Mother, not your mother


I found this really cool letter from a mother to her child when I was flipping through the old photos in sheet protectors at my favorite haunt recently. What makes this letter unusual is that it is was dated December 17, 1879.  Perhaps at one time the paper it was written on was whiter, but after 139 years while still sturdy, the paper itself has melded nicely into a soft tawny color.

The paper still shows light lines to write on in a faded shade of blue, and the letter itself, which I could not tell until today when I released it from its plastic protector, was originally folded in half lengthwise, with writing from top to bottom on each side, like a thin book. Unusual, right? That a letter would be folded in such a way, and not in the thirds of today’s #10 envelopes.

In this letter the  mother talked about a birthday party for Emmett, and that they were off visiting which is why she is delayed in answering. She also says that she hopes his machine was sold and is sorry she missed him when he passed through.  Hmmm, and that’s not even the best part.

Two lines down from the letter’s closing, which reads as follows- good by your mother S.M. Abbott, this little gem appears:

“…you will know this is not your mother’s handwriting, so I will say that she knows me well enough to come to me with your letter to see if I would answer it…”

Let that sink in for a second- not your mother’s handwriting. 

NOW it gets interesting. Glad you kept reading, right?

The physical writer of the letter, one Ada Thomas, finishes off by adding “ Don’t say one word to anyone of my writing for her. She thinks it will make her more trouble. You understand I think  without my explaining”.

Now, if you’re a writer, your mind immediately and furiously starts the old creative spin on the big wheel of who, why, and most importantly…what if.

Who is this mother? Why is someone else writing to her grown child? What is she hiding? Because, dearhearts, she most definitely is hiding something, and it’s big. Can’t you feel it? The way Ada Thomas ends with her admonition not to say…a single word… gave me pause, and a quick shiver up the arms.

Why must the receiver of this letter keep quiet? Who can’t find out that Mother can no longer put pen to paper? What will happen if word leaks out? I gotta know, so like any good writer, I will save this and when the right opportunity presents itself, I will use it.

I also want to know what kind of machine the son( I’m guessing because it’s 1879 after all) was selling. She writes: “I would like to know how much you got for your Machine if you will tell me. I am glad you got back safe and that your business is all settled…”

Could he have been selling one of the first typewriters? That’s where my mind went, seeing as the typewriter first appears a scant ten years earlier. Hmmm…


I am so intrigued by Mother. She has at least one grown child, and at least two smaller ones(Emmett, the birthday boy, and his sister Claudia) because she mentions them receiving a small birthday gift, a bookmark, from someone known only as Cora.

Could Mother have some sort of illness? Tuberculosis is my bet.  That would be something to hide. Now think, they were not home when this adult child passed through, and someone who is unfamiliar to him but quite familiar to his mother is writing on her behalf…but keep it quiet.

What do you  think? Leave a comment. I’d love to see where other minds are going with this, or if you are in agreement with me.

But for now…

…don’t say one word to anyone…