HotFreeBooks.com
The Secret of a Happy Home (1896)
by Marion Harland
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

Had I my way, not one drop of intoxicating liquors should be sold, except by druggists, and then only by a physician's prescription. For—and here comes the answer to the second part of my querist's appeal—I hold that pure brandy, wine and whiskey are of inestimable value as medicine. I know that the judicious use of them as restoratives has saved many lives. I know, too, how nearly worthless they are where the system of the patient is used to them as daily or frequent beverages.

I hold, furthermore, that there is no sin or even danger—unless the taste be already enkindled—in the occasional use of them in the kitchen, as one would handle vanilla, lemon or bitter-almond flavoring extracts. I do not believe that a single drunkard was ever made by the tablespoonful of wine that goes into a half pint of pudding-sauce, or the wineglassful that "brightens" a quart of jelly. Every house-mother knows for whom she is catering. If one of her family or guests already loves and craves the stimulant, it is prudent to omit it. The same man would be tempted by the wine of the consecrated cup. When the disease of inebriety has gone thus far she cannot save him, but she can look to it that her hand does not give the final touch, which is death.

I have written frankly, and I think temperately. I am not a "crank" upon this—I hope not upon any subject. I am a temperance woman who does not scruple to avow what is her practice, as well as her belief. That thousands of better people than I will think my creed goes too far, and as many that it stops short of temporal and spiritual safety, ought not to trouble me. Upon the individual conscience lies the responsibility of principle and action. Yet holding as I do that each of us is his brother's keeper, I lift my hand in protest against the crying sin of the age, and the mistaken toleration of good people with that which leads to it.



CHAPTER XXXII.

FAMILY MUSIC.

Our grandfathers and our grandmothers were drilled in vocal music in the church or neighboring singing-school. In that day—and for twenty-five years later—almost every household possessed and made frequent use of the Boston Academy, the Carmina Sacra, the Shawm and other collections of vocal music adapted for the use of societies and churches. Nearly everybody sang by note, and she was dull of ear or wits who could not bear her part at sight in any simple church tune. The pianoforte took the place of our grandmother's spinet and harpsichord, and every girl in every family was taught to play upon it after a fashion. She who had not taste or talent for music gave it up after her marriage. In this particular she was no more derelict than the "performer" of our times, whose florid flourish of classic music costs thousands where her grandmother's strumming cost hundreds.

The musical education of the girl of that period hardly deserved the name. The national ear for music, like the national eye for painting and sculpture, has made marvelous progress in fifty years. The singing school has gone to the wall along with the volunteer choir and the notion that every boy and girl can and ought to sing. Once in several whiles you find a "music-mad family," of which every member plays upon some instrument and studies music with expensive professors. Or one child displays what relatives rate as musical genius, and is educated to the full extent of the parent's ability. This done, the proficient becomes, in his or her own opinion, a privileged prodigy. Critical from the outset of his musical career, he grows intolerant of amateur work and disdainful of such compositions as the (musically) unlearned delight to honor.

"Don't you suppose," said the late Mrs. Barrow (the dearly-beloved "Aunt Fanny" of a host of little ones) to me at an evening musicale, "that seven out of ten professed disciples of the Wagner cult here present would, if they dared be unfashionable and honest, ask for music that has a tune in it rather than that movement in something flat or sharp to which they have seemed to give breathless attention for the last fifteen minutes?"

"A tune in it!" repeated a bystander in intense amusement. "Dear Mrs. Barrow, tunes are musical tricks, not true art."

This dogma, and others like unto it, are putting all our music-making into the hands of professional artists and hushing the voice of song and gladness in our homes. The one musician of the household is accredited with perfect taste and unerring judgment, and usually becomes a nuisance to his circle of acquaintances. He shudders at a false note; the woman who sings sharp is an agony, the man who flats is an anguish, and the mistakes of both are resented as personal affronts.

I know one girl (I wish I could stop at the singular number) who cannot enjoy going to her own church because the choir does not come up to her standard of perfection. She never sings in church herself. To mingle her voice with the tide of thanksgiving and praise would be like the crystal flash of the arrowy Rhone into the muddy Arve. She sets her teeth while ignorant and unfeeling neighbors join in the service of song, and confides on her way out of church to anybody who will listen to her that she really thinks it a misfortune to have as fine and true an ear as her own so long as people who do not know the first principle of music will persist in trying to sing. She has many companions in the persuasion that this part of the worship of the sanctuary should be left altogether to a trained and well-salaried choir. In the family honored by her residence there is no home music except of her making. There are, moreover, so many contingencies that may deprive her expected audience of the rich privilege of hearkening to the high emprise of her fingers and voice, that the chances are oftentimes perilously in favor of her dying with all her music in her.

Shall I ever forget, or rally from, the compassionate patronage with which she, a week agone, met my petition for

"When sparrows build and the leaves break forth?"

"I never sing ballad music," she said, loftily. "Indeed I could not do myself justice in anything this evening. I make it a matter of conscience not to attempt a note unless I am in perfect tune throughout—mentally, spiritually and physically. I should consider it an offence against the noblest of arts were I to sing just because somebody wishes to hear me."

This is not entirely affectation. The tendency of her art-education has been to make her disdainfully hypercritical. It has not awakened the spirit of the true artist, who is quick to detect whatever promises excellence and encourages the tyro to make the best of his little talent.

With all our newly-born enthusiasm for German composers, we have not taken lessons from the German people in this matter of home music. We do not even ask ourselves what has made them a musical nation. At the risk of writing myself down a hopeless old fogy, I venture the opinion that we were more nearly upon this track when the much-ridiculed singing-school was in full swing and every child was taught the intervals and variations of the gamut, and ballads were popular and part-songs by amateurs a favorite entertainment for evenings at home, than we are in this year of our Lord. The pews in that age united with a volunteer choir in singing with the spirit and with the understanding. The few may not have played their part as well as now, but the many did their part better. In the family, Jane may have surpassed her sisters in musical talent and proficiency, but one and all knew something of that in which she excelled, enjoying her music the more for that degree of knowledge. This brings forward another argument for the musical education of the masses, large and small. It would make general and genuine appreciation of good music, and put an end to the specious pretences of which we spoke just now. The German artisan's ear and voice are cultivated from childhood; his love of music is intelligent, his enjoyment of it hearty, yet discriminating.

Our babies hear few cradle songs under the new regime, except such as are crooned, more or less tunelessly, by foreign nurses. Girls no longer sing old ballads in the twilight to weary fathers and allure restless brothers to pass the evening at home in innocent participation in an impromptu concert, the boys bearing their part with voice and banjo or flute. We did not make perfect music when these domestic entertainments were in vogue, but we helped make happy homes and clean lives.

We used to sing—all of us together—upon the country porch on summer nights, not disdaining "Nelly Was a Lady" and the "Old Kentucky Home," and sea songs and love songs and battle songs that had thundering choruses in which bassos told mightily. Moore was in high repute, and Dempster and Bailey were in vogue. The words we sang were real poetry, and so distinctly enunciated as to leave no doubt in the listener's mind as to the language in which they were written. We had not learned that tunes were musical tricks. Better still were the Sunday evenings about the piano, everybody lending a helping (never hindering) voice, from grandpapa's cracked pipe down to the baby's tiny treble. Every morning the Lord of the home heard "our voices ascending high" from the family altar, and in the nursery feverish or wakefully-fretful children were lulled to health-giving slumber by the mother's hymns.

These are some of the bits of home and church life we would do well to bring forward and add to the more intricate sum of to-day's living. Granted, if you will, that we have outgrown what were to us the seemly garments of that past. Before relegating them to the attic or ragpicker, would it not be prudent and pleasant to preserve the laces with which they were trimmed?



CHAPTER XXXIII.

FAMILY RELIGION.

We are living in an age of surprising inventions and marvelous machinery. As a natural sequence, ours is an age of delegation. The habit of doing nothing by hand that can be as well done by a machine begets the desire to seek out new and presumably better methods of performing every duty appointed to each of us. Fine penmanship is no longer a necessity for the clerk or business man; skill with her needle is not demanded of the wife and mother. Our kitchens bristle with labor-saving implements warranted to reduce the scullion's and cook's work to a minimum of toil.

An important problem of the day, involving grave results, is founded upon the fact that, with the countless multiplicity of Teachers' Helps and Scholars' Friends, International Lesson Papers, Sunday-school weeklies and quarterlies and the banded leagues of associated youth whose watchword is "Christ and the Church," the children and young people of to-day are, as a rule, less familiar with the text of Holy Writ, with Bible history and the cardinal doctrines which the Protestant Church holds are founded upon God's revealed Word than were the children and youth of fifty years ago. Let me say here that I am personally responsible for this statement and what is to follow it. Having been a Bible-class teacher and an active worker in religious and charitable societies for forty years, and numbering as I do between twenty-five and thirty clergymen among my near kinsmen, I do not speak idly or ignorantly upon this subject. My appeal for corroboration of my testimony is to my contemporaries and co-workers.

The superficiality and glitter that are the bane of modern methods of education in our country have not spared sanctuary ordinances and family religion. "The church which is in thy house" is an empty form of speech when applied to a majority of so-called Christian homes. Early trains and late dinners, succeeded by evening engagements, have crowded out family prayers, and the pious custom, honored in all ages, of "grace before meat," is in many houses disregarded, except when a clergyman is at the table. Then the deferential bend of the host's head in the direction of the reverend guest is rather a tribute to the cloth than an acknowledgment of the Divine Giver to whom thanks are due. In the olden days it was the pupil who studied the Sunday-school lessons as needfully as he conned the tasks to be prepared for Monday's schoolroom. The portion of the old Union Question Book appointed for next Sunday was gone over under the mother's eye, the references were looked up, the Bible Dictionary and Concordance consulted. Then a Psalm or part of a chapter in the New Testament was committed to memory, and four or five questions in the catechism were added to the sum of knowledge to be inspected by the Sunday-school teacher and "audited" by the superintendent.

In writing the foregoing paragraph a scene arises before me of my father's fine gray head and serious face as he sat at the head of the room, Bible and reference books upon the stand before him; of the dusky faces of the servants in the background, intent upon the reading and exposition of the Word as they came from the lips of the master of the household, who for the hour was also the priest. I hear much, nowadays, of the "hard lines" that fell to the children of that generation, in that they were drilled after the manner I have described, and compelled to attend church twice or three times on Sunday. I affirm fearlessly that we did not know how badly off we were, and that the aforesaid "lines" seemed to our unsophisticated imaginations to be cast to us in pleasant places. The hour devoted each Sunday evening to the study of next Sunday's lesson was full of interest, the prayer that preceded it and the two or three hymns with which the simple service closed, gave it a solemnity that was delight, not boredom.

"Primitive methods" we call those studies now, and contemn, gravely or jeeringly, the obsolete practice of "going through" the Bible yearly by reading a given number of chapters every day. We assume that those were mechanical contrivances which, at the best, filled the mind with an undigested mass of Biblical matter and made sacred things trite. They who censure or sneer take no exception to the story that Demosthenes translated the works of Thucydides eight times, and also committed them to memory, that his style might be informed with the spirit and tone of his favorite exemplar. We cannot do away with the pregnant truth that the Bible-reading child of 1845 so steeped imagination and memory in the Holy Word that the wash of years and the acids of doubt have never robbed him of it. The Psalms and gospels then learned stay by us yet, responsive to the prick of temptation, the stroke of sorrow, the sunlight of joy. When strongly moved we unconsciously fall into Scriptural phraseology. God's promises then learned are our song in the house of our pilgrimage. We do not confound patriarchs with prophets, or passages from the epistles with the Psalms of David.

I am continually confronted by illustrations of the truth that the "contract system" prevails in religious teaching as extensively as in the manufacture of garments and food and furniture, and that the results in all cases are the same. Machine work cannot compare in neatness and durability with hand-made goods. The complaint, "I cannot get my Bible class to study the lessons," is almost universal. I have known large classes of adults to be made up with the express proviso that none of the members should be expected to prepare the lesson. Their appearance in the classroom at the stated hour fulfills their part of the compact. In thus presenting themselves they "press the button." The teacher does the rest. The mother, taking her afternoon siesta, or reading her Sunday novel at home, rarely knows the subject of the Bible lesson, much less what the teacher's treatment of it is.

I do not mention the pastor purposely. Except when he sees them in the Sunday-school, the faces of the children belonging (by courtesy) to his cure of souls are seldom beheld by him. The Sunday-school originally intended for the neglected children of the illiterate poor, has come to be the chief instrumentality upon which well-to-do church members depend for the spiritual upbuilding of those who are to form the church of the future. If one is tempted to challenge the assertion, let him compare the number of children (not infants) enrolled in our Sunday-schools with those who habitually attend upon divine service. The absence of the sunny, restless polls from the rows of worshipers in the pews, the troops of boys and girls who wend their way homeward at the conclusion of the Sunday-school exercises are accounted for by so-called humane apologists by the plea that two services in one day are burdensome to the little folk. And mothers "enjoy the service far more when they are not disturbed by fidgety or drowsy children." "Then, too, much of the sermon is unintelligible to them. Why torture them by a mere form?"

An old-fashioned clergyman—a visitor to a city church which I chanced to attend last winter—prefaced his sermon, "as was his custom at home," he said, by "a five-minute talk to the lambs of the fold." In the congregation of at least 800 souls there were exactly three "lambs" under fifteen years of age. It was impossible for the most reverent of his hearers to help thinking of the solitary parishioner who composed his pastor's congregation upon a stormy day, and objected to the sermon dutifully delivered by the minister "as good, but too personal."

It is as impossible for the thoughtful student of the signs of the times to avoid the conclusion that the growing disposition of the young to deny the authority of the church and to supersede her stated ordinances by organizations established and run by themselves may be the legitimate fruit of the prominence given by their parents to what should be the nursery of the church over the church itself. It would be strange if, after witnessing for fourteen or fifteen years such open and systematic disrespect of the gates of Zion, they were to develop veneration for her worship and devout appreciation of the mystic truth that this is the place where God's honor dwells.

If—and the "if" is broad and deep and long—the little ones are faithfully trained by the parents in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (dear, quaint old phraseology, fine, subtle and pervasive as lavender scent!), if sacred songs and Bible stories and tender talk of the Saviour's love and the beautiful life of which this may be made a type and a foretaste, keep in the minds of the little ones at home the sanctity and sweetness of the day of days, there is a shadow of excuse for the failure to make room for them in the family pew. Even then the tree will grow as the twig is inclined.

The mother whose knee is the baby's first altar, who gathers about her for confession, for counsel and for prayer sons and daughters who will, in older and sterner years, call her blessed for the holy teachings of their childhood, will teach them to find, with her, the tabernacles of the Lord of Hosts "amiable," i.e., worthy of all love and fidelity. The chrism of motherhood consecrates a woman as a priestess. Neither convenience nor custom can release her from the office. Let not another take her crown.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A PARTING WORD FOR BOY.

Upon the satin seat of a chair in the corner of the drawing-room, lie six white Lima beans, and three small red-spotted apples. Wild fruit they are, cast by a superannuated crab, spared by the woodman's axe because it stands on the verge of the orchard. The apple-pickers never look under it for gleanings. The beans were pulled from a frost-bitten vine in the garden, and shelled with difficulty, the pods being tough, and Boy's fingers tender. Both trophies secured, they were brought into the house, deposited in the safest place Boy's ingenuity could devise, and, alas! forgotten in the hurry of catching the "twain." There was no room for them in Boy's long-suffering pockets. They bulged to the bursting point with chestnuts, also the spoil of the grasping little fingers.

Boy is city-born and city-bred, and a day in the country is better than a thousand in street and park. A day in the woods, when chestnuts and walnuts hustle down with every breath of air, and the hollows are knee-deep with painted leaves, has joys the eager tongue trips over itself in the endeavor to recount. Boy and Boy's mother took the six o'clock train to town last night. This morning, throwing open the parlor blinds, I espy the six flat, white beans and the three red-speckled crab-apples. They were so much to the owner; except for the value imparted by association with the dancing blue eyes and the tight clutch of fingers that had green stains on them when the wrestle with the pods was over, they are so much more than worthless to everybody else—that there is infinite pathos in the litter. It is picturesque and poetic.

There will be no poetry, picturesqueness or pathos in the litter when Boy is older by a year or two. His leavings in outlandish places will become "trash," and still later on "rubbish" and "hateful." At twelve years of age he will be a "hulking boy," and convicted of bringing more dirt into the house upon one pair of soles than three pairs of hands can clean up. Eyes that fill now in surveying the tokens of his recent occupations and his lordly disregard of conventionalities, will flash petulantly upon books left, face downward, over night, on the piazza floor; muddy shoes kicked into the corner of the hall; the half-whittled cane and open knife on the sofa, and coats and caps everywhere except upon the hooks intended for them.

I once heard a grown-up beauty declare in the presence and hearing of a half-grown brother, that, "every boy should be put under a barrel at fourteen, and kept there until he was twenty, out of the sight of his kindred and acquaintances."

"Up to twenty-one he is an unmitigable nuisance!" concluded the belle, with the vanity of one who has put the case smartly.

The lad listened to the tirade without the twitch of a muscle—stolidity that proved him to be well used to such flaying. Three out of four boys in that family "turned out badly," and were cried down by a scandalized community for disgracing a decent and godly ancestry. Hearing this, I recollected the beauty and the barrel, and speculated sadly whether or not this were the key to the enigma.

It generally happens that the grown-up sister has less patience with the growing brother than any other member of the household. From principle and from inclination, and, I am inclined to add, from nature, she "sits upon" Boy habitually.

Ungrateful Lady Mary Wortley Montagu called her quondam lover, Alexander Pope—

"A sign-post likeness of the human race: That is, at once resemblance and disgrace."

In her visions of the coming man, the sister resents the truth that Boy belongs to the same species and sex, or persists in judging him by this standard. In the "freshness" of his age and kind, he is skeptical as to her good looks and other fascinations, and takes wicked satisfaction in giving her to understand that he, at least, "is not fooled by her tricks and manners." If her "nagging" is a thorn under his jacket, his cool disdain is a grain of sand inside of her slipper.

What looks like natural antipathy between big sisters and little brothers is but one of several reasons why home is so often less like home to the boys than to the rest of the family.

I have in my mind's eye a distinct picture of the quarters allotted to a promising college-lad in the mansion of a wealthy father, and which I saw by accident. Each of the three accomplished sisters had her own bed-chamber, fitted up according to her taste. A spacious sitting-room on the second floor, with windows on the sunny front and at the side, was common to the trio. There were flowers, workstands, desks, easels, bookshelves, lounging and sewing chairs, pictures selected by each; portieres in the doorways and costly rugs upon the polished floor. Up two flights of stairs, on the same floor with the servants, the brother was domiciled in a low-browed, sunless back-room, overlooking kitchen-yards and roofs. A dingy ingrain carpet was worn thin in numerous places; no two pieces of furniture were even remotely related to one another in style or age. The wall-paper hung here and there in strips; the windows were dim with dirt; dust lay thickly in every corner; a counterpane of dubious complexion had a dark, wide-spreading stain in the centre.

It is true, I admit, that the place reeked with stale cigar smoke, and that the infirm table propped for security against the wall, groaned under a collection of juvenile "properties," the heterogeneity of which, defies my pen and memory. But, bestow a wild boy in such lodgings as he might find in a low tavern, and he will treat them accordingly. He is more observant than his mother imagines, and more sensitive than his sisters would believe. Too proud to betray the sense of humiliation engendered by appointments unsuited to his station and education, he proceeds to be "comfortable" and "jolly" in his own way.

To return to our own Boy—who, my heart misgives me, lifted up his voice and wept sore last night upon discovering that the hard-won beans and scarlet-speckled apples were left behind—his loving mother has hung his nursery walls with good engravings and artistically-colored pictures, in the conviction that a child's taste for art is formed early and for long. Heaven grant that she may keep true to this principle in all matters pertaining to his upbringing, and in judicious dependence upon the influence of external impressions upon the immature mind of her offspring!

Is our bigger boy, then, so rooted and grounded in right tastes and right feeling as to be proof against the atmosphere of the worst-located and worst-furnished room covered by his father's roof? How far will the mother's assertion that he is the apple of her eye and dearest earthly possession go, when balanced against the object-lesson of quarters which are the household hospital of incurables, in the line of beds, tables, stools and candlesticks? If his sister's room is adorned with exquisite etchings and choice paintings, while his is the refuge for chromos that have had their day—will he not draw his own inferences? If his mother never climbs to the sky-parlor to see that the careless housemaid does her duty in sweeping, dusting and picking-up, does not he divine why his chamber is systematically neglected?

Many a shrewd fellow has marked the progress of an ageing or shabby article of furniture, from the guest-chamber, through the family rooms upward, until it settles for life, or good behavior, in his apartment, and felt a dull pang at heart that he would not confess. Many another fellow, as shrewd and more reckless, has flung out passionately at what he construed into an insult, and made it the ostensible excuse for resorting to places where the motto that "anything will do for the boys," is unknown in practice.

An English woman once commented to me upon the difference between our manner of lodging and treating our sons and that which obtains in her native land. "We behave to our boys as if they were princes of the blood," she said, in her soft, sweet voice. "American girls are young princesses at home and in society, and grace the position rarely well. But—excuse me for speaking frankly—their brothers are sometimes lodged like grooms."

She was so far from wrong that I could not be displeased at the blunt criticism. The just mean between the stations thus specified is equality, and the firm maintenance of the same by the parents. Manners and environment are apt to harmonize. To teach a boy not to be slovenly and destructive in his own domain, give him a domain in which he can feel the pride of proprietorship. He would like to invite his comrades into his "den," as his sisters entertain intimate friends in their boudoir. He may not put into words the reasons why, instead of saying openly—"Come in and up!" to his evening visitor, he whispers at the outer door, "Let us go out!" which too often means, also, "down." Perhaps he is so imbued with the popular ideas respecting the furnishment of his lodging-place as hardly to interpret to himself his unwillingness to let outsiders see how well his "den" deserves the name.

Nevertheless, fond mother, give him the trial of something better. Send the "incurables" to the auction room, and fit him out anew with what should be the visible expression of your love and your desire for his welfare. Why expect him to take these on trust any more than you expect the daughters to do this? Yet their apartments are poems of good-will and maternal devotion.

In all sincerity, let me notify you that the son will not keep his premises in such seemly array as the girls keep theirs. It is not in the genuine boy. I question if a three-year-and-a-half-old granddaughter would have chosen as a safe place of deposit for the white beans and red-freckled apples the handsomest chair I have. You will find your laddie's soiled collars in his waste-paper basket; his slippers will depend from the corner of the picture you had framed for him on his last birthday; his dress-suit will be crumpled upon his wardrobe shelf, and his chiffonier be heaped with a conglomeration of foils, neckties, dead boutonnieres, visiting-cards, base-balls, odd gloves, notebook, handkerchiefs, railway guides, emptied envelopes, caramel papers, button hooks, fugitive verses, blacking brushes, inkstand, hair brushes—the mother who reads this can complete the inventory, if she has abundant patience, and time is no object with her.

Nevertheless, I repeat it—let him have his "den," and one in which he can find more comfort and enjoyment than in any other haunt. We mistake—the most affectionate of us—in attributing to our sons' sensibilities the robustness or wiry insensitiveness that belongs to their physical conformation. Timely gifts are not thrown away upon them; each tasteful contribution to their well-being and happiness is a seed set in good soil.

A dear friend, in whose judgment I have put much faith, put it well when she gave her reason for rectifying only the glaring disorders of her boy's apartments while he was out of them, and letting the rest go.

"They must be clean and bright," she remarked, with tender forbearance. "But I never meddle with his books and papers, or do anything that will, in his opinion, mar the individuality of his quarters. He likes to feel that they have the impress of himself, you see. Rigid surveillance, or the appearance of it, would irk him. For a long time it annoyed me that he preferred his imprint to mine. A pile of pamphlets on the carpet within easy reach of his chair was a grievance; his boxing gloves were an eyesore when left upon his table, and he might find some other place for his dumb-bells than the exact middle of the room. Then, by degrees, I thought my way to the stable verity whereupon I now rest, that the boy is worth more than the room."



CHAPTER XXXV.

HOMELY, BUT IMPORTANT.

The French woman dresses herself with a view to pleasing the cultivated eye. She consults her complexion, height, figure and carriage, in color, make and trimming. Her apparel partakes of her individuality.

The American woman wears her clothes, as clothing, and has them made up of certain materials and in various ways, because dressmakers and fashion-plates prescribe what are this season's "styles."

Dissimilarities as marked prevail in the cookery of the two nations. Daintiness and flavor take the rank of other considerations with the French cook; with the American,—fillingness! I can use no substitute for the word that will convey the right idea.

The human machine (of American manufacture) must be greased regularly and plied with fuel or it will not go. And "go" is the genius of American institutions. Cookery with us is means to an end; therefore, as much a matter of economy of time and toil as building a road. Almost every cottage has specimens of fine art on the walls in the shape of pictures "done" by Jane or Eliza, or embroidery upon lambrequin, portiere, or tidy. It occurs to Jane and Eliza as seldom as to their fore-mothers, that cooking is an art in itself, that may be "fine" to exquisiteness. In their eyes, it is an ugly necessity, to be got over as expeditiously as "the men-folks" will allow, their coarser natures demanding more and richer filling than women's. It follows that dishes which require premeditation and deft manipulation are unpopular. The scorn with which our middle class woman regards soups, jellies, salads and entrees is based upon prejudice that has become national. Recipes marked—"Time from three to four hours," are a feature of English cook-books. We American writers of household manuals are too conversant with Jane's and Eliza's principles to imperil their sale by what will be considered danger-signals. This same desire to dispatch a disagreeable task increases in said manuals the number of "Quick Biscuit," "Minute Muffins" and "Hasty Pudding" recipes.

Represent to the notable housewife who is scrupulous in saving minutes, candle-ends and soap grease, that a few pounds of cracked bones, a carrot, a turnip, an onion and a bunch of sweet herbs, covered deep with cold water, and set at one side of the range on washing-day, to simmer into soup stock, wastes neither time nor fuel and will be the base of more than one or two nourishing dinners; prove, by mathematical demonstration, that a mold of delicious blanc-mange or Spanish cream or simpler junket costs less and can be made in one-tenth of the time required for the leathery-skinned, sour or faint-hearted pie, without which "father'n the boys wouldn't relish their dinner;" that an egg and lettuce salad, with mayonnaise dressing, is so much more toothsome and digestible than chipped beef as a "tea relish," as to repay her for the few additional minutes spent in preparing it—and her skeptical stare means disdain of your interference, and complacent determination to follow her own way.

She has heard that "country people in furren parts a'most live upon slops and grass and eggs and frogs, and supposes that's the reason Frenchmen are so small and dark-complected." She thanks goodness she was born in America, "where there's plenty to eat and to spare," she adds, piously, as she puts the chunk of salt pork on to boil with the white beans, or the brisket of salt beef over the fire with the cabbage, before mixing a batch of molasses-cake with buttermilk and plenty of soda.

The corner-stone of her culinary operations might have been cut from the pillar into which another conservative woman with a will of her own, was changed. It is solid salt. Salt pork, salt beef, salt fish, relieve one another in an endless chain upon her board. She averts scurvy by means of cabbage and potatoes. I know well-to-do farmers' wives who do not cook what they call "butcher's meat," three times a month, or poultry above twice a year. Dried and salt meat and fish replenish what an Irish cook once described to me as "the meat corner of the stomach."

"Half-a-dozen eggs wouldn't half fill it, mem;" she protested, in defence of the quantity of steak and roast devoured daily below-stairs.

Our native housewife does not make the effort to crowd this cavity with the product of her poultry yard. Eggs of all ages are marketable and her pride in the limited number she uses in filling up her household is comic, yet pathetic. Cream is the chrysalis of butter at thirty cents a pound; to work so much as a tablespoonful into dishes for daily consumption would be akin to the sinful enormity of lighting a fire with dollar bills. She sends her freshly-churned, golden rolls to "the store" in exchange for groceries, including cooking butter to be used in the manufacture of cake and pastry.

These she must have. Appetites depraved by fats—liquid, solid and fried—crave the assuasives of sweets and acids. "Hunky" bread-puddings and eggless, faintly-sweetened rice puddings, and pies of various kinds, represent dessert. Huge pickles, still smacking of the brine that "firmed" them, are offered in lieu of fresher acids. Yet she sneers at salads, and would not touch sorrel soup to save a Frenchman's soul. For beverages she stews into rank herbiness cheap tea by the quart, and Rio coffee, weak and turbid, with plenty of sugar in both. Occasionally the coffee is cleared (!) with a bit of salt fish skin. I was told by one who always saved the outside skin of codfish, after soaking it for fish balls, for clearing her coffee, that, "it gives a kind of bright taste to it; takes off the flatness-like, don't you know?" We raise more vegetables and in greater variety than any other people; have better and cheaper fruits than can be procured in any other market upon the globe; our waters teem with fish (unsalted) that may be had for the catching. Yet our national cuisine—take it from East to West and from North to South—is the narrowest as to range, the worst as to preparation, and the least wholesome of any country that claims an enlightened civilization.

Properly fried food once in a while is not to be condemned, as the grease does not have a chance to "soak in." But when crullers or potatoes or fritters are dropped into warm (not hot) lard, and allowed to remain there until they are oily and soggy to the core, we may with accuracy count on at least fifteen minutes of heartburn to each half-inch of the fried abominations.

Perhaps there is nothing in which we slight the demands of Nature more than in what and how we eat. Chewing stimulates the salivary glands to give out secretions to aid in disposing of what we eat. We swallow half-chewed food, thus throwing undue labor on the stomach. It is impossible for the work of disgestion to be carried on in the stomach at a temperature of less than one hundred degrees. Yet, just as that unfortunate organ begins its work we pour into it half-pints of iced water. We add acid to acid by inordinate quantities of sugar, and court dyspepsia by masses of grease. If we thus openly defy all her laws, can we wonder if the kind but just mother calls us to account for it?



CHAPTER XXXVI.

FOUR-FEET-UPON-A-FENDER.

It is the sisterly heart rather than the author's fancy that gives me as a companion in this, the last of these "Familiar Talks," the typical American house-mother.

Whatever the alleged subject discussed in former chapters—and each has borne more or less directly upon the leading theme, old yet never trite,—THE SECRET OF A HAPPY HOME,—I have had in heart and imagination this thin, nervous, intense creature whom I seat beside me. Her own hands have made her neat; the same hands and far more care than ever goes to the care of herself make and keep her home neat and comfortable.

The dying Queen of England gasped that after her death there would be found stamped upon her heart the name of the Calais lost to her kingdom in her reign. Our housewife carries her household forever bound upon her heart of hearts. The word is the hall mark upon every endeavor and achievement. It would be a poor recompense for a life of patient toil to convince her that she has wrought needlessly; that the same energy devoted to other objects would have made a nobler woman of her and the world better and happier. Nor am I sure that in a majority of instances this would be true. On the contrary, I hold religiously to the belief that God had wise reasons for setting each one of us in the socket in which she finds herself. "Be more careful," says an old writer, "to please Him perfectly than to serve Him much." If there are tasks which you, my sister, cannot demit without inconveniencing those whose welfare is your especial care, take this as a sure proof that the Father, in laying this work nearest to your hand—and not to that of another—has called you to it as distinctly as He called Paul to preach and Peter to glorify his Lord by the death he was to die.

In the talk we hold with our four feet upon the fender, the fire-glow making other light unnecessary, I do not propose to enter upon the favorite theme with some, of what you might have done had circumstances been propitious to the assumption of what are rated as more dignified duties. We will take your life as it is, and see what the practice of the inward grace I shall designate can make of it.

You are inclined to be down-hearted upon anniversaries. You need not tell me what I know so well of myself. Another year has gone, another year has dawned, and you are in the same old rut of ordering and cooking meals and clearing up after they have been eaten, sweeping, dusting, making and mending clothes, washing, dressing and training children, and the thousand and one nameless tasks that fritter away strength, leaving nothing to show for the waste.

"God help us on the common days, The level stretches white with dust!"

prays Margaret Sangster. You would cry out in the pain of retrospection and anticipation, that all the days of the years of your life are common days—"only that and nothing more."

If this be so, you need the Help none ever seek in vain more than those to whom varied and exciting scenes are alloted.

The angel of death who had said upon entering the plague-stricken city that he meant to kill ten thousand people, was accused on the way out of having slain forty thousand.

"I kept my word," he answered. "I killed but ten thousand. Fear killed the rest!"

If work slays thousands of American women, American worry slays her tens of thousands. Work may bend the back and stiffen the joints. It ploughs no furrows in brow and cheek; it does not hollow the eyes and drag all the facial muscles downward. These are misdeeds of worry—your familiar demon, and the curse of our sex everywhere. A good man—who, by the way, had a pale, harassed-looking wife—once told me that on each birthday and New Year's he retired to his study and spent some time behind the locked door in making good resolutions for the coming year.

"I may not keep them all," he said, ingenuously, "but the exercise of forming them is edifying."

With the thought of his wan and worried wife in mind, I shocked him by declining for my part to undertake such a big contract as resolutions for a year, a month or a week. If I live to a good old age, I shall owe the blessing in a great measure to the discovery, years ago, that I am hired not by the job, but by the day. If you, dear friend, will receive this truth into a good and honest heart, and believing, abide in and live by it, you will find it the very elixir of life to your spirit.

Come down from the pillar of observation. You might enact Simeon Stylites there for twenty years to come and be none the wiser or happier for the outlook. Refuse obstinately to take the big contract. Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.

Longfellow wrote nothing more elevating and helpful than his sonnet to "To-morrow, the Mysterious Guest," who whispers to the boding human soul:

"'Remember Barmecide, And tremble to be happy with the rest.' And I make answer, 'I am satisfied. I know not, ask not, what is best; God hath already said what shall betide.'"

The new version of the New Testament, among other richly suggestive readings, tells us that Martha was "distracted with much serving," and that we are not to be "anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for itself." That is, it will bring its own proper load of labor and of care, from which you have no right to borrow for to-day's uses; which you cannot diminish by the same process.

George MacDonald puts this great principle aptly:

"You have a disagreeable duty to do at twelve o'clock. Do not blacken nine, and ten and eleven with the color of twelve. Do the work of each and reap your reward in peace."

One woman makes it her boast that she never sets bread for the morning that she does not lie awake half the night wondering how it will "turn out." She is so besotted in her ignorance as to think that the useless folly proves her to be a person of exquisite sensibility, whereas it testifies to lack of self-control, common sense and economical instincts.

It was old John Newton who likened the appointed tasks and trials of men to so many logs of wood, each lettered with the name of the day of the week, and no single one of them too heavy to be borne by a mortal of ordinary strength. If we will persist; he went on to say, in adding Tuesday's stick to Monday's, and Wednesday's and Thursday's and Friday's to that marked for Tuesday, "it is small wonder that we sink beneath the burden."

Our Heavenly Father would have us carry one stick at a time, and for this task has regulated our systems—mental, moral and spiritual. We, like the presumptuous bunglers that we are, bind the sticks into faggots, and then whine because our strength gives out.

The lesson of unlearning what we have practiced so long is not easy, but it may be acquired. In your character as day laborer, sift carefully each morning what belongs to to-day from that which may come to-morrow. Be rigid with yourself in this adjustment. If you find the weight beginning to tell upon bodily or mental muscles, ask your reason, as well as your conscience, whether or not the strain may not be from to-morrow's log.

For example: You have a servant who suits you, and whom you had hoped you suited. She is quiet to-day, with a pre-occupied look in her eye that may mean CHANGE.

As a housekeeper you will sustain me in the assertion that the portent suffices to send the thermometer of your spirits down to "twenty above," if not "ten below." Instead of brooding over the train of discomforts that would attend upon the threatened exodus, bethink yourself that since Norah cannot go without a week's warning you have nothing to-day to do with possibilities of a morrow that is seven times removed, and put the thing out of your mind.

In the italicized passage lies the secret of a tranquil soul. Learn by degrees to acquire power over your own imagination. By-and-by you will be surprised to find that you have formed a habit of reining it when it would presage disaster. It is not getting ready for house-cleaning to-day that terrifies you so much as the fancy that with the morrow will begin the actual scrubbing and window-washing. You do not mind ripping up an old gown while John reads to you under the evening lamp, but you are positively cross in the reflection that you must sew all of to-morrow with the seamstress who is to put the gown together again.

I may have told elsewhere the anecdote of the pious negro who was asked what he would do if the Lord were to order him to jump through a stone wall.

"I'd gird up my lines (loins) an' go at it!" said Sam, stoutly. "Goin' at it is my business; puttin' me troo is de Lord's!"

The story is good enough to be repeated and called to mind many times during the day, which is absolutely all of life with which we have to do.

Try the principle—and the practice—recommended in this simple heart-to-heart talk, dear sister. The habit of living by the day, rooted in faith in Him who guarantees grace for that time, and pledges no more, is better than the philosopher's stone. The peace it brings is deep-seated and abides, for it is founded upon a sure mercy and a certain promise.

FAREWELL!

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse