Sunday, December 2, 2007

"From Scenes Like These"

The title of my post is the title of a book published in 1945 by someone named Ethel Wallace. I Googled the name and found references to an artist Ethel Wallace in NY, but I don't think it's the same person. There are other references to articles referencing Ethel's book, "From Scenes Like These", but you have to pay to read them.

In any case, "From Scenes Like These" has a subtitle - "Life in a Christian Family". Ethel grew up in Philadelphia in the very early 1900's. She assisted with nursing during the great flu epidemic of 1918 and was a young woman at that time, so that gives you some idea of the time period of her story. Her childhood home was outside the city limits and there was forest behind the house. What fascinated me was the way families lived at that time - several generations in one home. Often elderly aunts and/or uncles who were unable to care for themselves were taken in. In Ethel's case, there were two great-aunts, her grandmother, who needed a trained nurse, Ethel's four siblings, her parents, and assorted pets over the years. The home was three stories and the top story was occupied by her great-aunts who had adjoining rooms. One of the great aunts was the "fading violet" type and the other had a job all her life in a Christian publishing house. All were cared for by the patriarch, Ethel's father.

My friend, LaVerne, of whom I have made reference on this blog before, grew up in similar circumstances. The great difference for her was that there were no men in the house. LaVerne's father and grandfather had died, and she lived in a three story home with her grandmother, great-aunts and her mother.

I'd just like to quote some portions of "From Scenes Like These". The forward to the book is as follows:

"To the Millions of Christians who in this day, as my parents in theirs, follow humbly in the footsteps of Him Who went about doing good. To them belongs the making of a better, freer world. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

Since this book was published in 1945, Ethel was thinking of the great conflagration of WWII when she wrote that forward.

The forward continues:

"Many are writing today about their families and the incidents of their childhood. This little book, differing from those which hold up relatives to ridicule, and resembling thousands that could be written, tells of the Christian home in which I was reared. The Bible does not omit the shortcomings of the saints, so I have written of the frailties as well as the virtues of my family. They were not angels, but sinners redeemed by the grace of God - a fact they would have been the first to acknowledge.

Several years ago a friend brought out for my inspection a recently finished patchwork quilt made up, as is the way of patchwork quilts, of squares, some gay colored, others dark, stitched together at random. As she spread it out on the bed, she said, 'this is the patchwork of my life. Each square was once part of a dress which is associated with what was for me a momentous occasion. My mother cherished my childhood garments and preserved them. That white muslin with the tiny tucks was my very first dress, this china silk with the hand-embroidered pink roses was the robe in which I was baptized, that pale blue my first party frock, this heavy satin my wedding gown and my mother's, this was the last dress my darling Eva wore, this black velvet is the material out of which was cut the gown in which I christened the battleship last month. I shall hand the quilt down to my children's children.' The following pages are my patchwork - squares some gay colored, others dark, happenings of long ago and of today, placed together at random.

As from the vantage point of years I view the world today, I see that it is a very different world from the one in which I grew up. We cannot return to the old world and in some ways we would not if we could. But in that day many more Americans lived close to the rudiments - to the Christian beliefs, principles, and inhibitions upon which this country was founded, which made it great, and which for a long time remained its very bone and fibre. If we return to them as individuals and as a nation, we shall be enabled to meet War and Peace, Death and Life, unafraid. 'Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them,' said Jesus, 'I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock; and the rains descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell not for it was founded upon a rock.'"

This author was nostalgic for the early 1900's, in the face of the 1940's world. Today, we are nostalgic for the seemingly far more innocent 1940's.

In actuality, I would have said in the past that every generation is longing for the simpler life of earlier times, although I doubt if the pioneers in any era longed for something simpler than their experiences. Today, I look at the history of the 1800's and 1900's and I believe there is a clear progression to, perhaps, the "end times", if you want to call it that. No one knows when the "end times" will come, but the Bible gives some criteria as to their character. In any case, rather than a continuum from time immemorial of generations longing for their parent's past, I believe there IS a beginning and an end, a progress of decay that can be seen. Granted, this is just my opinion, but what better place than my own blog to present it.

I think that in the 1890's, the United States reached the apex of it's existence. Prosperity was at an all time high and the civilized aspect of society was also at an all time high.

As we traveled into the 20th century, man's arrogance began to believe that we had it made. The Titanic simply couldn't sink, they said - but sink it did, and with spectacular loss of life. To this day, people are fascinated with a kind of dread by the story of the inevitable fate of the luxury liner.

Back in the mid 1800's Darwin and other progressives began to paint a world without God in their evolutionary theory, and more liberal "theologians" began to pooh pooh the inerancy of the Bible. And so it begins. The general public didn't pick up on these novel ideas for a good 50 or 60 years. World War I was horrific enough to make the general populace begin to embrace the ideas of the intellectuals and liberal theologians. The Bible was an antiquated book of human myths, suitable for literary study only. Those who retained shreds of religion believed in God, but in a nominal, vague way. In general, society began to become more and more degenerate. The things that Baptist ministers railed about at the beginning of this century - moving pictures, short skirts, bobbed hair, women drinking liquor and smoking cigarettes, the ideas of free love and anarchy - all of this, like a field ripe with weeds, became much more widespread in the society of the 1920's.

We all have seen documentaries on the Roaring 20's, and we laugh at how daring they thought they were. In the face of today's disintegrated family it seems somehow quaint to be shocked at the excesses of the 1920's.

So here we are in the 2000's, headed for the end of the first decade. Poor Ethel Wallace would have looked around her at present day Philadelphia and fallen over in a dead faint - perhaps not at the urban sprawl so much as at the everyday lack of morals and values. Imagine her seeing the typical dress of a teen or preteen girl these days! My daughter calls the especially precociously dressed ones, "prostitots".

For myself, I love reading books like this. I can spend an afternoon going back in time to a gentler more sentimental era, when extended families lived all in one house, and there were no old age homes or adult living communities, and the youth were taught respect for their elders and learned valuable life lessons from them right in their own homes every day.

Homes like Ethel's had huge porches in front and sometimes, all around the sides, with ample room for rockers and hammocks. People actually sat on the front porches and greeted passers-by. I know this is true because I've read some of LaVerne's mother's letters to her, speaking about just that - sitting on the front porch and greeting former students (LaVerne's mother had been the equivalent of today's middle school teacher) as they walked by. I can't even imagine what this would be like, to live in a friendly community of people I know and who know me, where we all follow the same rules of etiquette and attend the same churches and social activities. It sounds a bit like heaven, and I can understand Ethel looking with longing back at her childhood full of love and family, security and safety.


Angie B. said...

Nice post, Suze.

Susan Humeston said...

Thanks!! And thanks for stopping by....