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Cymric Strain

By Una Howell (USA - 1876-1949)

Chapter 26 - New Horizons


Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010

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 CHAPTER 26

      “New Horizons”

When Father bought the Market Street home, he invested in surrounding real estate as far as his capital would reach.  Father was property-minded and in the back of his head he had for years carried the determination to build a suitable home for his family when his income was adequate.  He acquired title to the lot across Market Street facing on Campbell and he fenced it in two lots.  One we used for a pasture, the other was to be the site of the new home.

          Without advance advertising, Mr. Eberhart, our neighbor, had built a comfortable house for his family and that project spurred Father.  Our family wants were increasing and above all we needed more room.  Father was as scientifically thorough about house plans as he was in everything else he undertook, and blue prints now absorbed him.  After lengthy family discussions, plans were accepted, contracts let, and the hitherto vacant lot became a scene of lively activity.  Huge piles of lumber were hauled in and Mary and I were allowed to build a square cabin of logs, piling them as you would toothpicks and crawling over the top.  We must have looked like caged children as we peeped out on the new lot through the cracks.  Most of our time was spent on the new lot and after the workmen had retired for the day, we swung perilously in and out of the unfinished openings.

          In planning the details of the house, Father indulged his taste as far as his Welsh thrift would permit.  Each room was finished in a special wood: mahogany for the parlor, halls and hand-carved staircase; pale oak for the dining room; cherry, maple and ash, upstairs; and pine for the kitchen and maid’s room.  Small elegancies that we gloried in were bells in the chambers, a landscape window that looked out on our neighbor’s apple tree and provided a seat, fireplaces, and a speaking-tube through which we whispered secret messages.  The glory of all glories, however, was the shiny, galvanized tin bathtub with a slanting end like a chute.  Heretofore we had had to carry hot water from the kitchen and empty slops afterward.  Now they disappeared down a mysterious opening, finally arriving at the cesspool in the back yard.

          The house was a very modest one but after living in the cottage, it seemed to us children a mansion.  Almost without warning, Father announced that we would move on the following day and the Market Street place became a thing of cobwebs and memories.  The removal to the new house seemed the most natural thing in the world and was accomplished with little effort.  As a matter of fact it marked a definite end of an epoch in our family life.  We were entering into the problems that confront every family with young people, and a new horizon was as inevitable as spring or taxes.  Domestic rifts had undoubtedly appeared before we ever considered building a house but they only became evident to me with the change in scene.

          Father’s income had risen steadily as his prominence in local projects increased.  Before I was born, he had been elected city attorney by an overwhelming majority and when the Gulf Railroad was built, represented the city in that transaction.  His rise had been steady.  He was invited to make many addresses at important functions, to represent the bar, and was interviewed on the questions of local and political interest.  Commensurate with his rising income was our cost of living.  Our spending capacities had multiplied.  Maynard was in college, Lilly was blossoming into young womanhood; Mother’s health demanded a maid, and Mary and I were growing greater needs.  The project of operating the new house was calculated to deplete the exchequer at the start.  From three to nine rooms meant expansion.  New furnishings were a necessity and our parents had expensive tastes.

          Father and Mother’s room was on the second floor and had windows on three sides.  It also boasted a fireplace and bookcases to the ceiling.  Practically the first purchase was a handsome mahogany library table which, placed near the fireplace and bookshelves, gave a study air to the chamber.  The other bedrooms were light and ordinary.  The guestroom over the parlor had a decorative mantel and grate, windows on three sides, and as a carry-over of earlier days, we called it the ‘spare’ room.

          The parlor was carpeted with a sage green velvet carpet and a horrible parlor suite, upholstered in crushed plush of varying colors, polka-dotted the space.  There was a love-seat (an outlandishly shaped divan), a stiff-backed and a pull-up chair, climaxed with a monstrous patent rocker, a new discovery of the world.  For the most part, however, we came off rather well.  We hadn’t a single hand-painted shovel or tambourine punctuating the wall.  A plush tidy or two, spotted with paint, may have caught Lilly’s censoring eye and been relegated to the attic but the most shuddering errors in house decoration found us too busy and bill-minded for such indulgences.  There were Brussels lace curtains, and pictures that Mother joyously proclaimed were either works, or gifts, of friends.  They included a painting of her home in Wales, a plaque portrait of me, a landscape in watercolors and a paneled cross with flowers embroidered on fine chenille, one of those early American art pieces being collected at the time.

          One of our prized possessions at Market Street, rated by juvenile standards, was a white wood, lacework box cut with a scrollsaw.  It had previously held the place of esteem on the piano and contained treasures we were allowed to exhibit to guests in dull moments.  There was a goldstone from Yosemite. a buckeye from Ohio, a fan from Japan and a daguerreotype.  This box now occupied a rich setting on the black marble mantel that crowned the fireplace.  The grate was the center of interest in the room and when not scattering sparks of cheer had a very intricately-pierced black metal front that fitted over the opening.  At the edge of the tile hearth, a green wool fluff rug exposed its elegance.  This proof of our aristocracy was carefully shaken the last moment before a guest arrived, because it looked disheveled as soon as it was stepped on and, in our social innocence, Mary and I were apt to lead guests around it, or tell them to be careful, just as they planted their feet on its calm surface.

          The parlor was separated from the dining room by disappearing doors and we had great fun manipulating them, watching the handles appear magically at the pressure of a touch.  I was not too blasé to exult in such trifles and my childhood joys were trebled because of that zest that seemed to belong to a younger child.

          The dining room was larger than the parlor and had a bay-windowed alcove that opened to the south.  Mornings in the distance we could descry the wagons of farmers, loaded with produce, crawling slowly toward the town market.  We used the dining room for living purposes as well and when the table was not spread for meals a heavily fringed, wine-colored brocade covered it and the alcove housed a couch for lounging comfort.

          A huge square piano, Father had taken on a debt, occupied the east wall, the tiny rosewood one having been relegated to the hall well by the stairs.  At the north was built on of those display buffets with mullioned doors through which one glimpsed the colored wine glasses fashionable in the ‘eighties.’  In the center, an open sideboard was backed with a disappearing mirror to allow hot dishes from the pantry to be set through the opening to facilitate service.  This gadget one sees today only in old-house cafeterias but it was the pride of the architect in those days.  We made only moderate use of it, but how we loved it.

          Mother had a minimum of nice china and now she set about acquiring some.  Mother always stole from herself to buy china and real lace whether she could afford it or not.  Among her friends was a Miss Mary Haviland, a member of the family known as makers of Haviland-Limoges china.  I cannot recall how Mother became acquainted with her though I remember her slim elegance very vividly.  When Miss Haviland learned that Mother was about to stock her cabinet, she offered to select a set for her from the Haviland ‘exclusives.’  Mother was ecstatic and joyfully handed over her stipend and received the most unusual and delicate pattern I have ever seen.  Knowing how naïve at times Mother seemed, I can easily imagine Miss Haviland’s pleasure in doing this gracious service for her.

          Fireplaces were one of Father’s hobbies and a nice one too, if he had not depended on them for heat.  Springfield could be very cold in winter and carrying fuel to the various rooms was a chore that grew tiresome.  Even so, in the cold weather, fireplaces were inadequate as heating units, though they were decorative.  Cold sleeping rooms were not so bad but chilly living rooms ceased to be attractive.  With a young lady in the family, the parlor became her receiving room and the dining room was given over to the family.  The dining room except in summer was a cold room.  The fireplace was large, but not large enough to keep the place evenly comfortable.  The mantel was high and from the opening a black metal lion glared at the beholder over brass andirons.  These firedogs, and a pierced-work fender and accessories, hold unpleasant memories laced in their fretwork.  Mary and I had to clean them.

          Father was a great smoker and every smoker loves a fireplace.  It provides a perpetual ashtray and cuspidore not to mention a lure of inviting sociability.  After a long and tiresome session with dirty cleaning cloths and paste, it required restraint on no mean sort for Mary and me to watch Father and his callers expectorate across the delicate filigree of the fender, as they puffed in cloudy comfort.
 
“Why can’t they spit straight?  I’ll bet I could if I had done it as long as they have.”

I used to think as, with regret, I saw blemishes disfigure our showpiece.

Having cold rooms also meant practising on icy piano keys and I know of nothing that can so effectively block the flow of genius.  Our front hall and the dining room were like an Eskimo’s igloo in winter.  In summer, the piano pedals dried and squeaked with the heat.  It was in spring and summer that the new place was attractive

Father had terraced the lawn in the south, Mother had rare flowers covering the fence that divided our lot from the pasture and the odors drifted into the house.  We had pleasant neighbors, too.  Mr. and Mrs. Fanning, whom we had known for years, had returned from a stay in St. Louis and appealed to Mother to take them for Sunday dinners.  They had no children and Mrs. Fanning coaxed Mother to let her teach me to sew, in the furnished rooms she and her husband called home.  I spent much time with her and Mother, grateful for Mrs. Fanning’s interest in me, consented to try out the Sunday dinner plan.

Mrs. Fanning was a Southerner.  She loved to boast of the South’s beaten biscuits, and thought that Negroes were created to serve superior white people.  She was very vain of her hands and wore long fingernails, which she jealously guarded from injury.  After returning from St. Louis, she wore a dark lens over one eye and we often wondered what it indicated.  We were able to guess after an incident in spring.  It was a gorgeous Sabbath day and Father and Mr. Fanning were in the parlor.  The doors to the living room were closed and Mary and I stood by the dining room mantel sniffing the odors of Mother’s savory apple roll.  Mrs. Fanning put up a stiff competition with gastronomic appeal by telling us about an interesting ring she was wearing.  She took it off to show me.  It was a large amethyst with a daisy engraved on its surface and a small diamond imbedded in the heart of the flower.  Suddenly she dropped the ring and fell to the floor, at the same time making a curious sound.  Mary and I were astonished.  We thought she was being comic until she fell over the fender.  Then I stirred the ether with a screech that must have pitchforked the atoms into heaps and huddles and Mr. Fanning came on the run.  Fortunately there was little fire on the hearth and Mary had struggled to pull the poor creature from the fireplace.

My siren shriek had brought Father also to the scene and he and Mr. Fanning carried the unconscious woman into the parlor and administered aid.  It was the same type of fainting spell the Presbyterians were skilled at handling and her recovery was quick.  She ate a good dinner though she kept repeating,

“I wonder what that spot on my finger can be.”

We could have told her but our family was completely knocked out.  I never recovered enough to visit the Fanning rooms again and Mother was so thankful I had never been alone with her during an attack, that she kept saying,

“How fortunate you are, dear.”

I couldn’t appreciate it as she did but I made no more neighborhood calls without a bill of health.  Life was complicated enough without adding tensions of epilepsy.  Since moving, we had faced new and trying horizons.

Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - 1876-1949)

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father

Chapter 3 - Dartmouth

Chapter 4 - Killolog

Chapter 5 - America

Chapter 6 - Arrival

Chapter 7 - Gracious Living

Chapter 8 - I Am Born

Chapter 9 - My Name

Chapter 10 - Neighbors

Chapter 11 - The Cyclone

Chapter 12 - The Old cemetery

Chapter 13 - Music

Chapter 14 - Religion

Chapter 15 - The Circuit

Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1

Chapter 17 - Pageantry

Chapter 18 - Mommy

Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks

Chapter 20 - Decoration

Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals

Chapter 22 - Episode

Chapter 23 - Barn Life

Chapter 24 - Vanities

Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow

Chapter 26 - New Horizons

Chapter 27 - Disciplines

Chapter 28 - An Experimenter

Chapter 29 - Health

Chapter 30 - Murder

Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings

Chapter 32 - Charm

Chapter 33 - Problems

Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.

Chapter 35 - The Wedding

Chapter 36 - At Home

Chapter 37 - Cross Currents

Chapter 38 - A Baby

Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston

Chapter 40 - The Visitor

Chapter 41 - Buffetings

Chapter 42 - Agenda

Chapter 43 - David

Chapter 44 - Exit