copyright Bettina Network, inc. for Barbara Marden 2011
A few days before Christmas I was giving a friend’s out of town visitor a tour of the house. My friends six year old son David was with us and did he get excited when I showed him a secret place to store treasures. It was in our main bed and breakfast bedroom above the fireplace mantelpiece. Our “restoration” carpenter from New Hampshire created that little cavern when he tore down the wall above the mantelpiece and put shelves in the recess. David was less impressed by my description of what we found when the wall was torn. The major items were a ladies button boot, a breast pump, and some letters, each offering consolation for the death of a child. Losing a child was apparently a common event for families from the time our house was built in the early 1700s through even later times.
One of the letters, three pages long, and now in the Concord library, showed beautiful handwriting similar to our forefathers’ writing of our Constitution. It was a letter from Cyrus Barrett to his sister Sally, who had married into the Wood family living in our house. The Barrett family house is now being restored as part of Concord’s historical park. The Minutemen had ammunition hidden in the Barrett’s cornfield the day of the shot heard round the world. Written in New Orleans in 1819, Cyrus first offered condolences over a son’s death and continued by describing a familiar theme, an economic downturn. I have not corrected the spelling in the following quotes:
“I was much affected by the maloncholly intelligence contained in your letter of the sudden death of your affectionate and much loved little John. I recollect him perfectly and have often been amused by his innocent playfulness. I am not surprised that his death should occasion the deepest sorrow in you, yet at the same time you are left with the comfortable assurance that he is happier than your fondest wishes and care could have made him.”
“New Orleans has for some time past been suffering under a heavy weight of commercial embarrasement. Many of her most enterprising Merchants have failed and those who continue in business are constantly complaining of heavy taxes. The Produce of the country is extremely low. Cotton which formerly sold for 30 cents now sells for 16 cts and other articles have suffered the same depression in values, but notwithstanding the times look so gloomy we are looking forward for a change.”
Thinking about the letters makes me glad to be alive today. In spite of all the economic and political problems, we are saved the grief of losing so many children.
And of course so many of our tasks are much easier, for instance baking these Russian tea cakes I gave my friend to take home. They make excellent cookies for any occasion.
INGREDIENTS AND DIRECTIONS FOR BAKING RUSSIAN TEACAKES:
1 cup butter 1 teaspoon vanilla (or brandy)
½ cup confectioners sugar ¾ cup chopped pecans
2and ¼ cup sifted flour 1 cup confectioners sugar
Cream shortening and sugar. Stir in vanilla. Add flour and then nuts. Form 1” balls and bake 14 to 17 minutes in 325 oven. While still hot roll carefully in confectioners sugar.
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