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  • Mj Pettengill

Until Then, the Angels Would Do


Snow Angel, CC0
Snow Angel, CC0

EXCERPT The Angels' Lament

February 15, 1873, Fall River, MA I admired the courage of the wayward girl, the one who left snow angels in our winter garden. After each storm, I tended to them, carefully recreating them. I liked that they were there and that with each revision, they became more imperfect. It was as if they were my secret friends in this new, dreary place. I hoped to feel more cheerful in the spring, but until then, the angels would do. Mother thought it silly and worried about me catching a cold, but I had to do something out of the ordinary, or I would have curled up and died.

“Tempy, what would I do without you?”

“Oh child, I’m sure you’d do jes fine,” she said.

I looked out over the barren yard once more, before climbing into my freshly warmed bed. February was exceedingly dreadful. With the house so drafty, were it not for Tempy and the others tending the fires, we would have frozen to death.

In the morning, I preferred to linger in bed, but Mother wouldn’t hear of it. There was no end to her complaints. She did not winter well at all. She badgered me until I got up, played the piano, did needlepoint, and read at least one chapter of classic literature.

Vintage Letter, CC0
Vintage Letter, CC0

For penmanship practice, and to remain connected and cordial, I penned a weekly letter to my cousins in New Hampshire. Mother wanted me to perfect the art of letter writing, saying that it was a sign of good character to send and receive letters with regularity. She deemed it to be productive and the foundation of much refined and social happiness.

It was a challenge to write to the same people every week, trying to conjure up a message or measured words of love while carefully avoiding long, tedious details of boring trivialities. It was required that my letters be gracefully worded while never revealing confidentialities. Not only did Mother inspect my letters for proper content, charm, and grammar, she was a stickler for neatness. If there was so much as one small blot, the entire letter was tossed into the fire, and I was to begin again with a fresh sheet of paper.

She considered it bad taste to express oneself honestly, use flowery language, or quotations. When asked why she did not write the letter herself, she became highly insulted and sulked for the rest of the afternoon.

A good daughter would have chased after her and begged for forgiveness, but that was not our way. I tried many a time to feel sympathy or regret when I injured her spirits, but she was comforted in the depths of her own misery. Secretly, it was what she craved. The few times I did try to console her or offer an apology, she plunged deeper into her gloomy state. Even showing the smallest indication of soothing her sorrows brought about harsh punishment to me, the offender.

Although there was nothing new to mention, and it was unacceptable to write from my heart, again, I sat with pen and paper, trying to write according to her rules.

I was never allowed any leisure time. When I took an interest in baking, Mother thought it to be frivolous and beneath me. Life was so unfair. Bess Adams

February 15, 1873 Fall River, MA

The Angels' Lament

Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series, Book Two