Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Love in Granite (i)

In the barest of outlines, their getting together seems, at best, a marriage of convenience.

The husband, Mr. Daniel Freeman, way out on the cusp of the frontier in the 1860s, hunting buffalo and fighting hostiles, wants relief from at least part of the high drama life is still handling him. Throughout the Civil War, he worked as a Northern spy. These days, despite the wild pioneering life, he’s flat out lonely. He’s got land now, a place of his own. What he needs is wife.

So he asks a woman who seems convenient, Agnes S. Suiter, a schoolteacher back in Iowa, a woman he knows her well because she’d been engaged to his brother James, who, most sadly, didn’t return from the Civil War. Early on in their correspondence, she addresses him accordingly as "Brother Dan." but then, once things change subtly, she starts things differently: “Dear Friend Daniel," an only slightly hidden smile.

It's easy to judge their coupling as loveless, too easy in fact. Daniel was a divorcee, and Agnes a widow. Given the trajectory of their lives, both seemed destined to loneliness; both recognized that future, however, and opted for the alternative. And why not? "Better than living alone," each of them might well have thought.

So letters were exchanged. Little more than a year passes, and they marry, bringing an end to their mutual loneliness. Agnes bears Samuel seven children, suggesting their relationship could not have been bereft of passion, although on the mid-19th century frontier, a passel of kids may not evidence romantic love or even intimacy.

Maybe it's their shared gravestone up the hill at the Homestead National Monument that suggests something cold, something merely convenient. I don’t know why. Daniel could be ornery and by all accounts was no sweetheart, and Agnes Suiter, after all, was a entire generation younger than he was, 17 years. Could those two have loved each other?

And then there’s the strange fact of their meager correspondence doing all the relationship's heavy lifting. Daniel Freeman wrote Agnes S. Suiter first sometime in 1863 (that letter is lost); the two of them were married in her parents’ home in Iowa in February of 1865. There's barely a dozen letters total.

Here's the thing: it didn't take many at all before promises were offered.

Tomorrow: the sweet letters of two lonely pioneers becoming "a thing."

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