Dandelion Cottage

After obtaining Carroll Watson Rankin’s 1904 novel I planned on being sensible by enjoying a couple of chapters a day, but ended up staying up way too late reading the book in one fell swoop.

Dandelion Cottage is directly behind the big stone church. For years it was the minister’s home, and the church had always made sure they chose a clergyman with a small family – until they forgot to ask Dr. Tucker about his children and he arrived with a wife, one daughter and seven sons.

The church wardens had to rush around and build a big new rectory for the Tucker family, but no effort was put into renting out Dandelion Cottage, which was good news for potential renters. The former ministers had complained about the need to use umbrellas inside on rainy days, and the kitchen pantry was so small that ministers’ wives had been in the habit of storing potatoes in the bedroom closet.

Twelve-year-old Bettie Tucker was the only girl in the minister’s family of eight children, but she became friends with three neighbor girls. Jeanie Mapes was a fourteen-year-old gentle peacemaker. Marjory Vale was thirteen and “less sedate than she appeared.” Eleven-year-old Mabel Bennet was “large for her age and young for her years,” and tended to be a pessimist. Despite their differences the girls enjoyed each others’ company, and all suffered from the same problem – they needed a place of their own to play in.

Bettie’s house was teaming with boys who borrowed her toys for rough games, and the families of Jean, Mabel and Marjory all had times when they wished their girls didn’t make so much noise.

The girls were peeking into Dandelion Cottage’s windows when Mr. Black, the senior church warden, happened by and asked what they were doing. The friends said they wanted a playhouse and asked what it would cost to rent the cottage for the summer. Since town-folk had been complaining about the tall crop of dandelions surrounding the cottage Mr. Black said if the girls dug out every dandelion and briar by the end of the week their work would pay for a summer’s worth of rent.

The girls hesitated for a moment over the daunting task before them, then agreed to the bargain. Bettie, Jean and Marjory used imagination in an attempt to turn the job into an adventure, and gloomy Mabel declared she was just pulling weeds, but all worked hard and earned the use of the cottage.

After receiving the building’s key and evicting numerous spiders and mice the girls scrubbed rooms and Bettie’s oldest brothers flattened out tin cans to replace missing roof shingles. Then the girls began furnishing their new home with castoffs. Soon the rooms were filled with such treasures as “tickless clocks,” a “talkless telephone,” and furniture that might collapse if caution was forgotten.

I found most of the chapters “comfortable” reading. At first there were no major adventures or troubles to face, but I was entertained by Bettie and her friends as they cleaned and decorated, watched over the youngest of the Tucker boys, and resolved minor squabbles that occasionally arose.

One bit of mystery was introduced early on. Mr. Black – one of the wealthiest men in the town – stopped by to check on the new church-property tenants and the girls promised to invite him to a dinner party after they practiced cooking in their kitchen.

One of the poorest people in town was their widowed neighbor Mrs. Crane, and the girls wanted to repay her kindness by having a dinner party for her as well. When the girls’ families learned of the two people in need of invitations they became most supportive of the plan, and declared that Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane should be invited to the same dinner – but it was important to keep both invitees unaware that the other guest would be present.

Hmm, why did all of the grownups think it so important for Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane to have dinner together?

As summer progressed the girls took in a temporary boarder, which brought on new adventures. After the girls had the rent money to buy food for the long-planned dinner party it had to be delayed because Mr. Black went out West for several weeks.

While he was gone one of their neighbors moved out of town and the girls became interested in who might rent Grandma Pike’s house. None of them imagined there could be such a thing as a bad neighbor, but they learned the hard way that it was possible.

The Milligan family moved in next door, and the girls soon discovered they were not good neighbors. Laura Milligan was about the same age as the friends, and she invited herself to be part of the playhouse family – usually bringing along her squalling baby brother and bad tempered dog.

Laura insisted on choosing group activities that only interested her. She gossiped, mocked others and – worst of all – stole the girls’ belongings. When the stealing was discovered the girls picked up the baby and plopped him on the porch, then ordered Laura to leave and never return.

Alas, Laura was not one to depart graciously. She told her parents the girls hurt the baby by throwing him outside, and that they behaved cruelly towards her. With each new day Laura added to the lists of injustices supposedly done by the girls.

Mrs. Miligan went to see one of the church wardens and demanded that the girls be removed from Dandelion Cottage. And since her daughter had said how attractive the cottage was inside, and since their current house had such high rent, she had her heart set on moving into the cottage.

She spoke with the junior church warden, Mr. Downing, who hadn’t approved of turning the cottage over to a group of girls, when he thought it could be earning rent money for the church. He didn’t agree with many of Mr. Black’s decisions, and with the senior warden out of state for several weeks he considered it a good opportunity to make better decisions.

After calling upon the girls he noted how attractive Dandelion Cottage was (without investigating the building’s need for structural repairs) and, being prejudiced by Mrs. Milligan’s exaggerated stories, he judged a small cookstove mishap as proof of the girls’ careless and dangerous behavior.

Not only did the girls receive a written eviction notice, but they learned their beloved Dandelion Cottage was to be rented out to the dreadful Milligan family.

I won’t spoil the novel’s ending by telling what happened next, but I’ll let you know that all works out well in the closing chapters. And you get to find out why the girls’ families were so interested in Mr. Black and Mrs. Crane having dinner together. 

I don’t consider Dandelion Cottage to be a great literary masterpiece, but I enjoyed the characters (well, except for those disagreeable Milligans…) and the story kept me entertained up to and including the happy ending.

If you’d like to learn more about life at Dandelion Cottage the book can be downloaded free of charge at:


Parson Weens and a George Washington Legend

February 22nd is George Washington’s birthday, so this month I’ll discuss a portion of a biography written earlier than most of the books I comment on.

It’s not likely you’ve read Parson Weems’ best selling book The Life of George Washington: With Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honourable to Himself and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen, but if your ideas about our first president’s childhood includes a story about a hatchet and a cherry tree then you know something about Weems’ Washington biography.

First let me tell you about the author. Mason Locke Weems was born in the colony of Maryland in 1759, studied theology in London, England, and in 1784 was ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He returned to Maryland but had a difficult time earning a living as a minister, so in the 1790s he began writing religious tracts with the byline of Parson Weems. He also traveled throughout much of the brand-new United States with a mobile bookstore called The Flying Library.

Printed advertisements would announce the coming of The Flying Library, and at stops in some towns Weems gave a speech on the importance of education. He seemed to have a flair for knowing what might increase book sales.

When George Washington died in 1799 Weems decided a biography of our first president would become a popular book. In 1800 he published the first 80 page edition of his The Life of George Washington. Several expanded editions followed.

Parson Weems claims that he learned about Washington’s life by interviewing unnamed friends and family members, including an “excellent lady” who called Washington a cousin.

Some have claimed Weems invented stories for the purpose of telling parables that taught moral lessons, and that his most famous invention was the “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story that first appeared in his 1806 fifth edition.

Later retellings of the story state that young Washington cut down his father’s cherry tree, but Parson Weems has him “barking” the tree, cutting into the bark sufficiently to cause the tree’s eventual death.

Weems made it clear that George Washington’s father Augustine had a great distain for boys who told lies. Here’s what he has Augustine saying to his young son:

“Oh George! My son! Rather than see you come to this issue (telling lies), dear as you are to my heart, yet gladly would I assist to nail you up in your little coffin, and follow you to your grave. Hard, indeed, would it be to me to give up my son whose little feet are always so ready to run about with me, and whose fondly looking eyes and sweet prattle make so large a part of my happiness: but still I would give him up rather than see him a common liar.”

Wow, now there’s a father you don’t want to lie to! Augustine went on to tell the six-year-old lad:

“George, you know I have always told you, and now tell you again, that, whenever by accident you do anything wrong, which must often be the case, as you are but a poor little boy yet, without experience or knowledge, never tell a falsehood to conceal it, but come bravely up, my son, like a little man, and tell me of it, and instead of beating you, George, I will but the more honour and love you for it, my dear.”

Soon after that discourse George was given his very own hatchet. Now I know that back in the 1700s children were expected to take on household chores at an early age, but giving a six-year-old boy something with a handle and a really sharp edge seems like a bad idea. Fortunately George did no damage to any of his own limbs, but limited his cutting to the limbs and bark of trees. The story continues:

“One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry tree, which he barked so terribly that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the way, was a great favorite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. George, said his father, do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? This was a tough question, and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself; and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, ‘I can’t tell a lie; I did cut it with my hatchet.’ – Run to my arms you dearest boy, cried his father in transports, run to my arms, glad am I, George, that you ever killed my tree, for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”

Weem’s cherry tree story was retold by others, and ended up in a volume of the McGuffey’s Readers, the school books that taught generations of students to appreciate great literature. For close to a century most people thought the story was a flowery retelling of an actual event, but since the 1890s scholars have stated Parson Weems told a fib with his story about not lying.

At times Weems was guilty of stretching the truth to the breaking point, such as the title page of his Washington biography stating he was a former Rector of Mount Vernon Parish, when in fact he had served as a minister at another nearby church.

However, both an earthenware mug and a printed cloth depicting the cherry tree story have been discovered, and the objects were verified as being slightly older than the first edition of Parson Weems’ Washington biography. (In my humble opinion the story was an odd choice to depict on souvenirs made during our first president’s administration, but someone must have thought it was a good idea.)

So if the story of the unfortunate cherry tree is indeed a falsehood it is one that was told before Parson Weems wrote it down.

No doubt the story of young George Washington chopping into his father’s favorite cherry tree will continue to be told. It teaches a valuable lesson on having the courage to tell the truth after you’ve made a mistake. And it is a reminder for parents to use a little common sense when choosing presents for six-year-old children.

Wee Willie Winkie

A 1937 Shirley Temple movie proclaimed itself to be Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkie, but there is little of Kipling’s story in the Hollywood version.

In the movie a widowed mother and her young daughter, Priscilla Williams, go to live with the girl’s paternal grandfather, a colonel in command of a British regiment in India. The dour grandfather seemed only interested in his regiment so his granddaughter, nicknamed Winkie, obtained a uniform with a kilt, and tried to act like a soldier.

Winkie attempted to halt a war by visiting the rebel headquarters and asking the leader to stop fighting the British soldiers. That was not a wise plan. Fortunately, all worked out well in the end, and family members discovered how much they really cared for each other.

In the original Kipling story Percival William Williams, a/k/a Wee Willie Winkie, was the son of the colonel, who had put his offspring under Military Discipline. “When he was good for a week, he drew good-conduct pay; and when he was bad, he was deprived of his good-conduct stripe. Generally he was bad, for India offers many chances of going wrong to little six-year-olds.”

Winkie took a liking to Lieutenant Brandis, and he dubbed the young officer Coppy because of his hair color.

Coppy was a wonderful man. Once he let Winkie wear his sword, he promised to give the boy a puppy, and allowed Winkie to watch him shave. Coppy could do no wrong – until Winkie went out riding and saw his friend in the “unmanly weakness” of kissing a ” big girl” – the grown daughter of Major Allardyce.

When something bothered Winkie he usually asked his father’s advice, but this time he decided to go to Coppy and ask whether it was proper to kiss big girls. Coppy explained that Miss Allardyce would soon become “Mrs. Coppy,” but Coppy would be in big trouble if anyone found out about their engagement within the next thirty days. (It was never explained why the engagement would become acceptable after a month had passed.)

Winkie promised to keep his friend’s marriage engagement a secret, and the boy took a greater interest in Miss Allardyce as he attempted to figure out why Coppy thought her to be so important.

A few weeks later Winkie built a campfire and sparks from his fire set a week’s supply of hay ablaze. As punishment the colonel took away Winkie’s good-conduct metal and sentenced him to two day’s confinement to barracks – Winkie was not permitted to go beyond the house and verandah.

Early the next morning Winkie climbed onto the roof of the house (which was permissible) and saw Miss Allardyce riding by. He asked where she was going, and she replied that she was going across the river.

Winkie had been told how dangerous it was to go near the river that separated India from the Afghan border, for across the water were hills where Bad Men lived. Not even brave Coppy went near the river, and Winkie was sure the Bad Men were Goblins, just like the ones in a story that had been read to him.

The big girl that meant so much to Coppy had to be stopped from going where the Goblins lived, but Winkie was under house arrest. Breaking his arrest was an unthinkable crime, but his father had taught him that men must always protect women.

Never before in his six years had Winkie faced such a crisis, and he made the agonizing decision to incur his father’s wrath by breaking his house arrest. Winkie raced to the stables, had a native servant saddle his pony, and he set off after Miss Allardyce – who was rebelling from Coppy’s too-hastily-assumed authority in ordering her not to go near the river.

Before Winkie could catch up with her Miss Allardyce had reached the riverbank and was thrown from her horse after the animal stumbled. Miss Allardyce twisted her ankle and was unable to stand. When the boy reached her side she told him he must go back to the military station for help, but Bad Men were coming out from their hiding places, and the colonel’s son had to stay and protect the future Mrs. Coppy.

I won’t reveal how the story ends, except to say that Winkie regains his good-conduct status.

Rudyard Kipling had been born in Bombay, India in 1865, and lived there until he was five, when he and his three-year-old sister were sent to England to be educated. For six years Kipling boarded with a couple who treated him cruelly, and then he attended a school founded to prepare boys for the British Army, though he would never serve in the military.

Just shy of his seventeenth birthday Kipling returned to India and began a six year period of working at several British Indian newspapers. Years later Kipling wrote that when he returned to Bombay “…my English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength.”

During much of his lifetime Kipling was one of the most popular English-language writers, and he published poetry, short stories and novels for both children and adults based on his Indian experiences. In recent years his writing has fallen from favor, for it is thought to reflect the Victorian British belief in the white man’s superiority to native people.

Let’s see, Rudyard Kipling (who’d been named after a lake) was born a British subject of Queen Victoria, so in my humble opinion it is foolish for modern-day grownups to be offended that his stories reflect Victorian-era viewpoints.

Many of his Indian stories tell of harsh realities, and reading some of them once is more than enough times for me. But then there is Wee Willie Winkie, which I consider a delightful comedy adventure. It takes up nine pages of my Dover Thrift Edition of Kipling stories, so it can be enjoyed when you can’t afford an entire evening of reading.

The Gutenberg Project has Kipling’s Indian Tales, which includes Wee Willie Winkie. It can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8649

A Christmas Carol

I’m sure most English speaking people know the plot of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There have been dozens of filmed versions of it, but I highly recommend reading the novella, for that is the best version of all.

Throughout his adult life Dickens wrote and lectured on the plight of the poor – a topic he had first-hand knowledge of. As a child he’d lived a comfortable life and attended good schools, but only because his father spent more than he earned as a Navy Pay Office clerk. When Dickens was twelve years old his father was sent to debtors prison and the boy left school to begin working at a rat-infested boot blacking factory.

Nineteen years later, after he’d become a successful novelist, Dickens planned to write a political pamphlet on the subject of poverty, but then decided a story would reach a larger audience. In December of 1843 Dickens published A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas.. The novella was not an immediate financial success, but it has remained in print for more than 170 years.

One Christmas Eve, on an afternoon so dark “fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole,” miserly money-lender Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by two gentlemen collecting funds to help poor families. Scrooge did not approve of their endeavor and asked if the prisons, workhouses and treadmills were still in operation.

Treadmills? Was Scrooge wondering if the poor had access to exercise equipment? No, the treadmills in question were massive wooden wheels with steps built into the perimeter. Men trod those steps for ten hours a day, and the turning wheel pumped water or crushed grain.

Once used as a punishment in English prisons, treadmills may have been used in some workhouses, where conditions were purposely kept so harsh that the destitute usually refused to apply for help through the 1834 Poor Law.

When Scrooge asked his visitors about the prisons and workhouses he was told: “Many can’t go there; many would rather die.” Scrooge then declared: “If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

After the gentlemen left, and Scrooge reluctantly allowed his clerk, Bob Cratchit, to have Christmas off, the miser went home and began his encounter with ghosts. He first met up with the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and when Scrooge told him he’d always been a good man of business Marley informed him that charity and mercy were a man’s business, and those who neglect those duties during their life suffer the consequences after death.

Marley then stated he had come to try and save him from an eternity of torment, and said Scrooge would be haunted by three spirits. Scrooge did not like the idea of being haunted and said he’d rather not be saved. Fortunately Marley ignored Scrooge’s wishes and proceeded to tell him the timetable that had been set up for visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

In Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past the reader learns of his neglected childhood, when he was left alone at a boarding school during holidays, about his apprenticeship with a benevolent employer, and his engagement to a young woman who broke the marriage contract when his single-minded pursuit of material gains changed the man she had once admired.

A much subdued Scrooge met the Ghost of Christmas Present, who showed him the home life of many people, including his clerk, Bob Cratchit, The Cratchit family had many children, but the most memorable one was Tiny Tim, a frail boy who used a crutch, and had his limbs encased in an iron frame.

Dickens doesn’t state the reason for Tiny Tim’s poor health, but one modern-day guess is he suffered from a combination of rickets (which causes soft bones) and tuberculosis. Poor nutrition and cramped living conditions, with little chance to be in sunlight, would have brought on the diseases. Poverty was killing Tiny Tim.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was an unseen spirit, shrouded in a black garment. He communicated by means of extending a robed arm to point out what Scrooge should observe. He would not answer whether the scenes shown were what would happen, or merely what might take place.

Scrooge was shown the home of the bereaved Cratchit family, preparing for Tiny Tim’s burial. And he learned of the death of a man who is not mourned, and whose belongings were looted and sold at a back-alley pawn shop. Who was that friendless man? Even the few who haven’t read the story or watched a movie version of A Christmas Carol shouldn’t have much trouble figuring out which possible death would push Ebenezer Scrooge on to total repentance.

In the end Scrooge had a merry Christmas, but then on December 26th he took rather feisty delight in rushing to work, hoping to catch Bob Cartchit showing up late. His clerk did arrive late, and Scrooge growled at him and demanded that he step into his office, where he was told: “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

Poor Bob was not the brightest of fellows, plus he’d spent years taking verbal abuse from the most miserly of misers. His reaction was to move closer to a ruler. “He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a straight-waistcoat.”

Scrooge had taken heed of what the ghost of Jacob Marley had said – that charity and mercy were a man’s business. His change for the better was permanent, and Tiny Tim did not die, no doubt due to a higher family income that could afford better quality groceries and needed medical care.

I have a friend who likes stories “with a bow at the end” – her way of saying she likes happy endings. A Christmas Carol ends with a quote from Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest English writers of all time. I must admit that I’ve never read my way through any of his long novels, but I’ve read A Christmas Carol several times, and can attest that it is well written. It takes up 52 pages of my paperback anthology of favorite Christmas poems and stories, so it can be read in one afternoon or evening.

If you’d like to read A Christmas Carol it can be downloaded free of charge at:


Joel Chandler Harris & Uncle Remus

Judging a nineteenth century writer by twenty-first century standards is not a fair fight. It is easier to pass judgment on an era’s faults than it is to comprehend what it was like to live during the time period.

Soon after the Civil War had ended Joel Chandler Harris began publishing stories based on African folk tales. Starting in 1880 the stories became a series of Uncle Remus books, about a former slave who befriended a young white boy living on a plantation. Speaking in thick Southern dialect Uncle Remus told stories about trickster Brer (Brother) Rabbit, who could out wit other animals.

The books became best sellers, and Harris received fan letters from English writer Rudyard Kipling and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. He was a friend of Samuel Clemens a/k/a Mark Twain. Uncle Remus stories remained popular for generations, and in 1946 several of them became the basis for an Academy Award winning movie The Song of the South.

But starting in about 1970 the stories fell out of favor, and Uncle Remus began to be seen as a racial stereotype. It was claimed the former slave’s kind and friendly demeanor made it seem as though slavery had been a benevolent work arrangement.

Harris was accused of stealing from the African American heritage, and was criticized for not doing more to improve the lives of southern blacks during his decades of work as a newspaper editor. Wow, serious complaints.

Instead of wading into all the controversy I will tell you a little about the writer.

Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, but sources differ on whether his birth year was 1845 or 1848. What everyone agrees on is that his mother never married, and his father’s identity is unknown. At the time of his birth – and for more than a century afterwards – the word used in laws and court documents to describe Harris’ legal status was bastard. Many people based respectability on family background, and Harris spent a lifetime knowing a large swath of “proper” society rejected him due to the circumstances of his birth.

Harris and his mother got by on his mother’s meager earnings from sewing and gardening work, and from the charity of neighbors. They lived in a cottage behind the home of a physician named Dr. Andrew Reid, and the doctor paid for the boy’s school tuition.

During Harris’ school years he became known for his pranks and practical jokes. This may have been a defense strategy, to provide classmates with an opportunity to laugh at his antics instead of mocking him. Harris was not just a child with unknown paternity – he also had fiery red hair, freckles, was short in stature and stuttered. He later remarked that he had been a forlorn and friendless boy.

Harris loved to read, and the local postmaster would save newspapers and magazines for him. In 1862 he began work as a type setter at a weekly newspaper The Countryman, published at Turnwold plantation, nine miles from Eatonton. The young man had grown up without a father in his life, and the newspaper owner, Joseph Addison Turner, became a father-figure to him. Turner allowed Harris to read the books in his library, and encouraged him to write stories and articles for publication.

When Harris wasn’t working he would go to the slave quarters and listen to elderly slaves tell stories about trickster animals. One of the slaves was Uncle George Terrell, who became a second father-figure to Harris, as well as the inspiration for the Uncle Remus character.

In 1864 Union troops under the leadership of General Sherman ransacked Turnwold plantation, but The Countryman continued to be published up until 1866. The Union army left many of the neighboring plantations in ruins, and buying a newspaper became a luxury few could afford.

During the next decade Harris worked at several newspapers, leaving one of them because fellow employees continually mocked his appearance. While working at the Savannah Morning News he wrote a humor column, Affairs of Georgia, that was often reprinted in other newspapers.

In 1873 Harris married eighteen year old Mary Ester LaRose. He continued at the Morning News until 1876, when the Harris family moved to Atlanta to escape a yellow fever epidemic.

From 1876 to 1900 Harris worked at the Atlantic Constitution. He began a column which featured an ex-slave named Uncle Remus who would stop by the newspaper office and give his opinion on social and racial issues. In 1879 the Atlantic Constitution published The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus, one of the tales Harris had heard in the slave quarters at Turnwold plantation. Uncle Remus stories became a regular feature in the newspaper. The stories were reprinted in papers across the country, and publisher D. Appleton and Company asked Harris to compile them into a book.

Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings was published in 1880. In Mr. Harris’ introduction he wrote that the stories “may be considered a curiously sympathetic supplement to Mrs. Stowe’s wonderful defense of slavery as it existed in the South. Mrs. Stowe …. painted the portrait of the Southern slave-owner, and defended him.” He was referring to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I’m at a loss to explain what he meant by stating the book was a “defense of slavery.” Perhaps it would be easier to understand if I had read his words in 1880.

From what I have read about Joel Chandler Harris it appears he felt most slave owners had been good people, and cruelty to slaves had been a rare occurrence. Back in the 1860s the short, red-headed, stuttering, illegitimate young man had found acceptance and encouragement from a slave owner, and Harris had happy memories of visiting the slave quarters at Turnwold plantation.

During his time as an assistant editor and editorial writer at the Atlantic Constitution Harris acknowledged that slavery had ended and reconstruction of the South was the law of the land. He believed freed slaves had a right to an education, plus unrestricted access to the ballot box. And he felt it was vital to preserve the legacy of the African folk tales he’d heard from Uncle George Terrell and others who’d spent most of their lives as unpaid laborers on Southern plantations.

He may have believed that the average black person was less intelligent than the average white person, but if that had been his opinion he shared the viewpoint of many white people who’d had more formal education than he’d received.

As to the criticism that Harris had not been a strong enough advocate for the rights of former slaves I’ll not attempt to decide if he was prejudiced against the cause, or if he felt he couldn’t antagonize the whites who supported Southern newspapers.

Harris ended his newspaper career in 1900, but continued to write for major magazines, and to compile Uncle Remus stories into books up until his 1908 death from cirrhosis of the liver. Although he’d suffered from alcoholism the former forlorn and friendless boy had been a beloved husband and father, as well as the shy and modest author of dozens of books once admired around the world.

Should his stories be read today? The only caution I’d give to those interested in the work of Joel Chandler Harris is that his use of regional dialect requires the reader to interpret the equivalent of a foreign language. Here is the first sentence spoken by Uncle Remus:

“Bimeby, one day, atter Brer Fox bin doin’ all dat he could fer ter ketch Brer Rabbit, en Brer Rabbit bein doin’ all he could fer ter keep ‘im fum it, Brer Fox say to hisse’f dat he’d put up a game on Brer Rabbit, en he ain’t mo’n got de wuds out’n his mouf twel Brer Rabbit came a lopin’ up de big road, lookin’ des ez plump, en ez fat, en ez sassy ez a Moggin hoss in a barley-patch.”

With a little practice it becomes easier to understand what Uncle Remus is saying, but the stories never become a quick read. If you wish to take on a challenge the book Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings can be downloaded without cost at: www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2306/pg2306-images.html

Pollyanna and the Glad Game

“Pollyanna” has become a noun meaning an overly optimistic person,but some may use the term without realizing the name is the title character of a best-selling novel.

Eleanor H. Porter’s book was first published in 1913, and anyone who reads the story learns that an eleven-year-old orphan named Pollyanna Whittier often had a difficult time finding something in her life to feel glad about.

We’ll start with Pollyanna’s mother, who had been born into a prominent family, had been expected to marry the wealthiest man in town, and was ostracized for marrying the pastor of a small mission church in a western state. The Rev. Whittier’s family was so poor that all clothing, toys, rugs or pictures had to come from mission barrels of donated items.

Pollyanna had been the only one of the Whittier children to live beyond infancy, and Mrs. Whittier died when her daughter was quite young. The girl was raised by her beloved father and the Ladies’ Aiders – church women in the Ladies’ Aid society. When her father died she was sent to live with her maternal Aunt Polly Harrison.

Aunt Polly was a wealthy forty-year-old spinster who took in Pollyanna because it was her duty to do so, though she had no interest in her sister’s child. She had an attic room prepared for her niece to sleep in, and sent Nancy, her hired girl, to meet the train bringing the unwanted relative. The orphan girl arrived when the summer sun made the attic sweltering hot, but the attic windows had no screens so were not allowed to be opened to cool the room at night, for Aunt Polly didn’t want flies in her house.

Pollyanna was a friendly chatterbox who loved to get to know everyone she met. She found comfort in talking about her father, but Aunt Polly forbade her to mention Rev. Whittier in her presence – so the aunt became one of the few residents in town who didn’t immediately learn about her brother-in-law’s Just Being Glad Game.

The game began when Rev. Whittier asked that a doll be sent in the next mission barrel, but instead of a toy a pair of crutches were received. To lessen his daughter’s disappointment the minister told her to think of something good about the barrel’s contents, and Pollyanna was able to be glad that she hadn’t needed to use the crutches. Soon she discovered that if she tried hard enough she could find something to be glad about in the most trying of times.

When Pollyanna entered her aunt’s house, was walked past beautifully furnished rooms, and then saw her shabby attic room, it took awhile for her to be glad. But then she saw the view from the window, and said she didn’t need pictures on the walls when she could see beauty by looking outside. Despite the Glad Game she cried herself to sleep on her first night in the attic, for her father had gone away to Heaven, and she was so far removed from anyone else in her aunt’s big house.

Pollyanna began teaching the Glad Game to over-worked Nancy, and to Mrs. Snow, an invalid neighbor who had been finding fault with everything for the past fifteen years. And she began greeting the dour man who never spoke to anyone – especially fool girls who insisted on being cheerful. Soon most of the townspeople were trading stories of how the girl with the sunny disposition was making life a little brighter.

The girl tended to see the best of people, but some events troubled her rosy outlook. One day she met ten-year-old Jimmy Bean, who wanted to leave the Orphans’ Home and find a home with a family, where there would be a mother, and not just a matron. Pollyanna was sure her Aunt Polly would take in the boy, but her aunt refused to offer him a home, and called him a dirty begger.

That was a shock to Pollyanna, but she felt the best solution was to go to the local Ladies Aid meeting to find Jimmy a home. Once again she met with refusal, plus she learned some Ladies Aiders were only concerned with having their name at the top of the list of contributers to the foreign missions – a status that would be compromised by helping a boy in their own community.

Our heroine continued on with spreading gladness, and was gratified with the positive change in Mrs. Snow’s outlook on life. Aunt Polly’s heart thawed enough to move Pollyanna out of the attic and into a beautiful bedroom, and even the grumpy man who hated everyone made an exception and became friends with Pollyanna.

But even a loving girl raised on her dear father’s Just Be Glad Game has her breaking point, and Pollyanna’s occurred when she was struck by an automobile and suffered spinal injuries. Pollyanna overheard the doctor say she will never walk again, and becomes so devastated that she is unable to think of anything to be glad about.

Fortunately all the people Pollyanna had been helping began stopping by with messages about how playing the game had made them glad, and it eased their difficulties. She even learned that Jimmy Bean would be getting a real home. Aunt Polly is finally told about the Glad Game and is able to help Pollyanna take up the game once more. And if Aunt Polly could only bring herself to get over a quarrel that took place fifteen years ago there was someone who knew someone who might help Pollyanna walk once more….

Pollyanna is a novel about a likable girl with enough minor faults to make her believable. She tends to talk too much, which often leads to humorous reactions from those around her. At times she does seem a bit too naive and good natured, but I found her story entertaining.

The book can be downloaded free of charge at:


The Littlest Rebel

I first became aware of this story when I made a flea market purchase of a Little Big Book (Saalfield Publishing Company’s version of Whitman’s Big Little Books). The volume had numerous photos from the 1935 Shirley Temple movie, but almost none of the illustrations had any connection with the book’s plot line.

After reading my abridged version of The Littlest Rebel I watched the movie, then downloaded and read the complete 1914 novel, which was an adaption of a 1911 stage play.

The play was written by Edward H. Peple, who was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1869. Since Peple began life in the former Confederate capital just five years after the Civil War ended I assume he grew up hearing stories about the days of the Confederacy. Though he writes of a family loyal to the Southern Cause, he portrays most Union Army officers and enlisted men in a sympathetic light.

The film version begins right when war is being declared and, since it is a Shirley Temple movie, the first scene is of singing and dancing at young Virgie Cary’s birthday party. The festivities ended abruptly when Virgie’s father learned of the attack at Fort Sumter, and he goes off to fight for his country.

The book, however, begins in 1864, three years into the war, when seven-year-old Virginia Cary is one of the few remaining residents on the family’s plantation near Richmond. There are only Virgie and her mother, plus two remaining slaves – a foolish girl named Sally Ann, and loyal Uncle Billy. Most of the livestock had been taken by both the Union and Confederate armies, and there was little remaining food of any kind.

Virgie’s father, Captain Herbert Cary, a scout in the Confederate Army, comes home for a ten minute visit to hug his family and change horses. Moments after he leaves Union cavalrymen, led by Colonel Morrison, came in search of Captain Cary.

Morrison told Mrs. Cary they had to search the house, but he assured her no harm would come to her property. Unfortunately, after the search was concluded, drunken Sergeant Dudley – who’d been an overseer on the plantation until Captain Cary had horsewhipped and fired him for mistreating slaves – set fire to the upstairs rooms.

Sergeant Dudley staggered out of the burning house and rushed away. He was ordered to halt, and when he did not Morrison shot and killed him.

In the next chapter young Virgie was the only one living on what was left of the plantation. Her mother had died, Sally Ann ran off, and Uncle Billy had gone to Richmond in search of food, but the Union Army blocked his return. Virgie was barefooted, dressed in rags, and staying in an overseer’s cabin. She was surviving on berries and parched-acorn coffee.

Her father, wounded and on foot, comes to her with a pass from General Lee to get her safely through the military lines. But Colonel Morrison and his men returned in search of Captain Cary. The colonel was separated from his men when he discovered the captain’s hiding place, and the captain asked him to get Virgie to Richmond, and not let her know he was to be executed.

Colonel Morrison decided to allow Captain Cary to get his daughter to safety, and requested that he travel as a father and not as a scout, and to forget anything he might see while slipping through the Union lines. He wrote his own pass on the back of the one from General Lee, and left with his troops.

During the Carys walk to Richmond they met up with Union soldiers. Corporal Dudley, the brother of the man Colonel Morrison shot after the man torched the Cary home, came into possession of the double pass. It was proof that Morrison helped a suspected spy escape, and the corporal went after revenge.

Both Captain Cary and Colonel Morrison were put under arrest, and the colonel was court-martialed and found guilty of treason. Both officers received the death sentence.

In the Shirley Temple movie Virgie and Uncle Billy set out for Washington and asked President Lincoln to pardon the captain and the colonel. But in the novel author Edward H. Peple knew who had the real power during the war. The officer who’d served as Colonel Morrison’s court-martial counsel went to see General Grant and asked for a pardon.

General Grant referred to himself as a war machine. He focused on what needed to be done to defeat the enemy, and if a defective cog was found within the machinery of war it was replaced for the purpose of reuniting the country. Grant was not swayed by sob stories. But when a barefoot girl in a ragged dress defeated the sentries and rushed into the general’s headquarters he was presented with a witness to the crucial question of whether Captain Cary was merely an enemy scout, or if he truly had been a spy.

I found The Littlest Rebel a compelling book, though it is not politically correct. There were viewpoints on slavery that made me want to reach into certain paragraphs and bang heads against a wall. But the story is about a little girl who looses all except her Daddy, and her love for the Southern Cause and General Lee. She remained determined to make the best of her ordeals, and be a brave “soldier.”

The war was coming to an end, both of Virgie’s parents had known the South would be defeated, but both believed the fighting had to continue. Virgie met some good “damn Yankees” and her seven-year-old intellect pondered how they would need to follow commands from their own general, whom she assumed they loved as much as she loved General Lee.

The book is melodramatic, with the purplest of purple prose about love and honor, and fighting for a doomed cause. I found some sections cringe-worthy, but was often near tears as I read about flawed people I grew to care about.

If you would like to read The Littlest Rebel it can be downloaded free of charge at: www.gutenberg.org/files/15414/15414-h/15414-h.htm

Robert Louis Stevenson

On November 13, 1850 Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born into a family of engineers who designed, constructed and inspected lighthouses along the Scottish coasts. His grandfather was famous for his lighthouse improvements.

Young Stevenson was expected to follow in the family profession, but he first had to survive his childhood, for he had “weak lungs” and was often bedridden with painful breathing problems – which may or may not have been due to a form of tuberculosis.

He loved stories, both those told at his sick bed and those he read, and at an early age he began writing. As a child he was enrolled at several schools, but health problems kept him out of the classroom most of the time, so much of his early education came from private tutors. When he was able to do so he would take sea voyages with his father on inspection tours. The workings of the lighthouses didn’t interest him, but he loved to be out on the water.

The only occupation he wanted was to be a writer but at the age of seventeen, to please his parents, he began studying engineering at Edinburgh University. After three years he refused to continue his studies, and though his father gave up on his only son becoming an engineer he insisted on a backup career for him. Stevenson studied law and was called to the Scottish bar at age twenty-five, but he never practiced law.

When he was about twenty he changed the spelling of one middle name, and dropped the use of Balfour – his mother’s maiden name. From then on he would be Robert Louis Stevenson. This was just one of his decisions that didn’t please his family.

The Stevensons were wealthy professionals who adhered to the social conventions of their state in life. Robert Louis Stevenson was brilliant, hard working (despite physical limitations), compassionate, and kind to all he met. He was also an eccentric who apparently didn’t understand why his appearance and behavior was considered outlandish.

He’d always been too thin and, starting as a young man, he grew his hair long. He tended to dress in miss-matched clothing, topped with a long ulster coat. Strangers often viewed him as a tramp, which distressed him, for he had been raised to be a gentleman.

After finishing his law studies Stevenson committed his time to writing. In 1876 he joined an artists’ colony near Paris. It was there he met the love of his life. Fanny Osbourne did not meet the immediate approval of the Stevenson family. Not only was she an American ten years older than Robert Louis, but she was the mother of three children, married to a philandering man. Fanny had moved to France to be separated from her husband, Sam Osbourne, but he had traveled to be reunited with her at the death of their youngest child.

Fanny Osbourne returned to the United States with her husband and remaining two children, but corresponded with Stevenson. He decided to follow her to America. The trip nearly killed him.

Now in his late twenties, Stevenson had been living on gifts from his parents. He decided it was time to make his own way in the world. Taking only a change of clothing and some volumes of American history he made the ten day Atlantic voyage as a second class passenger, but chose to spend most of the crossing with the steerage passengers. Time spent in the cramped and filthy steerage area caused a lingering rash on his hands, plus he lost fourteen pounds. When he arrived in New York his five-foot-ten-inch frame was down to a weight of a hundred and five pounds.

Stevenson learned Fanny was living near San Francisco, suffering from “inflammation of the brain.” He took a two-week cross country trip on an emigrant train. Conditions would have been hard for a healthy man to endure, and Stevenson was far from healthy. Railroad cars were crowded and dirty, and on one of the days meals were not available. For part of the trip Stevenson climbed to the roof of a freight car and crossed the prairie sitting outside, breathing in the fresh air his weak lungs needed.

After crossing an ocean and a continent to be with his loved one Stevenson arrived in California a physical wreck, dressed in ragged clothes. And Fanny Osbourne told him she wasn’t sure if she should divorce her husband. Her teenage daughter had just eloped, but her twelve year old son Sam – who went by his middle name of Lloyd – needed a proper home. Stevenson had renounced his family’s wealth, but was making little money from his writing.

Stevenson hired a horse and buckboard and planned to nurse his broken heart by camping in the mountains. On the second day he collapsed and lay on the ground for two days until being found by a goat herder. He spent two weeks convalescing, sitting up in bed, giving reading lessons to two little ranch girls. No matter how weak his condition he possessed a strong, pleasant voice, and he loved helping children.

He then returned to Fanny, now living in Monterey, and learned she was obtaining a divorce. Stevenson found a cheap room near the sea, and spent most of his waking hours writing. He earned little money and began skipping meals. During an influenza epidemic he stayed up nights with his landlady’s four-year-old son, who was thought to be dying.

The boy survived but Stevenson nearly died of hemorrhages, brought on by days of high fever and coughing. Fanny came to be his nurse – and would continue nursing Stevenson for the remainder of his life. His parents learned of his desperate situation and sent a telegram stating they would send him the sum of two-hundred-fifty pounds a year. Twice before they had sent money to their son, but he never received the funds.

On May 19, 1880 Stevenson, who described himself as being “a mere complication of cough and bones,” married Fanny. To save on expenses they honeymooned in the bunkhouse of an abandoned mining town called Silverado.

The new family traveled in search of a place where Robert Louis Stevenson could regain his health. Wherever he was he wrote, and whenever he could he tramped about outside, often with his stepson, who adored his new father. They traveled to Scotland to visit Stevenson’s parents. The damp weather was bad for his health, but his parents learned to appreciate their daughter-in-law.

It was in Scotland that Stevenson drew a treasure map to amuse Lloyd. From that map came his first best selling book. Treasure Island was published in 1883. A Child’s Garden of Verse was published in 1885, followed by Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886. He became wealthy from his own efforts, and was a beloved author around the world.

Stevenson wrote poetry, magazine articles, travel books, and adventure novels that were often set in Scotland. Because of his health he could no longer live in his birth country, but the history he’d learned as a child never left him.

In 1890 the Stevensons settled in the South Pacific island of Samoa where they bought land and built a home. During Stevenson’s years in Samoa he did not consider himself a superior European. He loved the Samoan people and their culture, and his neighbors loved him. He took the native name of Tusitala, which means Teller of Tales.

On December 3, 1894, at the age of forty-four, Stevenson died of a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. He was buried on a Samoan mountain top overlooking the sea. On his grave marker are the words he requested to be his epitaph:

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I lay me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:

Here he lies where he longed to be,

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

Captain January

I watched both movies based on this short book – the 1924 silent film starring Baby Peggy, and the 1936 musical version with Shirley Temple. Since the films had the same basic ending I was sure I knew how the book would conclude. Not even close.

Before you meet seventy-year-old Captain Januarius Judkins (a/k/a Captain January a/k/a Daddy Captain) and ten-year-old Star Bright I’ll tell you a little about the author.

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards was born in Boston on February 27, 1850. Her father was Samuel Gridley Howe, who helped establish the Perkins Institute, the first school for the blind in the United States. Mrs. Richard’s mother was Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

After marrying her next-door neighbor Mrs. Richards would become the mother of seven children. She began writing and selling children’s poetry and novels, as well as biographies. In 1917 Mrs. Richards and her sister, Maud Howe Elliot won the Pulitizer Prize for Julia Ward Howe, a biography about their mother.

The author had more than 90 books published. Captain January was first printed in 1890.

The reader learns about Captain January’s background from the stories he tells to Star Bright. He’d run off to sea as a young boy and in time worked his way up to being ship’s captain. His last vessel was destroyed in a cyclone, and the captain was shipwrecked on a desert island – five years with a ship mate, and ten years alone after the mate died.

He was finally rescued and returned to his boyhood hometown, but couldn’t get used to being around people. He learned of the need for a lighthouse keeper on a island off the coast of Maine, asked for, and obtained the job. Once again he was living in solitude, until ten years before the story begins.

During a gale a shipwreck occurred on the lighthouse island’s rocky coast, and the only survivor was a baby girl. The next day Captain January sent for the minister to give a proper burial to the bodies he recovered, but refused to give up the baby he named Star Bright. He was sure the Lord wanted him to care for the little survivor.

He obtained a milk cow named Imogen, and later asked the minister for a couple of books to use in educating his girl. He was given the Bible, plus a book of Shakespeare’s plays. Those books became greatly loved by Star and the captain, but neither liked the dictionary the minister also gave them. That book was considered a troublemaker.

Star was not perfect – she could be bossy, had a quick temper, and didn’t like being in the company of strangers. Well, a girl raised by a recluse, and who read Shakespeare to a cow, can’t be expected to behave like an average child. But she adored her Daddy Captain, and enjoyed the company of the only person encouraged to visit the lighthouse.

Bob Peet was the pilot of the steamer Huntress that regularly went past the island. Some thought him not quite right in his mind because of his stubborn and quiet ways, but Captain January liked him because he could “belay his jaw” and sit for hours without feeling the need to speak.

One day Bob came by for a visit, and admitted he wasn’t on the Huntress because he’d run her aground on the sand during a thick fog. All aboard would have to wait until high tide before finishing their journey.

With the captain’s approval Bob rowed Star close to the grounded steamer. That short outing had serious consequences, for a lady passenger saw the girl, and was shocked by the resemblance to her sister, who’d been lost at sea – along with her husband and baby – ten years ago.

The next day the minister was rowed to the island to tell Captain January that wealthy Mrs. Morton was sure Star was her niece and wanted to do what was best for the girl. In an hour’s time Bob Peet would row Mr. and Mrs. Morton to the lighthouse. At first the poor captain railed at the injustice of a stranger claiming any right to the child who had become his reason for living, but though he was rough and uneducated Januarius Judkins had faith in the Lord’s will.

With heartbroken dignity he greeted Mr. and Mrs. Morton, and declared his lighthouse island to be “Good anchorage for a shipwrecked mariner like me, but no place for ladies or – or them as belongs to ladies.”

The captain was willing to give up his treasure, but when Star was asked to go off with her relatives she replied that they could kill her and take away her body, but she would never leave when she was alive. Mrs. Morton was not cruel, and so she left her niece with the lighthouse captain.

One crisis passed, but another one was looming.

On Christmas day Bob Peet came with pockets filled with candy and oranges, plus he brought a large box containing presents and a letter from Star’s aunt. When Star took her beautiful new doll up to her bedroom the captain made plans with Bob.

The Lord was letting Captain January know that he would soon receive his “final sailing orders” and Star needed to be taken care of. The captain would fly a blue pennant as a signal, and when Bob went past as pilot of the Huntress he would look for that pennant, and when he saw it he’d know all was well. (I looked in my father’s World War II edition of The Bluejackets’ Manual and saw that a blue pennant meant “senior officer present.”)

When the time came when Bob didn’t see the signal pennant he was to tell the steamer’s captain to send a telegram to Mr. and Mrs. Morton, and Bob was to row to the lighthouse and comfort Star.

I will end this summary by stating both of the film versions ended with Star going to live with a wealthy family, and the captain being hired to take charge of the family’s yacht. There are no yachts in the novel.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love the romance and lore of old-time lighthouses? This brief, six-chapter novel has a nautical flavor to it, with the main characters speaking in seafaring terms. The author moved to Maine a few years after her marriage, so I am sure the local dialect rings true.

Captain January and Star Bright are both salty individuals, but I grew to care for the loving and believable family. More than thirty-five years after writing Captain January Laura E. Richards wrote a sequel entitled Star Bright, published in 1927. This second book was apparently not a best seller, and the few copies I’ve seen for sale are on the pricey side. But I know I will eventually acquire a copy, for I want to know more about the story.

I found this book when I came up with the idea to read all of the original stories Shirley Temple movies were based on, and I was expecting the novel to be rather trite. It now holds a permanent place as one of my favorite Bookshelf Companions.

If you’d like to read Captain January it can be downloaded without charge at:


The Peterkin Papers Delightful In Small Doses

Years ago I obtained a book of classic Christmas poems and stories, and one story was The Peterkins’ Christmas Tree, about a family preparing for the holiday. Alas, when the family’s evergreen was cut and delivered it was discovered that it was too tall to stand in the back parlor.

What to do? Agamemnon, the eldest son, suggested the tree be set up slanting, but Mrs. Peterkin was sure that would make her dizzy, plus the candles would drip.

Then Mr. Peterkin decided to have the parlor ceiling raised, to make room for the top of the tree. Not the entire parlor ceiling, (for daughter Elizabeth Eliza’s bedroom was above the parlor, and it would be awkward having no floor during alterations,) but just a ridge along the back of the room, where the tree would be placed.

When a carpenter was consulted, he suggested cutting off some of the tree at the lower end, but the family had already made up their minds to raise the parlor ceiling.

While the carpentry work was being done some family members attempted to make tree ornaments, and others went shopping for decorations, but no one ended up with much of anything.

At the last minute disaster was averted by the delivery of a large box of ornaments sent by the lady from Philadelphia, and the family ended up with a wonderful Christmas tree.

I am not always amused by stories about foolish people, but I liked the Peterkins, and their well-meaning ways. A few years later I obtained The St. Nicholas Anthology, and one of the stories collected from that children’s magazine was The Peterkins Celebrate the Fourth of July.

Over time I came across other Peterkin tales, and began to sort everyone out. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin was their grown daughter, Elizabeth Eliza, who was named after two aunts. The oldest son was Agamemnon, who had briefly attended several colleges. Next came Solomon John, who liked to make things. And lastly were the little boys – there were either two or three of them (one story says three, another mentions “both” of the boys). Readers never learn their names, or much about them, other than that they often wore India rubber boots.

The family appears to have lived in a village, and often took the train to Boston. And they had a sensible friend – the lady from Philadelphia.

I attempted to learned something about the author, Lucrecia P. Hale, who lived from 1820 to 1900. She was from a distinguished Boston family. Her father had been named after his uncle, Nathan Hale, the patriot who’d declared “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Her mother was the sister of orator Edward Everett, the main speaker at the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery. (After Mr. Everett spoke for more than two hours President Lincoln gave his brief Gettysburg Address, which began “Four score and seven years ago…)

Several of Miss Hale’s ten siblings were authors; her brother Edward Everett Hale wrote The Man Without a Country.

Miss Hale had a great interest in education, and was one of the first six women elected to the Boston School Committee. She was a prolific writer, whose published work includes many novels, books on religious subjects, and on the art of needlework.

In 1868 her story The Lady Who Put Salt In Her Coffee was published in the children’s magazine Our Young Folks. That was the first of dozens of stories about the foolish Peterkin family. I wonder if Miss Hale would be pleased or annoyed if she knew that only her silly stories were now remembered. I hope she enjoyed writing them – and that they amused her highly-educated Boston family.

Every so often I read another Peterkin story, and enjoy most of them, though I find a few too ridiculous to have any charm for me. And I’ve learned that Peterkin stories are like rich deserts – too much at one time doesn’t agree with me.

So I take them one story now and then, and I learn what to do if the delivery men bring in a piano and set it up against a window, with the back facing the middle of the room. You open up the window, take the piano stool out onto the piazza (porch) and play your music through the window. When cold weather sets in this method of music making becomes uncomfortable, but fortunately the lady from Philadelphia comes up with a solution to the problem …

If you’d like to get to know the Peterkin family you can download The Peterkin Papers free of charge at: