| 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 |
HE day being near its close and the lamps not yet
lighted, I had wheeled her into the library. She lay
quietly back in her invalid's chair, looking up
alternately at the rows of books which we both loved so
much and at the face of the one who was bending over
"My merry Edith, do you know what day to-morrow will
be?" I asked.
She was silent a little while, trying to recall her
scattered memories; then she answered:
"I don't remember, Robert. It is hard to keep the days
in mind, but I think it will be Thursday? Won't it?"
I saw that she did not understand, and I explained that
to-morrow would be an anniversary of something. Did she
know what is was?
She shook her head and sighed. She could not quite
"It was just sixty years ago," I said, thinking to help
her by suggestion.
"Just sixty years ago? And what was it that happened
then?" And in those once glorious brown eyes—now
none the less glorious to me—there was a
far-  away look that told me her mind was traveling slowly
back to that distant time which I wished to recall.
"Dear, merry Edith, do you remember the day that you
surprised a bashful, barefooted, little boy in your
"And we stood by the table and looked at pictures
together?" Thank God! she was remembering. "The little
boy was you, Robert; and I taught you to use the
unplain language, didnít I? Oh, but you were so timid
and so awkward. And how careful you were with your bare
feet!" And she laughed that same little rippling, merry
laugh that had overjoyed my heart so long ago, so long
Her face brightened as I toyed with the thin gray
locks, as dear to me now as were the golden brown curls
that so thrillingly brushed my cheeks on that eventful
morning, so long ago.
I saw that the mists were lifting and that the memories
of the past were again making blessed sunshine in her
heart, and I said, "Yes, merry Edith, I was shy and
green; but that was my first day in paradise, and
to-morrow it will be just sixty years—so long
Her mind was clear and strong now, for a brief space,
and together we recalled the childish prattle and the
innocent joys that were ours on that
never-to-be-forgotten day. "I think it was only
yesterday," she said, "and yet you and I have spent
many, many days in paradise together since that first
October morning—so long ago."
"True," I answered, "there have indeed been many such
days; and I now have in mind the one that was the
grandest and the loveliest of them all. It was an
old-fashioned Sunday in the country, and we two went
walking together through the orchard and underneath
 the apple trees where the autumn leaves rustled about
our feet. The air was mild and calm, and the haze of
Indian summer obscured the sun. The world seemed so
peaceful and so good a place to live in; and we were so
young and hopeful. Do you remember that day, my
Edith—so long ago?"
"How can I ever forget it? It was the day—the day
of our betrothal. It was not long ago."
"And yet just half a century has gone by since then,
and to-morrow will be a double anniversary."
The youthful look of my Angel of the Facin' Bench came
back into her eyes, and her countenance glowed with
sweetness as she exclaimed, "What is half a century?
What is half a century to us, Robert —to us who
have known each other so long, and have had so many
anniversaries? It is as but a single day: The morning
dawns, the noonday heightens, the evening falls, the
night brings darkness and rest—but it is neither
the beginning nor the end. And so I think it was only
this morning—this blessed morning—that we
walked together beneath the orchard trees."
She was not used to speaking so much, and she lay back
in her chair silent for a while, exhausted by the
unwonted effort. Then she added: "But now the night is
near, and darkness."
I held one poor, helpless little hand in my own, while
with the other she lovingly stroked my cheek. "Dear,
merry Edith," I said, "let us take courage and be
comforted. For, when the clouds pass that are now
obscuring our sky, and when the darkness and the
silence give way to another morning, we shall again in
innocence bend our faces over the same picture books,
and we shall
 again walk, arm in arm, under the blessed fruitful
trees, our youth renewed and glorified."
The light of day was fading fast. The night was close
at hand. We spoke not another audible word, but we knew
each other's thoughts—our souls were as one.
The light continued to fade; darkness fell and silence
ensued; and still we sat there, sorrowing, believing,
To-morrow comes, a new day will dawn.
II. AN OLD FRIEND
I had a visitor yesterday.
The afternoon was warm, the air was bracing and I was
strolling along a woodland pathway, far from the
resorts of men. I walked slowly, enjoying for the first
time in many years a full and sweet communion with
nature. On my right, a wood thrush was calling; on my
left, a gray squirrel (descendant perhaps of my Esau)
was noisily scolding; young rabbits and chipmunks raced
in the path before me. I fancied that, as in the days
of my childhood, I could see the dryads and the wood
nymphs peeping out from their secret bowers and smiling
sweet recognition as I passed.
Suddenly, as I was entering a more open space among the
trees, I felt a soft arm clasped around my neck, while
a little hand was laid gently over my eyes.
"Guess who it is," said a sweet voice which I could not
"O Inviz! It is you!" I cried, submitting myself to his
loving embrace. More than fifty years had passed since
I last heard that voice, and yet I recognized it at
once and it was music to my sorrowing soul.
 "Yes, it is I, and I have come to walk with you, just
as I used to do," he answered.
His touch was as tender, his step was as light, his
breath on my cheek was as soft as in those days of yore
which now exist only as pleasant memories.
"O Inviz, I am so glad!" and I was again the barefoot
little Towhead driving home the cows, while he was my
"And I am glad, too," he chirped joyously, as he
tripped along beside me. "This seems just like old
times; doesnít it?"
"Indeed, indeed it does," and tears of happiness filled
my eyes. "But tell me, Inviz, where have you been
through all these many, many years?"
"Oh, I have been in various places and I have had
numerous playmates since I bade you good-by that day
just before they pulled the old log cabin down. A
certain small boy is waiting for me now, over there on
the other side of this woodland, and I must go to him
"And do you lie down on the big hearth beside him, and
look into the blazing fire, and dream dreams, just as
you used to do with me?" I asked.
His arm trembled a little, and I fancied that I felt a
tear fall upon my hand as he answered, "No, Robert,
people don't live beside big hearths and blazing wood
fires nowadays—except in a kind of make-believe
senseless fashion; and when children are brought up on
penny banks and toy automobiles, what can you expect?
With most of them 'the hour of splendor in the grass,
of glory in the flower' is of short duration, and that
being ended, what further use can they have for me?"
We walked on silently for a little while, and then,
com-  ing to a shady place where the grass was green and
soft, we lay down, side by side, and, as in other days,
amused ourselves by watching the summer clouds float
lazily across the infinite sky. And there we remained
through the greater part of that summer afternoon,
recalling sweet memories of the days of innocence in
the New Settlement and of the loved ones long departed.
"Robert, do you remember how we used to romp and
wrestle under the old cherry trees?" at length asked
"Oh, yes! and it was grand fun," I answered.
"Suppose we have a little tussle of the same sort right
now," he said, rising and bantering me just as he used
to do. "Come! I can beat you in a fair race to that old
oak over there. Come, I dare you to run!"
I was on my feet in a moment, though not so quickly as
I wished, and we were off like a flash. I strained
every muscle, my breath came hard and quick, my heart
thumped wildly—but in spite of all my efforts,
Inviz outran me, two to one, and while I was yet
toiling midway in the course, he reached the goal, and
looking back laughed joyously but not tauntingly at my
"My legs are not what they used to be," I said, sitting
down in despair. "I am afraid I am getting old."
"No, not you, Robert!" exclaimed my jolly companion,
coming up and again putting his arm around me. "You,
yourself, can never grow old—you are not made that
way. But your legs, being only temporary affairs, may
sometimes become wabbly through lack of nutrition. Your
body, being a kind of machine and also chemical
laboratory, will necessarily wear out, by and by, and
"And then, what?" I asked.
 "Then, when the right time comes, you shall be given
another," he whispered very softly.
I lay quite still, thinking he would say more.
Presently, I felt his arm withdrawn, and I missed the
cheer of his warm breath upon my cheek.
"O Inviz, Inviz!" I cried. "Don't leave me. Stay with
me till the end."
"It can not be," he answered, with not a touch of
sadness. "The end is not yet, nor shall it ever be. In
the new life that shall ere long be yours, I will again
be your friend and playmate; we shall ramble side by
side in sunny places, and we shall read the same books
and dream the same dreams. But until then, farewell!"
I felt his kiss on my brow, but when I reached out to
touch him, he was gone.
I lay there quietly in the grass, my face upturned, my
arms folded helplessly across my breast. I knew nothing
more until, the sun having set and night drawing near,
I was roused by some one rudely shaking me and a rough
voice shouting in my ear:
"Hello, there, old codger! Wake up! It's time you was
gittin' toward home."
Old codger, indeed!
III. A VISION
Last summer, in my loneliness I made a brief flying
visit to that part of the Wabash Country once known as
the New Settlement, but now called by quite another and
more high-sounding name. Oh, my heart! how changed was
everything! I looked in vain for the old familiar
landmarks, for the face of some one whom I might
remember as friend and neighbor. All had disappeared,
and most had been forgotten.
 That blessed spot which, in my innocence, I had fondly
believed to be the center of the world, was scarcely
recognizable. The roads and lanes were not in their
former places but had been straightened and improved.
The hills, where were they? The worm fences of
ponderous rails had been removed or replaced by lines
of barbed—yes, barbarous—wire. The
buildings—even that grand new house, the triumph
of father's architectural skill—had been
obliterated. In their places I beheld a stately
farmhouse of brick and stone, a modern barn of vast
extent, a silo and a garage (things unknown and
undreamed of in my day), and outhouses of many shapes
and for many uses.
The spring-house was no more, and not a trace remained
of the spring branch with its pellucid water and its
forests of waving cattails. I looked for the cherry
trees under which I had so often romped with Inviz or
spent the summer hours in conning the pages of some
loved book, and I found only a smooth grassless
quadrangle with a net stretched through the middle,
which they told me was a tennis-court. I gazed
southward where once were deadenings and the big woods
and the bottom, dotted with white-trunked sycamores;
all were gone, and in their stead was nothing but one
vast field of growing corn. Following a strange
pathway, I went down through this field to see the
"crick" where I had so often waded and fished for tiny
shiners; and what do you suppose I found? Only a
straight, muddy, ill-smelling ditch, with hardly a
pretense of water at the bottom. Even the old swimmin'
hole had been filled in and its place was known no
more. Ah! how wonderful is progress!
The great man, the possessor of the old home place
 and of ten times as much land as my father ever dreamed
of owning, was very kind to me—very condescending
in his evident pity of my ignorance and great
antiquity. His name was Dobson, and I learned that his
grandfather had been Jacob Dobson—the same Jake
with whom I had done some disastrous swapping sixty
years before. He carried me in his automobile to the
spot which I had once known as Dry Forks. It was Dry
Forks no longer, but a young and growing city known by
a very different name, and its chief asset was natural
"We have now a population of five thousand and we
confidently expect it to reach fifty thousand within
the next decade," said the pompous postmaster.
But where was the meetin'-house once the center of
social activities and of religious culture?
In its place I was shown a fine modern structure with
stained-glass windows and a little steeple pointing
toward the sky.
"We don't call it a meetin'-house any more," said my
friend the landholder. "We call it a church, and there
ain't any building of the kind anywhere in this part of
the state that can come up to it in genuine comfort and
It was Sunday morning. The door was open, and I was
told that "services" were going on inside. We paused
within the little vestibule, and I looked in. The
single large assembly-room was handsomely decorated.
There were no "shetters" to separate the sexes, no
backless benches (not even a facin' bench), no
galleries for the ministers and elders. But there were
soft-cushioned pews, all facing the same way, wherein
men and women sat together and were not at all ashamed;
 these there was an elegant little pulpit with a
gilt-edged Bible reposing on it. Behind this pulpit,
there was a pretty little sofa on which a sleek-haired
minister was reposing his weary limbs; and on the
right-hand side of it (oh, ye shades of John Woolman
and Joel Sparker!) stood a modest cabinet organ on
which a young lady in fashionable attire was attuning a
"Do you have music in your meetings?" I whispered to my
"Oh, certainly! We have the best that's goin'. That
organ cost five hundred and forty dollars, and it's a
good one. Sometimes we have a cornetist to come and
play at the evening services—and that's just bully
to draw a crowd."
"But I suppose that you occasionally have silent
meetings, to wait for the moving of the spirit, and to
meditate concerning the good place, just as we used to
have when I was a boy?"
"Well, not gener'lly. We have a reg'lar program, and go
through it without stopping. The minister, he conducts
the service, and there ain't much time for silence.
"Do your young people ever get married in meeting?"
"They used to, but they've mostly quit it nowadays.
They say it's a leetle mite too slow; and so the
minister, he does the business privately at his home or
at the bride's residence."
I looked at the congregation. Some of the men wore
cutaway coats, but I sought in vain for a single plain
garment of the collarless, shadbelly variety such as
father and all good members of Our Society used to
wear. The only broad-brimmed hats that I saw were those
worn by the ladies. Far over in one of the free pews,
how-  ever, I recognized a single plain bonnet of
dove-colored silk—modest and neat, a relic of
ancient times. I felt strongly moved to go forward and
shake hands with its wearer and say, "Howdy, mother.
How is thee and thine?"
"I see that you have done away with plain clothes, the
ancient and honorable insignia of Our Society," I said
to my friend Dobson; "but certainly there are some who
still adhere to the use of the plain language?"
"Plain language! Well, I don't know. What is it?"
"The use of the pronoun 'thee' instead of the singular
pronoun 'you,' and generally the avoidance of all
unnecessary expletives and compliments."
"Well, I recollect that my grandfather and some of the
other old ones did used to say 'thee' and 'thy' and
'First-day,' and that sort of thing. But most
everybody's got out of the way of talking so now. They
don't see no use in sich language."
"It was the language of George Fox," I ventured.
"Well, maybe it was. Grandfather used to talk right
smart about an old Enick Fox that owned part of my
farm, a long while ago. He went out to Kansas, way back
in war times—and I never seen him. Maybe it's him
you are thinking of."
"Very likely," I answered.
The hymn was ended, the organ was hushed, and the
minister rose to announce the next number of the
"program." Leaving my friend and guide at the door, I
went forward and sat down in a vacant pew which a
kindly usher showed me. The minister was addressing his
congregation, but I did not hear him. My mind was far
away, busied with thoughts of other days, and I was
soon oblivious to all that was going on around me.
 Presently, however, I ventured to raise my head and
look up. What do you suppose I saw?
There, directly in front of me, was the old comfortless
gallery, with my father sitting at the head of the
meeting and the elders, including Joel Sparker and Levi
T., ranged in order beside him. Very solemn and saintly
they appeared, with their broad-brimmed beaver hats on
their heads and their toil-worn hands crossed
resignedly upon their knees. And there also was the
women's gallery, with mother in her plain silk bonnet,
sitting meekly and not altogether comfortably by the
side of holy Margot Duberry. And just a little way
below them was the women's facin' bench, and oh, joy!
there was my Angel just as I had seen her on that
ever-blessed First-day morning, more than threescore
years before Her golden-brown curls were surmounted by
that same wonderful hat with the big feather in it, and
her dainty little feet, with real shoes and stocking on
them, were dangling midway between the bench and the
floor. . . . And then . . . as
I looked . . . she
turned her glorious eyes toward me . . . and
beckoned . . . and smiled.
O my Leonidas, my Leona! There is nothing more to be
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