May 2020 Reminder for The Willa Cather Short Story Project

It’s the second Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for another Willa Cather Short Story Project reminder post!

Our story this month is “The Best Years.” This is the second of three stories that make up Cather’s posthumously published collection, The Old Beauty and Others (1948).

Cather wrote the story in the summer of 1945 as a gift for her brother Roscoe. It’s about their childhood. It’s also the last story that Cather wrote. She would die less than two years later, on April 24, 1947.

One of the characters in “The Best Years” is based on a beloved teacher and school administrator from their childhood, Evangeline King Case. When Cather was a student she was known as Miss King.

In lieu of attending Red Cloud High School’s commencement in 1909, to which she had been invited as a speaker, Cather wrote a letter to the President of the Board of Education, Edwin James Overing. He read the letter at the ceremony and it was also published in the local paper.

In this letter, Cather wrote glowingly about King. Here’s a snippet:

The next year Miss King was made principal of the South Ward School, and I was a pupil in her A. grade. I am very sure that Miss King was the first person whom I ever cared a great deal for outside of my own family. I had been in her class only a few weeks when I wanted more than any thing else in the world to please her. During the rest of that year, when I succeeded in pleasing her I was quite happy; when I failed to please her there was only one thing I cared about and that was to try again and make her forget my mistakes. I have always looked back on that year as one of the happiest I ever spent.

After I left Miss King’s room she became County Cuperintendent [sic]. As I went on through the high school she always helped and advised me; she even tried very hard to teach me algebra at night, but not even Miss King–who could do almost anything–could do that.

From the Willa Cather Archive. Letter #0159: Transcription of letter from Willa Cather to Edwin J. Overing, Jr., April 30, 1909 [Click here to read the complete letter at the The Willa Cather Archive]

Sadly, Cather’s brother Roscoe never got to read “The Best Years.” The typed version was ready to go in the mail when Cather received word of his death by heart attack. He was 68.

What’s Next?

Read “The Best Years” sometime this month. I’ll have my response post up on Wednesday, May 27th. Come back to share your thoughts about this story on that post or, if you can’t wait, feel free to leave a comment on this post.

Happy Reading!

New to this blog? Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here. In a nutshell, we’re reading one short story a month. I remind everyone what story we’re reading on the second Wednesday of the month and then share a response post on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

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