Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
Monday, April 13, 1914
"Wet year! cheer! cheer!" a jubilant shout rang across the square, keen as the swing of a lash, but silken-sweet. Every one turned to see. There was a gleam of pure red in the magnolia by the fountain, and directly the voice went on: "Cheer--jubilee! jubilee! The peaches are gone but don't stop to think of that. Raise all the more watermelons! Set out raspberries! There will be plenty to fill your fruit jars this summer. Why, I remember one year when even the apples failed--and behold, behold! that summer came a banner blackberry crop--wild fruit to be had for the picking! Get to work planting things--do, boys, do!"
He had come all the way from his home, on a farm in the valley, to deliver this message. "Jubilee--cheer--cheer!" It was a chilly morning, but it is never too cold or too hot or too anything for a redbird to sing: you hear his call over the snow in the dead of winter. Birds are commonly spoken of as timid creatures. This is a mistake. Nowhere in the whole range of life is shown a more triumphant courage. The Cardinal is one of the bravest. He is so small and so lovely in a world full of snares and enemies, yet the burden of his song is that all things work together for good. He sings so gladly, with the full power of his lungs. In all the world there is no braver heart.
"Come with me to the country," he went on after he had drank and given the Fireman a cheery greeting. "There is no noise there, only music; above is a chorus of birds--bluebirds and thrasher, catbird, nuthatch, grosbeak, chat, woodpeckers, thrush, phoebe and a dozen different warblers, while round a pool's rim rises the continuous tinkling of frog voices--a music as of millions of drops of clear, cold water turned to sound, or as if all the snowflakes that sifted into the hollow during the winter, touched now by the returning sun, were melted into crystal notes. The bullfrogs too are waking, and send forth, apparently from underground, occasional bass-viol tones."
"I don't like to hear them," said a Pigeon.
"There are new arrivals hourly among birds and flowers. Every bud is a little heart, swelling with life and love. Orchard trees cast a summery shadow and boom with happy bees. Under them children are building playhouses. Come with me, O children of the street!"
"Don't you do it, kids," chirped the Sparrow impudently. "He's stringin' you. There's nothing in the country but hard work and poor pay."
"Why,["] cried the Redbird, "every one knows that the farm is the best place for children."
"Place to work 'em to death and keep them pinched from under feeding [sic]. I've heard a farmer say that the way to make the farm pay was to sell everything that could be sold; what you can't sell, feed to the hogs; what the hogs won't eat feed to the chickens; what the chickens won't eat goes to the family."
"I agree with the Sparrow," said the Gray Pigeon. "The poverty, malnutrition, dirt and disease of a whole countryside is so scattered as not to be noticed; they look horrible only when concentrated in a few acres of a slum. On a real farm, run to make a living, and not as an expensive, though healthful amusement for the occupants, the work is the hardest and most disagreeable there is, with the longest hours and lowest pay."
"That's it! Chippity chip!" The Sparrow's opinion was very emphatic. "Some farmers can overwork and underfeed their children, can make home hateful and life for them one joyless, monotonous grind, to beat any factory, mine or sweatshop I ever saw. While in town-- But let me tell you."
"I live in a roof-niche above the home of a man to whom his four children are everything on earth. It is two rooms over a grocery. He works in a factory at $7.50 a week. His wife, at home, knits yards of dainty laces for sale when her housework is done, telling bright stories to the children as she knits. The little ones have only a porch and strip of grimy back yard to play in. But when dad comes in at nightfall they swarm over his as if he were a stepladder, and even if he is so tired he has to lie down, he stirs them into a rousing good frolic. The youngest boy turns a somersault, or goes through whatever new stunt he has been practicing, and crows like a little cockerel: 'Bet you can't do dat! Daddy, bet you can't do da-a-at!' The boy grabs a fat foot in both hands and begins to gurgle, making a sound like 'quata-quata-quata.' And their daddy says, 'Aw, you ain't wuth a quarter-quarter-quarter. I doubt you'd sell for a nickel- nickel-nickel. I might make out to get shut of the bunch of you at three for a dime.' The children are so used to this sort of talk that they don't even laugh, but enjoy the stream of kindly nonsense just as your country children might the trickle of a brook. They tell him in return of new dandelions opening in the scant fringe of grass, of straws that I and my mate have carried to our niche; and then supper is ready, good, hearty, wholesome food.
"I once heard a neighbor say to this man. 'You ort not to spend all your wages on grub and sech; it's nothing but pure waste takin' young'uns to the movies oncet every week. If you was to try hard, you could put by a heap of nickels and buy you a home like mine.' He looked at what few remained of the other's offspring, pinched and puny, and replied: 'Well, you can put your money into bricks if you'd ruther, I'm a puttin' every cent I make into my children.'
"But there are plenty of farmers who are bringing up their families on the same far-sighted principle, in spite of the inevitable work," said the Redbird[.] "There are children who every day in this month carry the plowman his dinner, and remain to trot over the field in the wake of the plough, making discoveries at every step and prattling about them. They ask to be allowed to stick down onion sets, to drop corn, milk the cow and feed the sheep and horses. Of course, it is harder than work in the average cotton mill, but how instructive, how vitally interesting!"
The Sparrow appeared to see no possibility of interest in any such work. The Pigeon said:
"As for underfeeding, there is no reason why any one on a r[e]asonably good farm should not be well nourished, except sheer lack of intelligent management. In many parts of the south we still find the astonishing spectacle of people starving on soil of high fertility, but there is not reason why it should be so."
"The truth is," spoke the
Fireman earnestly, "that the fir[st] and greatest requirement of children is a good
mother and father. Given that, with ordinary possibilities in the way of cleanliness,
fresh air and pure food and water, and it does not matter so much where they live--the
question is how they live. The home is the essential thing. When conditions poison the
home atmosphere with drunken fathers or sickly, nervous, impatient mothers, the child
suffers, in its ignorance and loneliness, beyond the imagination of a grown person to
conceive. I want to see our land become a land of homes, and let the smokestacks, lights
and towers of our city be valued only as they serve the interests of the home and the