Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
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BY SARAH O. JEWETT.
I stood by the window the other evening, and, looking out at the snow and the moonlight, I forgot the last ten years, and wondered why it was my eyes were opposite such high panes of the window, when the lower ones were so much more appropriate to my age and stature. I thought I must be standing on a chair. It was "one of the times when grown people can successfully play at being children," and, following a sudden impulse, I put on my hat and jacket, sighed at the thought of having lost my mittens (how many years ago, I wonder?), hunted for my old sled, which I found dusty, rusty, and cobwebby, and, pushing it under the garden-fence, and jumping over with great agility, I ran off over the crust, and went coasting "all by my lone." It was undignified; but that did not hinder my having a good time. I discovered that I had developed astonishingly in length. And when I seated myself upon the "Flying Tiger" I thought I must have had a nibble of that cake which made our friend "Alice" increase so surprisingly in stature once, during that visit of hers to "Wonderland." The hill seemed very low; but then one had the advantage of a shorter walk between the slides. I used to scorn the ladylike "Snowbirds" and "Frostflowers" and "Jessies" which the other girls coasted upon--high, flat-runnered, slow affairs; and my sled used to be the pride of my heart, and frequently beat in races with my boy friends, while the girls followed in our rear.
Everything seemed so familiar. The moon looked at me with the same expression; the "Flying Tiger" had not grown old; the snow had drifted in the same places; and I had to take care not to run against the same big apple tree, which stood provokingly in the way. I laughed aloud at remembering that one of my friends owes a striking one-sidedness of his nose to running into that very tree, and how we escorted the future ornament of the bar home to his afflicted mother; how all pain and disfigurement were forgotten by him in the joy at staying at home from school, while the rest of us wearily toiled through some hard pages in fractions.
I found coasting when you are grown up has great advantages, the chiefest of which, is that one may stay out as long as one likes, and not hear a disagreeable bell-ringing or an indignant voice coming faintly across the wintry waste.
I climbed the hill and went swiftly down again perhaps a dozen times, and was beginning to see the pathetic side of my occupation, and to tell myself that I was grown up, after all, I was altogether too tall to coast upon such a short sled, and I had better go back to the house and behave myself, when I saw a small figure climbing a fence not far away, and watched it come slowly along over the snow. I could hear a bell tinkling on the sled. The child wore a familiar, old-fashioned hood, and looked so like a little friend of mine who died years ago, and is represented in the visible world by a square little white tombstone. Was it Katy's ghost, coming to join me in my sport? The last time we were here together was the day after my tenth birthday, and how she will think I have grown. We were always measuring in the old days to see which was the taller! I had always longed for a chance to tell her how sorry I was that I broke her new slate the last day she was at school. I was kept in at recess, and dropped it accidentally, and was waiting in great suspense to make my confession, when my father stopped his horse and sent in one of the children to tell me I might drive home with him. The next day Katy was not at school, because she had scarlet fever; and the children told me she had cried all the rest of the afternoon before, for the slate was the prettiest one in school and it had been hers [her's] only two days.
But it was not a ghost, after all; merely a small girl, the daughter of a neighbor of ours. She came more and more slowly as she saw with greater distinctness the size of the supposed child whom she had seen from afar and come to join. I called her to come and try a race with me; and, recognizing my voice, her anxiety was relieved, and we were very merry and intimate for the next half-hour, until I said I was tired and must go home. This small girl had always looked at me with great respect and indifference; but she seemed now to think me a much more entertaining person than she had supposed. I think she was once on the verge of asking me to come over and play dolls the next Saturday afternoon. You see I had been making polite inquiries after the health of her family. I should not like to have refused.
I went into the house by the garden-door, and went up to my room by one flight of stairs, stayed long enough to brush my hair and change my gown (it was so natural to have torn it out coasting) and went boldly down through the front hall to the parlor. The ruse was of no effect; for they had heard the noise of the sled with great amusement, and had watched me climb the fence and disappear. I met my small friend the next afternoon, as I was on my way to make ceremonious calls, wearing the expression which became my age, my dignity, and my errand; and I found that we had relapsed into our former state of reserve. But I am sure that it was merely an outward appearance, and that we understand each other perfectly; and she will no doubt come for me to roll hoop up and down the sidewalk as soon as the snow has gone and the ground is settled.
I sat down at my desk and tried to read, after I had been sufficiently laughed at. But I had an odd, unsettled feeling, and the essay seemed an absurd thing for such a child as me to read. It was mysterious how old and large a person my younger sister had suddenly become, when so little while ago she was altogether too young to go coasting at all, and never sat up after seven. My head was filled with recollections of the children I used to know so well, and had played with so many times on that little hill where I had been. Their faces came to me so clearly and their voices echoed in my ears. Was it possible many of them were married, and that I scarcely recognize some when I meet them in the street, for they have grown to be men and women and are so utterly changed? Soon the children's faces and voices grew indistinct, and I looked up to see that the eyes of a little group of photographs which is over my desk were watching me intently and lovingly and as if to assert their authority. They are most estimable young women, and it is rather pleasant to be grown up, after all.
This may be an undesirable habit of mine--wishing for glimpses of my old self face to face in the sunlight and shadow of the old days. It may be foolish when I am so delighted if anything reminds me of some thought or incident of my pleasant childhood. But I hope I never shall outgrow it.
Most of the days which we were sure would always be the clearest pictures in our minds soon become indistinguishable, as when we walk away from a field full of daisies and clover in June, and look back to see merely the colors and the lights and shadows, but not the separate flowers. "Why is it that you care so much?" said some one to whom I was discoursing one day. "I think we remember more than enough. I would rather forget, for my part. Your lamentations are very unreasonable."
It is strange how little we remember about ourselves. It is melancholy how slight a control we have over memory--how much vanishes of which we think we never shall lose sight. We look back over our years, and cannot understand why we decided to do this thing or that. We have no more idea what happened during entire weeks and months than if we had spent them in the delirium of fever. And the days that are lost to us were, some of them, decisive. Our minds were unusually busy and our hands hard at work. We remember an incident here and there; the sight of some face we used to know brings back some new recollection; but we feel that the best of our treasures are hidden away from us and have a certain sense that we are defrauded. There is a great advantage in all this, which it is very easy to see; for, if we had better memories, who knows how badly they might affect and influence our present lives, the life of to-day. We might be contented with thinking of our past pleasures, and certainly be afraid of any activity or experiments in life, because of the disappointments we encountered years before in similar cases. We may often say that it is a blessed thing that we lose the past in great measure; but, after all, we do not like to forget. We show this reluctance unconsciously where one would least look for it. We make a powerless protest when we acknowledge to ourselves, after the death of a friend, that we no longer feel the first sharp pain the loneliness gave us, and that we are losing them and their influence from our lives. We find that time is taking the recollection of their voices and the touch of their hands slowly and surely away from us, and we try to bring back those first terrible days. It is not merely the memory of our friend; we are clinging to our grief.
We meet an old playmate once in a while, and laugh over our reminiscences of childish tricks and fun, and sometimes we realize how lasting and firm a grasp the little hands had upon our stronger ones, and that the little head began ways of thinking which never had been outgrown; that the light footprints of the busy feet can be followed all along that path where we still are walking. We look back, and try to imagine the small travelers who grew and came to be our present selves. We think about you very tenderly, little friends, as if you were dead, instead of grown-up. We pity your weariness and your disappointments, and take great delight if we remember some day when the sun shone upon you and how simple and real all your pleasures were. When the road was smooth, we are so glad for you, though [hough] our smile is followed by a sigh; and we are very fond of the dear people who were kind to you. We wish we knew more about you. We are so sorry we have forgotten so many things; we did not mean to forget. Forgive us for so entirely disappointing your most cherished plans, and let the remembrance of the grand, brave people you meant us to be bear much fruit; and may we go Home bearing among our sheaves a goodly number from the seed we planted in being kind and tender-hearted to all children for your sake.
"Grown-Up" appeared in The Independent (24:2) on August 1, 1872. Probable errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets.
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"Flying Tiger" ... ladylike "Snowbirds" and "Frostflowers" and "Jessies": Brand names for childrens' sleds.
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"Alice" increase so surprisingly in stature once, ..."Wonderland": See the first chapter of Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson, 1832-1898), Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
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scarlet fever: a bacterial infection related to strep throat, usually affecting young children and frequently fatal before the use of antibiotics.
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roll hoop up and down the sidewalk: In the 19th century, both England and the United States saw hoop-rolling become a major fad. Hoops were often constructed with wood, and fitted with a metal tire. Players bowled the hoop along the ground with a stick, called a skimmer, in one hand. (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica; Research: Chris Butler).
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my younger sister: Caroline Augusta Jewett (1855-1897) was Sarah Jewett's younger sister.
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may we go Home bearing among our sheaves a goodly number from the seed we planted: See Psalms 126 and also Matthew 7:19-20..
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents & Search