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21 The Fairy World of Childhood One night just before leaving for the city, I invited a few of my father ’s old cronies to come in and criticize my new chimney.They all came,—Lottridge, Stevens, Shane, Johnson, McKinley, all the men who meant the most to my sire, and as they took seats about the glowing hearth,the most matter-of-fact of them warmed to its poetic associations, and the sternest of them softened in face and tone beneath its magic light. Each began by saying, “An open fire is nice to sit by, but not much good as a means of heating the house,” and having made this concession to the practical,they each and all passed to minute and loving descriptions of just the kind of fireplaces their people used to have back in Connecticut or Maine or Vermont. Stevens described the ancestral oven,Lottridge told of the family hob and crane,and throughout all this talk a note of wistful tenderness ran. They were stirred to their depths and yet concealed it.Not one had the courage to build such a chimney but every man of them covertly longed for it, dimly perceiving its value as an altar of memory, unconsciously acknowledging its poignant youthful associations .The beauty of vanished faces, the forms of the buried past drew near,and in the golden light of reminiscent dream,each grizzled head took on a softer,nobler outline.The prosaic was forgot .The poetry of their lives was restored. Father was at his best, hospitable, reminiscent, jocund. His pride in me was expressed in his faith in my ability to keep this fire going. “Hamlin don’t mind a little expense like this chimney,” he said. “He put it in just to amuse the baby,—so he says and I believe him. He can afford it—so I’m not saying a word, in fact I like an open fire so well I’m thinking of putting one into my own house.” To this several replied by saying,“We’d have a riot in our house 250 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:43 PM Page 250 if we put in such an extravagance.” Others declared, “It’s all a question of dirt.Our wives would never stand the ashes.” We had provided apples and nuts, doughnuts, cider and other characteristic refreshments of the older day, but alas! most of our guests no longer took coffee at night, and only one or two had teeth for popcorn or stomach for doughnuts.As a feast our evening was a failure. “I used to eat anything at any time,” Lottridge explained,“probably that is the reason why I can’t do it now. In those days we didn’t know anything about ‘calories’ or ‘balanced rations.’ We et what was set before us and darn glad to get it.” Shane with quiet humor recalled the days when buckwheat cakes and sausages swimming in pork fat and covered with maple syrup,formed his notion of a good breakfast.“Just one such meal would finish me now,” he added with a rueful smile. These were the men who had been the tireless reapers, the skilled wood-choppers,the husky threshers of the olden time,and as they talked,each of them reverting to significant events in those heroic days,I sobered with a sense of irreparable loss.Pathos and humor mingled in their talk of those far days! Shane said,“Remember the time I ‘bushed’ you over in Dunlap ’s meadow?”To this my father scornfully replied,“You bushed me! I can see you, now, sitting there under that oak tree mopping your red face. I had you ‘petered’ before ten o’clock.” It all came back as they talked,—that buoyant world of the reaper and the binder, when harvesting was a kind of Homeric game in which,with rake and scythe,these lusty young sons of the East contended for supremacy in the field.“None of us had an extra dollar,” explained Stevens,“but each of us had what was better ,good health and a faith in the future.Not one of us had any intention of growing old.” “Old! There weren’t any old people in those days,” asserted Lottridge. Along about the middle of the evening they all turned in on a game of “Rummy,” finding in cards a welcome relief from the unexpressed torment of the contrast between their decrepit,hopeless present and the glowing...


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