AFTER THE PASSING of grandfather, I finished the
year at Princeton and then returned to spend the summer in the home with
grandmother. As might be expected, she was pensive at times. I knew that
she was terribly lonely but I did not know it from anything she said; it
was more from the things she did; she wandered about the house at times as
if in a maze.
On occasions she would ask me to walk with her in
the orchard as the sun was sinking low; grandmother always loved to see
the sun as it sank behind West Hill; she spoke of the changing colors of
the clouds from pearl to pink, to roseate hue and then, to fiery red.
"That's a grand panorama, Paul. Could anything be
more majestic? It's the work of a kindly and omnipotent hand. Sunsets
always give me a feeling of comfort, repose and confidence. Nothing ill
can come from the hand of one who loves beauty so and brings it to his
She seldom spoke of grandfather though I knew that
over and above all of her words was the ever-present consciousness of him.
On one occasion she did speak of him as we were walking down the path in
the orchard together. As near as I can remember, her words were:
"I feel that I have been fortunate, Paul, far
beyond my due in having had the unwavering love of your grandfather for
more than sixty years. No woman can be blessed by anything to compare with
the love of a good husband, the father of her children. Our lives haven't
been easy; in fact, it has been a constant struggle from beginning to end
and we have had our full share of sorrow. We lost three children and they
were all very dear to us. We used to wonder at times whether anything in
life was worth while but there were still duties and tasks to do; there
were the living as well as the dead. There can never be anyone so near to
a woman as her husband. My thoughts have been Pa's thoughts and his have
been mine. It seems to me that part of me is living and part of me is
"Paul, I wonder at times if you realize how much
you meant to Pa. At times, it used to seem to him that his life had been a
failure. As you know, he had high hopes for your father. He spent money
freely for his education and his disappointment almost broke his heart.
And then you came to us quite providentially and Pa fastened all his hopes
on you. Paul, you must not fail him. Work hard and live honorably for your
After another lingering look at the fast fading
color in the west, grandmother turned and I followed her down the hallowed
pathway to our house.
This is not primarily a story of grandfather and
grandmother except as it serves to illustrate the character of the folks
who lived in New England during the days of my boyhood, and, to a
considerable extent, the character of the folks who live there still. It
is not primarily an autobiography, though the facts revealed were seen
through my eyes. The eyes of most of the companions of my boyhood have
long been closed in death.
Instead of returning to Princeton in the autumn, I
began a year's employment in the office of the Sheldon Marble Company in
West Rutland. All I had to do was to get up at 5:00 AM., breakfast, walk a
mile to the office, attend to all the stoves, sweep and dust in readiness
for the arrival of the officials and office men, and then do my day's work
with the others-and find things to do when not told. Before the year
closed I graduated from office boy to more important positions. It was a
valuable experience. After that it was grandmother's decision that her
grandson should go west to study law.
During my last days in the valley, I had a feeling
that I was standing on the threshold of life and that the future was all
uncertainty. Would I be able to cope with the destitution and privation
which I must inevitably encounter or would I be driven back, bruised and
beaten as my father had been?
There was this difference between my father's case
and mine; there was still a home in which my father could find shelter; in
my case, there soon would be none. The old home, sacred to the memory of
grandfather and grandmother, was before long to be closed never to be
opened again as a home for our family. Grandmother was to spend the
remaining days of her life in the comfortable home of her daughter, Aunt
Mellie Fox, Uncle George and their family.
My father was dependent on the trust created by
grandfather and such further assistance as might be given him by
grandmother. Quite clearly the time was not far distant when I would be on
Perhaps the saving clause in my grandfather's will
was that which left me to my own resources, except for some little help
from grandmother. I did not regret it; my life was to be an adventure;
what more could a live, energetic boy have asked. I have always felt
considerable pride in the fact that grandfather felt I would be able to
take care of myself. My inheritance was far more enduring than money could
have been; the munificence of my hard-working, self-sacrificing
grandparents gave me the advantage of a formal education in preparatory
schools, college and the university but far more important they gave me
the advantage of their example in their well-ordered home where love
I think I inherited something of grandfather's
broad spirit of tolerance. Grandfather was an ambassador of good-will in
the eyes of the youngster who sat at his table during his impressionable
years; he never spoke evil of any man nor of any man's religion or
My year of work passed quickly and the day so long
anticipated came at last. Grandmother and I were entirely alone except for
the presence of an elderly woman who had taken most of the housekeeping
cares from the worn and weary shoulders of grandmother. For one reason and
another, it had been planned that grandmother and I were to spend these
last few hours together, possibly because Aunt Mellie and Uncle George
knew that grandmother would prefer it that way. They were to drive to
Wallingford later in the day, lock up the house and take grandmother with
them to return no more.
It was early in the month of September and the
morning was bright and cheerful although our hearts were heavy-laden. The
parting hours were spent in the dining room; grandmother and I sat on the
horsehair sofa facing the table, where for years we all had eaten good
wholesome food, and where, long before my time, father had eaten his
The banjo clock hung on the north wall where it
had been for at least three generations and we were within hearing of the
sitting room clock not far away. In fact there had been no change in the
dining room since the night of the feast of bread and milk and
blueberries, served to father, Cecil and me years ago.
While the kitchen was the center of the house so
far as activities were concerned, and the sitting room the place for rest,
reading and reflection, it was the dining room where important discussions
took place; the dining room was the scene of the alpha and omega of my New
England home life.
When grandmother could control her emotion, she
"This seems not new to me, Paul; I have lived it
over and over again. I have even thought of what my last words should be
but they have all gone from me now. I must not, however, talk about
myself; it is of Pa and his high hopes for you that I must talk. You do
know, Paul, how Pa's thoughts centered on you, don't you?"
I answered, "Yes, I am conscious of it and I hope
that I shall not prove entirely unworthy of his trust but he has set a
high mark to live up to."
"It is indeed a high mark," she resumed, "but you
are capable of living up to it; you must, Paul. I know how anxious you are
to see the world. Pa and I talked that over and he was not opposed to it
if you can accomplish it without neglecting your studies. Where there's a
will, there's a way, Paul, and you will have to work it out.
It won't be easy but it can be done. The night you
and Cecil and your father entered this house is still as fresh in my mind
as if it were yesterday. Some folks said that we were making a great
mistake in assuming the responsibility of raising you, Paul. We were
getting along in years and had already raised a family. You may have heard
some such talk, Paul," looking at me inquiringly.
I answered, "Indeed I have, Grandma, indeed I have
and I thought that it was probably true."
"There's not a word of truth in it, Paul. Banish
it from your mind; instead of shortening our lives, I think it has
lengthened them. Folks who have raised families and seen their children go
out into the world are generally pretty lonely. When the fountains of love
dry up there isn't much to live for so your coming to us seems now to have
been Providential; we had to have someone to lavish affection upon; there
were worries enough, of course, but that is life. I have thought sometimes
that it may have been an injustice to you to have been tied up here with
two old folks; children need brothers and sisters to round out their
lives; however you soon found companions of your own selection and that
With these words grandmother had told me all that
had been pent up in her heart.
Glancing up at the banjo clock, I was alarmed to
note that the hands pointed to eleven o'clock; I had fifteen minutes only
to catch my train. When I arose to go, grandmother, for the first time in
her life, so far as I knew, burst into a flood of tears. I threw my arms
about her frail body and said, "Never mind, Grandma, I shall be back to
see you soon." Her answer was a shake of her head; she spoke no words.
On my way past the home of Judge Button, I stopped
to tell Ellen to please go in and comfort grandmother and that service she
was more than glad to render.
Around the corner, down Depot street and alongside
the white fence where the shadows of grandfather's lantern had danced in
fantastic figures, down to the railway station, prim and tidy as it had
always been, I made my way. There was the usual flurry of excitement as
the eleven-fifteen train came in and went out. As I went with it my heart
was tumultuously beating as familiar objects faded in the distance. I was
alone and terribly lonely. Grandmother was the last guard; the key would
soon be turned in the door.
I received frequent letters from grandmother, all
of which have been carefully preserved. She kept me posted as to the
events in her new home. For instance; Cousin Mattie was enjoying a trip to
Europe in the company of good friends and the incidents of her travels
were of great interest to grandmother; it was wonderful to have a
granddaughter in Europe; grandmother had never thought of such a thing and
Mattie would never be the same girl again after having had a trip to
Europe. She wrote also of the kind thoughtfulness of other members of the
family; everything was being done for her comfort.
One year and one month from the date of my
departure from the old home, I, then a student in the law department of
the University of Iowa, received a telegram from Uncle George stating that
the spirit of grandmother had flown in the night. There had been nothing
to indicate that the time was near; grandmother simply went to sleep and
did not awake.
I did not return for the funeral but father,
mother and other members of the family were present. According to the
current issue of the Rutland Herald:
"A small funeral party drove down the Creek Road
to Wallingford with the mortal remains of Pamela Harris, widow of the late
Howard Harris of Wallingford and mother of Mrs. George Fox of this city.
The attendance was limited to members of the family and near relatives. No
more beautiful day could have been selected; the colors of the
mountainsides had arrived at the point of perfection as the funeral party
wound its way along the valley of Otter Creek to Green Hill cemetery in
Wallingford where the remains were laid beside the body of the husband of
The Herald extends sympathy to Mrs. George Fox and
her family and such felicitations as may seem proper because of the fact
that the closing chapter of the long and beautiful life of her mother was
written on one of Vermont's most beautiful autumn days."
So grandmother was returned to the soil from which
she sprang; it would have seemed a desecration to have laid the bodies of
grandfather and grandmother anywhere else, All of her life and the best
part of grandfather's life had been spent in the valley. Their children
were born and brought up there and there three of their children had died.
During the days of her childhood grandmother had tramped over the hills in
and above Green Hill cemetery; she had picked buttercups, daisies and
spring violets on Cemetery Hill and in its protecting soil the bodies of
generations of loved ones had been laid.
The small family lot lies on the hillside not so
far up as to be beyond hearing of the tinkle of water as it falls from the
ever-flowing fountain in Cemetery Pond. In this lot, the bodies of Frances
number one and Frances number two, as well as the bodies of the eldest
daughter, Mary Reed and her husband, had been laid.
Grandmother seldom spoke of past bereavements;
possibly I never would have known of Frances number one and Frances number
two had it not been for their graves in the cemetery lot and two tiny
leather shoes which I discovered in a drawer of the kitchen table;
grandmother's thoughts were mostly centered on her every day duties.
On all sides of the Harris lot there were the lots
of our neighbors, the Martindales, Buttons, Munsons, Childs, Batchellers,
Scribners, Hills, Kents, Ballous, Ainsworths, Marshes, Millers, Townsends,
Newtons, Coles, Staffords and scores of others whose names were well known
in our valley. Yes, Green Hill cemetery had a rightful claim to the bodies
of grandfather and grandmother; to have turned deaf ears to it would have
seemed unjust. Our valley was grandmother's idea of Paradise.
Grandmother believed in the resurrection and, it
always having been difficult for her to meet strangers, it would be a
great blessing to be surrounded by home folks when the horn of Gabriel
sounded. A most welcome sight to grandmother on the morning of
resurrection day would be Judge Button with his little gray shawl thrown
over his shoulders and his customary salutation, "Good morning, Mrs.
Harris; this is going to be a fine day."
I have frequently tried to picture to my mind the
events of that October day. The funeral procession moving slowly down the
valley, along lazy, winding Otter Creek, lit up by the flaming colors of
the hillsides and mountains. I have recalled the last view which our folks
had of the mortal remains of grandmother almost as vividly as though I had
been present. I could see grandmother's worn hands lying on her breast and
the never-to-be-forgotten swollen bone of her lame wrist, her supreme
badge of honor. Nothing which manicurists and beauticians have ever been
able to accomplish with the hands of mothers and grandmothers has ever
seemed comparable in beauty with the artistry of love and duty as wrought
on grandmother's worn hands and lame wrist. Of the eighty-nine pounds
which composed grandmother, every pound and every ounce was dedicated to
loving service, the ingredient which makes home life sublime.
For more than fifty years the warm spring suns
have brought back to life the grass and wild flowers in the little
cemetery lot; summer suns have brought them to maturity and autumn winds
have in due course directed to the graves of grandmother and grandfather
myriads of maple leaves which also had spent their life courses and needed
only a quiet place to lie down and rest. The icy blasts of more than a
half-century of winters have sent snowflakes by the millions to form downy
blankets to protect the graves of grandfather and grandmother.
More than sixty years the aged couple had carried
their rugged cross together; so long, in fact, they could not have done
without it; they did not loathe it, they loved it. A merciful Providence
had arranged that grandmother was to be the one to bring up the rear
guard; there were so many little things to be done and grandmother was the
one to do them. Grandfather would have been helpless without her and I
doubt whether he would have lived the year out. Scores of times during
each day he would have reached his trembling hand out for her, forgetful
of the fact that she had gone, and scores of times each day the wound
would have been reopened. No, it was a blessing that big, strong
grandfather went on ahead and that little frail grandmother remained to
finish up the odds and ends that had to be attended to.
When Thoreau saw the woodsman's axe destroying the
forest, he exclaimed:
"Thank God, they cannot cut down the clouds!
"There are some eternal things that the
destructive powers of men, in all their fury, cannot destroy. To think on
these things is to achieve an inward quiet and peace even in a war-torn
world. The stars still shine. The sun still rises and sets. The mountains
are not moved, Birds sing. Little streams dance merrily on their way.
Flowers bloom and give off their perfume. The world goes right on being an
everlastingly beautiful place.
"There are indestructible qualities of human
Mother love is immortal and though crushed to
earth it will rise again. Courage and sacrifice glow with a new light in
the midst of the black-outs of hope. Faith gallantly rides the whirlwind
sweeping the earth.
"You cannot cut down the clouds! The spirit of man
cannot be destroyed! The finest things of life are immortal . . . they