Salute to Aunt Sarah
IT HAPPENED the other evening. I don’t know why. There certainly had been nothing to suggest it. I had finished dinner and was smoking my pipe and reading the paper, when all at once I wasn’t there at all. I was down a sun-drenched country road, kicking the dust with bare toes, a bamboo pole on my shoulder, a can of bait in my hand, and Horn’s pond before me. The details never filled in, but I suspect that I was late for supper and that the “mess” of sunfish I proudly presented was a poor palliative to my Aunt Sarah for a boy who had run away from his chores on that Saturday of the long ago.
Odd times, like this, I seem to go back to the Aunt Sarah days. Just an evidence of age, I guess. Or maybe it’s some unconscious urge that tends to keep the balance in this out-of-focus world by giving me a brief respite in one that was old-fashioned and sane, where life was lived simply, as I think God meant it to be.
I suppose most boys in those years had an Aunt Sarah. Anyway, I’ll never forget mine. She was a minister’s wife, in a small town, and if it hadn’t been for “Pa’s” Civil War pension I don’t know how she would have gotten on, for he had a circuit of country churches and the preacher’s pay was mostly in farm produce.
True, there was a big old brick house – a relic of better days – with fourteen-foot ceilings and a Mansard roof and a cupola, and about half an acre of ground, where Aunt Sarah could have a garden and chickens and small fruits. And there was a “lot,” too, out a little ways from town, where the real “truck” was raised and where there was an orchard and a berry patch. But it was the pension money that paid the taxes and bought the coffee and the sugar and the things that couldn’t be raised.
I read the ads. of the “butchers, the bakers, and the candle-stick makers,” but, in this mood, my thoughts go back to the old smoke-house that was off the kitchen, and the bacon and hams and sausages that came from grateful parishioners when slaughtering time fell in the Fall; and the bread that was baked in the old oven, from dough that was raised from home-made yeast; and the yellow glow of coal oil lamps that I used to detest to clean and fill. And, somehow, the ads. fail to have any allure.
I have only to close my eyes and I see that kitchen again – the abode of a genius. There are chefs who have reached international fame, but for sheer wizardry with nothing they couldn’t hold a candle to my Aunt Sarah. From the simplest things – and few of them – I have seen her create what I now realize were masterpieces of culinary art, but were then only provender to appease the appetite of a growing boy.
They use radio today to promote the sale of bakers’ wares, but I’d gladly pay ten times the price of their commercial product for one of those huge golden-brown loaves of Aunt Sarah’s bread.
I can see them now, as they came hot from the oven of that old wood-stoked stove, with an aroma that seems to waft its incense through the years. And I can vision once more the lad, standing expectantly by, while Aunt Sarah, with a gentle, understanding smile, cuts a huge, inch-thick slice, butters it, spreads it generously with grape and apple jelly, and says “run along now.”
And the jars of cookies, too. Two of them, kept in that spicy-smelly old pantry, filled anew each baking day, just for the small boy who reminded her, I guess, of her own son who had grown up and gone away. One jar held ginger cookies; the other sugar cakes. I suspect that Aunt Sarahs somewhere still make them for small boys who don’t appreciate the art of them until it’s too late; but I know full well that they’re not made by bakers and sold in stores.
And the strawberry shortcake, too. It wasn’t cake, and it wasn’t biscuit, but whatever dough it was, I’ve never found its like again. It was made in layers, like a big layer cake, with crushed garden-fresh strawberries in between. And there was always a big bowl with more crushed berries, so that when the shortcake had soaked up the rich juice you could pour another generous helping over it. No whipped cream; no little fancy squares of sweet cake – just shortcake and berries, as I suspect the inventor designed it to be. Too acid for me today, but then – what a feast!
And the apple pie! (There’s art personified – apple pie!) Not the anemic, flat-chested imitation we so often get today, but a big, generous, robust pie, made with real apples, not applesauce, and plenty of cinnamon, and with a crust that melted in the mouth….
Strange how things like these come back to one – unbidden. Aunt Sarah has been gone these many years, and yet this room tonight seems filled with rich savors of her culinary skill – a skill that was taken as a matter of course in that household in that small town of my youth. And it has taken the years, and travel, and experience, and comparison, to realize, too late for her reward, the real artist that she was.
And so to you who read this: if you are blessed today with one in your household who can do magical things in the preparation of food, don’t take her casually but give her her rich due while you can, and while the savor of her art is on your tongue and not just a semblance of it that memory brings. For a good cook is a priceless possession – and one that genius touches should ever be acclaimed.
So writes one who today eats only to live – believe it or not!
Thirty-eight years ago I wrote a series of sketches for The Lucky Dog, entitled “Dreams o’ Nights.” In these was a real character: Aunt Sarah. In this essay, as in the next, I have gone back to the Aunt Sarah days… days never forgotten… Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn days… the days of my boyhood in a small Ohio town.
In Fountain Town Days
THE FOLLOWING, which appeared in the June, 1904, issue of The Lucky Dog, seems a fitting prelude to these rambling reminiscences of our youth….
“Since supper I’ve been sitting here in the twilight of the old vine-covered veranda, and thinking many things. A soft evening wind brings to me the lulling scent of swaying honeysuckle vines, and now and then a darting firefly glows for a moment against the lacy leaves. Far down the street, in the wavering shadows of the maples, children are playing at hide-and-seek; their laughter comes like fitful snatches of elfin glee as the wind idly tosses it along. The air is alive with vague whisperings as Nature drops to sleep, and the trees gently rustle a chorus of fluttering ‘good nights.’ One by one the stars dot the heavens here and there; tender eyes set out to keep awatch. Above all, a million teeming things sink to rest. The quiet of a summer evening is upon the earth. And I sit here, and smoke, and think – of many things.”…
So we wrote at the magic age of twenty-one – “when all the world is young, lad, and all the grass is green; and every goose a swan, lad, and every lass a queen.” A dreamer then, a dreamer still, despite the rebuffs the years have brought in life’s adventuring.
Sentimental then, we doubt that retrospection of our teens in those days would have found much to intrigue us. We were too close to them. Then life was real, life was earnest – so very real, so very earnest!
Now the years have brought a saving sense of humor that throws many things into their true perspective. And so, today, on the same vine-covered veranda, if we could sit there, and smoke, and think – “of many things” – they probably would be things like these….
Of the city boy who came to visit our little town – an average county seat in the Middle West – and was blind-dated to take a popular belle to a dance. She was of the true tomboy type and so thought nothing of it when, fathers and brothers being busy and the job to be done, she had to take a load of manure across town to their garden plot.
But when, standing on the load in overalls, she was pointed out to her evening’s escort as his “date,” the shock was too much for his city sensibilities; and she went to the dance, after all, with one of the local boys – all of whom had long since ceased to be surprised at anything she might do. What a wife and mother she made in the after years! We can still hear her infectious laughter in the sheer joy of living….
Of the time we were sent to the store for cheese and on the way home decided to bury it in an alley because it was rotten. And of the amusement of our aunt when we told her what we had done. She explained about Limburger, and to our great disgust, made us go back and dig it up….
Of the girl named Mary with whom we were infatuated but were too bashful to even address. And how, years later, at a night club in New York, we saw her in the chorus of its revue….
Of the temperance lecture at the church, where the lecturer showed dramatically how a worm wriggled and was joyous in a glass of water but was killed when put in alcohol, thus demonstrating the terrible effect of this poison on the human system. (Gad, the worms we could have killed in the succeeding years!)…
Of the time old Michael was left a legacy of $500 and after drinking it up complained, “Begad, I’m as thirsty as when I started.”…
Of the traveling medicine shows. And of one, in particular, with its exhibit of tape worms in bottles; and the offer of a handful of premiums (including a gold watch!) with each dollar bottle of the Exterminator. And how we toiled for a week to win a prize on Saturday night (the concluding performance) for “the little boy or girl” who could make the most words of the letters in the name of a magic remedy – only to discover, when we had compiled some 600 words, after many intense hours over a dictionary, that the show had moved on Friday night and Saturday the Square was bare. (Don’t laugh – today adults often are just as big contest suckers.)…
Of the Halloweens, when youth cast all restraint aside and no gate, or fence, or hitching post was safe. Not to mention the little houses, two-holers and up, that were toppled over. And the big occasion when a horse was persuaded to mount the stairs to the courthouse roof, with the problem of getting him down left to the ingenuity of those who found him the morning after….
Of the journeys to the butcher for soup meat or round steak, and how he’d cheerfully throw in free a generous chunk of liver for the cat and a big bone for the dog….
Of circus days, when we were up at dawn to see the circus train come in on the Big Four and to watch the unloading; then to the grounds to see them put up the “big top.” Then later, ankle-deep in dust, to the circus itself, with the pennies we had saved for days for the big event. But the black tent among the side shows, from which barbaric music emanated, was denied us; and we never had quite enough money to stay for the “Big Revue” after the circus was over….
Of the county fair – equal in importance to the circus, but which lasted for a full week – where one could wander among the exhibits of household arts, and horticulture, and livestock, and agricultural implements, and watch the games of chance on the Midway, and gaze, goggle-eyed, at the trotting and pacing races….
Of the nut-gathering season and the stains from hulling walnuts….
Of the smoking spree, when we tried, successively, cornsilk, whipstock and dried grape leaves. And were caught, and lectured, and whipped! As though the experience weren’t punishment enough! But “child psychology” was yet to be discovered….
Of the first job, carrying a local paper, at a dollar a week. And of the first pair of long pants – too short and too tight. And of a lot of other “firsts” we won’t take the space to detail but just observe, in passing, that firsts are the most important things in every life….
Of the stolen hours, in the hayloft at home and between the pages of the geography at school, with “Frank Merriwell,” “Frank Reade” and “Nick Carter.”…
Of the acquisition, after selling a cherished stamp collection for $5.00, of a 3 x 5 Kelsey printing press and of launching on the sea of amateur journalism a publication called The Lucky Dog, which was destined later to shape the whole course of our life….
Of the Sunday journeys with our uncle, a circuit preacher, with one wheel almost invariably coming off the old buggy and letting us down by the roadside. As he retrieved it he would ejaculate in Latin, a language unfamiliar to us (which was probably just as well.)…
Of the winter mornings we scurried from our nest between feather beds to break ice in the pitcher in order to wash….
Of the mountains of buckwheat cakes, soaked with pure maple syrup; and the piles of homemade pork sausage we could stow away (“I declare, the boy’s hollow!” our aunt would exclaim), and now we can’t burden our stomach with them….
And so we might go on and on – but what’s the use? These days of our youth aren’t of interest to anyone save ourselves. And yet, calling them back in retrospection has been a tonic. Anyhow, no matter what the future holds, here is something that is ours – simple memories naught can take away and time can only enrich. Please God, may the generations to come have as happy and as carefree ones!
They say that when you begin to let your mind dwell on the past you are slipping – growing old!
If this essay brings any such conclusions to our readers – so be it. But we shall continue to muse in retrospection whenever the mood hits us. And we doubt that such happy sojourns in a world that was simple and sane will make us an old man before our “ancient days” are naturally upon us.
THIS 1942 issue of The Lucky Dog has been planned and printed in order to get away for a little while from the atmosphere of war and the anxieties of the times.
The following technical information on the issue is printed for the few printer members of the N.A.P.A. who are interested in such details. It will probably mean little to most of our readers.
The text pages are set in the same 11pt. Scotch Roman (A.T.F.) that we used in our “Reminiscence Issue” in 1940, but the page measure is one em wider and one line longer.
The cover design is a one-color version of the very clever drawing made by D. T. Carlisle for our 1941 issue.
The cover stock is pyroxylin coated Waregold (no longer manufactured), with a special tint on the inside (normally white) to blend with the text pages.
The center insert is Hurlbut Shadowmould, Light Weight, Rose.
The fly leaves are Strathmore Silverflake, Ivory.
The text pages are Warren’s Cameo Dull Coated Book, Sepia, 90lb. weight. This is the same stock that we used in our June, 1905, issue and for this reason we wanted to use it again. When we came to get it, however, we found that it was no longer manufactured. The S. D. Warren Company very graciously instituted a search for us at the mills and located a sufficient quantity for our purpose.
ONCE UPON A TIME, when we were active in amateur journalism, the boy printer was regarded as the hope of the cause.
Today, judging from current papers, it would appear that the boy, or girl, mimeographer is that hope.
This might be laughable, except that it is serious.
Forgetting our interest in printing and simply looking at the matter as would a possible recruit for the National – one with some taste and discrimination – we doubt that such a collection of work as the average Mailing Bureau bundle would enthuse us to join the Association.
The National Amateur Press Association seems to be turning into the National Amateur Mimeograph Association, and as this trend continues, so the Association will find it increasingly difficult to attract recruits whose work will be of quality. “Like begets like.”
We know the contention of the mimeographers that the stencil process is all they can afford and if they didn’t get out a mimeographed paper they couldn’t publish. While a stencil-printed paper may be better than none, it contributes little to the development of amateur journalism.
It is this tendency to be satisfied with the mediocre that disturbs the Old Timer. An attitude of “goodenoughness” never will bring the N.A.P.A. up to the standard that is necessary if the institution is to have a real place as a hobby or a pastime.
The literary standard is as mediocre, in the main, as the physical appearance of the sheets. Obviously, anyone who would be contented with a typewritten paper would be just as indifferent to the quality of the contents.
Amateur Journalism, as we see it today as a bystander, is at pretty low ebb as a hobby. If the attendants at the N.A.P.A. convention in New York in July were to make an exhibit of their work would it be anything – with a few exceptions – of which they could be proud? Would it impress a stranger with the advantages of amateur journalism as a hobby? The answer seems obvious.
Mediocrity, almost without exception, appears to have seized an institution that once had real cause to be proud of its achievements, both literary and typographical.
The foregoing is our measured opinion. Active Burton Crane says in June Masaka: “Today the National is at a top since 1905!”
The Lucky Dog was published from April, 1900, to April, 1910. In the ten years, thirty-two issues were published, totaling 740 pages of text matter.
The following dates of issuance may be of interest to those who want to check files:
1900 – April, July, September
1901 – March, June, September, December
1902 – February, April, July, November
1903 – March, June, September
1904 – January, March, June, October
1905 – June, August, October, December
1906 – February, April, June
1908 – June, December
1909 – April, September, November
1910 – April
In addition to The Lucky Dog we published twelve issues of an all-editorial paper called The Blac Book, or, upon occasion, The Black Book. These contained ninety-six pages of text. The publication dates were as follows:
1902 – April, September
1904 – February, April, June, November
1905 – January, March, May, June
1908 – August
1909 – June
Altogether, in the ten years, we published forty-four issues, comprising eight hundred and thirty-six pages of text. In addition we published several booklets, including: “A Christmas Reverie,” “The Book of Silver Song,” “The Forgotten Child” and “The Christmas Gift.”
HOW I have enjoyed reading again Vol. VII of Sam Steinberg’s Dilettante. It was outstanding as an amateur paper when it was published from 1900 to 1901, and it would be even more outstanding if it were published now. It is notable for good printing, good writing, clear logic and real humor.
The editorials seem to have a strain of bitterness running through them, but Sam was not a misanthrope. His intention was to get action, and he loved the “come-backs” and chuckled most over the virulent ones. Underneath his sarcasm and barbs of wit he was kind and understanding.
Sam loved amateur journalism, his print shop, his companions. And such companions! – Walter Chiles, Liuden Dey, Jay Fallas, Ross Clarke and A. J. Robinson among the resident ones (Chicago).
The list of his contributors included such notable amateurs as Frank D. Woolen, Ernest A. Edkins, Joseph Dans Miller, James F. Morton, Jr., W. R. Murphy, Edward M. Lind, Brainerd Prescott Emery, Bertha Grant Avery, Edith Miniter, Fanny Kemble Johnson, Annie Laurie Lynde and many others – few of them equaled in literary excellence in these days.
Sam Steinberg was an ardent admirer of Zangwill. He quoted him frequently.
Man proposes and woman poses –
Marriages are made in Heaven; but this brand is not exported. –
Genius should marry genius; and no woman is a genius. –
are examples of Zangwill’s “wit and wisdom.”
How Sam must have chuckled at this one:
To be a critic it is not essential to know anything – you must simply be able to write.
To me it seems apparent that Sam Steinberg was greatly influenced by Zangwill. He appears to have patterned his own editorials and even his rare poetry and fiction after him.
It is a question whether Steinberg was a politician, but how he ripped into the contemporary lights. Thiele was his special “meat.” Thiele – there was a politician! He was clever and caustic of tongue and ruthless in action. The battles of words between Steinberg and Thiele were terrific.
John M. Acee, a Southern Gentleman, also came in for a share of fireworks. In his conduct of various official duties he was charged with all the shortcomings in the alphabet. Here is a sample of one of Sam’s blasts against him: “My assertions surely are not groundless, for Mr. Acee’s neglect was too evident to be denied. And my calling attention to Mr. Acee’s neglect and incompetency can not brand me as unmanly, unless on the theory that a man loses cast because he does his duty and tell the truth.”
It was too bad that the Steinberg-Acee situation was as it was. I believe that Mr. Acee was a real asset to the Association and if handled less roughly by some of his fellow amateurs would have satisfied even Sam’s demands of an officer. Instead, he got out in a peeve – as I recall it.
I think that Sam’s tragic illness distorted his natural friendliness and made him somewhat bitter toward life. Nevertheless, show me any volume of any amateur paper of later years that contains so much real opinion, brilliantly and honestly expressed.
WHEN our last hour shall come to us,
Paymaster Death hand us our wage,
And we go forth from the Plant of Life, our labor done,
I hope the Master of us Workers all,
When He inspects each deed –
Notes how illy or how well we’ve wrought His plans –
How skillfully have used His tools –
Will look upon our work with kindly eyes
And remember that though years we’d served
At the end we were but blundering apprentices
In this trade of Life.
WHEN our last hour shall come to us,
I hope that He may find upon our workday bench
Some little thing, some finished bit,
That He, perchance, will hold aloft and say:
“This workman understood his craft.
“By this I see that into it he put his heart and all his skill.
“That he took pride in what he did
“And strove to be the master of his tools.”
WHEN our last hour shall come to us,
And we shall face what e’er the future holds,
What peace of mind, what calm of heart,
If we could know that in the work we’ve done
The record stands unblemished as to intent;
That our poor hands have always wrought the best they knew
And ever strove to do a better job.
That into every task of every working day
We’ve poured the whole of us –
Our heart, our soul, our sincere desire to do the thing allotted us!
WHEN that last hour shall come to you – to me –
From the Master may we have such eulogy!
This 1942 Issue of The Lucky Dog was completely produced – designed, hand-set, printed and bound – by Tim Thrift for the pleasure and satisfaction of doing it. It was printed, two pages at a time, on a 7 x 11 foot-power press. The edition is 345 copies.