I know you bridle at the name "Callie," but you do say sincerity requires starting from scratch, and scratch is right where you and I did start. While we were both still toddlers you took me to your kitchen, where your grandmother had left onion blades and cold cornbread. We climbed up onto her drainboard, shared the best meal I can remember. I think you made us some snuff to dip, Callie, out of cocoa and sugar, but maybe that was another time. Chickens ran in the yard around a little unpainted house, picking it quite clean of grass so neither snakes nor other vermin could approach. We climbed atop the tin roof of a chicken shed to get apple slices spread there to dry. These are some of my clearest memories, Callie, long before you changed your name. Why should I change now?
Your elegant persona could almost spoil your lovely stories for me. I do not really mind the tall tales you tell your friends from New York, or Colorado, or Germany and France about how you belong to the southern plantation aristocracy, your faithful slaves following along to Texas, where the family matriarch preserved the still substantial property, all the fancy folderol to which you are prigileged, your father's extensive library, your governess of course, even your schooling at a convent in--of all places--New Orleans!--how you memorized all of Shakespeare's sonnets before you were twelve, read Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools in both Latin and German (quite a feat for a girl who also claims to be a descendant of backwoods Dan'l Boone!). Your entertainments for your intellectual friends do not trouble me. Some of my own tales have supplanted my memory, too..
But it just won't do to feign writing from personal experience, the revelation of individuality being one of the strong attractions--and then to base so many of your stories on such balderdash, claiming all along that sincerity is the great virtue of the writer. This is especially difficult for me, a child of the Dustbowl just like you, and like many another survivor of that intellectually devastated, windblown sand. Some, like you, went on to make important contributions to the intellect of America. I value their meagre beginnings in precisely the way you suggest in your letter. Don't you think your dissembling betrays them?
I happen to know that with practically no schooling at all you helped support your family by opening your own school for music and elocution, at fifteen years of age! Where you managed to devour your vast reading--and you are one of the most learned people I know--is a mystery even to me, born and raised not forty miles from Indian Creek. Are you a learned woman despite your deprivations, or because of them? How relevant is this geniuine question about you, to the American ordeal for many, or to its results?
Your eternal admirer,
Please return to:
Professor Worthy's Page Home
or view the correspondence with Katherine Anne Porter.