(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


[Letter 7]

March 3, 1977

My dearest wife, Mary Jayne:

     The type of research I am doing is indeed dangerous in this era of ERA, but, intrepid soul that I am, I plunge on.
     When a man attempts to trace his begetters of “folks,” he is apt to overlook his beloved spouse and her kith and kin. With me, not so. I am an equal opportunity husband and am going to make a search, as we call it at the genealogical society, for your illustrious forebears as soon as I lay the Clan Muschany to rest.
     In all honesty, I must say that I did not dream I had so many ancestors; I find it hard to believe that anyone is an orphan in the fullest sense.
     The Howell area could have been called Muschany Meadows, or Keithly Korners (my mother was a Keithly, as you know), if there had not been so many Castlios, the Stewarts, the Darsts, the Morrises, the Doughtys, the Audrains, (are you still with me?) the Callaways, the Boones, the Millers, the Howells, the Pitmans, ad infinitum.
     To me, these are a bunch of “players in search of an author,” to steal a phrase from literature, and I am attempting to give their lives a plot in order to make this collection readable and pleasurable for our children . . . and theirs. This is slow but rewarding work as I do have leeway to philosophise as I go along. You, of all people, know that I am a frustrated historian and philosopher who had to make a living while keeping these two subjects on hold.
     The benefit of being my age is that there is a lot of time behind me and, hopefully, a pretty good amount ahead. The Travelers Insurance Company is betting that I do have some extended time, and they are not rich because they make bad bets. What a practical way to look at it! I never thought of that before!
     Dear Mary Jayne, You and I know of our personal struggle shared with all the other young couples we know. There is no point in regaling our kids with “we did without this or that,” but rather tell what we did “with” and what those before us handed on to us. Not money, necessarily, but inspiration, love, family loyalty (a precious commodity which has been out of vogue for years), religion (which is making a comeback), and self-respect coupled with dignity.
     We have learned that one cannot have self-confidence without first having self-acceptance. This latter is impossible unless we seek self-respect. Our families did this by the simple ploy of being honorable people; a handshake was a contract. Apparently there was not a surplus of lawyers in the history of Howell. It’s not that I have anything against the men of the bar, but that a simple buy-and-sell agreement seemed to be all that was needed. I found several manuscript copies of sale contracts, even one in which value of the slaves are included. (No, dear, not housewives, just slaves.) Also, estate sales, and those of farms, cattle, land and stores. All very simple and written in long hand. Also a land grant from Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, again very simple and to the point.
     We all felt Cal Coolidge and Vermonters in general used an economy of words. I think the whole country did, with the exception of politicians on the stump, of course. ’Twill be ever thus, I’m afraid. So, bear with me, dear lady, your time will come and you can help me dig . . .

All my love,
[signed: Don]