University of Virginia Library

Search this document 

a web of many textures

expand section 
expand section 


Page 183


That old chair, painted black, with the new bottom
of some sort of mysterious cloth, provided by the upholsterer,
was the property of my grandmother, —

“Dear old lady, she is dead
Long ago,” —
a gift from her mother, when she was married. It is a
queer old straight-backed affair, and I remember it, all my
lifetime, as the “Easy-Chair,” though a more positive
misnomer never could have been applied. It was anything
but easy, was the old chair; but when any of the
family were sick, they were placed in the “easy-chair,”
that always sat beside the bed in the best room, and
made themselves comfortable, or imagined themselves
so, by the appliance of pillows, propped bolt upright as
a soldier on parade.

That “best room” — and poor was the best — comes
back to me in memory, redolent with odor of pineboughs,
gathered in the woods around Fox Hill, or the
denser shades of Chase's Pasture. The little low fireplace
was filled with such, while upon the mantel above
it sported dried bouquets of wild field-flowers and
grasses, that were in keeping with the simplicity of a
sanded floor, scoured to half its original thickness by
the hard rubs of time, and revealing numerous knots
that lay about like hassocks in a meadow, that could not
be scoured down. There were upon the wall some
striking profiles — ancestral effigies — in fly-stained
frames, once beaming with the bravery of unsullied gold-leaf.
These profiles, cut from lily-white paper, behind
which was placed a black back-ground, presented the
tout ensemble of the family, though why more than one


Page 184
was necessary to emblemize the whole, I never could
think; for they were all alike, and all looked “down
the corridor of Time,” with their peaked noses ever
pointing pertinaciously in one direction. Then there
was the black old desk in the corner, with its brazen
and glaring impudence of finish, thrust out ostentatiously,
as if conscious of aristocratic importance, as
though saying, “I am the chief article of furniture in
this establishment!” I never see it, at this day, without
thinking of some portly gentleman standing with
his thumbs in the arm-holes of his vest, at a meeting of
second-mortgage bond-holders of the Vermont Central
Railroad; but I can't, for the life of me, explain the
points of resemblance. Then there were in the desk
mysterious apartments, from which the ends of antiquated
papers protruded; and once I remember seeing
distinctly a silver dollar in an old pocket-book in the
desk, which book I have now, but the dollar is not.
There was an ancient gun that hung over the desk, with
which I used to shoot rats, using gravel-stones for shot;
and another gun behind the door, with which my
brother used to shoot teal, in the mill-pond which
flowed past the plantation where the house stood in
which I first knew, and first learned to love, my grandmother.
The house was a little, dingy, low structure,
which seemed then large enough, but which now appears
so small that the wonder arises how a huge six-footer,
like the writer, could ever have managed to be
born there; and it takes very materially from his self-esteem
to admit that he could n't very well help it.
But he has reason to thank God that he was born; for
he has had many a happy time since, and much misery,
which last he is equally thankful for, as it has made him,
he knows, through suffering, a better man.


Page 185

The first face which he distinctly remembers among
the early home-scenes was one old with years, but radiant
with cheerfulness and love. This never changed.
The same kind look, and the same kind manner, marked
it. By the sick bed or in the social circle, at home or
abroad, that face, like the sun, bore comfort and joy in
its beams. She had been very handsome in her youth,
so everybody said; but I saw that she was then beautiful.
The old face had no trace of age upon it to me.
The smile that marked it was always young, and it went
to every young heart like a sunbeam. I cannot sit in
the ancient arm-chair, nor look at the grim profiles, without
thinking of her, and recalling the good old face surrounded
by a cap-border of ample frills, rendering it an
island of benevolence, surrounded by an ocean of spotless
purity, reminding one of a sunny isle in some summer

It is the lot of almost everybody to have grandmothers;
but it is not always the custom, I believe, for
everybody to remember them. I had two, and always
thought I had the advantage of other boys in this particular,
until I became aware that Providence had
planned it so that to each was allotted the same number,
as each state is entitled to two senators, to operate
as a “check upon the House.” Although I had this
number, and my respect for both was equally divided,
still I loved “my grandmother” the best; and the love
which then glowed warm in my youthful breast, even
now, when the sod has lain upon her gentle form for
thirty years, and the silver threads are gleaming among
the dark locks about my brow, is stronger and purer than
at the beginning. The elements of gentleness, and
kindness, and sweet household piety, were so mixed in
her that her life was angelic. There was no querulous


Page 186
complaining, no Rigglestyish jealousy about inattention,
no ascetic dogmatism, too much assumed by the aged,
no exaction, about my grandmother. Her life flowed
on, like a river through meadow land, eighty years long;
and as it deepened towards its close, when about joining
the great sea of eternity, it was more quiet and
gentle, and made the little green things around it, myself
included, better by its unconscious influence.
There was no gossiping about my grandmother. No
neighborhoods were scandalized by brawls enkindled
or encouraged by her tongue. Her counsel was ever
on the side of peace. She always had a good word for
the erring, and the largest charity for the fallen. No
bitter denunciation of guilt passed her lips. “We are
born, but we are not dead yet,” was her remark; and
to do unto others as she would they should do to her,
her rule of conduct.

My grandmother was a dear lover of children, and she
was that marvel, an old person who could tolerate all
their wildness, and make the whirlwind of their exuberance
subservient to her love. She drew them around
her by the magic of her manner. All of them loved
her, and found themselves by her side in a sweet but
incongruous companionship. She had a fund of stories
for them, and took part in all their childish sports.
I remember she was great at Cat's-cradle, and at Fox
and Geese she was immense — always managing, however,
to get beaten, and would be delighted at the exultation
with which her juvenile competitors proclaimed
their victory; though all the while she would wonder,
in a profound manner, how it could be that she was so
unlucky. Delight shone in her eyes, all the time, that
would have betrayed to older experience the secret of
her ill-success. There is not a boy or girl among them


Page 187
who will not, at this late day, recall my grandmother,
and avouch for the truth of all that is herein written.

With the aged she was an old woman, talking gravely
of the past, and dwelling in cheerful trust on the future.
That future was all bright to her. The vicissitudes and
cares and sorrows of eighty years had done their work,
and she was ready to go. This readiness was based
upon no canting pretence of good, and no belief in a
prospective crown earned in the discharge of Christian
duty. Her duty had been done for the love of it, and
had received its reward in the reflection of its own
good. She was good because she could n't help it.
The close of her life was like the calm glory of an
autumn evening, and the mild benignity of its setting
sun gave it a softness and beauty that plainly heralded
the night of peaceful rest that was to follow, and the
glorious resurrection morn beyond.

Such was my grandmother, whose humble history is
here attempted. She was entitled to no greater historical
prominence. Her life was in a small round of
duties well done, her aim limited to the wish to make
others happy. This wish sprang from the infinite love
that burned within her, and marked all her life; and
when she passed away, it was felt that, though her immediate
sphere was circumscribed, she had been no
inactive liver here, but that the world was better that
she had moved in it.


Page 188