The Quixote Imbroglio: That Which Remains of The Burden of Honor

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Her family history furnished the plot of that novel: her father was the miller and her mother the title character.

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She was the one who helped the slave Nancy escape via the underground railway to Canada. In real life she had been born Rachel Elizabeth Seibert in She married William Lee Boak at the age of fourteen and was widowed at thirty-eight. Her husband, who was three times a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, died in Washington as an official of the Department of the Interior.

When Rachel returned to Virginia with a family of five, her father bought her a house in the village. There she raised her children and ministered to the sick, as Rachel Blake does in the novel. She abhorred slavery, as the William Cathers did, but when the war came, her three sons served the Confederacy. Only two returned from the war. William Seibert Boak died at nineteen as the result of wounds received at Manassas. Cather in dedicated a poem to his memory,"The Namesake," and after going to Pittsburgh adopted Seibert as her own middle name, though she always spelled it Sibert.

She also liked to pretend that she was named for this uncle she never had met. She writes: Somewhere there among the stones, All alike, that mark their bones, Lies a lad beneath the pine Who once bore a name like mine,— Flung his splendid life away Long before I saw the day. And the poem ends: And I'll be winner at the game Enough for two who bore the name. Cather also wrote a story in with the same title as the poem , in which a sculptor explains to his colleagues that the inspiration for his statue The Color Sergeant came from his uncle who was killed in the war.

Cather's mother always revered this brother and kept his sword and a Confederate flag with her when the family moved to Nebraska. When Cather was editing the Home Monthly in Pittsburgh, she wrote an article on nursing as a profession for women. She used her grandmother as an example "of those unprofessional nurses who served without recompense, from the mere love of it.

She had a host of little children of her own, poor woman, but when a child was burned, when some overworked woman was in her death agony, when a man had been crushed under falling timber, or when a boy had cut his leg by a slip of the knife in the sumach field, the man who went to town for the doctor always stopped for her on the way. Night or day, winter or summer, she went. I have often heard the old folks tell how, during those dreadful diphtheria scourges that used to sweep over the country in the fifties, she would go into a house where eight or ten children were all down with the disease, nurse and cook for the living and 'lay out' the dead.

problemsome - Wiktionary

Grandmother Boak as Rachel Blake in Sapphira is a "short, stalwart woman in a sunbonnet, wearing a heavy shawl over her freshly ironed calico dress. Rosen: "There was the kind of nobility about her head that there is about an old lion's: an absence of self-consciousness, vanity, preoccupation-something absolute. Her grey hair was parted in the middle, wound in two little horns over her ears, and done in a little flat knot behind. Her mouth was large and composed,-resigned, the corners drooping. Charles Cather, Willa's father, was an amiable young man, soft-spoken and tender-hearted.

He was tall, fair-haired, gentle, and did not inherit the inflexible will and evangelical zeal of his Calvinist-turned-Baptist father. He was handsome in a boyish southern way and never hurt anybody's feelings. Willa Cather loved him dearly and was always much closer to him than to her mother. Before his marriage Charles had studied law for two years, and though he never practiced, he often was called on to help his neighbors untangle their affairs; when he gave up farming in Nebraska to open an insurance office in Red Cloud, his legal training was useful.

He appears in a partial portrait in "Old Mrs. Harris" as Mr. Templeton, an easygoing businessman who hates to press his debtors: "His boyish, eager-to-please manner , his fair complexion and blue eyes and young face, made him seem very soft to some of the hard old money-grubbers on Main Street, and the fact that he always said 'Yes, Sir,' and 'No, sir,' to men older than himself furnished a good deal of amusement to by-standers. Charles Cather operated Willow Shade profitably , later made money farming in Nebraska, and as a businessman in Red Cloud supported a large family.

Mary Virginia Boak, Willa's mother, who had taught school in Back Creek Valley before her marriage, was a woman of energy and force.

Handsome and domineering, she provided the power that drove the household, often producing sparks, and she more than made up for Charles's easygoing manner. She ruled her family tyrannically, exacted strict obedience to a domestic discipline, and punished disobedience with a rawhide whip. Her children, however, apparently never objected to her draconian measures for enforcing good behavior. She also had a great capacity for enjoying life and for caring about things—whether the coffee was hot, whether a neighbor's child was ill, whether the weather was right for a picnic.

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She had the good sense to let her children develop their own personalities. Willa Cather remembered in her old age that her mother kept her seven children clean but allowed them to be individuals from the time they could crawl. She cared for their bodies and kept her hands off their souls. They were all different, and she let them be different. As Victoria Templeton in "Old Mrs. Harris," she is seen through the eyes of the title character: "Victoria had a good heart , but she was terribly proud and could not bear the least criticism.

One of Mary Virginia's projects early in her marriage was to bring her divided families together again. She planned a large party at Christmastime in and drove about the valley issuing her invitations in person. Because of her charm and the fact the Boaks had been staunch supporters of the Confederacy, none of the pro-Southern relatives was able to decline. The war, of course, had been over for a decade, and it no doubt was time for reconciliation.

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Besides, as the William Cathers were such a prominent part of the family, it was very inconvenient to keep up the enmity. Everyone showed up, and the party was a great success.

The Quixote Imbroglio

William's mother, Ann Howard Cather, then seventy-seven, attended the festivities and had the satisfaction of seeing her sons and daughters once again at peace with each other. Charles and Mary Virginia usually called Jennie lost no time in starting a family. By March Jennie was pregnant. Caroline Cather, her mother-in-law, wrote to one of her daughters after Jennie began to have morning sickness that Charles's Jennie was sick and had called the doctor twice.

I knew she would fly right up for she thinks she is awfully sick. Her mother and Charley [have] a happy time waiting on her.

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She was named Wilella after her father's youngest sister, who had died of diphtheria in childhood, but she was always called Willie by her family and oldest friends. Willa was her own invention and appears in her own hand in the family Bible, altered from the original Wilella. The weather turned cold in January, when the first report of the baby appears in the record.

Charles wrote his brother George, who had gone west to Nebraska: "We have just been treated to a slice of cold weather; the first of the season-last week we had three of our coldest days so far. The thermometer stood at 10 above zero. We filled our ice house during the freeze.

Jennie and I were at town today. Jennie went to have a tooth drawn, the first time she has been out.

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We left the baby at home with its grandma. She said it did not cry once while we were gone. She grows very fast, and is just as good as she is pretty. It shows a rather square head, very prominent ears, and a large nose, but by the time Willa was a little girl her features had refined, and she begins to be recognizable as the adult Willa Cather. In the fall of William and Caroline Cather left Virginia to visit their son George, who had married a New England girl and had taken up a homestead in Nebraska. They left Charles and Jennie in charge of the farm. The young Cathers and the baby moved into Willow Shade, where they lived until they too, in , decided to go west.