dear Grandmother," said I, "we come to a period in your story in
which I feel that I have a special interest. In the last years of
Grandfather Brown's life, it was a child of mine and Herbert's who
lived with you most intimately."
did love that baby!"
that you did not visit us in the years we live in Mexico," I told
Grandmother, "but you see you did not go to Mexico until after Frank
married Concha and we had left by that time, so that that part of
our story belongs to them. You remember that ill health and
financial disaster drove us all home after a couple of years, Frank
convalescing from the smallpox. After that, you and I always held
on to Herbie's coat tails every time he turned his face towards
was an anxious time for us all," sighed Grandmother.
through the years I have kept a little package of letters from
Grandfather and Grandmother Brown that tell the story of their lives
- and much of ours - in the opening years of the twentieth century.
Reading them, I realize how vicariously good mothers live. I see
how often Grandmother Brown had tried to hold out a helping hand to
her children, how she had understood and sympathized with them in
situations which they perhaps thought were uniquely their own.
grateful for the warmth of welcome she had extended to her youngest
son's partner. "I will just mention one remark of Father Brown's
about you," she wrote to me. "He said a man ought to be willing to
serve as long as Jacob did for such a woman as you." And again she
took my measure approvingly when she wrote: "I heard you say once,
'My father always said that no little bird ever built a nest alone,'
and again, 'I am going to break Herbert of thinking he must make so
much money. People can be just as happy without it, if they only
have a mind to.' I marked such expressions as good and excellent
She held me
to them, too, when financial troubles pressed heavily on her son and
she divined his need of encouragement at home. "A woman's first
duty is to make a happy home," she told me. Again she wrote: -
Chedie, we women do know all about the agonies of childbirth. It is
dreadful. but there is an end of it, and it is over with. But we
do not know what it is to be the bread winner, to be responsible for
the food and clothes and shelter for a family, not for a few months,
but for a natural life. And if they have not plenty, the man is to
blame before the world, not the women. Men are in every respect
just like we are. They are as easily fatigued; if any difference,
their power of endurance is not so great as that of a women. They
need just the same care to protect their health that women do. In
truth, we each need the other.
times, indeed, when she did not hesitate to remind us that mutual
forbearance is necessary to the happiness of the married state.
From time to time she admonished us on principles of conduct
peculiarly dear to her heart: keeping the Sabbath holy, refraining
from strong drink, disciplining children, avoiding debt. "It is not
the few big things which we need, and must have," she wrote once,
"that bankrupt us. It is the never-ending multitude of little
things. The deceiving little things will call out, 'I'm only a
nickel or a dime.' And the very next thing you need that nickel for
carfare or a loaf of bread."
after Constance, our first child, was born, Grandmother Brown came
to visit us in Buffalo, where we lived two years. Buffalo had
harnessed the falls of Niagara and started an exposition, inviting
all the Americas - North, South, and Central - to exhibit their
wares within her gates. There was much to see, to hear, to write
about. With Grandmother Brown to keep a managing eye on the baby
and our good German Luise, I made hay as fast as I could, writing
for the newspapers about the wonders of that exposition.
desire to help mend our fortunes Grandmother was profoundly
sympathetic. She spent half a year with us, holding the fort for me
at home so that I might labor, gainfully, abroad. Between her and
the baby there was complete understanding.
Brown told lovely stories. "Look, Constance, what do you suppose
this is?" she would say, picking up from the floor a straw that had
fallen from a broom. "Once upon a time, this little piece of broom
lived in the ground in a tiny, cunning little house they called a
seed." Soon the baby was looking for stories in everything. "How
does the marble grow, Gwamma?" she demanded, standing in front of
the washstand to have her soiled little hands washed. Grandmother
could always find the satisfactory answer.
important of all stories that spring was the story of the waterfall.
We all went to see it one balmy day, riding down the beautiful
Niagara River in a big boat. Grandmother had heard of Niagara Falls
from her earliest days at the knees of her Grandmother Culver. Said
she: "My mother went with her father and mother to see Niagara when
she was a little girl. She told me that when the falls came into
view she buried her face in her mother's lap. The sight was so
went to the Exposition too, of course, and lingered long enough in
the early evening to hear the rapturous "Ah": that always burst from
the crowd when the illuminating lights that outlined the lovely
buildings came slowly on, and the dashing fountain in the Plaza
seemed to shoot fire, and the music of Sousa's band swept softly
across the grounds.
especially interested in the concession called "The Streets of
Mexico." Naturally, since two of her sons had lived such momentous
years in that Land of the Snake and Cactus! We made her look at
everything, including the bull ring and the dance hall. She admired
the handsome horses and the picturesque clothes of toreador and
matador. She was fascinated by the girl who danced la jota.
And then we
had a Mexican diner with sopa de arroz and chile con carne
and hot tamales. But Grandmother never liked hot things - folks
were better off without pepper, she always said, "and you need n't
put any on my fried egg, thank you."
spring days grew warmer, Grandmother began to sigh for her own
dooryard. "I must go," she said, "but let me take the baby with me.
Grandpa is crazy to see her, and it is only fair he should have her
our baby," we protested. Still Grandmother pleaded and Grandfather
wrote: "Our house is roomy and cool, our lawn is green and
pleasant. The young squirrels have come down to play on the ground.
Let Constance come and play too. Our hearts go out very largely to
that baby." And I calculated that I could not spend my time writing
articles about the Exposition and take care of the baby, too, at
home. And so I let Grandmother take her back to Iowa.
that were done and said that summer and the next, and the next after
that, while two happy old people played with their little
granddaughter, were the subject of Grandmother Brown's most eloquent
reminiscences. She spent an hour at least on that theme in the
course of celebrating her ninety-ninth birthday. It was not that
she loved this particular grandchild more than the others of her
children's children. It was rather that, for three happy summers,
she and Grandfather Brown had her all to themselves.
"When we got
home," said Grandmother Brown, "I put her to sleep in the room next
to ours where her father had slept when he was a little boy. She
had the same bed and the same bureau that he had had and she ate her
porridge out of a bowl that had been his. She liked to know about
her father. 'Do you know what I'm going to do when I'm a big lady?'
she would say. 'I'm going to play the organ and people will come
from far and near to hear me. Then they will say: "Who is that
making such lovely music?" And the other people will say, "Why,
that's Herbie's baby!" '
on the top of her bureau did not suit her. 'Grandpa,' she said one
day, 'I need some ta'cum powder an' some witch hazel, an' some 'fumery.'
said he, 'have you a little bottle that would hold perfumery?'
"I found one
and said to him, 'White Rose is nice.'
brought her the 'fumery at night he said to me: 'Would you think,
Mother, that that would cost fifty cents, that little bit of scent?'
'Yes, I would,' I told him.
"It was a
very hot summer and after one of our warm summer rains I used to let
her go wading with her friend, Sarah Hamilton, in the gutter. They
enjoyed it mightily. And then she would be all dressed up so sweet
and clean and sit out on the porch beside me, waiting for Grandpa to
come to supper. When he was within hailing distance, off she'd dart
to meet him, bringing him home by the hand. And how he did love it!
"She went to
church with us every Sunday morning. And no lady in the
congregation behaved better. She looked on the hymn book with me,
and always when they passed the plate she had her nickel ready.
Lizzie helped me to make her a little outfit to wear to church - a
blue dress of soft nun's veiling and a lace bonnet trimmed with blue
forget-me-nots. She was a quaint- looking child with her big
forehead and slim little neck.
"Once in a
while I let her go to the store with Grandpa, but not often. She
received too much attention there. Nothing was quite so nice as
going down to Uncle Charlie's to see the little pigs and calves and
baby chicks. As we got on the train at Fort Madison, the conductor
said, 'Let me take the young lady.' As we got off it at Revere,
Charlie said, 'Let me take the baby.' She herself said severely,
'The conductor called me a young lady.' Which amused Uncle
everything out. And she acted it perfectly. Dan'l and I would be
sitting here quietly with her. Suddenly she would start up, saying:
'Oh, dear! There's that phone again!' And she would rush to the
doorknob and , holding her ear against it, call: 'Hello, Sarah, is
that you? No, I'm not going. yes, we're well acquainted, but - oh,
well, you know! Oh, if you're going - well perhaps I'll come.
yes, I think I'll wear my pink.' And then she'd begin to get ready
for a party. She'd go through all the motions of putting on each
garment and combing out her hair - such long hair and so many
hairpins to stick in. And she'd do everything proper order, her
collar the last thing on.
"I had given
her a little cabinet for a cupboard. There she kept her pewter
dishes. And we had a foot rest that I let her use for a table.
Around that she would assemble her imaginary family. Almost as
soon as she could talk, you remember, she had had two make-believe
sisters, Clara and Paystress. In Fort Madison that summer she added
a husband named Albert. She was very attentive to him at these
make-believe feasts. 'Albert, I knew you didn't use vinegar on your
beans and so I got a few olives for you,' she'd say. And then,
perhaps, she'd suddenly break off and turn politely to Dan'l and
say, 'Grandpa, did you ever meet my husband'?' And, perhaps, if
Dan'l wanted to tease her, he'd say, 'Why, Constance, I don't see
anyone.' 'Oh, Grandpa, it's just your 'imagination!' "
When I went
to fetch my child in the fall, I walked in without knocking and
found Grandmother sitting in the back parlor with Constance on her
lap, looking at a book called Christ in Art. It contained
illustrations of the Bible by Gustave Dore, and had been a favorite
picture book all summer. "She asked me one day," explained
Grandmother, "if I had a picture of God. [There seemed to have been
a good deal of talk about God in the course of the season.] I told
her no, but I had a picture of His son. And then, when she looked
at it, what do you suppose she said? 'Oh, Grandma, doesn't Jesus
look swell in that long raglan?' Another time she remarked, 'Jesus
didn't have any luck at all, did he?'
remember how excited she was," Grandmother Brown reminded me, "when
she hears us talking that evening about the assassination of
President McKinley? As you had just come from Buffalo where the
tragedy had occurred, it was natural that we should ask you a good
many questions about it. Suddenly we all noticed Constance's
distress. She was walking up and down the porch, wagging her head
and talking to herself: 'Why doesn't someone give me a gun, so I
can kill that naughty Czologoz?' Dear me! That was just the way
her father acted when he heard them talking about Guiteau having
killed President Garfield. 'Why don't they kill him quick,' Herbie
said, ''for he asks God to forgive him? They won't get him into
Hell at all."
at this perpetuation of natural depravity, but Grandmother Brown,
aged ninety-nine instead of minus three, shook her head and said:
"Isn't that dreadful? God's very good to forgive sins. Though
they be like scarlet, He'll make them whiter than snow."
Brown was very uneasy following Constance's withdrawal from her
care. Afraid that mere parents might not be equal to the task that
grandparents had long since mastered. Grandfather Brown was quite
they reconciled themselves to the thought that their
responsibilities for the younger generation were over, that the
active work of the world would be carried on, henceforth, in newer
homes than theirs. But how sympathetically they looked on at all
their children's struggles, whether with babies or with business!
All the details of our living arrangements interested Grandmother.
"I am so glad that you have concluded to go to housekeeping in the
economical way you have done," she wrote us that winter. "You will
be blessed in the effort to do the best you can. And I want to
remind you, Herbie, that housework is new to Chedie and will be hard
at first, and, if she has bad luck with anything, you just put your
arm around her and say, 'Don't worry about the like of that! As
long as we are all right and happy.' I think I can see how your
apartment looks with the new rugs and a chair for each of the Three
Bears. How I would like to send you some of my canned fruit and
jelly to help out on your table!"
And all the
time she was following just as sympathetically the fortunes of her
other children. She wrote of the difficulties Will and Libbie were
having in trying to run a dairy on the old Knapp farm. ("With such
unreliable help," she told us.) She was interested in the outlook
for Gus, who had moved to Wisconsin, where he was running a
tissue-paper mill. ("Business is good, but Adelaide has the
measles," she recorded.) She worried over the heat of Hermosillo,
to which Frank had recently moved with his young family. ("They are
well, however, and have named the baby Edward Augustus," she
they were when Thanksgiving or Christmas offered an excuse for
gathering their children around them! "Indeed, I think I am the
happiest old woman in town," wrote Grandmother. "Your Christmas
letters do me so much good. I am glad that you had such a pleasant
Christmas and glad your employers like you, Herbie. I think they
ought to. I do. You spoke about not measuring your love by the
gift you sent me. Now we don't any of us, do that. I know you
would situate me in a palace if you could, and I would make a
millionaire of you. But as these things are not possible, we will
have a good time anyway. Oh, I would that these pleasant days might
be prophetic of all! Our children's joys and sorrows are our
And all this
time, I realize sharply now, they had their own personal anxieties -
chiefly a fear of physical and financial dependence. "We begin most
sensibly to realize of late," wrote Grandfather sadly, "that the
infirmities of old age are creeping on us." Through his mind too
ran the unhappy questioning that must weigh heavily at times on all
conscientious parents. "If I had managed this or that differently,
would my children be now more happily placed?" Seeing how I tried
to help when financial reverse came to his youngest son, he wrote me
words of appreciation that were balm to my troubled heart: "Chedie,
we honor you for the course you have taken in trying to extricate
yourselves from your financial difficulties and I have no word of
censure to offer because you are less fortunately situated. Always
remember you have in myself and Mother sympathizing hearts. We will
rejoice with your joys and sorrow with your sorrows, always praying
for your success and happiness and hoping soon to see you more
pleasantly situated than now." And then he went on to say: -
the last ten years I have been compelled to see most of our life
savings slip through my hands and pass away from our control
forever. I have done the best I know how, the best I could do, yet
it has gone; and I should fee very much hurt, indeed, I should feel
very angry if any person should reflect upon my character or
integrity because I am worth less than I might have been under more
favorable circumstances. What charity, forbearance, and sympathy I
demand for myself I willingly accord to others. I console myself in
the fact that I do not owe a dollar to any man.
But I am
old and useless so far as making money is concerned. With you and
Herbert it is different. You are both in your prime, both possess
more than ordinary ability. Only keep in good heart; do not be
discouraged; resolve to pay the just claims against you; pull
together; make a long, strong pull together, and we believe a
brighter day will dawn upon your pathway. Just wait and see the
cloud roll by.
I decided to enter the Government service. The following summer saw
Constance again with her grandparents while we were carrying on an
investigation in Cuba. In the closing years of the nineteenth
century momentous events had occurred in the history of our nation.
The Spanish War had been fought and now our Government was
beginning to extend its activities beyond our own shores. Among the
Iowa boys who had marched up San Juan Hill Grandmother Brown had had
no sons, but a call came afterward from our War Department, while it
was administering the affairs of Cuba, that reached Herbert and me.
We were anxious to respond. But how about the baby? "Leave her
with us!" cried Grandfather and Grandmother eagerly.
The day was
just breaking as the Santa Fe train pulled into the sleeping town.
Through the quiet streets Herbert walked the few blocks to the old
house, as he had done so many times when coming home on vacation,
into the front hallway, up the stairs to his parents' bedroom,
leading his small daughter by the hand. Recognizing familiar
landmarks at every step, her excitement was intense when finally,
without a word, he popped her into bed between Grandpa and Grandma!
really visit with Constance," declared Grandmother.
"Grandpa would get so interested sometimes that he'd almost forget
to go back to the store. She liked, as he sat resting after dinner,
to take the pocket comb out of his pocket and comb his hair.
Perhaps she'd put a wreath of clover on his head or a chain of
dandelions around his neck. And how her tongue would run on all the
time! Dan'l used to laugh sometimes until the tears came.
troubles her imaginary family made her! Her sister Paystress got
sick frequently and had to have a hot-water bottle at her feet. And
how she did worry over her baby! 'What's the matter with the baby?'
I'd ask. 'Oh, she's got the tapiocas,' she would say. Or perhaps
it would be the 'Amelias.'
"But I think
the thing that Constance did that tickled Dan'l more than anything
else was making friends with the policeman. When we didn't know how
else to quiet her, if she 'acted up,' we'd tell her that we intended
to call the policeman if she didn't stop; that he came and took away
people who cried and carried on and locked them up. One day, when
we were sitting out on the porch, Dan'l said to her, 'There's Mr.
Kessler, the policeman!' Without a word she started up, ran out of
the gate and down the street to him, took hold of his hand, and
walked back with him, talking as fast as she could and looking up
into his face. You could see that he was surprised to have her take
hold of him that way, but that he was pleased, too. She asked him
if he locked up little girls. He said he liked good little girls,
but had to lock up bad ones. And he showed her his star. Then she
said, 'Do you know what I've been doing to-day? I've been planting
maple seeds to make trees. I'll plant two for you.' And she did.
Later, after she'd gone home, Mr. Kessler called here and said he'd
like to have the little trees. But after that word 'policeman' had
no terrors for her. 'He's my friend,' she told Grandpa
impressively. Grandpa laughed about that story until his death.
'How Constance made friends with Mammon,' he used to call it."
At last the
happy summer had come to an end. Grandmother and Grandfather had to
give her up again. Constance wailed: "I don't want to go away from
here. I'll tell you want we'll do. We'll have Father and Mother
come live here, Grandma. There's plenty of room. And I'll take
care of you, Grandma, when you are old, so you won't die. And by
and by we'll all put on our hats and go to Heaven together - Grandpa
and Grandma and Uncle Will and Aunt Libbie and Aunt Lizzie and
Frankie and Henrietta, too - and won't Jesus look pleased when he
sees us coming? He'll think it's a surprise party."
sutn'ly be s'prised to see my ole black face," grunted Henrietta,
while the rest of us laughed.
stopped in Fort Madison on his way West, the following January, he
was distressed to find that his father was not so well as he had
been the previous summer. On the Sunday before New Year's Day he
had suddenly collapsed while sitting at his ease in the family
Church had come in Sunday evening after meeting as was their wont,"
Grandmother Brown told me. "Father sat in his big chair by the
stove, telling how Charlie was to bring a turkey up for New Year's
dinner. All at once he turned and looked at me with the most
peculiar expression. 'What's the matter, Dan'l? Can't you speak?'
He shook his head, and then his head dropped over his breast. We
thought he had fainted. Church jumped on his bicycle and flew for
the doctor. Before the doctor came, Father had recovered
consciousness, but his mouth was twisted, his speech was thick. He
rallied, however, and on New Year's Day, when Charles came with the
turkey, he was able, with the help of his sons, to walk to the
he got better, but he needed crutch and cane to help him about. Do
you remember what Constance said when you told her that Grandpa was
ill and could hardly walk? 'He can lean on me!' she said. You
wrote us that and Dan'l was so pleased - oh, so pleased - that I've
always thought it helped him to get better. And then in the summer
she came again, and he did lean on her."
It was a
happy change for all of us at the end of a winter of discontent.
Herbert's Government work had taken him, the previous fall, to
field service in the West. Month after month went by with no sign
of his being able to come home again or have us join him. It was
the winter of the anthracite strike and much of the time we suffered
for lack of fuel. When my house was in its most cheerless state, my
child took the whooping cough. But for good old black Maggie, who
cooked and stoked for us and entered tirelessly, with song and
dance, into the make-believe of my sick baby, while I bent,
shiveringly, to an endless task of editing, I should have harbored
black bitterness in my heart against the cruelties of life.
spring came I took civil service examinations. I tried every
examination I thought I had a chance to pass. I think I tackled
something like seventeen tests; I know I spent a week at it.
Result: I was appointed to the "permanent" position as an
editorial clerk. Temporarily, for the summer, I was detailed to
follow my husband through Iowa and Minnesota. Renting my house and
seizing my child, I took the first train possible for Fort Madison,
knowing that Grandfather and Grandmother Brown would be only too
delighted to look after my baby while I followed their son around
year's idyll in Fort Madison began with Grandfather Brown and
Constance both below par. Grandfather's huge frame looked sound and
stalwart, but he had difficulty in moving about and was dependent on
his crutch and Grandmother Brown's assistance. Constance was pale
and puny after her winter's whooping and hung on Grandmother, too.
But it was the month of May. The trees were full of singing birds
and all Fort Madison was sweet with the scent of locust blossoms.
"We used to
have a locust tree at the farm," began Constance, addressing Grandpa
and Grandma the morning after her arrival, as we all sat together
blissfully under the grape arbor, "and it grew and grew until it
made a beautiful bower. Albert and I used to sit under it, and one
night he plucked a blossom and gave it to me and when I went to bed
I put it under my pillow and kept it there and it smelled so sweet."
it wilt?" asked Grandmother.
"Oh yes, but
when I'd sprinkle it with water the flowers would pop right up
again. Well, the years went by and the years went by" - with a
large wave of her hand - "and Albert didn't come any more." She was
very sad and mused awhile, then suddenly smiled and jumped up,
ecstatically. "But one morning I opened my eyes suddenly and there
was Albert. And he said: 'Will you marry me?' And I said, 'Yes, I
will.' And so we were married the next day. And I looked under my
pillow and there was the locust blossom. I wore it in my hair.
Isn't that a pretty story?"
I left them
to their stories and their plays and turned to my Government work.
enjoy her so that last summer," sighed Grandmother. "Of course she
was older, and more interesting than she had been before, and then,
too, he was physically more helpless and sat at home with us more
than he had done in other years. I remember one afternoon, when he
had gone to the store and we were waiting for him to come to supper,
Constance said: 'Don't you think it would be nice if we'd hear
someone come crutching' along, an' crutchin' along, and he would
crutch up on the porch, an' it would be Grandpa?'
start up the stairs for bed, Grandpa first with his crutches, I next
with the lamp in my hand, Constance following behind, she'd
sometimes say, 'I want to be carried.' I'd say, 'No; Grandpa can't
carry you and I can't. You'll have to walk alone.' 'I'm coming,'
she'd call every gayly after a moment. And then, when we got
upstairs, she'd be so busy helping. 'Now, Grandpa, you sit down on
this box and let me take off your shoes and stockings,' she'd say.
'Grandma says it isn't good for you to stoop your head.' And it
more than ever that summer, but 'acted up' rather less," continued
Grandmother Brown. "Dan'l was so amused one day when we were coming
out of church and Constance whispered to him: 'That's the best
sermon I ever heard.' 'How so, Constance?' asked Dan'l. (Dr.
Stewart's text had been: 'Be not weary in well doing'!) 'Well, Dr.
Stewart said it was hard to be good all the time. I guess he
time came to leave Fort Madison, it was hard to say which mourned
the most, grandparents or child. "All I want is Father and Mother
and a farm!" was her passionate declaration when told that she was
going to live in a beautiful city called Washington.
Washington, we invited Grandmother Brown to spend the winter with
us. No one was, at that time, seriously concerned about Grandfather
Brown's condition. While considerably crippled, his general health
and spirits seemed to be good. He said that he would like to go up
to Lizzie's for a change, if Grandmother wanted to visit Washington
and we needed her help. She came a few weeks before Christmas and
stayed until April.
wonderful life seemed that fall of 1903! To have a steady job -
meagre, perhaps, but certain - with a fair outlook for growth and
advancement! To have a neat little house where we could be
together! Modest wishes, but how hard had they been to realize!
Now, at last, we had earned the right to stay in Washington, each
of us with a job, my husband with the hope of a place in the newly
created Bureau of Corporations, which promised to make such
interesting investigations in fields with which he was familiar.
There was the possibility, too, of his being able to go to the law
school after office hours.
could get release from our various duties, we showed Grandmother the
wonders of Washington. She was nearly seventy-seven by this time,
but as unjaded in her appetite for sightseeing as any girl of
seven-and-ten. For the emblems of her country's majesty she had
great reverence. The Capital and White House she approached as if
they were the seats of liberty, the shrines of greatness. As for
the Library of Congress!
often," she told me on the day of her ninety-ninth birthday, "of
what Constance said once after we had been there: 'Grandmother, do
you suppose that Heaven is any prettier than the Library?' I said
to her: 'Why, yes, we are told that eye hath not seen nor has it
entered into the heart of man to know how beautiful Heaven is.' And
then Constance said, 'But they couldn't make anything prettier than
the Library.' "
A spring day
at Mount Vernon raised Grandmother Brown to the zenith of
enthusiasm. For Grandmother Brown no halo had a lustre comparable
to that of George Washington's. The correctness of his deportment
and the elegance of his manners, added to the high integrity of his
character, always appealed to her particularly. To visit his home
was a memorable experience for her, and Mount Vernon has few
visitors in these careless days who observe its details with the
enthusiastic understanding that Grandmother bestowed on it. Every
iron crane, copper kettle, and pewter plate in and around the
kitchen fireplace reminded her of similar implements in her own
childhood home. The spinning room where yarn was spun and cloth was
woven for General Washington's slaves moved her to recollections of
spinning wheels and looms she had seen in action. The old carriage
in which General Washington and his lady drove to his Virginia
church was unlike the Ohio vehicles in use in her day, but
interested her, therefore, all the more. As we stood on the lawn in
front of the mansion regarding the noble river below us, she
exclaimed: "Oh, what merry junketings must have gone up and down
this stream! Can't you just imagine what interchange of hospitality
there was between this house and that of the Custises and Lees at
Arlington?" But there was one thing at Mount Vernon that
Grandmother Brown did not approve of, and that was the cat hole in
the bottom of Martha Washington's bedchamber door. "I wouldn't want
a cat coming into my room at night," she said, inclined to be
critical of Martha for allowing it.
"We went to
Arlington twice that spring," said Grandmother Brown. "The view
from that terrace is worth many trips. But the great pillars Lee
put up in front of his house are too big. They look as if he had
tried to show off. I remember that on either side of the hall that
runs through the house is a large wall tablet which gives the
history of the land and tells what it sold for originally. I
remember it was so cheap.
I enjoyed the wonders of the Capitol and like sitting in the
galleries of Congress. One day, when I was in the Senate, I
remember hearing a debate between Senator Tillman and another
senator who was, I think, Senator Dolliver of Iowa. 'Pitchfork'
Tillamn, you say! Yes, I thought he acted kind o' like a - well,
like a pitchfork. He'd shake his mane and get so excited. They
were discussing the Isthmian Canal. I got very much excited myself,
listening to them. It looked so nice to me to have ships going
through from one ocean to another. Dolliver came out away ahead in
the argument, I thought. I looked for out other Iowa Senator, too,
Mr. Allison. Dan'l always admired him so much.
House of Representatives I soon picked out General Grosvenor,
representative from Athens. With his heavy head of snow-white hair
he was easy to identify. But then, I had known him all my life. He
always came to see me when I went to Athens."
remember the New Year's Reception we went to at the White House?" I
asked. "It was a lovely, mild winter day and as you and I were
walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, we noticed
the line of people going in to the reception. 'Let's fall in,' I
I remember," answered Grandmother Brown. "Before I knew it, I was
shaking hands with Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United
States. I thought he was rather a homely man. He might have been a
man of strong mind, but he wasn't good looking like my boys. There
were some things I'd have liked to say to him, but people were
crowding along and I didn't like to stop. I would have liked to
mention that I had a husband and five sons, all Republicans, and
that my daughter had married a Democrat but had brought him around
into the fold. It didn't please me when he took 'In God We Trust'
off our money. I wanted that left on for the good of our
government. But I often think of what Dan'l used to say when Gus
would be scolding away about Roosevelt: 'Well, I don't suppose
Roosevelt is perfect. Fact is, I don't know of anyone who is
perfect, except myself.'
President Roosevelt quite a number of times that winter. You
remember he used to go riding from Park Road and take his horse down
into the park not far from your house. One evening when Herbert and
I were coming from the city we met him just as he was going to mount
his horse. He spoke to us.
"Oh, all of
Washington was interesting to me. I had had a life of toil. It was
a great change. I kept lingering on and on. It was hard to leave.
been writing, you remember, that he was enjoying himself so much
with the young folks at Lizzie's. He wrote that a fine time he'd
had on Halloween with pumpkins and things, cutting up with the young
people in the barn. But after a while he began to get tired of so
much singing and going-on. 'Bessie and Frank are nice girls,' he
wrote, 'but it's beau and go, and go and beau, all the time. Better
come home soon now, Mother.' I was beginning to pack up when I got
another letter that made me hustle, sure enough, as fast as ever I
could. He wrote that he had rented a house, furnished, to some
people who wanted it very much, and that he had arranged to have us
board with them. The idea! I hurried home, stopping in Athens only
long enough to attend the Home-Coming Reunion. Very uneasy I was
every mile of the way back.
"And yet I
had such a good time, too, in Athens. That home-coming week of 1904
was wonderful. It was organized by George A. Beaton, who had become
a rich man, the grandson of a neighbor of ours. There was a tent in
front of the college with seats and food for three thousand people.
Tables covered with muslin. Sister Libbie, Sister Kate, and I were
guest of honor. We came in by a separate door and sat with Mr.
Beaton's sister. That's something - to be the guest of honor among
three thousand people."
Grandmother Brown her home had always been the centre of her life.
That anyone else should take possession of it and be able to lay
rough hands on her household goods filled her with dismay. She went
hurrying back to Iowa with blood in her eye. One of the
characteristic things about Grandmother Brown that always delighted
me was the way in which, when she thought it worth while, timid as
she was, she would put her back against the wall and defy all
absence, members of her family had been thinking that she and
Grandfather Brown ought not to live alone, that they had more house
than they needed or could comfortably take care of, that it would be
a good idea - and profitable, too - to have others living with them.
ideas did not meet with Grandmother Brown's approval. On July 24
came a letter giving delicious recital of her trials, all happily
past by that time, accompanied by a neat little drawing of her plan
for remodeling the house for the use of two families.
I had hears
so much about the money I was throwing away, and that I did not need
so many rooms, that I determined to make one more desperate effort
to get the house into shape so that the rooms could be rented. We
have applicants for rooms all the time. But they always ask the
same questions: Have you a bathroom? And how is the house lighted?
Finally, I decided where and how a bathroom could be made and
telephoned Mr. Vollers to call and give his opinion of my plan,
which he did. He said it was a fine one.
Now I will
borrow that money which your father calls scared for our burial
purposes and put in the bathroom and the gas and pay it back with
the rent. I will make a diagram of my plan so you will know how it
Since I have
got the snarls and tangles all straightened out, I am going to tell
you that i had a hot time at first when I got home. Father was down
at Charlie's, had been there several weeks. From the time these
people came in here he had given no attention to how things were
going. He was so perfectly happy with the arrangement that he made
them feel that the house and all that was in it was theirs, with
himself in the bargain, and he had won all the children his way,
except Gus, who said to him, 'Mother will not stand this when she
comes.' Well, I cannot give it to you in full detail, but the whole
house and the warehouse and grounds about it were Chaos. I had
looked around what time I had before starting for Charlie's that
morning and I went away heartsick. Of course when I got down there
I tried to tell how I found things. Well, I might as well have
tried to put out a fire by pouring on coal oil. Finally, Father
swelled up and declared to me that I could just set my heart at
rest, that he had made this arrangement and it was a good one, and
that he would never keep house again while we lived. I told him he
could live with them without me, or with me without them.
But just as
soon as we got home and Father began to look around he went at once
and told them that we would have to have the house, and he said to
me that he was sorry he rented it, also that he was sorry for the
way in which he had talked to me, and that he would never do it
again. I cannot take time to tell the half. But poor old Father,
he does feel so chagrined. He told Libbie to-day that he had been
completely hypnotized. I think this is why he feels so willing to
fix up the house. So when you write do not refer to any of the
unpleasant things I have mentioned. My ill feelings have passed,
and when one is sorry for his mistakes and errors he should be
forgiven. So, too, I wish you and Chedie to forgive me for losing
my patience sometimes and acting foolish. And do not forge to
praise Father for fixing the house......
Grandmother and Grandfather settled down for their last two years
together in quarters snugly suited to their needs. In numerous
letters - usually addressed Constance - Grandfather described the
new arrangements with satisfaction. He wrote: -
and I sleep in the sitting room now because I cannot go upstairs.
The base-bruenr sits in the front room where we can hear the
doorbell and our friends find us at home. My big chair stands by
the south front window. While we have given up most of the chamber
rooms to the Thomas's, we are quite comfortably settled. The
Thomas's are very quiet people and have everything nice, so they
suit us to a T.
keeping our little bedroom as near like it was as we can, so it will
be ready for you when you come back next summer with the robins and
worms. We have not let them cut your little maple trees down,
things pretty well placed and regulated again. She says she wishes
you could just see her brass andirons and brass doorknobs now that
they are polished until they are as bright as gold! She has worked
awfully hard, too hard for one of her age, getting things
straightened up but she will do it. I am so crippled that virtually
I can do nothing, though I do make out to get a bucket of coal now
been one of the loveliest falls I ever knew. And now we are having
beautiful Indian summer. The perhaps comes winter after election.
You may say to your father that your Uncle Will is running for
county auditor with a fair prospect of election. Three days more
and I guess we shall elect Teddy for four years more. Well, I like
Teddy - I do!
opening day of 1905 - a day "as pretty as May, clear and bright," he
wrote: "I went over to the Court House to shake hands and wish all
the new incoming county officers a happy new year, Will among the
rest. All Republicans - for once!"
closer and closer to each other in those last intimate days and
yearning towards their children, Grandfather and Grandmother
approached the sixtieth anniversary of their union. Centered in
their own destiny, they yet looked around them thoughtfully, taking
note of how the world wagged. Roosevelt's tiltings with Big
Business interested them, especially when their son Herbert was
assigned to help in the much-advertised investigation of the Oil
Trust. "Herbert must tell us all about the Government investigation
and what is going to be done," wrote Grandmother. Having a lively
memory of how the Paper Trust had picked him clean, Grandfather
regarded Roosevelt as a just avenger of the Little Business man.
regarded her son's part in the "trust-busting" programme very
seriously. But she was anxious, too, that he should get that law
degree. And she wondered, uneasily, how he could manage both. "My
only fear is that you are loading yourself too heavily," she wrote.
perfect faith in the outcome of the Government's inquiry. Of
course righteousness must triumph - in the nation as in its small
component units. Writing on her seventy-eight birthday anniversary,
she said: "This is a beautiful, bright April day and the first
Sunday after our Gus has taken the office of Mayor of Fort Madison.
I am happy to say that every saloon and poolroom and all that sort
of thing in the town is closed to-day - from eleven o'clock last
night until to-morrow morning. Now that Will is Auditor, and Gus
Mayor, and Church President of the Board of Education, I think
Herbert should be here. He might be City Attorney. How is that?
Oh, I do want to know all about Herbert's progress in the law
college and everything."
that year of 1905 breathed a longing to gather her children around
her. She was rebellious that Government work held us in Washington,
even during the hot summer. "Oh, if we could only see your whole
family come walking in!" was her cry.
As the year
wore on, she wrote: "Father has even suggested taking enough out of
the little money we have at interest to go to Washington and return.
He would do it at once if I would give him the least encouragement.
That is how childish he is. My opinion is that he is deeply
regretting not having kept our boys in school, though he does not
come right out and say it in so many words. He sees how well
Lizzie's children are doing. The boys are saving money to go to
college. Father often makes the remark that he has made many
mistakes, but that he did the best he knew how, and that it is too
late now to help the matter. When he talks that way, I feel very
sorry for him, because I see my own mistakes in the same way and
there is no help now. I can only try to do my best in the future."
after their sixtieth wedding anniversary Herbert was able to join
them. "We would have been glad to celebrate our anniversary,"
Grandmother had written, "but all things seemed to go against it,
with Sue's mother buried that very day, Will and Libbie short of
help on their dairy farm, Charlie overburdened, Lizzie doing her
work alone. But they all came in that evening, some of the
grandchildren with them. Lizzie went to the kitchen and made
chocolate, the best we ever tasted. It was a little quiet surprise,
altogether pleasant." When Herbert arrived, soon after, he took
comfort in seeing how actively his mother's lithe figure flitted
about her small domain, and what satisfaction she found in
ministering to her Dan'l. He carried away with him a pretty last
picture of them sitting before a cheerful fire, touched with the
sorrows of life but delicately happy too.
got sick, I used to wash his feet," Grandmother told me as she
gathered up her century of memories. "He couldn't do it himself.
I'd bring in the little foot tub and set it before the base-burner.
He said to Lizzie, 'Since Mother's taken charge of my feet they're
just as smooth as a baby's.' But he would say to me, 'I hate to
have you wash my feet.' And I would answer, 'Why, that's according
to the contract, Dan'l.' And he would say other nice things to me.
He told me he was a better man for having lived with me. Dan'l
seemed sort o' mellowed all those last years."
Grandfather's last Christmas came. "Oh, I had the best joke on
Dan'l," said Grandmother, recalling that happy holiday. "He was in
need of a new suit, and I thought I wouldn't let him know I had
saved the money for one. I went to Ben Hesse, the tailor. I
selected the kind of goods I wanted - dark blue. I said to DAn'l:
'Mr. Hesse wants to take your measure for a man about your size who
lives in the country and can't come to be fitted.' I told Mr. Hesse
to leave the suit in the hall on the settee Christmas morning. Mrs.
Thomas found the box there and came bringing it in. 'Aunt Maria,
what's this?' she asked. 'Let's see,' I said, and opened it. 'Now,
that's Gus!' exclaimed Dan'l. 'I do wish he wouldn't do such
things.' 'Gus nothing! said Mrs. Thomas. 'It's Aunt Maria!' I
said, 'Now, Father, go out and get into that suit and let's see how
it fits.' He looked fine in it. But suddenly he said, 'Are these
things paid for?' 'I wanted you to look nice,' I told him. He died
before it was worn out. But we had had that happy Christmas time.
And our children all remembered us so generously!"
died in May 1906.
The year had
opened auspiciously for him, and Grandmother's letters had glowed
with satisfaction in his apparent improvement. "Father is very much
better," she wrote in January. "He can walk about the room without
his crutch, with just his cane."
that Grandfather would be himself again "when the nice warm weather"
came, Grandmother even thought it might be possible for her to make
some summer visits. "I am thanking my Heavenly Father now every day
that he has blessed me with such good children. I want to see them
all. I want to visit Charlie's folks. They have been so nice to me
these last two years. And then I want to come to your house again
or have you come here. Ah, Herbie, I am so happy to learn of the
work you are capable of doing for the Government.
years of a person's life," she told us, "the advance is rapid.
Likewise, the last years, the decline is swift. So, dear children,
let us all try to make the best of the time allotted to us. I have
now entered my eightieth year and your father will be eighty-four in
another visit to them, but Grandfather Brown's summons came before
we could get off. On April 24, Grandmother wrote to tell us that he
had had "a return of that old paralytic trouble," and that his right
arm and hand had become entirely helpless. "I hope my own strength
may hold out, so that I may be able to wait on him," she wrote. "He
could never get his clothes off or on alone, or cut up his food on
his plate. In many ways he needs help all the time. He has wanted
to write you, but put it off. This morning he says, 'Now it is
impossible.' The children here are all very attentive and kind to
us. And I hope, as the weather grow warm, that things may move on
comfortably with us and that we can yet have one more visit from you
and your family." But, alas, a few days later she wrote to say that
Grandfather was much worse, had become entirely helpless and
unconscious. "The boys have their business which they are compelled
to attend to," she told us, "but they and Lizzie take turn about
with the nurse at night, taking care of him. The doctors think he
will recover. But it will be very slow, many weeks or perhaps
months; so the outlook is a sad one at best. All our pleasant
anticipations of a visit from your family this summer are at an end,
I fear. To see him is only to make the heart ache!
fatal stroke came on Easter Sunday," Grandmother Brown told me,
"while Father was eating his supper. He has been looking for
Charlie all day, wanting to see him. Charlie did not get there
until after Father had been stricken, but he thought that Father
knew him. Dr. Stewart had been in, late in the afternoon, and had
prayed. When he had finished, Father had said 'Amen' in a clear
voice. Then he wanted his supper. Henrietta was late, so I hurried
to the kitchen, and I quick made some biscuits. They turned out to
be fine, and I poached an egg and opened some Grimes Golden Jelly.
Sue had come in and she said, 'I'll sit here and wait on Grandpa.'
He ate awhile, and all at once he couldn't swallow. From that time
on, he was confined to his bed. We got a nurse. He never seemed to
suffer. He died in a few weeks."
All of his
children lived near except Frank and Herbert. From far-away Mexico
Frank could not come to the funeral. From Washington Herbert
hurried as soon as the news of his father's death reached him. He
came into Fort Madison on the early morning train and walked, as he
had so often walked at that hour, the few blocks to his old home.
He entered the front hallway of the quiet house where all were
still sleeping. Turning into the parlor at the left, he found
himself standing, unexpectedly, beside the body of his father, lying
on the old sofa where for many years he had been wont to take his
daily nap. But for the telegram which had brought Herbert, that
morning, to that place, he would have fancied that his father was
only sleeping. Numb and shaken, he stood alone there in the
twilight of the early morning and looked, with startled eyes, upon
his father's face, knowing that his gaze could never be returned.
"It shook me
so," he told me, "that I had to go out in the air again and walk up
and down the porch awhile before I could go in and speak to Mother.
If you could have seen how majestic he looked! Like a fallen tree!
So tall and symmetrical, larger, stronger-looking than any son he
has. He lay there, smiling pleasantly. Just as if he had laid down
for an hour's restful sleep."
hillsides the peach trees were in bloom when we laid him away,"
Grandmother Brown told me sadly.