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it,' I confessed. 'Your addresses are as safe from me as if they were written in Sanscrit instead of ciphers, and were locked into a safety deposit vault. I have no key that fits, and I don't know the combination.'
'That 's because you 're a man,' my wife pityingly explained. 'There is n't a woman of my acquaintance who does n't do her address-book-keeping on this general plan, but the word that opens the combination is one that no man will ever understand.'
'Thank Heaven there are still the Telephone Book and the Social Register,' I cried, stung by the tone of superiority in Cynthia's voice.
But her last word was yet to be spoken. 'If ever you want to look up your own name in my address-book,' she said very sweetly, 'remember the Parable of the Deaf Upholsterer, and look under S.'
If, as one of the younger generation has remarked, 'Religion is the spiritual stream in which we are all floating or swimming or struggling or sinking,' I can only observe that the temperature of the stream is pleasantly tepid in these days, and that it wanders languidly through a flat and uneventful country. It has come a long way from the icy mountain streams and blue lakes that were its source. Back in my boyhood days, in Brierly, it flowed more swiftly, and the water was colder. Some courage was required to plunge into it, and some agility and skill to keep one's head above the current.
I am reminded of a recent statement made, one Sunday morning, by my sister Tryphena, to the effect that in her youth little boys did not play marbles on the Sabbath; and of the crisp note in the voice of my brother Edward's youngest son — aged seven — as
he stood on tiptoe to reach his bag of marbles from the playroom shelf, and answered: 'Well, Aunt Tryphena, you see things have changed.'
True. Things have changed. Edward is a good, Christian father, and he goes to church every Sunday morning, when it is too warm or too cold or too wet on the links. He does his duty by his children, but I can't imagine him kneeling down by Jack and praying, with tears in his eyes, for light and strength and guidance for them both, and then supplementing prayer with a hickory switch, the way father did when John, who was twelve at the time, and a member of the church, profaned the Sabbath and outraged all Brierly traditions by wearing his new baseball suit on Sunday morning.
Of course, it was a particularly vivid suit. The trousers were red-and-white striped, and the jacket blue with white stars. And John, who knew only too well the result if he were caught in such a costume on the seventh day, climbed out of the window of his room and down over the woodshed roof, to show himself to Frances and Caroline, who were washing breakfast dishes in the kitchen. But one of the neighbors saw him, and strolled over to the front gate to chat with father; and father appeared at the woodshed door — an avenging Nemesis, with the hickory switch in his hand —
Yes, things have changed. There is still plenty of religion abroad in the land, but the faith that most of us hold nowadays is a milder, more comfortable variety than the sort that permeated Brierly when we were growing up. It seems to consist mainly of a vague optimism, combined with a gentle tolerance of all differing creeds that might be mistaken, by a skeptic, for indifference.
We were n't gently tolerant of other
creeds in Brierly. The details of salvation were desperately vital. Baptism and confirmation were ordeals of tremendous significance. Frances ran away when she was seven years old, to attend a Methodist revival, and was converted. On reaching home, she lay awake all night, from joy that her sins were forgiven; and though the older boys and girls, who had just joined our church, felt this to be an unparalleled piece of uppishness on her part, and father and mother insisted on her attending worship with her own family, no one questioned the depth or realityof her experience.
Things have changed, indeed; and who can doubt that they are changing for the better? Yet there was much beauty and sweetness in the religious life of those days, and many memories dear to us older ones that the present generation will never know. Edward's children are being brought up much as we were, with this difference: their badness is transformed into goodness because they love their parents and fear punishment, while our lives were regulated by the fact that we loved God and feared the devil — a very different thing in reality, although it seems to bring about much the same result.
Not that we had any lack of love for our parents. They stood as a firm bulwark between us and the devil, and as intermediaries between us and God. Father made public intercession for us with the Almighty every morning at prayers, and three times daily at grace before meals; and I know that mother's private devotions were unceasing. I never heard her pray aloud except once, when a visiting minister called on her unexpectedly to lead the Wednesday evening service, in prayer. That night she rose, said simply, 'God bless this meeting,' and quietly resumed her seat. I always felt that her silent petitions went fully as far as father's; but
he was the nominal head of the family in matters religious. Every morning, directly after breakfast, he gathered us together in the parlor for family prayers,
We came from the laughter and fun of the breakfast-table into another atmosphere. Father, usually the merriest of us all, was suddenly grave and silent as he took the big family Bible in his hands. The hush that fell over us was accentuated by our being in the parlor; for we lived and played and studied in the 'sitting-room,' and the parlor was reserved for occasions of state. There was, moreover, a constraint born of our uncertainty whether our record for the past twenty-four hours would bear the sight of heaven and the family.
First, each child had to repeat a verse from the Bible. Next, father read aloud from the Scriptures, and then led us in prayer, each of us kneeling before the chair he had previously occupied. Mine was a small carved rosewood one, with a hard haircloth seat. I shut my eyes tight and laid my cheek against it, and tried not to see Edward snuggling into his green tufted cushion.
Father's prayers were really wonderful. In all the time we lived at Brierly, I am sure I never heard him say the same thing twice. And there was more to recommend them than their versatility. They were simple, direct, eloquent. He began by thanking God for the blessings of the day and night that had passed. Next he prayed for the conversion of the Jews, and for the ten tribes of Israel. These duties disposed of, he entered upon the real business of the day. One by one, he took his children by the hand, and lied them before the throne of Grace. Our little triumphs were mentioned and our virtues extolled,—though this was always done guardedly, and accompanied by a petition that we might remain free from pride; — and our secret shortcomings were brought unflinchingly to the light. Frances once told me that she knew the Bible meant father when it said, 'There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed'; and I remember thinking that she was the only one of us who would have dared to say it. But it was with mingled emotions of reverence and relief that we rose from our knees at the close of father's long prayer, and gathered around mother at the piano.
The music was best of all — partly because we all loved it, and partly because it came as a relaxation to minds and muscles after the prayer. On week-days we were limited to one hymn, on account of time; but on Sundays we frequently stood around the piano for an hour, while one 'Gospel Carol' followed another. Sometimes we selected our hymns from mixed motives. Once, after John had been sent upstairs to make his hands fit to be seen, Caroline chose to sing 'Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow'; and on the morning after the twins were born, my irrepressible Frances suggested: 'More and more, More and more, Still there's more to follow'; but was silenced, for once, by a look from father. Each of us had his favorite, and to this day certain tunes bring back those Sunday mornings with startling clearness, and the singing faces of those boys and girls.
'Pull for the shore, Sailor,' — and I see Gerald and Charlie, one on each side of the piano-stool. 'Stand up, stand up, for Jesus!' — John and Arthur, with their heads close together, singing bass and doing their best to ignore the other parts. 'Rock of Ages,' and Tryphena's face shines out of my memory, sweetly serious, and framed in smooth brown braids. 'Count your blessings' means Caroline's laughing blue eyes and clear soprano, with Edward trying to sing alto and not quite doing it; and whenever, in a Methodist church, I hear 'There is a fountain filled with blood,' I see Frances, true to the creed
of her adoption, singing with all her might. 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' is father, with the baby on his left arm, beating time with his right hand; and whenever I hear
'O happy band of pilgrims, if onward ye would
tread, With Jesus as your fellow, to Jesus as your head,"
I see the light shining through the east window, across the old square piano, upon mother's face.
The more I think of it, the surer I am that Edward's children are missing something.
THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
We talk glibly about the greed of profiteers; but there is a sheep-like streak in the human race, which makes us rather enjoy being exploited. How otherwise can one account for the rapidly increasing commercialization of every phase of human affection and sentiment? For instance, the artful and seductive advertiser has so trained us, that the first thing we think on hearing of a friend's engagement is: 'Good Heavens! What shall I give them for a wedding present?' Half-a-dozen weddings in a family are a serious tax on all but its most opulent members; and though something may be said in favor of the habit of receiving wedding presents, the middle-aged bachelor of either sex can find but few kind words for the custom of giving them.
And when the most beautiful festivals of the Church are exploited by the manufacturers and shopkeepers, it is time to call a halt. What idea of the Christian religion would the hypothetical visitor from Mars gain by strolling through the shopping district of any American town shortly before Easter? Easter bonnets, Easter bunnies, Easter eggs are bad enough; but by the time he came to 'Easter corsets,' it would be hard to convince him that Easter was not as secular and frivolous a date as April Fool's Day.
Christmas has been even more thoroughly commercialized and desecrated, the better to fill money-bags that arcalready bursting open. Unfortunately, the money-bags have as their firmest allies the well-meaning folk who indulge in orgies of sentiment over what they sobbingly speak of as the 'Christmas spirit.' The scoffers who go on about sun-myths and Druid ceremonies and such-like entertainments will never hurt the spirit of Christmas; it is so human a quality that, like the rest of us, it can be hurt only by its friends. They who bring the Christmas spirit into disrepute are those admirable monsters of forethought who start during the January sales laying in the stock of their nefarious trade; who during December fill the house with reamsof white tissue-paper and miles of red ribbon; who positively exude Christmas stickers and seals and tags and labels; who 'remember' everyone with at least a Christmas card; and whose deepest humiliation it is to be remembered by someone they had themselves forgotten. Their preparations endure up to Christmas Eve, their frenzy increasing as the hour approaches. Yet, when the longexpected day dawns at last, does anyone suppose that these virtuous souls can sit back and enjoy life? Far from it! By that time they are completely submerged in the return avalanche; for, to paraphrase the words of Scripture, to him that giveth shall be given; so the rest of the month is spent in writing and receiving unmeaning letters of hollow thanks.
What a horrid parody of what Christmas should be, might still be, if the admirable self-restraint and self-abnegation and sense of humor of my New Year's friend were more widely followed! I can see my New Year's friend in my mind's eye; not her features, — they
are unfortunately rather vague and undefined, — but her delightfully whimsical and kindly expression, her look of gentle seriousness breaking into a delicious twinkle. She is generous, sensitive, reserved, humorous, and romantic, and it shows in her face. Though I know her so well, I fear that, in a court of law, this description of her would not be admitted as evidence. To tell the truth, all I actually know of my New Year's friend is that for the past four years I have received on that propitious date, either by an unknown messenger or by the minions of the late Mr. Burleson, a New Year's card accompanying a golden eagle or its paper equivalent, together with an admonition that it is to be spent solely on myself. The envelope is addressed in an unfamiliar hand and bears no stationer's stamp, nor is there any other clue to follow up. I spend the enclosure religiously on some useless and beguiling article, which I should otherwise never think of indulging in.
No other present has ever afforded me the pleasure, amusement, and interest of this anonymous gift; and I am convinced that the giver gets almost as much fun out of it as I do. She cannot fail to do so; for, though her gift does not coincide with Christmas, she has the real Christmas spirit, giving with no possibility of thanks, no hope of return. I am glad at last to be able to tell her a little of the pleasure she has given me. Luckily there is no doubt that she will see this, for a person of her unusual qualities of head and heart must be a confirmed reader of the Atlantic!
Now, having won the war, and made the world safe for democracy and the cider-mill and unsafe for the League of Nations and the purchaser of woodalcohol, why cannot we turn to with a will and save Christmas for our descendants by following the methods of my New Year's friend? Our gifts need not take the form of hard cash, and some of them might even be given at Christmas; but at least let them be -anonymous and appropriate, let none be given to get rid of an obligation, or, still worse, of a last year's white elephant. We should give and receive fewer presents, but they would come radiant with the sheer joy of giving. We should be spared the agony of writing mendacious notes of thanks, and the horrible and demoralizing phrase, 'Suitable for Christmas gifts,' would disappear forever from the advertising columns of the daily press.
It is high time we remembered that the Christmas spirit has nothing in common with the gains of profiteers or with crowded shops and overworked saleswomen; still less with the giving of perfunctory and awkward thanks for perfunctory and undesired' remembrances.' It should be as free as air, as spontaneous as a child's smile; and the gifts it inspires should be as anonymous as the other good things of life.
While we are about it, we might also rescue Easter from the clutches of the milliner, florist, and stationer, the Fourth of July from the exploitation of the gunpowder and fireworks manufacturer. These may seem very minor reforms, but a moment's reflection will show us that the commercialization of our pleasures and social instincts is one of the dangers of the world to-day, and that the reaction to this dimly perceived peril was a strong factor in the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment. Let us leave the Constitution alone in future, and reform ourselves. It can be done: my New Year's friend has shown the wav.
In winter-time we go to school;
It stops and gets them, one by one, And brings them home when school is done.
Then there is ice upon the pool Where lilies grow. The leafless trees Stand shivering in the winter breeze, Except where here and there is seen A cheerful, warm-clad evergreen.
There's one I always like to see.
It stands alone upon a hill
Just like some giant's Christmas tree.
I'd like to see the giant fill
It full of giant toys and light
Big candles on it Christmas night.
But when the world is deep in snow
That is the way I like to go.
The birds look lonely as they fly