Chapter 3: Wedding Bells and Babies -- January 1888 - July 1895


This chapter sees Thomas through his 50's. He works hard from daylight till after 9 at night, 6 days a week, with very little time for writing letters -- he writes an average of less than once a year, but his daughters fill in the gaps. In their community, plagues and diphtheria take lives, and the crop failures and economic depression in 1893-1894 caused many to give up their farms and leave. The "blizzard of 1888," so vividly described in this chapter, was memorable but blizzards were not unusual -- winters often left 2-3 feet of snow on the ground for months. Nevertheless, Emma writes that Thomas is again singing through his chores, as he did back in Pennsylvania. He looks for someone to invest in his cattle and pay for the expenses, and apparently his daughter Millie finally agrees to do it.

Emma is also struggling. She boards with families near the schools where she is teaching, has to pay for college courses, is paid less than male teachers and barely makes enough money to live. She writes, "It took all my money this summer to pay my board and what I had to go in debt for last winter, but it didn't leave anything for clothes or anything else, and it is enough to give any one the ‘blues.' I wish I had been a boy."

The main topic of many of the girls' letters are, of course, beaus. Even Emma's students are distracted -- she writes that "Of all nuisances in the world, girls big enough to have beaus are the worst."

One by one, the daughters are each married and move out of the home. Lucy and her husband Will move to a farm outside Fullerton, Nebraska, which is about 20 miles from Central City. They have no neighbors within a mile, and later move to Oklahoma, where Will builds their cabin and Indians pay surprise visits. Anna and her husband Joe move into Central City where Joe has a pharmacy, and Anna helps as clerk. Meanwhile Lulu has finally moved from Pennsylvania to join the rest of the family in Nebraska, and later marries a neighbor she meets there, Buel Larcom. Emma was still single at the age of 28 and called herself one of the "five old maids" left in town, but Charles Gregg sweeps her away from school in his horse and buggy and they are married. By the end of the chapter, each of them has had her first baby, though Emma nearly dies in the effort.

This chapter also picks up on the story of the most tragic figure in this family history -- Thomas's younger sister, Sade (Sarah). Sade has always been very sensitive -- her letters about her brothers leaving for the Civil War and the death of Thomas's wife Letty are among the most poignant in this collection (pages 109 and 260). Now that Sade is in her 40's and married with 5 children, she suffers one tragedy after another. Her daughter Sudie has three children, all of whom die in infancy, and in 1891 Sudie herself dies at the age of 21. Sade's son Thomas -- named after her brother -- dies six years later when he is only 19. About five years after that, when Sade is in her late 50's, she is paralyzed and becomes an invalid for the rest of her life. Seven years later, just after Christmas in 1909, her husband dies. Sade lives another 5 years, and dies when she is almost 70.

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