Friday, February 26, 2010

MAKING GAME OF HOUSEWORK, part 1 of 2; Helen Waite Munro (1922)

Pick up and catch it, what shall it be? sang small Marion.

"Baby's rubber rattle, one, two, three," responded four year-old Estelle, laughing to see Marion look wildly around for the rattle, then pounce upon it and run to put it away. Then she, in her turn, sang: "Pick up and catch it, what shall it be?"

"Your red sweater, one, two, three." This from brother Eddie whose turn it was to answer her. By the time it was taken care of Marion was back again and ready in answer to Eddie's question to tell him what to take. With merry laughter the sitting-room was soon cleared and in order for Father to come.

I had arrived that afternoon at the home of my niece, Esther Allbee, whom I had not seen since her marriage nine years before. She had gone to the kitchen to start supper but before going had suggested to the children that they play the Pick Up game, then go to the dining-room and set the table.

I could not resist a peek into the dining-room after the three had gone there, for, to the tune of the bugle call, "I can't get 'em up in the morning" they were singing:

"Each dish in its place,
Each dish in its place,
Each dish in its place on the table!"

Small Estelle was carefully laying the knives, forks and spoons. Six-year-old Marion was putting dishes in place with care and precision and Eddie was bringing in from the kitchen plates of food given him by his mother. No great task for any one of them, but, except for a few finishing touches from an older person, the supper table was ready.

"What little helpers they are!" I exclaimed to Esther when she came in to sit down a moment while waiting for her husband. "How do you manage to interest them so?"

"We make games," she replied. "I never could do all the work here except for their help but I try to make it a pleasure instead of a task--and I really believe I enjoy it as much as they do."

After supper was over and the baby tucked in bed the next game was in order. It was called The Dish Laundry. The two dishpans and the drainer were set in line. Mother washed the dishes, her accustomed hands able to keep up with the crowd. Father rinsed and put them in the drainer. Marion wiped dishes and Estelle wiped silver, while Eddie put them all away. Tonight I was allowed to help the two girls with the drying.

"Just four minutes by the clock," announced Eddie, proudly. "We beat."

"When we put them through in less than five minutes, we beat the clock. When it's more than that, the clock beats us," explained Marion.

"We have a song we 'most always sing," put in Estelle in a hurt tone, "but everybody ws talking so fast tonight there wasn't any chance."

"Sing it now," I suggested. I'd love to hear it."

So the three children started in, to the tune of Yankee Doodle;

"Oh, when the dishes must be done,
Each one should be quite ready
To do her part and do it well,
And keep right at it steady.

Help your mother, work your best,
do your mother's dishes.
Wash them spry and wipe them dry
According to her wishes."

Monday, February 22, 2010

THOSE AWFUL THRESHERS, part 2 of 2; by Pearl Riggs Crouch (1919)

A Chinook wind had taken away most of the last snow but the ground was still a bit oozy so I covered my wool rug with plenty of folded newspapers.

Half an hour later the army arrived. We had fixed the tiny kitchen porch for the men's washing and combing. An incredible scuffling from that sanctum flurried me a trifle in my last efforts. But when they began to lunge in--big, smiling fellows, faces beaming from hasty application of soap, water and a rough towel, hair a bit ruffled from brief brushing, stepping lightly as if fearing to crush something delicate in my little white kitchen, I felt suddenly composed. I smiled back and piloted them to the dining-table.

Husband aided me in serving and things moved without a hitch, except--must I confess it?--I forgot the ham until they were half through the meal!

The beans proved the most popular dish, with cranberry jelly a close second.

In twenty minutes it was all over and alone, I faced the table. It did not look quite as it had half an hour before!

When I had taken my own lunch, rested and put things to rights I decided to have a look at the big doings; so to be well in style, I put on my sweeping mask for I wanted to go where the dust was thick.

The engine stood a few rods from the workers and by means of a wide belt, ran the separator. The blower was so placed that it sent the straw in a steady stream straight into the mow. There were three stacks and a number of men on each pitching with perfectly-timed, turn-about stroke into the broad, insatiate maw which greedily gobbled each bundle. Low from the side of the separator the precious grain poured into sacks replaced at just the right moment, weighed and taken away.

It was all very dusty and noisy but thrilling, too. Puffs of white smoke like freed genii; the air was full of flying chaff and a steady surge of power turned my pulses. I ventured through the west entrance of the barn and watched my husband place the fat sacks--the reward of his thought and labor.

Owing to engine trouble I had to furnish the crew with supper and they approached the table more eagerly, if possible than at dinner! This time I served scalloped salmon with hot biscuits and tea and a sponge cake iced with caramel.

When the dusty jovial guests had rollicked away I sought my nook in the window seat to watch the engine leave.

With much snorting and maneuvering the outfit got under way and crossed the lowered wires into the prairie range. On and on, the vast bulk moved under its fluted banner of smudgy smoke showing against the vivid west. Fainter and fainter came the puff-puff from beyond the limestone hill. The hush of sunset settled over the prairie. The "awful threshers" had come--and gone--and I still lived.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SUMMER IN THE SOUL, by Ruth in North Dakota (1933)

Howling blizzards sweep over the rolling brown fields; hours seem like days, all in one dreary monotone; the snow and cold send humanity shivering indoors. Such is life on the rolling prairies of North Dakota in winter.

Rural folk do not see their friends for weeks in succession. We find time hanging heavy on our hands, for we cannot afford the blessing of radio, magazines, papers, and books we would like.

What is there left to do? Books of the right sort are great companions. These we borrow from our state library. There is music, for we have a piano and all the family play and sing.

Lest we forget, we have made a poster of these words of Malcom McLeod and hung it where all may see:

"It is common things that quench thirst, not rare things; ordinaries, not luxuries; not palatial houses, but a home; not royal wine, but cold water; good health, kind friends, encouraging words, loving deeds, duty done, heartaches healed, a grasp, a clasp, a kiss, a smile, a song, a welcome--these are the beams that bring summer into the soul, and make us light-hearted, free and glad.

"Live simply then. Enjoy the present moment. Do the duty next to you. Speak the kind word waiting to be spoken. Do the kind deed tarrying to be done. Never will you pass this way more. Never will you be privileged to see this particular spot again. The next time you come by it will be different. Something will be added; something will be wanting; something will be changed. Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply; exact little; give much; sing often; pray always."

Friday, February 12, 2010

THE ROAD TO CONTENT CORNERS, part 5 of 5; by C. Courtenay Savage (1922)

"I wonder! Well--I'm not going to do it. I'm going to do something else instead. I see straight now. I'm going to tell the folks how much their land will bring and not to sell it to the first land shark who reads the announcement of the new road.

"Let's tell Mother," Betty said suddenly. She could not put her feelings into words--Mother would understand everything.

"Yes, but first, dear, there is something I must tell you, and he drew her close to him.

"Betty, the Board of Directors will probably want me to represent the railroad interests here at the corners. I'm going to try to be the type of man the speaker was talking about today--a good honest, hard working citizen. I want them--and you--and--Mother to be proud of me. I know we've never really been engaged but Betty, you know--."

"I know," she breathed softly, "I know!" and she might have said more if he had not kissed her.

Before Content Corners went to bed that night, the news of the coming of the railroad had spread. Men and women brushed away the tears at the thought of boys who had gone away to work and who would be coming back. The young people swelled with the pride of opportunity. In their dreams they saw progress, comfort, luxury, coming to them on rails of steel. And everywhere the name of Boyce Hewett was mentioned with pride. It had been a great Independence Day.

Late that night, the Reverend W. A. Hathaway, pastor of the Methodist Church, where union services would be held the next Sunday morning, sat in his study, planning his sermon. This new event in the life of Content Corners was worthy of very special mention. He decided to use as a text the old words, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" but he also wished to make mention of Boyce Hewett. He was more or less at a loss what to say but decided to call Hewett a "young man of whom the community might well be proud." Had he known the truth, he might have classified him as a man who had found his soul, his honor.

And Boyce Hewett, driving back to the city, looked out across the night and smiled. He felt mentally, morally, as he had felt physically in the water of the swimming-hole that afternoon--clean! Honor--that was the height he had gained, the honor that George Washington had said was so precious, the honor for which men sometimes died. Then, too, there was Betty--and Betty was Love! Honor and Love! what more could any man want? It had been a great Fourth.

Monday, February 8, 2010

THE ROAD TO CONTENT CORNERS, part 4 of 5, by C. Courtenay Savage (1922)

A cross fire of emotions went on in his mind. One moment he berated himself for a sentimental idiot, the next the call of his blood, honest, country blood, came to him and, echoing down the years, were the tenets of honor that had made this great national holiday a possibility.

He glanced at Betty, sitting beside him. Would she smile so sweetly if she knew the truth?

"They did their share in the making of this nation." Boyce heard the speaker again. "Now it is our time. It may not seem that we can do a great deal, here in this little village but if we live our lives so that we reflect the true spirit of Americanism, then we shall be doing our share. We can't all be famous but we can all be clean, upright men and women working for the good of the community and so for the good of the whole country. Remember what George Washington said, that he hoped always to possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what he considered the most enviable of titles, the character of an honest man."

An honest man! Boyce started mentally, as the words hit him. Mentally, he hit back. He was honest! What he proposed to do was quite within the law. Within the law, yes--but playing fair? He thought of the baseball game of the morning and how the boys yelled for fair playing. The whole world seemed to be thinking of it--hurling it at him.

When the exercises were over, he walked silently home with Betty.

"How would you like to be rich?" he asked suddenly.

"I don't know," she considered. "There are lots of things nicer than a lot of money. It doesn't buy a really happy time nor health, nor--" she hesitated. "I guess it's more apt to get one into trouble," she added.

"Well, anyway," he said, "I've come about business. The railroad has decided to build a spur into Content Corners. It's coming right up the valley and they're going to make a hustling little town of this place."

"Really?"

"Sure as you live. And that piece of property where the two rivers meet, that--" he stopped. What was it Washington had said about a man of honor? And the boys--!

A great revulsion of feeling swept through him. He saw!

"Betty," he said softly, "Betty, I've a confession to make. When I came here this morning, I was going to do a very rotten thing."

She looked up quickly, startled. "You--?"

"Yes. I'm sorry. I must tell you. Before any of you people knew of the new road to Content Corners, I was going to get long options on all the best land and then sell it to the railroad. I--I planned to make a lot of easy money. By more or less cheating my friends."

"You couldn't do that--you would not have done it if you had the chance!"

Friday, February 5, 2010

THE ROAD TO CONTENT CORNERS, part 3 of 5, by C. Courtenay Savage (1922)

There is no sensation on earth quite akin to throwing off the garments of civilization and drifting unhampered through water. It is freedom, cleanliness! Hewett lay on his back, floating, his eyes to the heavens. Presently, he raced half a dozen of the fellows the length of the swimming-hole and won. When he clambered up the bank toward his clothes, he was singing an unknown melody of content that originated in his heart.

When they were dressed, he offered a ride home to any who lived down toward the village. They climbed in happily and begged him to "let her out."

As he drove over the bridge from which was visible the point of land caused by the meeting of the two small streams, he glanced quickly in its direction. He meant to look over that land very carefully, to be sure it was as good a site as he had imagined. There was no time now, however, for he had telephoned early that morning to Betty and told her of his intended trip. She had made him promise to be their guest. He knew that all morning Mrs. Sawtell had been busy in the kitchen, just as his own mother would have been. Twelve was the universal noon meal hour for Content Corners and he wanted to be on time. He was hungry for what would come out of the kitchen--and other things.

Betty was in the rather spacious garden of the well-kept cottage, a pretty picture in her soft white dress. She greeted him cordially, with a wistful shyness that made him suddenly guilty that he should have stayed away so long and his letters been so few. Mrs. Sawtell offered him the frank affection that Betty had been too shy to give him. She had always like Boyce. She had no misgiving in her heart that some day he and Betty would marry.

After dinner they all went to the village green, where there was to be singing and speeches. The speaker of the day was the local political leader, a rather forceful talker. Boyce listened half-heartedly. Within him, a battle was raging. This was such a big chance to make money but was it square? A shout from the ball game seemed to echo to him--Play fair!

"They were men of honor," the works of the speaker penetrated his thoughts. "They were unselfish men, working for the good of the land they loved and for their fellow men. There was not one man who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, who did not make a sacrifice for his fellow men. Their very lives were in "danger."

"Working for their fellow men," the phrase stuck in Boyce's mind. Well, after all, he would be doing a lot of good to the people of the town. However, he could not free himself of the forceful thought that while he was going to benefit them all, he would, at the same time, be taking advantage of them. He wished he had never come to Content Corners! The call for a discriminating decision was not easy to meet.

Monday, February 1, 2010

THE ROAD TO CONTENT CORNERS, part 2 of 5, by C. Courtenay Savage (1922)

The field was a large one. He climbed the rather dilapidated stone wall, looked about and started on a tour of exploration.

In the far corner of the field a group of boys were playing baseball. It may have been his business interests that led him in their direction or perhaps it was a sudden assertion of his own youth. He was only twenty-six, hardly out of the boy class himself. Certainly, one would never have imagined him to be a man of scheming business methods. He was of fair height, with a broad forehead and clear, clean eyes.

As he walked toward the boys there was a shout and his attention was directed to a ball, swiftly rolling along the ground near him. He picked up the ball and hurled it back. Once he had been a good player but now the ball fell short. To excuse his poor throw, he walked closer to the players. They were country boys of from fifteen to twenty and they were playing "sides."

"Hello, Boyce!" One of the older boys greeted him. "Want a game?"

He shrugged his shoulders, undecided. The game went on. It was mostly a case of throw and hit, not the fancy game of the high-priced ball park but rather the excitement of the back lot. Gradually the tingle of it crept into Hewett's blood. He borrowed a fielder's mitt and went to a base to enter the game. It was fun.

For an hour Boyce Hewett played ball. When he fanned the air and struck out, they laughed and so did he. When he hit with such force that his "side" scored three runs, they looked at him with pride and his heart swelled. When there was a dispute as to whether a ball had fallen fair or foul, he was called upon as the deciding judge. It was quite plainly a foul, he announced and this, in spite of the fact that his decision was against his team.

"Yeah, see!" one of the boys called, "It was a foul! Don't you know that you can't get nothing by playing a skin game? Play fair! Cheating shows!"

The game went on. Hewett forgot business. His soft white shirt was crumpled and dirty. The crease was gone from his immaculate gray trousers. He did not even hesitate to slide in hopes of making a base. He was in the game and the game was his.

Presently a watch was consulted.

"Gee! I promised to be home at twelve sharp," said one of the older boys. "There's going to be big doings in town this afternoon and I'm going to be there."

"Yeah! Say, it's hot! I'm all wet."

"Let's go swimming--let's!"

A quarter of a mile away was a famous old swimming-hole where the water was deep and clear, the thick hedge of trees and bushes shut out the rest of the world and the stream was wide enough for a short race.

"Sure! Come on--won't take but a few minutes--come on." The younger boys undecided, looked at Boyce, felling instinctive deference to a guest.

The perspiration was rolling from his face and the back of his neck burned where the hot sun had reached the tender skin. He looked at the pool and grinned.

"Sure! Come on!" he said and five minutes later they all splashed into the cool water.