Chapter XIII, "Everyman's House" book, by Caroline Bartlett Crane Creator
Crane, Caroline Bartlett, 1858-1935, author Institution
Western Michigan University Subject
Architecture, Domestic Subject
Better Homes in America Item Number
Part of Caroline Bartlett Crane "Everyman's House" Collection Type
collection, text Format
--AND THE CHILDREN
I FEEL, momentarily, a traitor to my sex. Do I indeed think it amusing that a man should strew his things about for his poor over-worked wife to pick up? I do not! And--I hasten to add--the idea never originated with me. On the contrary, it is part of the Welt-schmerz which I am prescribing for when I say 'Concentrate on Son.' However, we shall discuss this point later.
If the child is father to the man, the child is no less mother to the home. If human beings came into the world full-grown and able-bodied, like house-flies, there would never have been need of a place of protection for mother-hood and infancy--namely, the home. Nor would there have been that 'ever-lengthening period of infancy' through the ages to work unending improvement in the home itself. We have no history of the first cave woman,
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with her mate, searching out a shelter for herself and the expected baby. If we had, we would doubtless find that, while the man was testing means of defence, the woman would be looking around for a natural shelf upon which to cradle her infant.
But considerations of a like sort in selecting a house or a house-plan today appear about as rare as a layette among wedding gifts. Even when the olive branches have already branched, the average house is purchased or planned--now isn't this true?--for grown-ups and their grown-up company?
'A house without a separate dining room? Impossible! We may be poor, but not that poor!'
'A house full of children, without a nursery? Well, things like that are for rich people, you know.'
'Oh, her woman's wit will save her,' says the sophisticated movie fan, as the heroine is pushed clean off a hundred-foot cliff. 'Oh, mother love will find a way,' we say complacently of the most impossible domestic arrangements. And it is to the credit of mother love that usually it does find a way--
a limping way of needless and senseless sacrifice! Mother brains should help find the best way.
This chapter and the one following are on the effect upon the children themselves of good domestic arrangements or the reverse.
We have already said a good deal about the blessings, day and night, of the Mother's Suite to 'the infant,' so unquotably characterized by the greatest of all dramatists. But Shakespeare certainly skipped one of the 'ages of man' when he passed from the infant in arms to 'the schoolboy creeping like a snail.' For it isn't the schoolboy, but the infant old enough to be let down out of arms, that we find creeping like a snail, and presently like a centipede, all over the place. It is then that Baby has the floor.
Now the floor, to you and me, is merely the substratum of our domestic arrangements. We live above it, in mind as well as body. All our furniture is just so many contrivances for keeping us and our belongings off the floor.
But consider what the floor is to a creeping, toddling, playing child. It is his mise en scÃ¨ne; the one element of the room with which
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he is on intimate terms. The ceiling is, relative to his size, a couple of rods afar. The walls are several rods apart. Scattered about on his landscape is a forest of tall, unsympathetic chair legs and table legs and what not, supporting plateaus of things beyond his ken. The floor is his one sure thing. When you place him in a high chair and hand him his toys, he promptly throws them on to the floor, as if to say, 'I know where I belong, if you don't.'
And so the floor, whereon a little child lives and moves, must not be cold; and, above all, it must be protected as much as possible from drafts. Here is one more service rendered by the vestibule in Everyman's House--a feature commented on by the 'Better Homes' judges as a rare and valuable asset in so small a house.
Where a stairway ascends directly from the living room or other room, the heat is continually escaping along the ceiling, while a layer of heavier cold air is sliding down the stairs and along the floor. If the front door also opens directly into this room, the difficulty is greatly emphasized.
This is wasteful of heat. It is also poor as
ventilation, which can be much better accomplished by means of a regulating damper in the fireplace, or by opening windows at the top. But a much more important reason for interposing a vestibule approach to front door and stairs is that it protects the health of the little children of the house.
And speaking of the health of the little child, we cannot, of course, think of keeping it in the house all the time. A baby's cab can stand either on the hooded stoop of Everyman's House where Mother can watch it if she is in a front room, or by the kitchen entry, where she can see it through the glass pane of the door. And when Baby is big enough to have a little outdoor yard, there's a fine place for it out between the wrens' house and the bluebirds' house. Mother, from the kitchen window, can keep a watchful eye on her birdie, lest it fly away.
And now the rest of this chapter is going to be on childhood contentment and happiness--'suiting the children' in Everyman's House. For any mother will admit that she is not a success if home isn't, for her children, 'where the heart is.' Of course, we agree that it
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depends in the last analysis upon Mother herself. But how is a mother helped by Everyman's House in making home a pleasant place for her children?
It is curious how continually we have to return to that vestibule. I have mentioned how Father so gladly utilizes it, especially when he comes home from his work to find that Mother has company. There are times when a bashful or sensitive child--or, say, just a child with some natural personal dignity--would rather face the school bully than certain of Mamma's guests. Mrs. Blank, for example, who can be depended upon to compliment him on his curly hair and tell him how he has grown, and how much he looks like his Aunt Eliza--except that his eyes are blue---aren't they? 'Look up, little man, and let me see.' He would, if looks could kill!--And yet through the living room, in most small houses, lies the only way to the longed-for refuge of his own room.
A boy's room! I want to know if that phrase doesn't naturally conjure up a picture of the worst room in the house? It used to be the maid's room which did that, but maids are
now too scarce and too exacting for a mere son of the family to take precedence. No, the boy's room is the worst room. It may not be a bad room at all; all the same, it is the least good room. I recall my room and my brother's. I've just been looking over my daughter's room, and my son's, and making some resolves. I've asked a dozen or more of my friends, in all walks of life--the one bond of similarity being that they have daughters and sons. And they all admit--we all admit--that where there is a difference in desirableness of rooms, the girl's room is the pleasanter room, the better-furnished room, the room with much the more conveniences for order and for daintiness of person and of clothing. This is true, even making allowances for the greater volume of a girl's wardrobe.
Well, that isn't so in Everyman's House, and I'm sure it shouldn't be so, just as a matter of course, in any man's house. Under the head of suiting a boy, I want to say that few things suit him better than a room properly fitted up--for a boy!
Be assured that the Committee on Furnishings didn't make the boys' room of Every-
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man's House a replica of the dimity-be-ruffled affair you see in the picture of the girls' room. It has the same basic features, including closets and built-in shelves and drawers. But all the furniture of the boys' room is on severe lines. The window-hangings and bedspreads are cretonne of a bold and 'manly' pattern. It is a room to adorn with Remington's prints, or a cut of Will Rogers roping a steer, or of Walter Johnson making his touchdown--or whatever it was he did. In a word, it is such a room as will suit a boy to live in and show off to his friends. And it is indeed a fine thing for both the girls and boys of the family (and, incidentally, for the mother, also) that a child can reach his or her room, and bring friends there, without having to pass through another room of the house.
Also, when Daughter is old enough to have a 'beau,' it's a fine thing that Little Brother can't find a ghost of an excuse for intruding; but that Father and Mother, giving the living room to the young couple, are themselves quite comfortable in their own room just across the vestibule.
It is a fine thing, too, for family content-
ment--isn't it, children?--to have the babies in the nursery, where it is such fun to go and play with them; but not to have them in your immediate vicinity when you have something else to do.
Indeed, one of the best things about Everyman's House is that it tends to relieve the members of the family from continual impingement and pressure upon one another's personality. This is no small matter. Family fracases usually result from the different members 'getting on one another's nerves.'
The family circle, drawn up to the point of strangulation around the centre table, beneath the central chandelier, should have, as its central ornament, the family jar. Here is where you get asked what you did today, and why; and why not? Brother Jack volunteers some corollaries to your quite adequate statement. And when you barely touch him with your toe, he loudly inquires why you are kicking him. And you tell him he makes you sick with his snuffling; and Father says you two joggle the table and get in his light. And then Mother, seeing no other way out, looks at the clock, and says it's time to go to bed, now.
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And Jack hotly tells Jane it's her fault he can't stay up to finish his story. And Jane, looking over Jack's shoulder, triumphantly announces that that isn't the kind of story he should be reading, anyhow!
The whole trouble is that people, large and not so large, hate to feel themselves perpetually under observation--subject to a motion to amend under the necessity of explaining every silly little thing they do--liable to be forcibly cheered up in a fit of the blues. People don't want somebody--even some very dear body--perpetually in the lap of personality. People want, sometimes, to be alone--or, at least, to be let alone.
Well, I wish to announce that Everyman's House has squared the family circle--a feat more useful in the humanities than in mathematics.
If you will look at the frontispiece again, you will see no central light and no centre table; but, instead: A davenport against one wall; a seven-foot window seat, with a table in front of it, against another; a well-appointed desk, with chair; a couple of easy chairs, one of them between the bookcase and the fireplace--all
perfectly lighted by windows during the day; all perfectly lighted by electric fixtures at night. It cost us some forty dollars of well-spent money to wire for side lighting and abundant wall-openings in all the rooms of Everyman's House. But probably the lower wattage of bulbs used for close-by lighting will consume no more electricity than commonly goes, through the old-fashioned central chandelier, largely for lighting the ceiling.
Everyman's House has some unusual adjuncts to cleanliness and daintiness of person. The bathroom is so convenient--and surely the family will soon manage to equip that extra lavatory-toilet upstairs. No washing (and no combing!) in the kitchen, for any member of the family.
Children are proud of any unusual interest or distinction attaching to their home. That basement shower bath would, I suspect, divide honours with the best radio set--at least in the season of greatest static and perspiration. That basement shower and the work bench, and his pleasant, spacious room, are magnets for the boy, whose mother likes to know where he is.
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So much for suiting the children; especially children of the sex that mothers find the hardest to hold against the call of the wild streets and the wilder bypaths.
But, after all, no child is really suited with a home in which he has no working partnership. Hence the next chapter.