Bess Streeter Aldrich Excerpts – The years glide by… (October 2015).

Susan's Thursday morning note October 22, 2015
Bess Streeter Aldrich - NE author.  The years glide by... 

Good morning.  Darkness outside my window.  As if there is absolutely nothing on the other side of the pane.  The lyrics coming from Julie Andrews’ voice enters my mind from The Sound of Music. “What will this day be like?  I wonder…What will the future hold?  I wonder…”  Complete stillness.  Inside the pane the angel of dawn already has made her appearance.  She hands me a little bird nest found near my child’s makeshift first base.  Showing me the delicate handiwork of my loyal little bird quietly overlooking the scene.  Encouraging me to look down to the details of the earth and up to the heavens to gain the morning perspective of eternity before finding out what this particular day will bring.

I wanted to write for you this morning from Bess Streeter Aldrich’s short story, Gingerbread Cookies, published originally in 1920.  This story has crossed my mind repeatedly as we now brought Gingerbread Cookies to our cookie store for the season.  Her character a little 12-year old boy having a miserable day.  Regardless of where his life is played out on this particular day (from storming out of a kitchen, to a friend’s house, to a train, and back to his room miserable the same evening) he always is handed by another character in each scene a Gingerbread cookie.  To the point of hating them so much by the end of the day.  A story I always loved because of how Aldrich tied all of the scenes to that particular cookie.  At the very end of the day his mother, who had been out of town, returns home to learn that her son is upstairs miserable after a day that never seemed to end for him.  Unaware of his Gingerbread connections, she goes to her kitchen, picks a few Gingerbread cookies for him and enters his room.  Just an ironic fun ending for us as we observe in our minds the life of this little dear miserable child.  I am unable to find exact lines to type for you that are worthy of print here, so instead I have found some of my favorite Bess Streeter Aldrich quotes from a variety of her books.  I have treasured her books from so many time periods and situations in my life.  She has the uncanny ability of keeping the eternal perspective of life.  To show how quickly time passes, but how beautiful every age is.  Her famous recurring thought from A Lantern in Her Hand, “...the years glide by…stop the time…you can’t stop the winds from blowing…you can’t stop time.”

“You can’t evade a thing. Those who try to get around it are weak. Those who meet it gallantly are strong. So many women try to dodge life. They don’t economize because it’s inconvenient. They don’t work because it’s tiring. They don’t have a child because it’s painful. They don’t look at the dead because it’s saddening. Face them all, Laura. Face them squarely and meet them gallantly… as your grandmother did. For every one of the old experiences will be there… birth… marriage… death… disappointment… grief… little joys… little sorrows. You’ll have to meet them all. It’s part of the story…” 

“I think that love is more like a light that you carry. At first childish happiness keeps it lighted and after that romance. Then motherhood lights it and then duty…and maybe after that sorrow. You wouldn’t think that sorrow could be a light, would you, dearie? But it can. And then after that, service lights it. Yes. I think that is what love is to a woman…a lantern in her hand.”

“I’ve tried to keep pleasant,” Mabel went on. “You don’t know how I’ve tried. I have that verse pinned up on my dresser, about “The man worth while is the man who can smile, When everything goes dead wrong.”  “Take it down,” Mother said cheerfully. “If there’s a verse in the world that has been worked overtime, it’s that one. I can’t think of anything more inane than to smile when everything goes dead wrong, unless it is to cry when everything is passably right. That verse always seemed to me to be a surface sort of affair. Take it down and substitute ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.’ That goes to the heart of things–when you feel that strength, then the dead-wrong things begin to miraculously right themselves.” 

“She wondered why she, herself, was always touched by such infinitesimal things. Their very homeliness and lack of worth seemed connecting the past with the present all the more. It was true, she thought, that the big things awe us but the little things touch us.” 

“A person may encircle the globe with mind open only to bodily comfort. Another may live his life on a sixty-foot lot and listen to the voices of the universe.”

“That was the trouble of being old. Your body no longer obeyed you. It did unruly and unreasonable things. An eye suddenly might not see for a moment. Your knees gave out at the wrong time, so that when you thought you were walking north, you might find yourself going a little northwest. Your brain, too, had that same flighty trick. You might be speaking of something and forget it temporarily,—your mind going off at a little to the northwest, too, so to speak.

“All my girlhood I always planned to do something big…something constructive. It’s queer what ambitious dreams a girl has when she is young. I thought I would sing before big audiences or paint lovely pictures or write a splendid book. I always had that feeling in me of wanting to do something worth while. And just think, Laura…now I am eighty and I have not painted nor written nor sung.”  “But you’ve done lots of things, Grandma. You’ve baked bread…and pieced quilts…and taken care of your children.”  Old Abbie Deal patted the young girl’s hand. “Well…well…out of the mouths of babes. That’s just it, Laura, I’ve only baked bread and pieced quilts and taken care of children. But some women have to, don’t they?…But I’ve dreamed dreams, Laura. All the time I was cooking and patching and washing, I dreamed dreams. And I think I dreamed them into the children…and the children are carrying them out…doing all the things I wanted to and couldn’t.” 

“Mrs. Schneiderman’s theory of life was that earth held no sorrow that food could not heal.”

“You know, Grace, it’s queer but I don’t feel narrow. I feel broad. How can I explain it to you, so you would understand? I’ve seen everything…and I’ve hardly been away from this yard….
I’ve been part of the beginning and part of the growth. I’ve married…and borne children and looked into the face of death. Is childbirth narrow, Grace? Or marriage? Or death? When you’ve experienced all those things, Grace, the spirit has traveled although the body has been confined. I think travel is a rare privilege and I’m glad you can have it. But not every one who stays at home is narrow and not every one who travels is broad. I think if you can understand humanity…can sympathize with every creature…can put yourself into the personality of every one…you’re not narrow…you’re broad.”

“Abbie would stop in her work and utter a prayer for him,—and, sent as it were from the bow of a mother’s watchful care, bound by the cord of a mother’s love, the little winged arrow on its flight must have reached Some one,—Somewhere.” 

“Oh, why couldn’t they know? Why did an old woman seem always to have been old? Abbie was back on the knoll near the Big Woods, singing…her head thrown back…her thick hair curling and rippling over her creamy white shoulders. Why couldn’t they understand that once she had kept tryst with Youth? Why didn’t they realize that some day, they, too must hold rendezvous with Age?”

“A piece of rusty pump and a pile of stones,–all that was left of the place he and Marthy had called home. Home. What a big word that was. Lots of attempts made lately to belittle it. Plenty of fun poked at it. Young folks laughed about it,–called it a place to park. Everybody wanted to get some place else, seemed like. They’d find out. They’d understand some day. When they got old, they’d know. They’d want to go home. sometimes in their lives everybody wanted to go home.”

“And now, she felt the presence of Grandmother Deal, as always—that same unexplainable presence of the woman who had mothered them all, whose love for her children and her children’s children was so deep that after all the years it still seemed a tangible thing, delicate and rare, like the faint subtle odor of a fine perfume.  Could such things be, she wondered vaguely…? Could the loved dead come back? At a time like this, was the memory of them so keen to one sensitive like herself, that they only seemed to return and mingle with those to whom they had been devoted? Or was there in some way unknown to humans, a definite magical blending of these imperishable spirits with the mortal spirits of those they had so deeply loved?”

Thank you for letting me again enter your world.  The musical continues to play in my mind, “What will this day be like?  I wonder.  What will the future hold?  I wonder…”  Today can we keep this particular advice at the forefront of our minds, advice written in script almost 100 years ago from Bess Streeter Aldrich?  This particular encouragement from her, You can’t evade a thing. Those who try to get around it are weak. Those who meet it gallantly are strong. So many women try to dodge life. They don’t economize because it’s inconvenient. They don’t work because it’s tiring. They don’t have a child because it’s painful. They don’t look at the dead because it’s saddening. Face them all, Laura. Face them squarely and meet them gallantly… as your grandmother did. For every one of the old experiences will be there… birth… marriage… death… disappointment… grief… little joys… little sorrows. You’ll have to meet them all. It’s part of the story…” 

Our story.  Our song.  Minor harsh movements in our composition.  Beautiful movements.  All make the song.  Our beautiful song called life.  Thank you for coming into our store for your toys, gifts, cookies, and books.  Possibly the next time you walk out of our door you will find a book holding words that will change the movement you are currently playing in your song of life.  You will for sure leave with a few moments of peace, smiles, friendship, and crumbs on your lips!  Susan


Latin for this week:
cunae – a nest for young birds
Vne ego faciam hodie – I wonder what this day will bring.

Works Cited:
Aldrich, Bess Streeter.  The Collected Short Works 1920-1954.  Lincoln.  University of NE Press.  1999.
Aldrich, Bess Streeter. A Lantern in Her Hand.  Lincoln.  University of NE Press.  1994.