A System of Family Reform – Bill Arp, 8/1/1886
Nature Versus Art, The Trouble with Children
Nature can beat art sometimes. I’ve been to the theater afore now, and the players acted the play so natural
and sympathetic that I got all tangled up and excited, and would cry or laugh just as they did. but nature can
beat art sometimes. Just about sundown, the other evening, while we were all sitting in the piazza calm and
serene, there was a wild shriek down at the corner of the garden, an it was Carl calling, and he said, Run here
Linton. Linton is killed; run, papa; run somebody, and we did run, and Mrs. Arp and the girls cried, Oh, mercy!
Oh, good Lord! and all sorts of interjections and conjunctions at every step, and there was a wild and fearful
panic when we got to the boy, and he was lying pale and senseless on the rocky ground, with a big limb across
his breast. He had fallen about twelve feet from the top of a venerable apple tree that, they say, was planted
by the Indians about sixty years ago. I heaved the old broken limb off of the boy and took him in my arms and
then up the hill to the house, and my escort oh, oh my escort, with their cries and screams, demoralized me
fearfully. He was a stout lad of thirteen, this grandson of ours, and as tough as a pine knot, and I knew he
was hurt, badly hurt, but Lean always keep calm and serene can such occasions if the women will let me.
Laying him gently on the bed, Mrs. Arp ripped his garments with trembling hands and motherly sobbings
to find the flowing blood and the gaping wounds, and broken limbs, but they were not there. He was shocked
and senseless, and breathed hard and gurgled in his throat, and groancd and sighed, but I had seen these
signs before with the the other boys and had faith. And. sure enough, in about an hour he came to himself,
and looking around upon the excited family asked what was the matter. and said “Grandma, I dreamed I was
falling from the apple tree.” The doctor came about that time and found his arm and shoulder badly bruised
and one rib hurt, perhaps fractured, and said he would be awful sore for a day or two, and then get well and
be ready for the next skirmish.
But Mrs. Arp was not satisfied, and watched him all night, ard as he slept she listened to his breathing and felt
his pulse and imagined that something was internally wrong. The boy carries his arm in a handkerchief now,
and can’t go in a washing nor shoot a sling nor climb a tree, and he and Carl have to stay in the house and
read story books and look at the pictures. But the like of this has to happen. It is part of a boy’s raising. I wasent
much account until I fell down a ladder head foremost and was picked up for dead. I told my wite I wouldent give
a cent for a boy who had never fell out of an apple tree or got his arm broke or his head gashed or something
of the kind. If a man has never had any narrow escapes. or any wounds, or any broken hones, or been thrown
from a horse and picked up for dead, what kind of a father will he be? What has he got to tell his little boy, and
excite his wonder and admiration? I had lots of mishaps myself, and as I grow older Mrs. Arp says they grow
more bigger and more Lumerous. Well, of course! Nobody wants to tell the same old thing the same old way
a thousand times. Amplification is a sign of genius. Being knocked down and addled, is a big thing ; but to be.
picked up for dead is heroic. I’ve got these children to witch now. Mrs. Arp has gone to visit her old home in
Gwinnett, and she gave me a whole catalogue of admenitions and ordinations and recapitulations, which I’ve
forgotten already. She has gone to see brothers and their wives and children. and the dear old home where
her father and mother used to wear the parental crown, and had more love and more power than a king. What
a sacred temple was that old family room. It was the court where she brought all her childish troubles and got
comfort. She remembers every nail in the floor, every brick in the hearth, every knot in the ceiling over-head.
She wanted to see the big old oaks in the back yard, under whose shade she played and swung and had her
playhouse of broken china. The cooing pigeons made love upon their spreading limbs by day and the noisy
katydids by night.
She wanted to see the big old spring at the foot of the hill, for she knew there was no change, no decay, no
mortality there The water is El in running and though tin frog and the raw fish and the spring lizard that used
to excite her youthful fears have departed this life interstate, they left children to inherit and enjoy that peaceful
shady spring. The little branch still flows on over its gravelly bed and down into the little fish pond below, and
the ripple of its waters still sings that ame old song: “For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever”
I know that her memory will linger there sweetly, for she used to wade in that branch and she would like to wade
in it again if nobody was looking, but I reckon she won’t There is a ‘simmon tree on the hill ctose by that she used
to climb in the fall of the year, for she was as fond of ‘simmons as a possum, but she will never climb it anymore;
I reckon she won’t. The grape vine swing at the back of the garden and the saplings she used to bend down and
ride are gone-all gone. but she doesent want to ride saplings now. Oid Aunt Peggy has gone too; gone where the
good darkies go. She was always old and wrinkled and dried up, but she was faithful unto death, and the children
loved her. Nobody knew how old she was. For forty consecutive years she said she was a hundred-no more no
less-always a hundred. But dearest of all is the old grave yard that is close by. The village grave yard where “the
rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” I know she will linger there with sweet and sad emotions, for there sleep
her nearest and dearest ones-father and mother and brothers and an only sister, and sweetest of all, a dear
little babe of her own. How surely does life and love repeat the scenes of our youth. Hers were fond parents
and there was a flock of children, fair children, all hopeful and happy and loving and they were ten, just ten.
She and I have succeeded them and we have ten, just ten. We, too, have a cottage home and a spring
at the foot of the hill and a branch for the children to play in, and a fish pond. and big oaks with pigeons
cooing on the limbs.
Just as they had we have pea fowls to scream, and ducks and chickens, and sheep and cattle, and dogs bark
and cats purr, and our children and grandchildren come and go, and by and by we will go to sleep and leave
them all alone, just as we were left. And this is right, all right. When we have served our day and generation
then let us go. Let us marshal them the way of life and give good counsel and retire in peace and Christian hope
of a reunion. Not a reunion like the soldiers have, that comes every year with diminished numbers, but a reunion
in a better land that grows and grows to countless legions, and every year brings new recruits from kindred and
from friends. How often do I sit in reverie when I hear of a good parent’s death and dream I hear the glad voices
of those who have gone before as they bring tidings to eachother and say, “our father has come,” “Our mother
has come at last.” What a welcome to the orphan when the angel mother gives the warm embrace and says ”My
child, my child, God bless my child.” Some folks don’t believe in this, but I do. going to wallop:these boys if they
don’t mind. I’ve humored and indulged them until they think there is no willipus wallipus on the plantation. They
slipped off and went in a washing this evening about four o’c!ock, when the sun was as hot as blazes. I had
promised thaw they might go in late, when the shadows of the willows had covered the pond, and now they say
they misunderstand me. Their backs are nearly blistered, and I’ve a good mind to blister them a little lower down.
I would have done it, but Litton had a lame arm and Carl was running at the nose. I see a lame guinea hopping
around, and it hops very like a slingshot struck it, They killed a pigeon not long ago and said they didn’t mean to
hit it, but was just trying to see how close they could miss it. I found my first and biggest melon plugged in the patch,
and, though I didn’t believe they would do me that mean, I held a court-martial and took testimony and looked as
fierce and majestic as possible. They declared their innocence and showed a heap of wounded feelings and told
how they found our little darky’s knife in the melon patch, and so the little darky surrendered and confessed,
which never was done by a darky before and his mother whipped him from Dan to Beersheba and my boys
were discharged with honor and the commendation of the court.
Carl is a very good boy by himself and Linton is good by himself. Each of them work well in single harness,but
hitch them together to a wagon and they are bound to break something, I’m going for these chaps while Mrs. Arp
is away. I’m for civil service reform nowl Their mothers are afar off and I’m the autocrat. I’ll teach them how to
grabble the goobers before they are ripe. No, I won’t either, and they know I won’t. These boys are mighty good
to me. They bring me fresh water from the spring without being told. They black my shoes when I am going to
town. They follow me aronud the farm and help me get roasting ears. They listen to my marvelous stories with
an affectionate wonder that flatters my vanity. They borrow my pocket knife. They find my hat and my walking
stick. and help me dig the potatoes for dinner. They are good compiny, these boys, now that Jessie has gone.
I miss “Jessie, the flower of Dumblane.” She is my special comfort when I am ailing or have the blues. She rubs
my head and brushes my backhair and talks so loving and kind, and always kisses me goodnight after she has
said her prayers. Mrs. Arp will go to meeting Sunday. The same old church is there close by her old home-the
church she was raised in and, where she went to class meeting, and heard old fathers Murphy and Ivy and Norton
talk. The church where. Judge Longstreet used to preach at quarterly meetings-Judge Longstreet who used
to distress old Uncle Allan Turner, a rod old man, because the judge would play on the fiddle and the flute and
wrote some un-heavenly stories in the Georgia Scenes. Both of these notable men always found welcome at
her father’s house. and while the judge was discoursing sweet music in the parlor. Old Father Turner was walking
the piazza, interceding in silent prayer for his forgiveness and reform. There were never two Christian men
more unlike than they but they are both in heaven now, and maybe Uncle Allan has got reconciled to music.
We are all a bundle of prejudices, as well as habits, and I am glad to know that the age in which we live
today is more tolerant than the last.
Last Updated on March 13, 2021 by Bill Arp
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