| 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 |
THE RAISIN' AND THE QUILTIN'
HE day for the house-raising was at hand. All the men
in the Settlement had been invited to come—at
least all that belonged to the meetin', besides several
Methodisters and a few reputed unbelievers. And to make
the occasion as enjoyable as possible, mother and
Cousin Mandy Jane had arranged for a "quiltin' and
comfort tackin' " at the same time, and had asked all
the wives and old maids to come with their men-folks,
assist in the labors of the day and partake of the
According to their custom on such occasions, Cousin
Sally and her mother came over two or three days
beforehand to render their valuable aid in matters
pertaining to the culinary arrangements. Chickens and
ducks were beheaded, the fatted calf was slain; the
choice treasures of the pantry, the varied products of
orchard and field, were all brought into requisition to
celebrate the rare occurrence and make glad the hearts
and stomachs of our neighbors and friends.
"I hain't counted 'em up," remarked Cousin Mandy Jane,
"but I calc'late they won't be no less'n a hundred
folks here to dinner, not countin' the children and
them that comes without bein' axed."
"It'll be a good deal like the company that comes to a
big quart'ly meetin'," suggested Cousin Sally.
 "Gee whiz! Naw!" growled David, coming in with the hind
quarters of the calf upon his shoulder. "The biggest
crowd we ever had to the biggest quart'ly meetin'
wa'n't no patchin' to what this'll be."
Oh, my Leonidas, the memory of that time is still like
the roll of a drum beat in the early morning! You may
at some time in your life behold the hurry and hustle
on lower Broadway, but if you live to outnumber the
years of your grandfather, you will never see so busy a
time as that was on the day and morning preceding our
ever-memorable house-raisin' and quiltin'.
Long tables for the diners were extemporized on the
lawn at the farther end of the yard. The quiltin'
frames were set up underneath the historic cherry
trees. Innumerable blocks of wood and a few rough
backless benches were provided for seats for the
multitude. A camp-fire, to supplement the work of the
inefficient cookstove, was built in close proximity to
the kitchen door; kettles were swung over it, the old
skillet oven was placed on the coals beside it, and the
long disuse tin "reflector" was set up in the full
glare of the flames, with half a dozen monstrous
broilers inside of it, roasting and sizzling in the
"It seems right smart like old times when we used to
have the fireplace," said mother as she thrust some
sweet potatoes into a heap of hot ashes to be roasted.
And poor old Aunt Rachel, sitting on a block as close
to the fire as safety would permit, puffed contentedly
at her pipe and concurred in the opinion.
"It is raaly cheerin'," she quavered; "but after all,
there ain't nothin' quite so bracin' as the chimly
corner with plenty of red coals in the ashes."
The timbers for the great two-story frame house had
 all been hewn and "framed," and were lying at
convenient places, each marked and numbered with red
keel for easy identification. Here, in separate piles,
were the beams and corner posts, the sleepers, the
sills, the studs, the joists, the braces, the plates,
the girders, the rafters, the sheathing boards, even
the wooden pegs for fastening the timbers together. All
the mortices had been made, the auger holes had been
bored, the tenons had been shaped—nothing remained
to be done save to put each piece in its proper place,
raise into position the various parts of the frame,
drive home the pegs—and there you are, as complete
and strong a structure as it is possible for the
ingenuity of a common carpenter to devise.
People don't build in that way now, my Leonidas. All
the timber that is put into a modern two-story building
would scarcely make a small bedroom in a house like
that of ours; and how slender and frail are all the
frames now!—"balloon frames" we used to call even
the heaviest of them. They tremble if you but lean
against them, they seem ready to collapse in the first
brisk gale, and yet a kind providence holds them up.
But father built for eternity, and he was opposed to
the tempting of providence. He therefore made his
frames so strong that, to this very day, the Western
cyclones steer shy of the neighborhood where some of
his barns and houses still stand, the silent but
expressive memorials of an honest man.
And now, everything being in readiness, all of us who
were in the habit of praying (and some, alas! who were
not) began to send up secret petitions to the Arbiter
of Sun and Storm to grant us fair weather and good
appetites until the close of the long-looked-for day.
 these brief mental ejaculations were heard or not, we
never knew; but we speedily forgot about them when the
appointed morning broke, clear as a crystal sea and
perfect as mornings are ever made; and we were
immediately so busy that we also forgot to be thankful
to Him who sends such days.
The neighbors began to arrive soon after sunrise, some
of them in expectation, no doubt, of a supplementary
breakfast and a cup of mother's rare sassafras
tea—an expectation in which they were not
disappointed. By eight o'clock, all the able-bodied
adults in the Settlement, with numerous babies and
quite a sprinkling of growing boys and girls, were
assembled in knots and groups and various other
combinations in our yard and garden, barn lot and lane.
Among the last contingents to arrive was Old Enoch Fox,
who came winding his way along the woodland pathway,
followed by his entire family of seven womenfolks and
"Yes, there she is!" I heard Patience whisper to
Jonathan. "I knew he wouldn't leave her at home. He's
afraid thee might steal her."
" 'Twouldn't make much difference one way nor t'other,"
he answered stolidly; but his face lit up like the full
moon in its glory when the cheery voice of Esther Lamb
was heard returning the greetings of her friends and
neighbors in the yard.
"How's thee, Mandy Jane? How's thee, Aunt Margot? How's
thee, Levi? And I declare, here's Little Hanner Ann!
Howdy, Hanner Ann, howdy, howdy!" And thus the
salutations continued, seemingly without end.
But soon Patience rushed forth from the kitchen and,
meeting the Foxes as they were strolling bewildered
 among the groups, gave them the heartiest welcome of
"Howdy, Becky! Howdy, M'rier, and M'lindy!" shaking
hands with each of the seven. "I'm so glad to see you
all. Come down to the barn with me, and take off your
things. We have to use this end of the barn for
sleeping-rooms till the new house is ready. Just lay
your bonnets right there on the beds."
And Charity was likewise busy with the other women
friends, cheerily greeting each and all, showing them
where to put their "things," making every one instantly
feel at her ease and at home. Cousin Sally, in her
newest, reddest apron, was busy superintending the
dinner; Cousin Mandy Jane was occupied in marshaling
the forces for the quiltin' and tackin'; and mother,
overwhelmed with the social functions devolving upon
her, was dividing her attentions between the elderly
women and the infants.
It was amusing to listen to her. "How's thee, Aunt
Mary? Take a cheer. Thee looks mighty spry for thy age.
I reckon thee won't want to go out to the quiltin' jist
yet a while. Set down and try a little of my elderberry
wine for thy stummick." And then espying a young mother
with a three-weeks-old infant in her arms, she would
leave Aunt Mary to take care of herself, and hasten to
greet this latest arrival. "And is this the baby? How
pretty it is? Boy, or girl? I'm glad it's a boy. What's
his name? Hezekiah? Well, that's a mighty pretty name
and it's Scripter, too." And thus she went on, to the
great comfort and edification of everybody.
Meanwhile the men-folks had begun active operations
 at the other end of the yard. Amid clouds of dust and
the crash of falling timbers, a contingent of a dozen
sturdy fellows under the direction of Levi T. was not
long in demolishing the old cabin and carrying the logs
to a suitable spot in the lane, whence Jonathan would
some day drag them away to his forty-acre piece by the
Four Corners. Two other companies under the command
respectively of father and 'Lihu Bright, were putting
together the timbers of the new house, preparatory to
raising them into position. As the work proceeded the
excitement increased. The old house was cleared away,
the foundations of the new were laid. On every side
might be heard the sound of axes and hammers pounding,
of old and new logs tumbling, of sturdy men's voices
shouting, of dogs and boys forever putting themselves
in the way; and above all, rang the clear commanding
cry of the foreman:—
"Now, boys, all together! Hee-oh-heave! Right along
with her, there! Up with the eend! Now, easy! Whoa!"
And so the merry work proceeded.
Under the cherry trees, around the quilting frames, the
womenfolks were more quietly but none the less busily
occupied; and, as the quilts were being quilted and the
comforts were being tacked, the flow of genial
conversation and neighborhood news never lagged nor was
for a moment impeded. Here were gathered the younger
married women and the older maidens who wished to be
married; and the jokes and repartees and sly bits of
information that were handed round were not of a kind
to be repeated. Nevertheless, the fingers that
manipulated the swiftly passing needles or tied the
in-  tricate "comfort knots," were known to be the
skillfullest and most diligent in all the New
Settlement, if not in all the Wabash Country.
On the lawn near by, or grouped conveniently about the
open-air fire, were the mothers in Israel—ancient
women like my chimney-corner aunts—each with her
pipe in her mouth, her knitting in her hands, and a
sweet reminiscence of bygone days in her heart. The
long rough tables were being rapidly loaded with
toothsome viands, and Cousin Sally and her young women
helpers were as busy as nut-gathering squirrels,
flitting ceaselessly, untiringly, back and forth from
the kitchen stove and the improvised camp-fire.
But why dwell upon these scenes of homely
industry—these incidents of the simple life, so
insignificant, so old-fashioned, so foolish to the
minds of an enlightened generation?
The Seth Thomas clock on the mantel-shelf of the
kitchen struck the hour of twelve; the frame of the new
house was "all riz" and nothing remained to be done
save the placing of the rafters; the Joseph's-coat
quilt—Cousin Mandy Jane's special property and
pride—had been finished and hemmed, and was being
handed round for the general admiration of mothers and
daughters; and, more than all, the dinner was
ready—the time of the times, for which this
particular day was made, had arrived.
"Everybody git ready for dinner!" proclaimed Cousin
Sally at the top of her stentorian voice. And the word
was passed from mouth to mouth until it reached the
ears of the master of ceremonies and house-raisings.
"Now, friends," he announced, standing on one of the
topmost girders where all could see him, "I am informed
that our dinner is ready. We will attempt nothing more
 until after we have eaten and rested. Let all pass
around to the tables, and take your places wherever the
womenfolks may direct."
Very orderly and with a good-mannered appearance of
hesitation, the men strolled across to the farther side
of the lawn, where they gathered in groups and waited
for further instructions. There was not much done in
the way of slicking up for dinner. Some of the men
wiped their hands and faces on their cotton bandannas,
a few made some attempt to smooth their hair, and some
of the younger ones whose girls were present ran down
to the spring branch to make their toilets beside the
One long table was assigned to the "raisers" and the
other, not quite so long, to the quilters and old
women. It required the genius of a general to
accomplish the satisfactory seating of the multitude,
but Cousin Sally was quite equal to the occasion.
"Them that's been a-workin' may set down at the first
table," she announced, "and them that's been a-playin'
must wait till the second table."
This of course meant that we children and all loafers
and hangers-on must be content with the leavings of
those who were more favored at the feast because they
had proved themselves more useful to the host.
Joel Sparker and Enoch Fox, as the eldest and most
venerable of the company, were given the seats of honor
at the head of the men's table; the others were
arranged promiscuously without reference to
rank—for there was none. At the women's table, the
grandmothers and ancient aunts took precedence, the
young mothers came next, and the old maids together
with the little girls were crowded out to wait for the
 The feast was progressing with great satisfaction to
all concerned. The head-waitress's injunction to "help
yourselves and don't be bashful" was being literally
obeyed. The long table was being rapidly denuded of its
most valuable assets. Suddenly, in the neighborhood of
the barnyard fence, where many of the boys had
congregated, there were signs of unwonted excitement,
and some of the young men whose curiosity was stronger
than their half-satisfied appetites, rose from the
table and ran to see what was going on. What they saw
was not calculated to allay their interest.
Jonathan, wearing his "meetin' breeches and a biled
shirt," his boots newly greased and his hair newly
combed, was leading his filly from the barn. The latter
was equipped with bridle and saddle as if for a ride,
and behind the saddle was the small square blanket
commonly used when the rider was to have a companion.
"Heigh, there, Jont, wheer's thee goin' to?" queried
Little Enick, climbing upon the gate-post.
"Seems to me thee's slicked up right smart for a
house-raisin' day," shouted Jake Dobson's big brother,
Nate. "Is thee goin' to see thy gal?"
"Hello, Jonty! What's up?" asked Tim Bray's father, his
mouth distended with the fried chicken he had snatched
from the table.
" 'Tain't none of thy tarnal business," answered
Jonathan huskily; "but if thee must know, I'll tell
thee: I'm jist goin' to give the mare a leetle stirrin'
up, like she gits every day—and I thought maybe
some gal or other might kinder like to ride ahind me,
pervided I was slicked up a bit." And, with that, he
leaped into the saddle.
I ran and threw open the big gate, and he rode
 briskly out and down the lane. He went no farther than
the bend in the big road where a grove of sugar trees
shut off our view of him, and there he turned and came
back, the filly fairly flying before the wind.
As he approached the house, Patience ran out and,
standing in the gateway, began to repeat with great
animation her favorite ballad:—
"Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the West,
Through all the broad Border his steed is the best."
The impatient animal pranced around the yard, eager for
another swift canter, and Jonathan was never in prouder
"Let her out ag'in, Jont," cried the small boys; and
the young men looked admiringly and allowed that "that
there mare is some punkins, sure as shootin'."
"Lochinvar," cried Patience, "will thy steed carry
"Jist thee git on to her and see," he answered curtly,
but with a half-repressed smile.
Immediately Patience ran out to the uppin'-block, and
as the rider brought his steed within reach, she leaped
skillfully up behind him, threw her arms around his
waist—and they were off! Oh, but that was a rare
sight, my Leonidas—a sight not so rare in those
medieval times as now, but a sight sufficient to make
any horse lover's heart beat hot and fast beneath his
jacket. They were down to the foot of the lane, they
were out on the big road and half a mile away in less
time than it has taken me to tell you about it. And
then, with merely a touch of the bridle, the filly
stopped and turned and came walking back, as slowly and
demurely as any broken-down plow horse at the close of
 a day of hard work. When they reached the barn lot
again, and Patience leaped laughing to the ground, the
boys broke out into a shout that startled all the
feasters at the tables and was very shocking to the
pious nerves of good Joel Sparker.
"Stephen," said he, between great mouthfuls of roast
veal and stewed pumpkin, "it seems to me that there is
altogether too much levity among thy young folks. If
thee would admonish them to think upon their latter
ends before they come to thy table, perhaps thee might
prosper better with the new house thee is puttin' up."
"What's all that noise about, anyhow?" queried Old
Enoch with some difficulty.
"Oh, it's only Cousin Jonathan and his filly," answered
Mandy Jane, helping him to a third plate of chicken and
whole hominy. "He's jist givin' the critter a leetle
exercise like he does every day, so as to keep her
limbered up and in good condition."
"Does thee know where my Esther is?" growled Enoch,
beginning to appear somewhat ill at ease.
"She's in the kitchen helpin' the girls git the dishes
ready for the second table."
"Huh!" and the ancient man bent over his plate and
renewed his gustatory labors.
Meanwhile the excitement of the barnyard continued, and
several of the more temperate men rose from the table,
leaving their plates half emptied, and hurried across
the yard to see what was going on. The filly was
prancing uneasily back and forth between the
uppin'-block and the barn. She had just returned from
another wild canter down the road.
"I wonder if there ain't no other young woman that
would like to ride ahind me," said Jonathan exultantly.
 "Yes, I'd like it. Take me!" cried Cousin Sally,
rushing from the kitchen door, her cheeks aflame with
red blood, her apron tucked up in a double fold about
"Well, I wasn't a-keerin' about thee," blurted young
Lochinvar, petulantly but good-naturedly; "yit, even
so, if thee ain't afeard of they neck, come and git
She ran through the gate, and without making use of the
uppin'-block, leaped upon the filly's crupper and
dexterously seated herself on the scant blanket behind
the saddle. She was known throughout the Settlement as
the most daring rider among women, and her performance
occasioned a shout of applause that caused Old Enoch to
rise from the table before he had finished his third
piece of pie. But the venerable friend at his right
hand restrained and hindered him.
"Set still, Enoch," commanded Joel. "I know thee has
still enough room under thy jacket for on one of Debby
Dudley's doughnuts. Folks say they ain't nobody can
bake 'em as good as she does. Have one."
And so he was fain to remain a little longer.
In the meanwhile Jonathan and Cousin Sally had
returned, and as the latter ran laughingly back to her
kitchen duties, the former sat carelessly, side-saddle
fashion, on his filly and called for another recruit.
"Who'll be the next?" he shouted, in a tone the
queerest I had ever heard issue from between his
"Charity! Where's Charity?" inquired Patience, making
her way through the crowd of children and men. "Charity
would like that sort of sport I know."
"There she comes!" cried Ikey Bright from her perch
 on the barnyard fence; and all eyes were turned the
She came briskly across the narrow yard space, looking
neither to the right nor to the left, her movement
reminding me strangely of a timid hunted animal,
seeking some way of escape. What could ail our Charity,
usually so bold? She wore a "split pasteboard"
sunbonnet which was drawn so far forward as to conceal
her features; and she had on a long linen riding skirt
of the kind which some women of quality were in the
habit of wearing when they went to meetin' on
horseback. As she passed me at the gate, I saw that
underneath the riding skirt there was a dress of richer
material, and underneath the sunbonnet there was a face
that was not Charity's. There were others who saw the
same, but before any one could recover from his
astonishment, she was on the uppin'-block, she had
vaulted upon the filly's back, her right arm was about
young Lochinvar's waist—and the filly was speeding
"Făther! O făther!" cried Little Enick, leaping
off the gate-post and running toward the dining tables.
"Our Esther, she's gone and rid away with Dudley's
Jont! They're a-clippin' it down the lane to the big
road right now!"
The anger and dismay of Old Enoch were plainly visible
on his wrinkled countenance as with long quick strides
he hurried over the lawn and joined the company of
lookers-on. But he restrained his emotion as, shading
his eyes with his hands, he saw the young couple just
disappearing around the bend in the big road. They were
riding rather slowly now, the filly gliding easily
along, and not in the swift reckless manner of the two
 "Jont, he's right smart more keerful of Esther than he
was of the t'other gals," remarked one of Abner Jones's
boys. "Jist see how 'mazin' slow he goes."
"But jist thee wait," returned Jake Dobson; "he'll make
it up on the home stretch."
And 'Lihu Bright, observing Old Enoch's anxiety, kindly
explained, "They'll be back in a few minutes. Jonathan
is only exercising his filly, and he's been taking some
of the young women with him, just for diversion. He
takes 'em as far as the big mudhole around the bend,
and then he turns and comes back."
"Wale! Thee says so," grimly returned the older man.
"Maybe thee knows."
But they didn't come back. The diners at the first
table had finished eating and were dispersed about the
premises. The second table was called and the younger
contingency, including the boys, big and little, the
cooks, the waitresses and other helpers, were busily
engaged in devouring the leavings. And Enoch, with a
few of the middle-aged men, still lingered about the
gate and waited.
"It's my 'pinion it's a ruse," finally remarked Abner
"That's been my 'pinion all along," said Enoch, going
to the camp-fire and raking out a coal with which to
light his pipe. "That there Esther of mine, she's up to
most every sort of deceivin' trick. She's good at a
"It wouldn't s'prise me if they was to ride all the way
over to Dashville and git married by the short cut,"
said John Dobson. "I've heerd that Jont's been
a-threatenin' sich a thing."
"He's been a-threatenin', has he?" and Enoch's face, as
he spoke, was strangely puckered with contending
emotions. "Well, if I know anything about it, I guess
 and my Esther won't find no short cut yit a while,
threatenin' or no threatenin'."
He turned squarely away from the group of men about the
gate and strode back to the long tables, where his wife
and daughters were variously occupied.
"Becky," he said with a quaver in his voice, "I ain't
feelin' very well, and I reckon I'll be goin' home. As
soon as thee's done thy duty a-helpin' Debby, maybe
thee'd better come too, and fetch the gals along with
"Yes, Enoch, I'll come right soon," answered Becky with
kindly solicitude. "Thee'd better take a leetle drap of
cordial when thee gits home, and, this evening, thee
must bathe thy feet in warm water and mustard."
But before the half of the last sentence was out of her
mouth, Enoch had turned around, and without saying
farewell to anybody, was soon over the fence and
striding homeward. We watched him as he threaded his
way along the tortuous path, now in the calf pasture
and now in the strip of new clearing; we saw him climb
the fence and disappear among the low bushes in the
outskirts of the big woods. A cloud seemed to cast its
shadow over all our merriment. The word quickly passed
from one group of friendly neighbors to another that
Jont Dudley had "rid away" with Esther Fox, and that
Old Enoch had gone home "firin' mad about it"; and from
the group of dishwashers down by the spring branch, we
shortly afterward heard the strong clear voice of
"So faithful in love and so dauntless in war—
Have ye e'er seen gallant like young Lochinvar?"
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