Not All Work


“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  Even on a farm in the early 1900’s the youth must surely find fun. What outlets might they find? Research again led me to a first hand source. Books. Not books about the era, rather I was interested in books written/published in those years. Afternoons and evenings spent with my Kindle now had a larger purpose. Authors read in the past offered more than plot and theme. The books’ incidental background details were gold that could be mined. Fairly certain that our family favorite card game, five hundred, had been popular during that era, Sinclair Lewis in Main Street, confirmed it. Booth Tarkington, Jean Webster,  and L.M. Montgomery  demonstrated transportation was often part of the entertainment, automobiles, buggies, sleighs, cutters, all dashed across the pages of the books. The writer, Zane Grey, offered more than the purple sages of the west. Beyond the cowboy campfires, several of his books dealt with college life, baseball and football included.  Facts that can be gotten from a dry list are only facts. Reading,viewing, living, with how those facts impacted life was the gold from the mine.

Here is a section of farm life fun included in Steeple in the Distance, an activity our family enjoys regularly.

Paul sighed with the luxury of laziness. “Slave boys, get that fire roaring and the apples and nuts roasting.”

Groaning, but obedient, Seth and Thomas labored over the fire while Daniel danced around in glee. Somewhere between chopping the wood and spearing apples to be roasted, Daniel rejoined the outcasts. The big people were dull. Lounging by the fire was no fun when he could be busy with his mates.

The girls insisted on hearing the story of Daniel’s rescue, which had been easily accomplished. Paul simply swung out on the first vine, grabbed Thomas’s extended hand, and swung back to the shore where Rob caught them. Seth and Thomas were declared dunderheads for not thinking of the obvious.

Nan recalled a time when Rob had left Paul perched precariously in a tree with an angry bull raging below and thought maybe that dunderheadedness ran in the family. Maggie volunteered that it must also be contagious, because last week Claire had a bad case of it. Claire confessed humbly with no excuses while Nan revealed her bout with it when Trude had found her soaked from a water fight. Paul quietly admitted his case had lasted an entire summer until an understanding fellow dunderhead had cured him. Maggie tossed her head, smugly declaring that when it caught up with her she would let them know.

The cold of the November night drew them nearer to the fire with the blankets drawn tightly around their shoulders. Even the three dunderheads stopped cavorting. They were content to sit, toasting nuts and apples and sipping the fragrant cider. The firelight, the circle that it cast, isolated them from the reaching dark. At this moment, Nan felt that only what could be seen in the firelight existed. Perhaps time had ceased, left them in this place that was now. The farms, the town, the wider reaches of the world, all receded and diminished in importance. The circle was more than warmth, the light more than sight, the two together closed out the ugliness that hid in the dark. When Rob brought up the latest war news, Nan protested and pleaded to leave it be for the evening. That, least of all, held any relevance or significance. The war was not a part of them or they of it. She refused to let it intrude.

They sat in silence until The Three began on their hoard of ghost stories, tales so old and so often told they failed any longer to send shivers up anyone’s spine. Tales so old they made them laugh with their absurdity. What the stories failed to do the cold accomplished. They moved more closely to the fire, pulled the blankets more tightly to them. While their backs shivered, their faces burned with the heat. Yet they lingered, the pool of light from the fire bound them and they were reluctant to break from it. The dinner bells ringing sharply through the night finally brought them to their feet. The compelling call from their elders they could not ignore. School beckoned for the morning, chores and work, the world and time—the spinning globe could not be halted.


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