taking one final look at the still form of his mother, Clifton Maxey Cobb discretely
pulled the old letter from his coat pocket and placed it inside her casket. Later
that December day following the services, funeral home workers covered her grave,
the last chapter of a love story dating back to Reconstruction. |
Cobb read the letter from the man who could have been his father before complying
with his mother’s wishes that it be buried with her is not known, but he did read
her old diary. That’s how the Dallas
man discovered the abbreviated if timeless tale it contained, a story of love,
betrayal and possibly, closure.
An undated newspaper clipping pasted into
a scrapbook kept during the Texas
Centennial in 1936 left many questions unanswered, but at least set forth
the key elements of the story.
to the article, Cobb’s mother was Rella Maxey Cobb Harris, born to Nelson Maxey
and his wife at the old Republic of Texas town of Washington-on-the-Brazos,
in 1853. As a teenager, she began keeping a diary. She described numerous events
in her life before penning an entry on March 18, 1868 that marked her first mention
of a romance that apparently had already progressed to a promise of marriage.
“Every gay crowd I get into makes me think of my betrothed husband,” Rella wrote.
“Tommie Lusk, who is now at Washington College, Lexington, Va., going to school
and not here to be with me in all the crowds.”
With Tommie attending classes
out of state, the couple kept in touch by mail, professing their love and envisioning
their future life together.
“Went to Sunday school this morning and got
a letter from Tommie,” Rella noted on June 6 while making no mention of its content.
Late that summer, Rella’s fiance came back to Texas for a visit.
Lusk has returned from school in Virginia, has just come to Washington
[as locals then referred to Washington-on-the-Brazos],”
she wrote on Sept. 9. “He never came to see me, although stayed until the 11th
[of August.] They say he is very handsome.”
Since surely they had spent
time together before he left for college, Rella’s last line is puzzling. Perhaps
she meant that someone who had seen him had reported that he appeared handsome
as ever. But why he came home and did not see the young lady with whom he had
been discussing marriage is the bigger question.
No matter, the romance
blossomed the following winter. As Rella wrote on January 22, 1869: “I received
a letter from Tommie Lusk, asking me to meet him at Ed Randle’s and be married
on the 5th of February; that Mr. Randle would come after me and take me out there.
Pa will not give his consent to our marriage. We will elope.” A Shakespearian-like
development, but she offered no further details.
From her Feb. 1 entry:
“How happy I am; how long it takes the 5th to come. I wonder if my life will be
all sunshine? I have been busy making a corset cover today.”
she expected another letter from her intended, a missive that would contain more
information on Tommie’s plans for their elopement. But on the day she believed
she would be married, her young heart got broken for the first time.
last the long expected letter has arrived,” Rella wrote on Feb. 5, “but Mattie
Cartmell has spoiled the whole plot; she intercepted one of Tommie’s letters and
Pa has found all out.”
Oops. Rella’s dad served as a Washington County
sheriff’s deputy and tax collector. Like most fathers, he obviously was not quite
ready to let go of his little girl.
Mattie Cartmell’s relationship to Rella
must also be a matter of conjecture at this late date. Whether a “frienemy” motivated
by jealousy or someone who felt she was doing Rella a favor by preventing her
elopement at such a young age, in a figurative sense she had spilled the proverbial
beans all over Rella’s newly sewn corset cover.
For a time, Rella clung
to the hope that she and Tommie still somehow would be married. But he ended up
moving to Canada, and that was that.
In time, as almost always happens
in cases of unrequited love, Rella recovered from her parentally dashed teenage
romance and found another beau. She married a man named James Cobb, a union that
lasted until his death in 1911.
Lusk had stayed in Canada, but somehow
he learned that Rella had been widowed. By then, the 16-year-old girl he had once
schemed to marry had become a woman of 58. That’s when he wrote her one more letter,
the missive that Rella kept until her death and told her son she wanted to take
to her grave.
Whatever Lusk wrote in that letter – maybe an admission
that he still loved her, maybe a second proposal, maybe a confession or at least
an explanation – they did not marry. After a decade, now 68, Rella took a second
husband, one James Harris. They had 12 years together before he died in 1933,
leaving her a widow once again, alone with her memories of what might have been.
© Mike Cox
- July 28,
& Marriage | Columns
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