Hot tea, corned beef and cabbage, A boiled potato pile,
And lots of bread and butter To make Grandfather smile.
"We'll bow our head in blessing For these gifts of food,
We knew a day without them And rocked a famished brood."
A bit of pie or cake To follow, made the fete
A simple home-cooked meal A thing we'd not forget.
Lace curtains at the window; Oilcloth on kitchen board
Blue Onion English China So proudly used and stored
In Grandma's china closet, On doilies she'd crochet.
"Come on, our Elle, I'll wash them up! You dry and put away!"
And then, into the parlor Or front porch for the rest
And lap chores done by suppertime " Let's see who does them best!"
"Sing the old songs, would you, While we snap the beans?
Make the list for shopping... I'd better mend the jeans!"
My favorite time with Grandma, For stories she would tell
Of days before my memory, When she was quite the belle!
And dances were life's heaven! Feathers for the hair!
Beaus in line on dancefloors, To woo a Lady Fair
Her Father's consternation was Her secret, happy goal,
He'd fuss and fret and fluster, And care about her soul;
Forbid one dance too many, Insist she get her rest;
So out the backyard window, Elsie danced - said she knew best,
What lively occupation Would keep her in the pink...
Fathers! Such a bother! Dear! What he must think!
Among the handsome fellas, One did win her hand
But marriage did not suit him - He left to join a band.
The wedding ring - their baby - Neither lasted long...
Happy days at dancing, But now a sadder song!
A sadder lass, and wiser, Less eager for the guys-
And mem'ries of the baby, Would tear her hazel eyes.
On her own, she 'plied her trade, And sewed fine leather seams,
Feeling all was over, Her life bereft of dreams.
A days ride off, by buggy, Big Jim had woe as well;
The lass he loved had left him! His youthful spirits fell!
Only in his twenties! His tears went all the night!
His legs would not sustain him! HIs black hair turned to white!
Back to folks in England, He took his aching heart!
And soon back to the USA, To make a brand new start!
His soul was a romantic's, but, this time, to this land,
He brought a healed head and heart, And a well-trained hand!
At sight of Emily Robinson, He knew he'd met his fate!
He loved her and He won her! They soon would set the date.
His tiny doll to carry Through their own front door,
To start new life together, Alone and sad, no more!
Being Irish Catholic t'was painful for them tho'
Took time and and tears and trouble To clear from former beaus.
But more than fifty years from then, Jim and Elsie stood-
Time and toil and trouble Had only done them good!
Grandma's eyes, still smiling At Grandpa's "blarney" talk :
"My dear, my queen, my honeybee! It 's time to take my walk."
A child's eyes, learning wisdom, My memory is clear:
"Marriage gets more "worth it", with each succeeding year"
The small considerations, Affections true and fine,
The special, simple moments 'Tween two of such long time!
Love's fires honed through trials; Life's share of good and bad!
But Jim and Elsie made it... And now the fun they had!
Proudly side by side, still, Scores of fine descendents!
The "Little Whitehouse" busier Than ever with dependents.
And on the porch, one Sunday, While rocking in the breeze,
Grandpa, "Chief","Big Jim" Had words for me like these:
"Now, Elle, we'll soon be "passing", but I will not leave this earth,
Till you've found your Irishman To love for all yer' worth
And brought him here to see me, And proper' beg your hand,
For, with my will and blessing , The marriage will be grand !"
To each of near a score of us, Such words, I'm sure he found -
To each of near a score of us, Such words, we felt, profound !
Destiny is funny- It did work out that way!
My Irishman, he won me, Before Grandpa's last day...
For more than half a century, The Front-porch occupations
Included observation time, Of passing population.
Of course, the scene before them Changed with passing days,
From horse-and-buggy-rutted dirt, To streamlined cars and ways.
Jim 'n' Else, young parents- They knew each passing soul,
And joyed in observations As each life would unfold!
"There's this one and there's that one, Out for Sunday air
And isn't this one growing fine, And that one growing fair ?"
Each passing soul identified, And each one's story told:
The Story of a Century In time, did true unfold!
Time and population growth Were bound to have their way.
So no one was at all surprised 'Tho sad, when came the day,
Chief pronounced most solemly, He'd no longer thrive:
"Just can't watch these cars go by!" - His last words said alive.
Ten steps over from his chair We heard his figure drop,
His heart as big as Heaven, Came to final stop.
First Selectman Sullivan Head the long cortege
Of mourners' cars lined up for miles To lay Jim to his rest.
But not without a plenty To carry on his life
Ninety years on God's Green Earth, And Elsie for his wife!
The fire that struck the homestead occurred one February
The feelings running 'way too high -To dare the literary
Photos of the home today Would not be ones to charm
The fire gutted much of it. In order to disarm
The raging of the flames that night The lilacs standing near
Were chopped away near' totally As sense dictates, I hear.
And finally the land was sold and buildings soon removed.
But by an old-days neighbor with resources loved.
The site is lovely once again - although much too serene.
But at the front and center yard there grows an evergreen
So tall, I had to write this poem with verses tall enough
To make a garland for her boughs and all that sort of stuff.
And in 1911, Grandpa bought the home-
from one of Southport's seamen who much preferred to roam
And so, the house a shack, at best, From little use and care
But with the shack came property Whose worth could well compare
In fact Big Jim took pleasure, sure, That the house was small
Tiny Else felt fine in it, And Big Jim felt so tall!
With all his skills and talent He feared not o'er the thought
Of home improvement labors And proud of all he wrought!
A woodsy wagontrack was all The road there was before it
And path for wagon on the right And a barn to store it
Grandpa's old days tales to me, 'times involved his horse
Several worthy animals in all those years, of course!
He'd call all them "Dobbin" to keep the telling plain
But honored faithful service- Each one earned their grain!
At one time the lot next door was a shallow pond
Now in nearby reservoirs, the floody pond is gone.
Sturdy black rock ledges that gave the road its name
North and West about the house, Provide a natural frame
Grandma's rambler roses, at southwest aspect,
Still love to climb the rock edge And thrive right through neglect
When the road got busy, East and South were placed
Trees creating privacy The view was surely graced
And land once used for farm crops, And bantam rooster coops
Bore my Father's shop; And bunkhouse where Scout troops
Enjoyed the camp experience; now houses Smith descendents-
The youngest of "the boys" And house pet dependents!
Lilies, mums, peonies, Rose of Sharon, too!
Bring us back to Elsie's house, With its folks, it grew.
In time, "The Chief's" additions to the Captain's shanty
included airy sunporch, parlor, bath and pantry!
Big Jim built the chimney, teaching sons the art
of placing brick and mortar- A box for chimney form was smart-
It helped with sound construction, beauty and good flue,
The sons surrounding father- a fascinated crew!
Several days'production, a few feet every day
The form slid up along each time, Until it made its way
to the rooftop level, then its mortar seal
They told the story better - They made it seem so real!
Gas and then electric replaced the coal and wood
The mantle, left "for looks" alone But still the chimney stood.
A dormer for the upstairs, And for the porch, new floor
Failing white birch trees replaced, that once had graced the door
But Jim and Else were older When they became a pair
And their age was motive To their many heirs
Who came in love and duty To effect repairs
But, sometimes, now the fixups Only added to their cares!
Their children were perplexed at this, With no AARP
To help with helping seniors With needed remedies
And so they did their best To deal with true compassion
And stopped with home improvements And updates in the fashions
To stop time from passing, -the house kept in the style
of Jim and Else's heyday And ease their days awhile
Big trouble with that logic showed up later, though
When there was real need for change, They couldn't make it go!
The place became first "charming", Then "a bit run down",
Then "just plain eccentric"! At odds with all the town!
But just then, grown grandchildren Learned of the situation
Arrived with reinforcements, of work and love and patience.
We seemed to be a vitamin, Good order was renewed,
For needs of health and safety And some beauty,too!
I myself was able due to relocation
to spend some helpful time onsite- nostalgic work/vacation!
We cleaned, and fixed and hauled away- replaced, restored, renewed!
By "quittin' time" in fixup days, We really earned our food!
Ladies love a makover, And so, though inconvenienced,
The project was a big success And earned us all some lenience!
And at days' end we did it As in days of yore :
Sang Jim Smith's old favorites And tucked down wanting more!
More work to be done yet, But a break was needed
Some would have no more for now And so the rest conceded
Talk of late was leaning toward project renewal...
Time had passed, neglect was feared, a state which would be cruel
My work had taken me away; I felt it not my right
To impose myself on them, and stay again onsite.
And just a few weeks later The housefire did its worst!
The feelings of its residents are still now being nursed...
But all were safe and sound Who resided at the place
We calmed, and counted blessings, And thanked Him for His Grace!
And at this writing, study of plans for restoration,
may ,in the final tally, bring the devil consternation!
To hold a hand marked "loser" And turn it into winner,
Builds character they say, and so we still just "earn our dinner".
These lines are just a portion of The Little Whitehouse tale,
But I'd better stop for now Or find myself in jail!
A promise, or a warning ? There's much more to come...
A tale so rich in telling, The writer's overcome!
Originally shared at Dad's funeral May 13th 1999. I like to share it at the patriotic holidays.