| In My Youth|
|by James Baldwin|
|A decidedly different autobiography, originally published under the pseudonym Robert Dudley, eventually revealed to be James Baldwin. A portrayal of life in rural Indiana in the middle of the 19th century it certainly is, but it is so much more. In the words of Mr. Howland, an editor for the original publisher, 'It is difficult to describe just what there is so remarkable about this book, but it is undeniably wonderful. It is literature. It is a strange combination of autobiography and fiction, and records only the simplest happenings -- the life of people in the Indiana backwoods, the primitive life, the commonplace experiences, the visits between neighbors. To tell about it in this way does not make it sound remarkable, yet it is. The style is simple and clear; there is a quiet humor running through it, and in other places the reading brings tears to the eyes.' Ages 10-12 |
T length the harvest was gathered. The barn was filled
with hay and oats, and in the high-fenced lot behind it
there were three or four huge stacks of wheat waiting
for the time of thrashing. The corn had been "laid
by"—that is, it had received its last
plowing—and the pumkins were growing yellow in
the field. There were peaches in the orchard, and a
great surplus of early apples. On every hand there was
plenty of everything—even plenty of work for
every member of the family.
"Now we must finish the new house," said father; "the
frame has been standing unenclosed so long that I am
ashamed. If all of us do what we can, we may get
everything finished before the next quarterly meeting;
and what a satisfaction it will be to be able to
entertain friends in a suitable manner."
All hands, therefore, were put to the work. From
daylight till dark, six days in the week, we could hear
nothing but the sound of hammers and saws and planes
and augers. Father was a skillful carpenter. He had
built more houses and barns than any other man in the
New Settlement, if not in the whole world. The big
boys, David and Jonathan, were willing and strong, and
quick to do whatever task was set for them. And I,
small as I was, had my own part to perform, running
 errands, carrying shingles and nails and bricks, and
helping my seniors in a thousand ways.
There was little time for reading in those busy days;
but I kept my Parley Book on the unused end of father's
work bench, and whenever I could catch a moment's
leisure, I turned to its pages for solace and delight.
Sometimes I would ask father the meaning of an unusual
word or expression, and sometimes he would pause in the
midst of his work, and explain whole passages that were
perplexing to me. And thus, my dear Leonidas, in one
month's time, I learned more geography than you, with
all your "opportunity" and modern methods, will have
learned in two years of schooling.
It was another red-letter day when the finishing
touches were put upon the "big-house," as we thereafter
called it, and it was pronounced ready for occupancy.
You may smile at the idea of calling it a big house,
for it was only twenty feet long and not quite so
broad; but to me it seemed a very spacious dwelling, as
commodious as a meetin'-house and as elegant as a
Two-thirds of the floor space was given up to the
"settin'-room," and the remainder was divided equally
into two very small bedrooms. At one end of the
settin'-room there was a diminutive fireplace, and a
chimney built of home-burned bricks, neatly laid and
painted red; for father in addition to his other
pursuits, was a brickmaker, a mason and a painter. On
each side of the house there was a door with a window
close by, and at the farther end there were two tiny
windows, one for each of the bedrooms. The entire
arrangement was so perfect that none of us could
imagine any way to improve upon it.
And now the work of furnishing the big-house was
 begun with great zest and delight on the part of all.
Six brand new "Windsor" chairs which father had made in
the winter months, were brought from their place of
storage in the shop and ranged in a stiff prim row
along the back wall of the settin'-room. A big rocking
chair was set facing them on the opposite side to keep
them in order when they were left to themselves. A
three-legged candlestand, which Jonathan claimed as his
own handiwork, was set beside the south window; and a
little looking-glass, with a red frame and the picture
of a tiny white house at the top, was hung on the
opposite wall. A Seth Thomas clock with wooden wheels
(which mother had for years kept safely in the big
"chist" in the loft, waiting for a suitable place and
occasion like the present) was brought out and
burnished and set to going; and then, to our great
admiration, it was put exactly in the middle of the
mantlepiece above the little fireplace. A last year's
almanac also was laid on the mantel-shelf, and a
many-colored hussif (housewife), full of thread and
needles and buttons, was hung by the chimney corner.
This completed the furnishing of the settin'-room.
The two bedrooms were fitted out each exactly alike,
each with a bed and a chair; and it was here that the
artistic skill of Cousin Mandy Jane and Cousin Sally
were exhibited to the full. For the latter, as an
expert in all matters of household economy, had been
invited to come over and help "fix up." The bedsteads
were very high with elaborately turned posts, the tops
of which touched the ceiling. Father took great
interest in seeing them set up, for he, with Jonathan,
had spent many a long winter evening in shaping and
framing them. Instead of bed springs there was a net
work of ropes upon which the bed was "made up." And the
making-up was in the
fol-  lowing order; first, the straw "tick," a sort of
mattress filled with clean wheat straw; second, "the
feather tick," a huge bag stuffed with feathers from
our own ducks and geese; third, a pair of snow-white
linen sheets, made of flax grown in our own field,
spun, woven, bleached and hemmed by our own womenfolk;
fourth, another feather tick (called the "kivver
tick"), not so heavy as the first, and wonderfully soft
and soothing. Over this last was spread a white
blanket, made of wool from our own lambs; and then,
capping the whole, there was a patch-work quilt
composed of hundreds of bits and samples of calico and
gingham and linsey-woolsey—the gatherings of
years from every imaginable and available source.
When the bed was completely "made up," it was so high
that Cousin Sally had to stand on her tiptoes to reach
to the top of it. Finally, two huge feather "pillers"
were laid at the head, on top of this mountain of
repose; and a valance of "figured" pink calico was
stretched from post to post between the straw tick and
"Now jist come and look at it," said Cousin Sally.
"It's jist fine enough for a queen to lay on."
The whole family assembled to admire this triumph in
the bed-making art, and every voice was loud in its
"Now," said father in tones of deepest satisfaction,
"we are in a condition to accomodate traveling Friends
decently and becomingly."
"It would be nice if we only had a little
lookin'-glass to hang in each bedroom," suggested
Cousin Mandy Jane. "Then the women could see how to fix
their hair when they git up in the mornin'."
"No such thing is necessary," remarked father. "If
 they want to see themselves they can go out and use the
glass that hangs in the settin'-room. We won't pander
to anybody's vanity."
"I've heerd tell," said Cousin Sally, "that in some
of the fine houses in Wayne, they put a tin of water
and a wash-pan in each bedroom, so that the women can
wash their faces and hands when they git up. I think
that's purty nice."
"It's nice enough for quality folks," said mother,
"but common folks don't need any sich convienences. The
Friends that lodge with us can go out to the kitchen
bucket or down to the spring branch to wash
theirselves. It won't hurt 'em to do like we do."
"That's right, mother," said David. "If they're too
good to do like common folks, let 'em go without
washin', I say."
The beds were patted and smoothed, and patted and
smoothed; the chairs were rearranged against the wall;
the floor was swept and garnished; the walls were
dusted; and the hearth was mopped and polished. Then
Cousin Sally brought in two cracked "chany" cups, each
containing a posy of marigolds and sweet-williams.
"I'll set one of these on the winder-sill in each
bedroom," she said. "They'll kinder match the quilts
and make things cheerful and sweet-smellin'."
Finally, Cousin Mandy Jane brought in an armload of
green sprigs of "sparrow grass" which she arranged with
great skill and taste in the little brick fireplace.
"Well, now!" she said, standing back and admiring her
work. "I jist think it's as purty as a picter and right
"Yes," added Cousin Sally, "it can't be beat nowhere
in the New Settlement."
excuse was made for prolonging the work of furnishing
and decorating; but at length it was pronounced
completed—the skill of womankind could do no
more. Then all of us went out, and although the doors
and windows were left open to admit the sunshine and
the soft breezes, it was distinctly understood that,
except in cases of real necessity, none of us should
again venture to set foot within the hallowed
precincts. The big-house was altogether too fine for
every-day use; it was to remain sacredly unoccupied
until the advent of honored company, or of Friends from
abroad, should make its reopening desirable and proper.
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