Chapter XIV, "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
THIS chapter appears to be more about Everyman and his family than about Everyman's House. However, I assure you it is to the point; and how are you going to contradict me if you don't read it?
If in any family, of whatever station in life, we undertake to divide and apportion responsibility among its members, we should doubtless begin by saying that the father's part is to support the family; the mother's part is to care for the home and the children, and the children's part is--is--
Here, if it be a wealthy or even well-to-do family--our own, possibly--we may pause some while. For I fear that in the majority of such 'fortunate' homes it is tacitly regarded as the whole duty of childhood 'to get a good education and have a good time.'
But, in such a family, how often do we dis-
cover that no 'good time' is good enough; no money allowance generous enough; no gifts or privileges handsome enough!
Charles finds it wasn't an electric train, at all, that he wanted when he teased and pouted so for it. It was a live pony all the time! And Father, there, holding back about it and saying that he, his own son, wouldn't take care of a pony! Of course he would; or, if he didn't, George, the chauffeur, would, so what's the difference? Charles simply can't be happy at all without a pony, and he's bound to let the family realize that fact!
So Father gives in, and great is the joy for nearly a week, in which the pony is almost killed with kindness and oats. Then--George feeds the pony--and Charles has to have an increased allowance for exercising it. Presently he says, 'Let George do it'--that is, exercise the pony. He'll take care of the extra allowance, himself. He needs it badly enough, goodness knows!
And, for Pete's sake! Isn't Dad going to loosen up and give him a car for Christmas? He, Charles, has hinted it often enough! Isn't he sixteen, come February? And all the boys
are getting cars--and so on and so forth.
Hostile rivalries develop, too, among the children of the family, till Father and Mother feel like nothing but grandparents to the horseleech's daughters, 'crying, Give, give.'
Katharine Holland Brown[footnote 1] has voiced the regrets of thousands of unhappy parents who see, too late, a great mistake:
We gave, and gave, and gave. We gave ?em everything on earth but the things that really count. We never gave ?em one inch of obligation, not one hour of effort.
Poor Father! Poor Mother! And poor rich children, denied the blessings that descend naturally (though by no means inevitably) upon the Little Everymans!
Of course, there is no inevitableness of result on either side. Everyman's House, with the best and wisest of parents, may produce its black sheep. Gilded homes occasionally produce golden youths who put our theories and their own parents to shame. They are simply of stuff that can't be spoiled.
[footnote 1]'Third Time's the Charm,' The Christian Herald, December 15, 1923.
The Girls' Room. One of the two ample bed chambers above-stairs. [photograph: LA03a007]
[Page NA: BLANK]
Certain it is, nevertheless, that swollen possessions tend to burst asunder the family bond. But where it takes some continual tugging to make, both ends meet, and the cadets are called to the rescue--that family bond develops saving strength and stout hand-holds on the inside.
There is actual need for the children's help in a home in which the mother does all her own work and the father finds it hard to make both ends meet--which comes as near to a true description of Everyman's House as we can get. It describes about 90 per cent.[sic] of our homes. Whatever help, then, the children can rightfully give is real help--not works of supererogation, devised for their souls' good. Children are quick to perceive the difference. Who cares to wash dishes for the maid or mow the lawn for the gardener? But if a girl knows that Mother must do this if she doesn't; if a boy knows that Father must add one more task to his hard day if he comes home and finds the grass uncut, why, here is Everyman's advantage.
One trouble is that usually we do not let our children clearly into the situation. Mrs.
Haryot Holt Dey, in a delightful article, 'How I Brought Up My Boys,'[footnote 1] says:
One day, when I was scrubbing the kitchen floor during this period of adversity, Big Brother came rushing in to ask for money to buy something he thought he needed--a ball, possibly, or a bat, or a catcher's glove---and he halted in his rush when he came to the kitchen, where he found me on my knees.
I stopped the merry swish of the scrubbing brush and asked him why I was scrubbing the floor. He looked puzzled, and suggested that it was because the floor was dirty.
'You've another guess,' I said.
'Because you want the floor to be clean?' This time he really guessed.
'Wrong again,' said I. 'I am scrubbing this floor because I have no money with which to pay someone else to scrub it.' Still he saw no connection.
'Would you be willing to take money and spend it on yourself when your mother is on her knees scrubbing the floor?'
He began to see the point. Regarding the whole situation gravely, he said simply that he would not, and that he really did not need the money at all.
Such instances from real life are worth multiplying. A now prosperous physician of our acquaintance was visited by his young
[footnote 1] The 4merican Magazine, November, 1924.
son at his office. The boy asked for money to buy a pair of 'high-tops,' because 'all the boys are wearing them.' Did this father refuse? No. He said:
'Well, perhaps. And, by the way, Dick, you're good at figures. I wonder if you'll foot up the bills on that spindle for me.' Flattered and unsuspecting, the boy did this. Then said the father:
'Now, Dick, here's my bank statement. Will you just find out for me how much is going to be left after I've paid those monthly bills?'
The boy, having made the computation, turned and said, in some alarm: 'But, Dad, where's the rest?'
'There isn't any ?rest,' Son, except as I make it, day by day.'
The boy not only never referred to 'high-tops' again, but this was the beginning of a real working partnership between father and son which ensuing prosperity has not destroyed.
Often it is the mother who can best explain the father's situation--and the father the mother's--to enlist the loving and active
cooperation of the children in making both ends meet.
These qualities and duties can doubtless be inculcated in any kind of a home. We might indeed say that the worse the house, the greater the need. But we must add: the less efficient the effort of all concerned, the poorer the results in child-training.
Everyman's House, as we have seen, has fundamental features which greatly lessen and sweeten the tasks of the mother who does all her own work. But it is no less the right kind of a house for the mother with children old enough to help her.
'Oh, I'd rather do it myself than bother with the children's help!' we not infrequently hear from the lips of unconsidering mothers. (Do you remember that Murillo picture of the Angels doing the work in the convent kitchen, with the little cherub around underfoot, trying to help? There's always a time when your little cherub wants to help.) And would any mother say nay to a child helper in Everyman's kitchen? As a matter of fact, that small space is so planned that three may work simultaneously without interference. Suppose
they are getting dinner. One of the family can be making biscuits or cake or pudding or pie at the counter on the left side of the sink, while another is preparing and cooking and, later, taking up dinner at the counter and stove on the right side of the sink. There is no occasion whatever for crossing each other's tracks. And while Mother and one of her daughters are thus engaged, another daughter can be at the table (drawn upon its casters a little off-centre in the room), preparing the meat for cooking, arranging a salad, or making a dressing from the ingredients in the refrigerator and the shallow spice cupboard. And no interference with anybody else. Such working together begets comradeship; real 'family feeling.'
Setting the table, and putting on the dinner, or clearing it off, is no great task for even a quite small cherub, where not one thing has to be carried through a door. Dishwashing, in Everyman's House, as we have seen, naturally sheds its most repellent features.
Washing out small pieces in the adjacent bathroom with set fixtures and ever-hot and super-soft water, and ironing them from the
convenient wall socket, seem not very formidable tasks to a girl who wants her best middy blouse and scarf for the Saturday picnic. But, oh! what a burden this extra-wash business is for Mother, especially when it has to be done without the conveniences of Everyman's House!
And in helping in the care of the younger children. It can be done much better in a nursery where the playthings and the child-size furniture are than in a room where half of Big Sister's attention must go into seeing that Baby doesn't wreck his surroundings.
The children who willingly help Mother release her from something like bond service, into a condition where she can be, not only a happier woman, but a real leader and a maker of happiness in the home. Children, boys or girls, who willingly help, thereby show that they have respect for the individuality of the woman whom they have the honour and the heart's joy of calling Mother. Undoubtedly, they love her the better for respecting her.
When it comes to Brother's work, all the conveniences noted for Father in the tending of furnace, lawn, and garden, serve him also.
And it is a poor education a lad is getting who doesn't take these obvious tasks off his father's hands as soon as his age and strength will let him. But there is a great deal more about Everyman's House which a boy ought to do.
For example, in homes of affluence it isn't considered 'woman's work' to clean floors or wash windows, and certainly not to clean the cellar. In Everyman's House, then, by this token, it isn't work for Mother or Sister when there's a big boy around.
Then, Everyman's House is equipped with all the conveniences for a working mother which thoughtful people of wealth could provide for the use of their servants. But this equipment implies upkeep. A boy should learn how to take care of and to perform minor operations upon this equipment. In a wealthy home, one doesn't mind calling the plumber to repack a leaky faucet or open up a clogged drain pipe. This is too expensive for Everyman's House. This is a job for Brother. Also, that water-softener has to be reconditioned every two weeks or so, according to its capacity. That's another job for Brother.
I am against Mother's conveniences having to be tinkered with continually by Father. Big Brother should be Mother's 'First Looey' of Engineers, as Big Sister, of the Commissary and Infantry!
And just think how delightful for him to 'clean up' afterward under that basement shower! If Tom Sawyer had had such an attraction to offer, he couldn't have kept the boys from painting the whole town.
So--here is another phase of Everyman's Advantage. His children will have no difficulty in really earning an allowance--though of course no child should expect to be paid for everything he or she does around the home. (Isn't it his, her home?) However, a child must have spending money, in order to know how to spend wisely and wisely to refrain. If he earns that money by a sufficient amount of real work--well, here is what the venerable and beloved Doctor Eliot, President-Emeritus of Harvard University, says about it.[footnote 1]
[']The children of the well-to-do are likely to keep up a steady small expenditure on trivial luxuries; the children
[footnote 1] 'A Late Harvest,' quoted from the Youth's Companion of November 13, 1924.
of poor men have to deny themselves silly expenditures, to their great advantage, both physical and moral. They learn to go without cheerfully; not to spend and not to waste. . . .
Poor men's children receive a valuable training in going without superfluities and in avoiding excess; and this training comes in a perfectly natural and inevitable way and not through artificial regulation or discipline. Such experience heightens the enjoyment of necessaries and comforts not only in childhood but also all through later life. It is a grave error to suppose that luxurious living is more enjoyable than plain living. On the contrary, plain living is much the more enjoyable in the long run, besides being more wholesome.[']
So, we claim that the Everymans have an advantage, and that their house assists them to take full advantage of it.
The rich can create various substitutes for the disciplines of poverty; can, even as a last resort, transport the growing family to some far spot where servants are not, and he who does not work shall (theoretically) not eat. 'Give me either poverty or riches!' must be the heart's petition of many perplexed 'well-to-do' parents. Trouble is certainly due to any family in which the children have not been taught the duty and privilege of sharing family responsibility during the habit-forming years.
A word about one phase of helping Mother, the great importance of which is seldom appreciated in the home. Everyman's House has had hundreds of dollars spent on it to solve the problem of neatness and tidiness. But--
When Colonel Waring some twenty years ago was engaged in the herculean task of cleaning up and keeping clean the streets of New York, he at last exclaimed in despair: 'Nobody can give you a clean city if you want a dirty one!' He had discovered that the people could throw things down faster than the white wings could pick them up.
It was the children of New York to whom Colonel Waring at last turned with his appeal. To the boys, quite as much as to the girls--and quite as effectually.
Why not try this in the home? Why should a woman allow herself to be elected factotum to any able-bodied member--that is to say, any able-bodied minor--of her family? Why should she thank her boy for gallantly bringing in the paper to her, and then go meekly and laboriously to wipe up his muddy tracks?
Isn't it because, from time immemorial, we
have nourished, side by side within the home, two types of juvenile education and training?
The primitive husband and his sons came from the chase, and threw down their game and hunters' accoutrements--perhaps rightly leaving the rest of the business to the primitive woman and her daughters. But is this such a grand idea that it must persist when the accoutrements thrown down are a soiled sport shirt and a pair of muddy boots--the only 'game' being of that inedible baseball variety left on the field?
That a girl should help her mother keep the house tidy is one half of an extremely good idea. For do not imagine that there is any inherent obstacle to getting a boy to give such help as keeping his personal belongings in order. The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves--in that body-servant complex--that we are underlings.
Now, Everyman's House provides moral support and physical backing to any mother who wants to train her son to be a spoke, and not a monkey wrench, in the wheels of the household machinery.
There's a place for everything. The one
thing which doesn't go with the house is the incentive for a boy to put everything in its place. This theme would, perhaps, furnish material for another book--though I'm beginning to feel that someone who hasn't a son would be less handicapped in writing it. For there's no doubt that we women have continually to curb that atavistic impulse to pick up after our sons--especially only sons.
But--my Future Daughter-in-Law! I think of her, and it steels my heart. I will telephone him to come straight home and hang up those pajamas.
'What exquisite table manners your children have!' a new friend remarked to me after she had had them at a party.
'What!' I fear I yelled.
'Why, yes, indeed,' she added, with a sincerity I could not doubt.
It had 'taken,' then! All that painful effort which seemed love's labour lost. They did know how!
So, when my Future Daughter-in-Law says--if she ever says it!--'Such exquisite orderliness,' etc., I shall smile and tell her, ?twas for her sweet sake I came to concentrate on Son.