The following is excerpted from the December section of Abe Martin’s Almanack for 1908 by Kin Hubbard. Hubbard tells a story of a family reunion at Christmas–that must be at least partly autobiographical–from the point of view of a young man who has been estranged from his family returning home with his new wife. Like much of Hubbard’s writing each word is carefully chosen and much communicated by detailed observations–and things that are left unsaid.
Ultimately it’s the story of a happy family: I hope your Christmas Day has been as happy.
You have been in the West for years and it has been a constant struggle for existence. You are on the road home for Christmas and you are bringing a young wife with you–Annie. The railroad fare has cost all that you have been able to save, but how happy you are!
Annie wonders if your mother will like her and how your brothers and sisters will look. You gather your bags and parcels together and put on your wraps many miles from your destination, so eager are you. How slow the train runs!
A tired looking woman, dressed in dingy black, with two small, sticky children, sits just across the aisle from you. They are imbedded in empty paper bags and orange peelings, and the mother’s hair is coming down. The forlorn looking trio was put aboard the train way back in Nebraska by a rough, sullen looking man who did not even kiss the little ones good-bye or utter one single gentle word to the woman. Annie wonders where they are going and if anyone will be glad to see them.
At last you reach your destination and your father pushes his way through the crowd of curious, felt-booted villagers to greet you. Father has not changed much. A little dash of white here and there in his shaggy whiskers, and the shoulders of his overcoat have turned a yellowish brown, but he is still strong and hearty.
The old surrey is hitched behind the grain elevator where Lizzie can’t see the cars. You all climb in and are soon rolling along the rough country road. You notice so many changes in the advertisements on the barns. The tall oaks that stood about Hiram Green’s house have been cut away and sold. There are no doors or windows in the old Williams home–the folks are all dead and gone.
A sudden turn in the road and you can see your home nestled among the cedars on the hill. A woman is walking slowly down the hill. As you draw near you notice how white and frail she looks, how thin and unsteady her hand is as she unfastens the gate. It is your mother. She wanted to be the first to embrace you.
Presently your brothers and sister are about you, and what a welcome! Annie feels easier now. You all walk up the hill to the house–a tall, thin, unpainted house with a summer kitchen, but the curtains are as white as the driven snow.
Brother Jim doesn’t look very prosperous, and when he awkwardly bends over you and whispers that “your wife is all right,” you catch a faint odor of cloves. Poor Jim has always been mother’s favorite.
You can’t quite figure out sister Nell’s hair, but she strikes you as being a stunning looking woman. Nell is a trimmer in the city and she does the buying at the Spring and Fall displays. She opens Annie’s eyes when she tells of the wonderful profits on flowers and feathers.
Brother Henry has told his house some sort of a story in order to get home from Duluth to reune. Henry is your father’s favorite and travels on the road and gets a salary and a commission, too. He belongs to all the lodges and looks fine and single. He tells your father that he is going to take him down East some time and show him a few things, but father only laughs.
You take a peep in the parlor and the old musty smell is still there. Nothing has been changed since the children went away. The glass cane is in its accustomed corner near the column stove and the curious little box made of varnished peach seeds still sets off the center table. How it caught your eye when you were a child! You open it, and on the underside of the lid, protected by glass, is a lock of chestnut hair–your mothers hair. The odd cabinet contains old, faded daguerreotypes in clumsy cases, held secure by brass hooks.
You gently close the door and join the family. The heat from the sitting-room fireplace has had its effect on Jim and he sleeps peacefully on the padded settee. You all go in to dinner without him.
The old, two-leaf table can scarcely stand under the weight of dark colored preserves in heavy glass dishes of primitive design. The same big blue tureen with which your mother went into business is on the board filled with mashed potatoes. The castor and the bone-handled butter knife–every familiar object, everything you used to like, is there. You are eating at home again.
After dinner you all walk out to the barn, father ahead, to see the new calf–all except mother. By three o’clock she has the dining-room and kitchen “tidied” and slowly climbs up stairs to her room for a little rest–the same low, back bedroom, overlooking the currant bushes and the smokehouse.
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Postscript — More on Glass Canes
I was curious about what a “glass cane” was used for that was mentioned here:
You take a peep in the parlor and the old musty smell is still there. Nothing has been changed since the children went away. The glass cane is in its accustomed corner near the column stove and the curious little box made of varnished peach seeds still sets off the center table.
Excerpt from December section of Abe Martin’s Almanack for 1908 by Kin Hubbard.
I did a little research and found this note on Glass Canes” by Phyllis Feigenbaum:
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, glassmakers in both the the United States and Europe often ended their workday creating a variety of objects from the leftover materials used for making other glasswares. Master craftsman were allowed to “play” with glass on their own time and create objects for their own use, enjoyment, or simply to improve their skills.
A variety of objects were created including chains, sock darners, doorstop turtles, bells, horns, pipes and of course whimsical canes. Given their fragile nature, canes were rarely used for walking, although they were occasionally employed ceremonially in parades. Glass canes are rarely documented to their maker.
Glasshouse whimsies were not part of the regular glasshouse production process and had no connection to the glass company. Although there was little opportunity to create objects for home or just for pleasure, one of the few benefits afforded glassblowers at the consent of the owners was the use of the virtually worthless materials comprising glass for purposes of creating end-of-day or between shift whimsies.