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Chapter XII, "Everyman's House" book, by Caroline Bartlett Crane
Crane, Caroline Bartlett, 1858-1935, author

Western Michigan University

Architecture, Domestic


Better Homes in America

Item Number

Part of Caroline Bartlett Crane "Everyman's House" Collection

collection, text


148 CHAPTER XII SUITING FATHER, TOO TO ACHIEVE 'a home of their own' for himself and his family is an honourable distinction and a cause for exalted feeling on the part of any man. President Coolidge recently said concerning human birth: No man was ever meanly born. About his cradle is the wonderful miracle of life. He may descend into the depths . . . but he is born great. So, I think, must every man and woman feel when first they break bread and lie down to sleep in their 'ain place' upon the bosom of a suddenly more gracious Mother Earth. It is the man who provides this body of home, trusting to his wife to animate it with a spirit worthy of something 'born great' in that other 'miracle,' of wedded love. The desire for a home of their own is the great discipline which can transform the impossi- 149 SUITING FATHER, TOO ble into an accomplished fact. As the ever-delightful Bill-Ding says, on the lumberman's bulletin boards: If a salmon will jump a twenty-foot fall to the raising of her young, what can a man not do, to build his home? A real man takes his hazards bravely, willingly, relying on his health, his job, his insurance, his borrowing capacity, and a loving and loyal wife. And taking his hazard has made a man out of some rather unpromising material. Having achieved the home, a man begins to collect his unearned increment, not only in heart's satisfaction, but in self-respect, a social background, bettered business standing and in a sense of dignity in belonging to the social order. He has a vital stake in government. He has acquired respect for organized industry and for the law-regulated institutions of finance which furnish him the employment and insurance and credit necessary for the building of that home. Home-owning and Bolshevism are just naturally strangers. The aim of 'Better Homes in America' is, 150 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE in the words of President Coolidge, not only to help individual families to better homes, but also thereby to make 'a substantial contribution to national well-being.' The man who has paid, or is paying, for his own home enjoys all these satisfactions much the more keenly if he knows that what he has built is well built, so as to stand up sturdily against the disintegrating influences of time and weather and the ingenious assaults of children. No resemblance to an affair 'built of puff paste, and trimmed with vanilla icing'--as a certain popular writer described her bungalow at Hollywood. Even if the initial cost is more, he reflects that he would have to pay it ultimately in repairs on a less well-built house, or else be pained witness to the degeneration of a thing he loves. It was considerations such as this which added hundreds of dollars to the initial cost of Everyman's House in Kalamazoo. For example, the cement-stone partitions and metal window frames in the basement; oak floors throughout instead of pine; the best quality of shingles and plumbing fixtures, and paint and hardware, and the other items of this nature 151 SUITING FATHER, TOO detailed in Chapter III. And no one thing will give him greater daily satisfaction than the extra money paid for modern wiring for side lights and numerous wall openings, instead of the erstwhile chandelier effect. But I must not repeat too much of what has been already said. The owner knows that it was good business to build well, and that the house will sell, if he ever wants to sell, so much the better for the extra money put into it. The man of the house reflects that he will have some work to do around the place; caring for the lawn and garden; putting up and taking down the screens in season; stoking the furnace, and various odd jobs of tinkering that fall to the lot of home-owners. He will take satisfaction in the basement of Everyman's House that hasn't a pipe upon which he can possibly bump his head, or a dark corner in which, day or night, he must grope for anything. He will look with great satisfaction at the attic storage for second-story screens, and the basement storage for the rest of the screens. The grade entrance for bringing in his garden tools at night and for setting out 152 EVERYMAN' S HOUSE the ash cans will please him, as it pleases Mother on wash day. And as to his tinkering about the house--there, in the furnace room, and under an abundance of good north light, is just the place for a work bench and as full a complement of tools as any man can desire. He may well look forward to the time when, discarding coal for oil as fuel, this whole room, the size of the living room above, will be one big, clean work-and-play room for him and his boys. But I can't help worrying a bit about Father, nevertheless. Suppose everything is as convenient as possible for him. Still-- Here is a story I once heard a child-welfare lecturer tell to an audience of parents, mainly mothers. Little Bernice had a much-loved dog, Danny. One day Danny was run over by a street car and killed. Bernice's mother, dreading the outbreak of grief which was sure to follow, nevertheless determined to have it over with as soon as possible. So, when her little daughter returned from school, she met her at the door and said 153 SUITING FATHER, TOO 'I'm terribly sorry, dear, to have to tell you that Danny is dead.' To her astonish-ment, the little girl replied: 'Oh, that is too bad!' Then she kissed her mother sympathetically and passed on to her own room. A few minutes later a fearful clamour above-stairs. 'Oh, Danny is dead! My Danny is dead! Oh--oh--Oh!' 'Why, Bernice!' exclaimed her mother, 'whatever is the matter? I told you Danny was dead as soon as you came into the house!' 'You didn't, either!' shrieked the bereaved child. 'You said ?Daddy.'' The few fathers sprinkled through the assembly laughed dutifully, as is their custom at all jests and comic strips at their expense. But I wonder! For if I were going to pick out the greatest hero and martyr type of our common, worka-day world, it wouldn't be the faithful, toiling, unloved, unappreciated wife who labours for her children's welfare upon a scant allowance surlily bestowed. It's a poor, unsatisfying life, I grant you--tied to a man who doesn't love you, and accepting his support for the sake of the children. But such a woman, 154 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE nevertheless, has her children's company, and, presumably, her children's love. She is gratifying her deepest instincts in every sacrificial act for them. To them she can transfer all her personal ambitions--can live and experience--and, above all, hope vicariously in them. No, my crown of heroism and martyrdom would go to the faithful, toiling, unloved, unappreciated husband and father who goes forth every morning to earn a living for a wife who doesn't know her duty, and for children whom she doesn't teach to love and revere him. Father, who leaves the house while his little children are still sleeping and returns as they are put to bed. How can he hope to exercise, on Sunday and holidays, a charm potent enough to hold their hearts close to him, unless, all the week, he and his labours, and his consequent absence, are continually interpreted to them in the glow of a good wife's love? Coming home in the crowded afternoon trolley, where one is ashamed to take the seat of a tired man, I often fall to wondering about the reception which will be accorded each of them at his own door. What an economic achievement for a woman marriage is, which 155 SUITING FATHER, TOO gives her a home and the exclusive services of one man for the support of herself and her children! And what a moral and spiritual indecency in her, what debility of brain, when she lets her children crowd him out of her heart into the status of a 'mere provider'--her 'meal ticket'--to use a vulgarism which but feebly matches the bald vulgarity of the fact. Yet, if a husband and father fails to get love and life satisfaction in the home, he will never get it legitimately anywhere. He must feel himself the most taken-in person in the universe. Why does he stand it? Well, there are the children--and alimony. So, please understand that when we say that Everyman's House in Kalamazoo was designed to help a working mother to make a real home for the family, we are certainly not omitting from consideration the comfort and happiness of the husband and father. Of course, the spirit of the home is of vastly more consequence than any combination of physical features. It is like 'Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a bright student on the other' making a university. I wish I could recall some verses I read many years ago. 156 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE Perhaps some of my readers can send them to me, with the name of the author. The title is 'In a Dakota Claim Shanty,' and it begins: Only a house thirteen by nine In the midst of the prairie wide. Then the author described the daily toil of the husband, and their 'little ones nestling warm' in this rude shelter of home and love. Then comes the one verse I remember completely And I the priestess? Ah, I would The gift and the grace were mine To be the priestess that I should, In a house thirteen by nine. Well, a house 22' x 29' is even better, if we come to it in the right spirit; and surely most homes have the right spirit; or the papers would be printing as news that 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith appear to be living happily together.' (Let us be thankful, in a way, for bad news.) So we will imagine that Father, alighting form[sic] the crowded trolley, lunch pail in hand, feels sure of a glad welcome and a good dinner. As he opens the front door he hears voices in the living room. Wife has a caller. For the 157 SUITING FATHER, TOO thousandth time he is glad for that vestibule. In the old house you used to have to walk right into the front room, unless you went, like the rag man, around to the back door. And his collar is wilty and his clothes are dusty, and he doesn't want to see anybody just now, anyway. What he wants is a bath after a hot and hard day's work. So, hanging his hat and coat in the vestibule closet, he makes for the basement stairs, via the nursery and kitchen. He enjoys to the full that delightful, refreshing basement shower. Without leaving any bathroom muss, mark you, for Mother to clean up. And not even a man can forget to deposit his soiled clothes in the rack-like receptacle just under the clothes chute. Or, if he does forget, they are at least in the laundry, the terminal station for soiled clothes. Father comes up, refreshed and smiling, to meet the departing Mrs. Jones, who thinks him a singularly tidy and well-groomed man, considering the none-too-clean shop that he and Mr. Jones work in. Father and Mother have a few precious minutes together. 158 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE 'Where are the children?' 'Joe hasn't got home from the after-school ball game. Captain for the second year. What do you think of that?' 'Bobby?' 'Oh, up in his room, tinkering with that old alarm clock you gave him. It has insides enough to fill a bushel basket. But he is going to make it work. A born mechanic, like you. Judy is out ?little-mothering' the baby.' 'And Mary Florence?' 'Just come here.' And Mother slyly opens the passway door to the kitchen just a crack. 'Sh! She's making apple fritters. Don't forget to be properly surprised.' She tells him that cute thing the baby did, and he tells her what the boys in the shop say about this or that and then she says.[sic] 'Mercy! It's time to get dinner!' When it came to furnishing that Little House in Kalamazoo, our wonderful Committee on Furnishing had to decide what should go in the long wall space between windows, opposite the fireplace in the living 159 SUITING FATHER, TOO room. Long enough for a piano, or for a davenport. 'A piano,' said one. 'We must have music in a ?model home.'' 'A davenport,' said another. 'Father must have a place to lie down when he comes home from work.' 'There's the seven-foot window seat,' some replied. 'Yes, but somebody will be setting the table for dinner.' 'He can lie on the bed in the Mother's Room.' 'Why, that's the nursery-by-day. He couldn't rest or take a nap there.' The davenport and Father won the decision. A victrola was appointed official music-maker--with the possible assistance of a radio, or of almost any portable instrument except a saxophone. Now, while Mother and Mary Florence are getting dinner, Father will lie on the davenport and read, if he wants to. It's a rather quiet place. If all the children were in the nursery, there are two walls and the vestibule and stairway and kitchen between. Also, there is no trouble about light. There's a 160 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE window and likewise an electric fixture at each end of the davenport. And there's always, under the pillow, a gay little blanket to cover the end where he elects to place his feet. (Yes, it is possible to train an ordinarily intelligent man to do this one thing, especially if you mention that it costs $15 to have a davenport dry-cleaned.) Presently dinner is ready, and Father, fresh and rested, will listen to tales of the bold exploits of his sons, and praise the girls for the way they help Mother, and have a second helping of apple fritters. After dinner he plays with the baby a minute or so, if Mother hasn't already carried him off to bed. Perhaps he has a boxing bout with Jo, 'just to take the conceit out of him.' Then he remembers his half-holiday tomorrow, and his favourite trout stream. In that long window-seat box--over there by the table and in a good light--are Father's waders and rods and flies or his bass-fishing outfit, his guns or golf clubs, or anything whatever that Father wants to keep where he can lay his hands on it, and the boys can't--unless he gives them the key! 161 SUITING FATHER, TOO We think Father is suited, or ought to be, in Everyman's House. Of course, however, the thing which suits him best is the way Mother is suited. Seated by her side, under their own roof tree, the day done and the children all in bed, he reaches over and takes Mother's hand and declares that this is a good little old world! But just a word more about this training of husbands. Of course, I am lugging it into this chapter. That is because it needs to be said and I want to say it, connected up with certain other reactions which tend to develop under the domestic roof. 'Why mothers grow gray,' 'Why girls leave home,' 'When a feller needs a friend'--these are among the familiar captions which indicate that human beings classify to types corresponding to the blood relationship; also, that the family entente needs to be improved. But none of these familial complexes is, to my mind, so significant as that which pictures Father's effort (usually vain) to slip away of an evening to his club or whatever place of rendezvous serves in its stead. That Father, and Mother, too, might like to 162 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE go out for an evening's recreation is understandable. But why does Father want to go off somewhere else to read his paper? What is the matter with the home when Father doesn't feel at home in it? This homeless state of a man isn't confined to the homes oppressed by meagre resources and overcrowded with children. It is quite as likely to exist where Father is perfectly able to afford membership in a club. In which case, if Mother were to invest in some burnt cork and a white duck suit and hire out as a steward in one of these same clubs, she would probably learn some things of interest to her. She would find a silent and solicitous darkey deftly removing the cigar ashes from the table and the apple cores from under the chair without Father ever knowing he had done a thing! With his feet at an elevation pleasing to him, and islanded in a surf of metropolitan newspapers, she would behold Father blissfully 'at home'! Slight enough concession, it would seem, for Father's society. And yet, just such little liberties denied or frowned on may be the reason 'why men leave home.' Father can't take his ease in his own inn; 163 SUITING FATHER, TOO can't snap the window shades up to the top without a row. Can't tilt back on the hind legs of even the sturdiest chair. Can't shed his discarded apparel casually like the leaves of Vallombrosa. Can't have the dog in the house. Can't whistle. Sometimes, doubtless, can't just think why he ever let himself in for supporting an institution in which he seems to have no founder's rights; where a woman of a different culture from his own decides what shall and shall not be, and yet hotly resents his clearing out for a more congenial spot. Where is the man who has no 'ways' annoying to his mate? But, aside from the fact that we women have ways reciprocally annoying, it would seem best gracefully to acknowledge that we caught Father too late to teach him many new tricks, and concentrate on so bringing up Son as to win the plaudits and gratitude of our future Daughter-in-law. Which brings me up in good form to the next chapter.

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