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- BACK HOME - 2/31 -
Love, Courtship, and Marriage? One or two other things in life just about as interesting, aren't there? Take getting a living, for instance. That 's worthy of one's attention, to a certain extent. When our young ones ask us: "Pop, what did you say to Mom when you courted her?" they feel provoked at us for taking it so lightly and so frivolously. It vexes them for us to reply: "Law, child! I don't remember. Why, I says to her: 'Will you have me?" And she says: 'Why, yes, and jump at the chance.'" What difference does it make what we said, or whether we said anything at all? Why should we charge our memories with the recollections of those few and foolish months of mere instinctive sex-attraction when all that really counts came after, the years wherein low passion blossomed into lofty Love, the dear companionship in joy and sorrow, and in that which is more, far more than either joy or sorrow, "the daily round, the common task?" All that is wonderful to think of in our courtship is the marvel, for which we should never cease to thank the Almighty God, that with so little judgment at our disposal we should have chosen so wisely.
If you, Gentle Reader, found your first gray hair day before yesterday morning, if you can remember, 'way, 'way back ten or fifteen years ago . . . er . . . er . . . or more, come with me. Let us go "Back Home." Here's your transportation, all made out to you, and in your hand. It is no use my reminding you that no railroad goes to the old home place. It isn't there any more, even in outward seeming. Cummins's woods, where you had your robbers' cave, is all cleared off and cut up into building lots. The cool and echoing covered bridge, plastered with notices of dead and forgotten Strawberry Festivals and Public Vendues, has long ago been torn down to be replaced by a smart, red iron bridge. The Volunteer Firemen's Engine-house, whose brick wall used to flutter with the gay rags of circus-bills, is gone as if it never were at all. Where the Union Schoolhouse was is all torn up now. They are putting up a new magnificent structure, with all the modern improvements, exposed plumbing, and spankless discipline. The quiet leafy streets echo to the hissing snarl of trolley cars, and the power-house is right by the Old Swimming-hole above the dam. The meeting-house, where we attended Sabbath-school, and marveled at the Greek temple frescoed on the wall behind the pulpit, is now a church with a big organ, and stained-glass windows, and folding opera-chairs on a slanting floor. There isn't any "Amen Corner," any more, and in these calm and well-bred times nobody ever gets "shouting happy."
But even when "the loved spots that our infancy knew" are physically the same, a change has come upon them more saddening than words can tell. They have shrunken and grown shabbier. They are not nearly so spacious and so splendid as once they were.
Some one comes up to you and calls you by your name. His voice echoes in the chambers of your memory. You hold his hand in yours and try to peer through the false-face he has on, the mask of a beard or spectacles, or a changed expression of the countenance. He says he is So-and-so. Why, he used to sit with you in Miss Crutcher's room, don't you remember? There was a time when you and he walked together, your arms upon each other's shoulders. But this is some other one than he. The boy you knew had freckles, and could spit between his teeth, ever and ever so far.
They don't have the same things to eat they used to have, or, if they do, it all tastes different. Do you remember the old well, with the windlass and the chain fastened to the rope just above the bucket, the chain that used to cluck-cluck when the dripping bucket came within reach to be swung upon the well-curb? How cold the water used to be, right out of the northwest corner of the well! It made the roof of your mouth ache when you drank. Everybody said it was such splendid water. It isn't so very cold these days, and I think it has a sort of funny taste to it.
Ah, Gentle Reader, this is not really "Back Home" we gaze upon when we go there by the train. It is a last year's bird's nest. The nest is there; the birds are flown, the birds of youth, and noisy health, and ravenous appetite, and inexperience. You cannot go "Back Home" by train, but here is the magic wishing-carpet, and here is your transportation in your hand all made out to you. You and I will make the journey together. Let us in heart and mind thither ascend.
I went to the Old Red School-house with you. Don't you remember me? I was learning to swim when you could go clear across the river without once "letting down." I saw you at the County Fair, and bought a slab of ice-cream candy just before you did. I was in the infant-class in Sabbath-school when you spoke in the dialogue at the monthly concert. Look again. Don't you remember me? I used to stub my toe so; you ought to recollect me by that. I know plenty of people that you know. I may not always get their names just right, but then it's been a good while ago. You Il recognize them, though; you'll know them in a minute.
THE OLD RED SCHOOL-HOUSE
Oh, the little old red school-house on the hill, (2d bass: On the hill.) Oh, the little old red school-house on the hill, (2d bass: On the hi-hi-hi-yull) And my heart with joy o'erflows, Like the dew-drop in the rose,* Thinking of the old red SCHOOL-HOUSE I o-o-on the hill, (2d tenor and 1st bass: The hill, the hill.)
THE MALE QUARTET'S COMPENDIUM.
* I call your attention to the chaste beauty of this line, and the imperative necessity of the chord of the diminished seventh for the word "rose." Also "school-house" in the last line must be very loud and staccato. Snap it off.
If the audience will kindly come forward and occupy the vacant seats in the front of the hall, the entertainment will now begin. The male quartet will first render an appropriate selection and then . . . . Can't you see them from where you are? Let me assist you in the visualization.
The first tenor, the gentleman on the extreme left, is a stocky little man, with a large chest and short legs conspicuously curving inward. He has plenty of white teeth, ash-blonde hair, and goes smooth-shaven for purely personal reasons. His round, dough-colored face will never look older (from a distance) than it did when he was nine. The flight of years adds only deeper creases in the multitude of fine wrinkles, and increasing difficulty in hoisting his tiny, patent-leather foot up on his plump knee.
The second tenor leans toward him in a way to make another man anxious about his watch, but the second tenor is as honest as the day. He is only "blending the voices." He works in the bank. He is going to be married in June sometime. Don't look around right away, but she's the one in the pink shirt-waist, the second one from the aisle, the one . . . two . . . three . . . the sixth row back. See her? Say, they've got it bad, those two. What d' ye think? She goes down by the bank every day at noon, so as to walk up with him to luncheon. She lives across the street, and as soon as ever she has finished her luncheon, there she is, out on the front porch hallooing: "Oo-hoo!" How about that? And if he so much as looks at another girl - m-M!
The first bass is one of these fellows with a flutter in his voice. No, I don't mean a vibrato. It's a flutter, like a goat's tail. It is considered real operatic.
The second bass has a great, big Adam's apple that slides up and down his throat like a toy-monkey on a stick. He is tall, and has eyebrows like clothes-brushes, and he scowls fit to make you run and hide under the bed. He is really a good-hearted fellow, though. Pity he has the dyspepsia so bad. Oh, my, yes! Suffers everything with it, poor man. He generally sings that song about "Drink-ing! DRINK-ang! Drink-awng!" though he's strictly temperate himself. When he takes that last low note, you hold on to your chair for fear you'll fall in too.
But why bring in the male quartet?
Because "The Little Old Red School-house" is more than a mere collocation of words, accurately descriptive. It is what Mat King would call a "symblem," and as such requires the music's dying fall to lull and enervate a too meticulous and stringent tendency to recollect that it wasn't little, or old, or red, or on a hill. It might have been big and new, and built of yellow brick, right next to the Second Presbyterian, and hence close to the "branch," so that the spring freshets flooded the playground, and the water lapped the base of the big rock on which we played "King on the Castle," - the big rock so pitifully dwindled of late years. No matter what he facts are. Sing 'of "The Little Old Red Schoolhouse On the Hill" and in everybody's heart a chord trembles in unison. As we hear its witching strains, we are all lodge brethren, from Maine to California and far across the Western Sea; we are all lodge brethren, and the air is "Auld Lang Syne," and we are clasping hands across, knitted together into one living solidarity; and this, if we but sensed it, is the real Union, of which the federal compact is but the outward seeming. It is a Union in which they have neither art nor part whose parents sent them to private schools, so as not to have them associate with "that class of people." It is the true democracy which batters down the walls that separate us from each other - the walls of caste distinction, and color prejudice, and national hatred, and religious contempt, all the petty, anti-social meannesses that quarrel with
"The Union of hearts, the Union of hands, And the flag of our Union forever."
Old Glory has floated victoriously on many a gallant fight by sea and land, but never do its silver stars glitter more bravely or its blood-red stripes curve more proudly on the fawning breeze than when it floats above the school-house, over the daily battle against ignorance and prejudice (which is ignorance of our fellows), for
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