boulevard des Gardes a Cheval.
The Runyons entertained us very handsomely in Berlin, and Mrs. Runyon went with me to get my linen and china. Table linen there very cheap.
And who were the Runyons? I guessed Mr. Runyons might be the Minister to Germany so I googled american minister to germany runyon and sure enough there’s a Wikipedia article for Theodore Runyon. He was from New Jersey, fought for the Union and was the mayor of Newark. He was Minister to Germany from 1893 to 1896 when he died in Berlin.