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- The Long Ago - 3/6 -
the stores for every Christmas so boys and girls can see what they want? If he doesn't fill the stockings, who does, I'd like to know. Some folks say that father and mother do it - but s'posin, they do, it's only to help Santa Claus sometimes when he's late or overworked, or something like that.
The Spirit of Christmas is Santa Claus - else how could he get around to everybody in the whole world at exactly the same time of the night?
There is a new high-power motor in my garage. It came to me yesterday - Christmas. It is very beautiful, and it cost a great deal of money, a very great deal. If we were in the Little Old Town it would take us all out to Aunt Em's farm in ten minutes. (It always took her an hour to drive in with the old spotted white mare.)
I am quite happy to have this wonderful new horse of today, and there is some warmth inside of me as I walk around it in the garage while Henry, its keeper, flicks with his chamois every last vestige of dust from its shiny sides.
And yet . . . how gladly would I give it up if only I could have been in my feather bed last night - if I could have awakened at daybreak and crept softly, red-flanneled and barefooted, to the parlor door - if I could have groped for grandmother's stocking and felt its lumpy shape respond to my eager touch - and if I could have known the thrill of that dapple-grey rocking-horse when I flung my arms around its neck and buried my face in its silken mane!
Butter, Eggs, Ducks, Geese
It seems mighty convenient to telephone your grocer to send up a pound of butter and have it come all squeezed tight into a nice square-cornered cardboard box whose bright and multi-colored label assures you that the butter has been properly deodorized fumigated, washed, sterilized, antisepticized and conforms in every other respect to the Food and Drugs Act, Serial 1762973-A. You read the label again and feel reasonably safe at meals.
Huh! Precious little grandmother knew about that kind of butter!
Hers came in a basket - a great big worn-brown-and-shiny, round bottom, willow basket, hand-wove. It didn't come in any white-and-gold delivery wagon, either. It was delivered by a round-faced, rosy-checked, gingham-gowned picture of health, whose apron-strings barely met around the middle - for Frau Hummel brought it herself - after having first milked the cows with her own hands and wielded the churning-stick with her own stout German arms. She had the butter all covered up with fresh, sweet, white-linen cloths-and hand-moulded into big rolls - each roll wrapped in its own immaculate cloth - and when that cloth was slowly pulled away so that grandmother could stick the point of a knife in the butter and test it on her tongue, you could see the white salt all over the roll - and even the imprint of the cloth-threads . . . Good? . . . Why, you could eat it without bread!
"What else have you got today, Mrs. Hummel?" (Grandmother never could say "Frau" - and as if she didn't know what else was in the basket!)
"Vell, Mrs. Van, dere is meppe some eks, und a dook - und also dere is left von fine stuffed geese."
So the cloth covering was rolled farther back - and the 3-dozen eggs were gently taken out and put in the old tin eggbucket - and just then grandfather came in and lifted tenderly out of the basket one of those wonderful geese "stuffed" with good food in a dark cellar until fat enough for market. . . . Ever have a toothful of that kind of goose-breast or second joint? . . . No? . . . Your life is yet incomplete - you have something to live for! . . . Goodness me! I can't describe it! How can a fellow tell about such things! It's like - well, it's like Frau Hummel's "stuffed" goose, that's all! . . .
And then it was weighed on the old balances, steels - (no, I don't mean scales!) - steelyards, you know - a long-armed affair with a pear-shape of iron at one end and a hook at the other and a handle somewhere in between at the center-of-gravity, or some such place. . . . Anyway, they gave an honest pound, which is perhaps another respect in which they were different.
Then the ducks, too, were unwrapped from their white cloths and weighed - usually a pair of them - and the old willow basket had nothing left but its bundle of cloths when Frau Hummel started out again on her 10-mile walk to the farm.
Whenever I see a glassy-eyed, feather-headed, cold-storage chicken half plucked and discolored hanging in a present-day butcher-shop accumulating dust - or a scrawny duck almost popping through its skin - I think of Frau Hummel and her willow basket. . . .
But Frau Hummel isn't here now - and they don't build ducks and geese like hers any more - and her old willow basket is probably in some collection while we use these machine-made things that fall to pieces when you accidentally stub your toe against them in the cellar. . . . We are hurrying along so fast that we don't see anything until it's cooked and served. . . . We just use the phone and let them send us any old thing that they can charge on a bill. . . . But in those days grandfather and grandmother inspected everything - and it just had to be good - and there weren't any trusts - or eggs of various grades from just eggs to strictly fresh eggs and on down to eggs guaranteed to boil without crowing. Every Frau Hummel in the country wanted the Van Alstyne trade - and Frau Hummel knew it - and she never brought anything to that back kitchen door unless it was perfect of its kind.
No wonder grandfather lived to be 92 and grandmother 86 - in good health and spirits to the last!
The Sugar Barrels
Do you remember the three barrels of sugar in the dark place under the stairs - or were they in the big pantry just off the kitchen?
Well, anyway, there were three, you recollect - two of white and one of brown.
Always the brown sugar - and each Autumn the same colloquy:
"Mr. Van, don't you think we can get along without the brown sugar this year?"
"Now, Mrs. Van, you've got to have a little brown sugar in the house - and it comes cheaper by the barrel."
"Yes, so it does, Mr. Van . . . . . We can use it, I suppose, in something . . . . . And we always have had it, and . . . . . Well, do as you think best."
White sugar was good when you had something to go with it.
But brown sugar stood alone - sticky, heavy, crumbly lumps that held together until a fellow could tip back his head and drop one of the chunks in his mouth.
And after school grandmother could be persuaded to cut a full-size slice of bread (thick) and spread it with butter (thick) and you'd start away with it (quick) - just nibbling at one edge, not really biting - and you'd sneak into the dark place under the stairs (or into the pantry) - and reach deep down into the white sugar barrel - and grab a handful - and sprinkle it over the bread-and-butter - and shake back into the barrel all that didn't stick to the butter - and then do it all over again - and pat it down hard - and then sprinkle just a little bit more on hurriedly, (because grandfather's cane could be heard tapping down the hall) - and then you emerged with dignity, but with no unnecessary commotion - and just faded away into the Outer World so softly, so gently, so contentedly! . . . . .
(Have you tried any bread-and-butter-and-sugar recently? Did it taste the same as it used to? . . .
No? . . . Perhaps you broke it into pieces instead of beginning at one side and eating straight through?
Or maybe you got hold of the cooking butter . . . Or did you try it with baker's bread? . . .
No? . . . Well, why didn't it taste the same?
Jimmy the Lamplighter
The sun had gone down behind the willows on the river-bank. The night-clouds still carried the crimson-and-purple of the late twilight; and the deep, still waters of the channel gave back the colors and the gleam of the first stars that heralded the night . . . . . The martins chattered under the eaves, scolding some belated member of the clan who pushed noisily for a lodging-place for the night. The black bat and the darting nighthawk were a-wing, grim spectres of the dusk. The whip-poor-will was crying along the river, and far up-stream the loon called weirdly across the water. . . . .
A small boy was sitting on grandfather's front steps, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his palms, seeing familiar objects disappear in the gathering dusk, and watching the stars come out. He was safe, very safe for grandfather had not gone to the dining-room yet, and his arms could be reached for shelter in two or three bounds, if need be. So it was very pleasant to sit on the steps and see the little old town fold-up its affairs and settle down for the night.
And more particularly to watch for Jimmy, the Lamplighter.
Far up the street, in the almost-dark place, about where Schmidt's shoestore ought to be, a point of light flashed suddenly, flickered, and then burned steadily - and in a moment another, across the street . . . . Then a space of black, and two more points appeared. Down the street they came in pairs, closely following the retreating day.
And the Little Boy on the Steps knew that it was Jimmy, the Lamplighter, working his way swiftly and silently. If only the supper bell would delay awhile The Boy would see old Jimmy light the lamp on grandfather's corner, as he had seen him countless times before.
Then, just as the red glow faded in the West and Night settled down, he
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