Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
May 21, 1914
"Your long and brilliant annals of the poor seem to make things too hard on the country woman, Fireman," said the Wren, perching on a horn of one of the iron ram's heads that ornament the rim of the basin. "Wouldn't you enjoy hearing, for a change, about some of the real advantages she enjoys?"
"We are open to conviction," said the Pigeons, composing their feathers smoothly as they settled themselves to listen.
"It wasn't as an inhabitant of the country, but as a woman representative of her type and station that I commiserated with her," said the Fireman. "But go on--let's hear the other side by all means."
"But is it her sex or her isolation that is against her?" asked the Gray Pigeon. "She is worse off than her si[s]ters in the next block primarily because she is ignorant and alone."
"Now, that's a point I must challenge," cried the Wren. "Is she worse off? Hasn't she compensations, not to say real advantages of her own? The Good Gray Mother's chiefest blessings are for those who live close to her and work with real life-stuff, planting seeds, tending young creatures. There is in such work something that raises it above drudgery.
"Beauty of outdoors is hers if she have eyes; and women need beauty in their lives as they need air and sun. If she cannot see it, that is not the fault of her sex on the country either.
"Safety from the many of the world's worst dangers is hers. The worst of fire, pestilence and famine is seen only in cities where men heard too thickly together. She stands a good chance of mating with a man untainted in mind or body. The country man is apt to be thoroughly likeable, with all the south's heritage of kindliness and humor; a man of three or four prime instincts, and incapable of erring from these as a bird or a tree. Her children, if she constantly give them the best of herself, will turn out healthy, honest, intelligent darlings of the Good Gray Mother.
"It is a great mistake to suppose that country women are ignorant. Even the old grandmother of Lonesome Cove, who smokes a pipe and don't know the war is over, has a first-hand knowledge of life that is better than many a college education. Do you think 'society' is life? The struggle in mean streets is one way of life; but a better way is that of the kitchen and the barn. What if her kitchen chairs are split-bottoms, dark and polished with age and use? What if she has only some meat salted down in a stone jar, meal in a bag, a gourd of salt and some strings of pepper and dried peaches with which to prepare a meal for those she loves? The place is redolent of cleanliness and the peculiar charm of the country home.
"As for being lonely, she has usually just enough of solitude to take real pleasure in welcoming a guest. Her husband is more likely to be companionable than one of the same class in the city. Country women have commonly a keen zest for life, because they are not trying to do anything but live. Within those bare walls, dark with the smoke of a hundred year-long fires perhaps, there is no straining for elegance; she and her folks are the home; and the air of the place makes the decoration of finer houses seem tawdry. Her feeling for life and its experiences is a treasure that wins through many a hard year. The reason many women look young at 45 is that they have never really lived.
"Such a lot of things country women know which those kept in stupid ease never learn. If she has dressed the new-born and laid out the dead; if she can build fires and kill rattlesnakes and help to cut up the hogs on slaughtering day; if she bakes bread and sets hens and harnesses the team on occasion; if she has ranged the woods in search of a cow that has hidden her new calf, fought her way through a winter storm to help a sister through a bitter trial; if she knows how to evolve a child's petticoat from a worn shirt or a little coat from a big one, how to make the rude mechanism of fire and water and a few utensils serve the needs of her dear ones, and perhaps also a deal of rough-and-ready surgery--if she knows all this she has the truest culture, the real refinement of sentiment and ability, infinitely above that of education.
"It is often a woman's own fault that she falls by the wayside, or grows hard and bitter, with no song in her heart. Many a woman grows prematurely old because she does not know when to stop, and only works the harder when she feels herself giving under a strain. Some who ought to be in bed will still stand at the ironing board, doing up milkcloths and bath towels that would be quite as clean and comfortable without ironing; or set four dishes on the table for a critical family whom a few hour's hunger would bring to rejoice in bread and milk. A woman should never allow duty to get the better of her health and her will to live. She should seize every chance to cultivate her own personality, for her own and her children's sakes, instead of stupid economies and morbid sacrifices which benefit no one in the end."
The Pigeons and Sparrows still appeared to be unconvinced. "It is a question," said the Gray Pigeon, "how far poverty of goods and gear necessitates poverty of mind and soul. How much of romance and artistic feeling, all the graces of life, can the country woman make her own."
"When all's said, she is alone and therefore, helpless," said the Sparrow. "What country women need is to get together. That splendid attempt to swat the middleman, the co-operative store on Seventh street, is a step in the right direction."
"How can they get together?" asked the White Pigeon--"unless I could lend them my wings, so that a country woman's club might be formed."
"They are not yet awake to their own interests. If they were, a larger supply of butter would be sent to this store every week."
"How?" asked the Pigeon again. "During this month the teams are all plowing. They have no way to send it."
"What's the matter with the parcel post?"
"Melted butter--broken eggs--it's a risk."
"There are packing cases made to guard against such losses," said the Sparrow, "but they are not yet in general use. I guess these things will have to be worked out gradually."
"Meantime," said the Gray Pigeon, "bricks without straw are as much a curse now as in the days of Pharaoh."
"Yet the Wren is right," said the Fireman. "The country woman who can do the real work of the real world in her own kitchen with her own hands is one of the chosen. Happy? Well--it depends. Not happiness, but the capacity for happiness, is to be sought: for the people who know how to be happy are happy already. One must learn to regard suffering and trial through the sublimity of what they bring the spirit if rightly borne.
"Some women have the priceless gift of being happy just because it it raining, or snowing or shining, or just because it is a May morning or a November evening or a clear and starry winter night. Such a one has no need to look away across the mountain intervale to the vast dim electric glow which hangs above the city like a false dawn, and the sigh of luxury and elegance. To her the Good Gray Mother has whispered the great secret--that life is life, and the great world is just her own world."