American poet and author (B:1849-10-07 - D:1916-07-22)

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The Old-Home Folks

Such was the Child-World of the long-ago--
The little world these children used to know:--
Johnty, the oldest, and the best, perhaps,
Of the five happy little Hoosier chaps
Inhabiting this wee world all their own.--
Johnty, the leader, with his native tone
Of grave command--a general on parade
Whose each punctilious order was obeyed
By his proud followers.

But Johnty yet--
After all serious duties--could forget
The gravity of life to the extent,
At times, of kindling much astonishment
About him: With a quick, observant eye,
And mind and memory, he could supply
The tamest incident with liveliest mirth;
And at the most unlooked-for times on earth
Was wont to break into some travesty
On those around him--feats of mimicry
Of this one's trick of gesture--that one's walk--
Or this one's laugh--or that one's funny talk,--
The way 'the watermelon-man' would try
His humor on town-folks that wouldn't buy;--
How he drove into town at morning--then
At dusk (alas!) how he drove out again.

Though these divertisements of Johnty's were
Hailed with a hearty glee and relish, there
Appeared a sense, on his part, of regret--
A spirit of remorse that would not let
Him rest for days thereafter.--Such times he,
As some boy said, 'jist got too overly
Blame good fer common boys like us, you know,
To '_so_ciate with--less'n we 'ud go
And jine his church!'

Next after Johnty came
His little tow-head brother, Bud by name.--
And O how white his hair was--and how thick
His face with freckles,--and his ears, how quick
And curious and intrusive!--And how pale
The blue of his big eyes;--and how a tale
Of Giants, Trolls or Fairies, bulged them still
Bigger and bigger!--and when 'Jack' would kill
The old 'Four-headed Giant,' Bud's big eyes
Were swollen truly into giant-size.
And Bud was apt in make-believes--would hear
His Grandma talk or read, with such an ear
And memory of both subject and big words,
That he would take the book up afterwards
And feign to 'read aloud,' with such success
As caused his truthful elders real distress.
But he _must_ have _big words_--they seemed to give
Extremer range to the superlative--
That was his passion. 'My Gran'ma,' he said,
One evening, after listening as she read
Some heavy old historical review--
With copious explanations thereunto
Drawn out by his inquiring turn of mind,--
'My Gran'ma she's read _all_ books--ever' kind
They is, 'at tells all 'bout the land an' sea
An' Nations of the Earth!--An' she is the
Historicul-est woman ever wuz!'
(Forgive the verse's chuckling as it does
In its erratic current.--Oftentimes
The little willowy waterbrook of rhymes
Must falter in its music, listening to
The children laughing as they used to do.)

Who shall sing a simple ditty all about the Willow,
Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray
That dandles high the happy bird that flutters there to trill a
Tremulously tender song of greeting to the May.

Ah, my lovely Willow!--Let the Waters lilt your graces,--
They alone with limpid kisses lave your leaves above,
Flashing back your sylvan beauty, and in shady places
Peering up with glimmering pebbles, like the eyes of love.

Next, Maymie, with her hazy cloud of hair,
And the blue skies of eyes beneath it there.
Her dignified and 'little lady' airs
Of never either romping up the stairs
Or falling down them; thoughtful everyway
Of others first--The kind of child at play
That 'gave up,' for the rest, the ripest pear
Or peach or apple in the garden there
Beneath the trees where swooped the airy swing--
She pushing it, too glad for anything!
Or, in the character of hostess, she
Would entertain her friends delightfully
In her play-house,--with strips of carpet laid
Along the garden-fence within the shade
Of the old apple-trees--where from next yard
Came the two dearest friends in her regard,
The little Crawford girls, Ella and Lu--
As shy and lovely as the lilies grew
In their idyllic home,--yet sometimes they
Admitted Bud and Alex to their play,
Who did their heavier work and helped them fix
To have a 'Festibul'--and brought the bricks
And built the 'stove,' with a real fire and all,
And stovepipe-joint for chimney, looming tall
And wonderfully smoky--even to
Their childish aspirations, as it blew
And swooped and swirled about them till their sight
Was feverish even as their high delight.
Then Alex, with his freckles, and his freaks
Of temper, and the peach-bloom of his cheeks,
And '_amber-colored_ hair'--his mother said
'Twas that, when others laughed and called it '_red_'
And Alex threw things at them--till they'd call
A truce, agreeing ''t'uz n't red _ut-tall_!'

But Alex was affectionate beyond
The average child, and was extremely fond
Of the paternal relatives of his
Of whom he once made estimate like this:--
'_I'm_ only got _two_ brothers,--but my _Pa_
He's got most brothers'n you ever saw!--
He's got _seben_ brothers!--Yes, an' they're all my
Seben Uncles!--Uncle John, an' Jim,--an' I'
Got Uncle George, an' Uncle Andy, too,
An' Uncle Frank, an' Uncle Joe.--An' you
_Know_ Uncle _Mart_.--An', all but _him_, they're great
Big mens!--An' nen s Aunt Sarah--she makes eight!--
I'm got _eight_ uncles!--'cept Aunt Sarah _can't_
Be ist my _uncle_ 'cause she's ist my _aunt_!'

Then, next to Alex--and the last indeed
Of these five little ones of whom you read--
Was baby Lizzie, with her velvet lisp,--
As though her Elfin lips had caught some wisp
Of floss between them as they strove with speech,
Which ever seemed just in yet out of reach--
Though what her lips missed, her dark eyes could say
With looks that made her meaning clear as day.

And, knowing now the children, you must know
The father and the mother they loved so:--
The father was a swarthy man, black-eyed,
Black-haired, and high of forehead; and, beside
The slender little mother, seemed in truth
A very king of men--since, from his youth,
To his hale manhood _now_--(worthy as then,--
A lawyer and a leading citizen
Of the proud little town and county-seat--
His hopes his neighbors', and their fealty sweet)--
He had known outdoor labor--rain and shine--
Bleak Winter, and bland Summer--foul and fine.
So Nature had ennobled him and set
Her symbol on him like a coronet:
His lifted brow, and frank, reliant face.--
Superior of stature as of grace,
Even the children by the spell were wrought
Up to heroics of their simple thought,
And saw him, trim of build, and lithe and straight
And tall, almost, as at the pasture-gate
The towering ironweed the scythe had spared
For their sakes, when The Hired Man declared
It would grow on till it became a _tree_,
With cocoanuts and monkeys in--maybe!

Yet, though the children, in their pride and awe
And admiration of the father, saw
A being so exalted--even more
Like adoration was the love they bore
The gentle mother.--Her mild, plaintive face
Was purely fair, and haloed with a grace
And sweetness luminous when joy made glad
Her features with a smile; or saintly sad
As twilight, fell the sympathetic gloom
Of any childish grief, or as a room
Were darkened suddenly, the curtain drawn
Across the window and the sunshine gone.
Her brow, below her fair hair's glimmering strands,
Seemed meetest resting-place for blessing hands
Or holiest touches of soft finger-tips
And little roseleaf-cheeks and dewy lips.

Though heavy household tasks were pitiless,
No little waist or coat or checkered dress
But knew her needle's deftness; and no skill
Matched hers in shaping pleat or flounce or frill;
Or fashioning, in complicate design,
All rich embroideries of leaf and vine,
With tiniest twining tendril,--bud and bloom
And fruit, so like, one's fancy caught perfume
And dainty touch and taste of them, to see
Their semblance wrought in such rare verity.

Shrined in her sanctity of home and love,
And love's fond service and reward thereof,
Restore her thus,



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