June 1902, Arizona Territory
I’ve enclosed some sketches of my family, since I have only the portrait of Mama back in Cambridge. Now you will see why I say you remind me of Minna. My sister is as pretty as any girl I’ve ever seen, but so quiet and strong, she could never be vain. That’s just the way you are, even if your strength is all about being the first woman at the Harvard medical college, and Minna’s is all about being a wife and mother in the desert. And you both know me as well as I know myself—maybe better, sometimes.
The one I’ve called my Aunt Susan isn’t really my aunt, but she is my mother’s best friend and she helped Mama nurse Minna and me when we were babies. The curly, fair-haired young man, Jack, is her son. Her husband is Liam, but he said he was too busy to sit for me. I’ll take my sketchbook out and catch the men working sometime next week, and send you some real “local color.”
You can see how beautiful my sister’s children are. Nate is three and the twins, Edith and Oliver, are nearly one.
Dearest, I must beg you to forgive me. There is something important about my family I have not told you but you will discover it in these pictures. The Negro woman in the sketch I have called “Aunt Dora” is not really my aunt either. She is a schoolteacher in Tucson and Peter’s mother. I have spoken to you of Peter, of course. He is my sister’s husband. I have never told anyone at college that he is a Negro, but I ought to have told you right away, and I sincerely hope I have not shocked you now.
Peter has known Minna and me since we were six years old. I used to imagine that he was my older brother, and when he and Minna married, I think I was as happy to have him for a real brother after all as my sister was to have him for a husband.
I know it would be a scandal in Boston, but please understand that things are different in Arizona. All of us on the Double S ranch are like one family. We have been as close as one since we all came and settled here together when Minna and I were children. We are all the aunts and uncles and cousins we have. Papa and Mama’s people are all dead or so far away we’ve never known them. It’s the same for most of the folks out here. In the desert—in the territories—it’s the people who live and work and survive hard times together that make up a family. It isn’t only the people who look alike and share the same blood.
I know how proud you are of your family and all they have accomplished. My family is very different from yours, but I am as proud of what mine has done—as proud of who we are—as anyone with patriot ancestors in Mount Auburn cemetery might be.
I hope you will understand. Please write and say you do. And say too that you forgive me for not telling you sooner. I just didn’t know how to do it.
Your own adoring,
June 1902, Boston
Most Precious Eden,
I must confess to you my disappointment that you think it possible I might not understand your family, or your sister’s marriage, or be proud with you of them all. I do wish you had told me before, but I understand why you would not tell the others at college.
As for me, I hope that someday you will be proud enough of me to allow me to meet your people. I have said nothing to my own family, in respect for your privacy, which you have kept this long. But please write and say you will permit me to mention something of the details to them and to show them the lovely pictures of your sister and her children. It is for the recognition of all people as children of God my grandparents worked so hard in the pre-war times and I am sure that Mother and Father’s faith in this truth, when put to the test of life experience, would not waver.
Marriage between the races is not unheard of, even in Boston, though I dare say you are right about the scandal. And I know things must be very different in a place like Arizona, but such differences certainly ought not to matter between us, should they? We two, of all people know how love can be misunderstood and mischaracterized.
Darling, darling Eden, whatever the rest of the world believes is natural or right, I love you as I am sure your sister loves her husband and he loves her. Don’t you know that nothing could sway my devotion to my boy?
Does your sister know you love me? You say she knows you as well as you know yourself. Has she guessed it, then? If you tell her about me, tell her how I long to be her sister just as Peter is your brother.
Tell her I am forever your,
July 1902, Arizona Territory
I spent twelve years in Arizona and I always knew it was beautiful. But somehow, I felt that to say so, even to myself would betray a childish interest in unimportant things.
The important things were taking care of the horses, mending the fences, cleaning the barn, carrying water for my mother’s garden. I used to try to arrange to be in front of the house at sunrise. I would go the long way around to reach the well and watch the sky as the stars went out and the pink and gold light hit the top of the mountains north of our place. There was nothing—no buildings or fences I mean—between the house and those mountains and I would pretend to be the only person on earth.
But if Papa should come around the corner, I’d look down and walk fast toward the well and pretend not to notice morning coming over the desert. Sometimes I had to catch my breath. Sometimes I even had to blink back tears. Someday I’ll show you the sunrise from the front of our house. There’s nothing anywhere in Boston or London or Paris, at least, to compare to it.
But what I really wanted to tell you is how different things are now. Now I go out in the morning with my paint and my easel and I work furiously for that quarter hour that the sun is rising. Do you know, the sun never rises the same way twice I am trying to generalize it so you can see something like it in my picture when I am back with you in Boston in September. No one asks me to carry water now. I try to help Papa as best I can—don’t think I’ve become a loafer—but when I am painting, everyone leaves me to it. They seem to think that stopping to watch something beautiful is my duty now. Mama even brings coffee out to me when I’m working. I’ve told her not to trouble herself that way, but she smiles and kisses me instead.
Maybe they would have let me stop and watch all along. Maybe they watched too, from their own secret places. Maybe Papa would have watched with me. He often comes now to stand by silently while I am working at dawn.
How could I be nearly twenty-one years old and know my own family so little? How could I have hidden myself away from them so well? Perhaps it’s only that I have never really known myself and now I am beginning to. I am a painter, Sophie. It is as true as if I had been born with a brush in my hand.
And I am ever your own loving,