This charming and informative collection of letters were drawn from a collection of Clinard family papers donated to the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, in Raleigh, and cover the most part of a decade, from 1871 to 1880. Livingston Clinard was a merchant and salesman for various interests in Salem, a member of the Moravian church and the father of two sons. He was a well-respected pillar of his community and occupied a place in the center of a wide circle of friends and kinfolk. Many of them lived outside the immediate confines of Salem, including his older son Francis, known as “Frank” who had moved to the town of Hickory to take up work as a clerk in thriving general store. Livingston Clinard corresponded tirelessly with all of them. The letters in this volume are letters received by Livingston Clinard from friends and family; most are from Frank to his parents; ironically, there is only a single known letter written by Livingston Clinard himself.

Together they paint a marvelously detailed picture of life in the Piedmont region in the decade following the Civil War; what people ate for dinner and grew in their gardens, how many wagon-loads of dried fruit came through the premises of Hall Brothers, Wholesale and Retail Dealers in General Merchandise, that Frank’s boarding-house frequently served chicken for dinner, that a sewing machine cost $40.00, and the pieces of furniture that Frank and his new bride wanted to set up their own housekeeping with. The letters from Frank and his brother Edward contain accounts of visits to the Philadelphia Centennial, of the circus coming to town, of county fairs and dances and of Frank’s courtship and marriage. There are bits of family gossip, and shared worries about the health of various members of the family; in some of Franks’ early letters the reader senses that he was casting around for something to write about, just to keep his parents happy. But one also picks up a feeling for the time, of how shared their deepest feelings, and how they talked; this reader was no end amused to discover that the term of “trash” for material possessions (as in the military slang sense of ‘pack your trash’) was current in the 1870s. And a ‘hop’ was a colloquialism for a dance as far back as the mid 19th century!

This volume is also illustrated with vintage photos of many of the correspondents, and of places in Salem and Hickory, as well as a wealth of contemporary advertisements and ephemera. There is also a most comprehensive index in the back, making this collection of use to a writer or researcher. It is a veritable goldmine of small nuggets for anyone wanting to know how the people of a small Piedmont community lived at a very precise point in time.

“My Dear Mother and Father” is available here from the publisher, Reminiscing Books, and through Amazon.com.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer who lives in San Antonio and blogs at “The Daily Brief”. Her own most recent book is available here.

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