Monday, April 21, 2014

Finding a Higher Vision in Literature

Have you read "Laddie"?  I love stories told from a child's perspective.  It is an incredibly encouraging look at a large family.  The story of their family is told by the youngest child, a girl.  The book is semi-autobiographical as the author is the youngest of 12 children and loosely based the story on her childhood.  

My favorite thing about the book is the VISION it gives me for myself, my home and my family.  Motherhood is so scorned today, she makes it sound so beautiful, powerful and important.  Here's a bit of my favorite passage:

(To set the scene: the mother has been surprised by a visit from an unhappy neighbor, he has called her a 'fine lady' and she is responding.)

"My dear man!" she cried, "I'm the daughter of a Dutch miller, who lived on a Pennsylvania mountain stream.  There never was a school anywhere near us, and father and mother only taught us to work.  Paul Stanton took a grist there, and saw me.  He married me, and brought me here.  He taught me to read and write.  I learned my lessons with my elder children.  He has always kept school in our house, every night of his life.  Our children supposed it was for them; I knew it was quite as much for me.  While I sat at knitting or sewing, I spelled over the words he gave out.  I know nothing of my ancestors, save that they came from the lowlands of Holland, down where there were cities, schools, and business.  They were well educated, but they would not take the trouble to teach their own children.  As I have spoken to you, my husband has taught me.  All I know I learn from him, from what he reads aloud, and places he takes me.  I exist in a twenty-mile radius, but through him, I know all lands, principalities and kingdoms, peoples and customs.  I need never be ashamed to go, or afraid to speak, anywhere."

"Indeed not!" cried Mr. Pryor.

"But when you think of the essentials of a real lady- and then picture me patching, with a First Reader propped before me; facing Indians, Gypsies, wild animals- and they used to be bad enough- why, I mind one time in Ohio when our first baby was only able to stand beside a chair, and through the rough puncheon floor a copperhead stuck up its gleam of bronzy gold, and shot its darting tongue within a foot of her bare leg.  By all accounts, a lady would have reached for her smelling salts and gracefully fainted away; in fact, a lady never would have been in such a place at all.  It was my job to throw the first thing I could lay my hands on so straight and true that I would break that snake's neck, and send its deadly fangs away from my baby.  I did it with Paul's plane, and neatly too!  Then I had to put the baby on the bed and tear up every piece of the floor to see that the snake had not a mate in hiding there, for copperheads at that season were going in pairs.  Once I was driven to face a big squaw, and threatened the life of her baby with a red-hot poker while she menaced mine with a hunting knife.  There is not one cold, rough, hard experience of pioneer life that I have not endured.  Shoulder to shoulder, and heart to heart, I've stood beside my man, and done what had to be done, to build this home, rear our children, save our property.  Many's the night I have shivered in a barn doctoring sick cattle and horses we could ill afford to lose.  Time and again I have hung on and brought things out alive, after the men gave up and quit.  A lady?  How funny!"

"The amusement is all on your part, Madame."

"So it seems!" said mother.  "But you see, I know so well how ridiculous it is.  When I think of the life a woman must lead in order to be truly a lady, when I review the life I have been forced to live to do my share in making this home, and rearing these children, the contrast is too great.  I thank God for any part I have been able to take.  Had I life to live over, I see now where I could do more; but neighbor, believe me, my highest aspiration is to be a clean, thrifty housekeeper, a bountiful cook, a faithful wife, a sympathetic mother.  That is life work for any woman, and to be a good woman is the greatest thing on earth.  Never mind about the ladies; if you can honestly say of me, she is a good woman, you have paid me the highest possible tribute."

"I have nothing to change, in the face of your argument," said Mr. Pryor.  "Our loved Queen on her throne is no finer lady."

That time mother didn't laugh.  She looked straight at him a minute and then she said: "Well, for an Englishman, as I know them, you have said the last word.  Higher praise there is none.  But believe me, I make no such claim.  To be a good wife and mother is the end toward which I aspire.  To hold the respect and love of my husband is the greatest object of my life."

"Then you have succeeded.  You stand a monument to wifehood; your children prove your idea of motherhood," said Mr. Pryor.  "How in this world have you managed it?  The members of your family whom I have seen are fine, interesting men and women, educated above the average.  It is not idle curiosity.  I am deeply interested in knowing how such an end came to be accomplished here on this farm.  I wish you would tell me just how you have gone about schooling your children."

By educating ourselves before their coming, and with them afterward.   Self-control, study, work, joy of life, satisfaction with what we have had, never-ending strife to go higher, and to do better... I don't know; but if these things do not help before birth, at least they do not hinder; and afterward, you are in the groove in which you want your children to run.  With all of our twelve there never has been one who at nine months of age did not stop crying if its father lifted his finger, or tapped his foot and told it to.  From the start we have rigorously guarded our speech and actions before them.  From the first tiny baby my husband has taught all of them to read, write and cipher some, before they went to school at all.  He is always watching, observing, studying: the earth, the stars, growing things; he never comes to a meal but he has seen something that he has or will study out for all of us.  There never has been one day in our home on which he did not read a new interesting article from book or paper; work out a big problem, or discuss some phase of politics, religion, or war.  Sometimes there has been a little of all of it in one day, always reading, spelling, and memory exercises at night... He has been a schoolmaster, his home his schoolroom, his children, wife and helpers his pupils; the common things of life as he meets them every day, the books from which we learn.

"I was ignorant at first of bookish subjects, but in his atmosphere, if one were no student, and didn't even try to keep up, or forge ahead, they would absorb much through association.  Almost always he has been on the school board and selected the teachers; we have made a point of keeping them here, at great inconvenience to ourselves, in order to know as much of them as possible, and to help and guide them in their work.  When the children could learn no more here, for most of them we have managed the high school of Groveville, especially after our daughter moved there,  and for each of them we have added at least two years of college, music school, or whatever the peculiar bent of the child seemed to demand.  

"Before any daughter has left our home for one of her own, she has been taught all I know of cleanliness about a house, cookery, sewing, tending the sick, bathing and dressing the new born.  She has to bake bread, pie, cake and cook any meat or vegetable we have.  She has had her bolt of muslin to make as she chose for her bedding, and linen for her underclothing.  The quilts she pieced and the blankets she wove have been hers.  All of them have been as well provided for her as we could afford.  They can knit, darn, patch, tuck, hem, and embroider, set a hen and plant a garden.  I go on vacation and leave each of them to keep house for her father for a month, before she enters a home of her own.  They are strong, healthy girls; I hope all of them are making a good showing at being useful women, and I know they are happy, so far at least."

"Wonderful!" said Mr. Pryor.

"Father takes the boys in hand and they must graduate in a straight furrow, an even fence, planting and tending crops, trimming and grafting trees, caring for stock, and handling plane, augur and chisel.  Each one must select his wood, cure, fashion, and fit his own ax with a handle, grind and swing it properly, as well as cradle, scythe and sickle.  They must be able to select good seed grain, boil sap, and cure meat.  They must know animals, their diseases and treatment, and when they have mastered all he can teach them, and done each thing properly, they may go for their term at college, and make their choice of a profession."  

Can you see why I like it so much?
What incredible vision and clarity.

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