Saturday, March 21, 2020

Off (Someone Else's) Shelf:
The Leverett Letters

With the sun attempting a comeback, it would seem the perfect time to head to my favorite coffee shop and enjoy reading a book while sitting out in the spring weather. But not this season; all the outdoor cafe ambience now comes wrapped with a lock and chain around the chairs and tables.

Not to be outdone—after all, with so much time on our hands, this is the perfect time to get lost in a book—I figured I could replicate the outdoor seating stunt on my front porch. Now, all I have to do is locate a ceramic pot and fill it with cheery blooms that my cats won't be tempted to eat. Besides, I already have the book selected.

With thanks to my daughter for such a thoughtful gift, I'm looking forward to opening the cover of The Leverett Letters, a volume put out by the University of South Carolina Press twenty years ago. It must have taken some searching to find it—I'm now reading a gently-used copy from someone else's bookshelf, although it is possible (for a price) to obtain a "new" copy—but I'm glad I can now add it to my collection of eyewitness narratives of life in the state of South Carolina where my ancestors once lived.

I stumbled upon this book, back when I was exploring what else was available from the publisher of Emmala Reed's journal, A Faithful Heart. Learning that that book was part of a series, "Women's Diaries and Letters of the South," I started following the trail to pick up similar resources. That was how I found A Rebel Came Home, the collection of Floride Clemson's letters and diary (even though it is not currently listed on the series' web page).

Though this book does not contain the written works (or even the mention) of people in my own family tree—at least, not that I know, so far—the purpose of it is to grant me a sense of the times and an appreciation of what life must have been like for my own ancestors, as well. With well over five hundred pages, the volume flows from a collection of over three hundred letters written over a period of fifty years, the majority of those in the book spanning only seventeen years.

Most of the letters were from members of the large Charles and Mary Maxcy Leverett family, and portray the solidarity between the siblings and their parents through jointly-held values of writing and education while various members were far from the home they loved. The benefit of being able to read the results of these prolific writers is that the reader can snatch a glimpse of how life used to be, in that state and at that time in history.

Granted, a book this size will not be a snap to read. I may well get the chance to sit out at my favorite coffee shop and finish up the last few pages, after all, considering the speed at which I read—or perhaps that is just wishful thinking.


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