The Box from Home

This is the second article in February of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on February 14, 1909, and is an article on sending a box of goodies to children attending boarding school.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Box from Home

THAT was that I was trying to get off by express from a country railway station. It was addressed to a certain great preparatory academy at L—–, a rural town, but so widely advertised by the list of graduates who have distinguished themselves in universities to which the “rep” was the vestibule, that I was confounded at hearing that the express office at which I applied had no branch there. While I parleyed with the agent, endeavoring to convince him with a woman’s logic that, since I was positive I was right, he must be wrong, a man whom I knew slightly as a commute on the railway to New York, stopped and lifted his hat to me with:

“Pardon me! but can I be of any help to you? I could not avoid overhearing part of your conversation.”

I explained and he lent an attentive ear.

“I am on my way to P—–.” Naming a two a few miles from L—–. “If you will permit me to take charge of that box and see that it is transferred to the local delivery line at P—–, it will give me real pleasure to do you the trifling service.”

“But,” I began, “that would be asking a great deal from a busy man—”

He interrupted me, but courteously:

“It will be my pleasure, as I said. For I have not forgotten hat I, too, was a boy once,” glancing with a kind smile at the address on the case, “and what it was to me to get a box from home.”

I have never packed one since without recalling the smile in the kindly eyes and the softened tone that told of fond and grateful memories.

While I write of the incident there float back to me, as if 45 yeas were less than that number of days, the words of a letter received by me the middle of January, 1864. My favorite brother was in the Southern army, and was now a prisoner of war in a Federal fortress. Though the courtesy of his nominal warders I was permitted to send him a great case at the holidays. Nothing was “contraband” at that season of good will to men.

“I wish you could have seen the opening of that box!” he wrote. “The roast turkey, the ham, the fried chicken, the cakes—with all the delicious et ceteras, set out a royal feast. We shut our eyes (but not our mouths!) and ‘made believe,’ as the children do, that we were at home.”

The “Ground Swell.”

Those of our readers who are not good sailors will comprehend what is meant by the “ground swell” succeeding a storm. Voyagers who are never sick at sea—and, as the manner of such is, boast ostentatiously of the immunity—succumb to the long, slow roll of the sullen billows. The ground swell of subsiding excitement that follows the joyousness of the holidays is to many the dreariest period of the year. To the schoolboy and schoolgirl the routine of study is drudgery until they get used again to the pressure and pull of the harness. The month preceding vacation was all aglow with anticipation. January is like flat champagne. Hearts and spirits obey the universal natural law of rise and depression.

How many mothers remind themselves of the general operation of this law? Jack writes home that he is “in the dumps,” and Mary that she is homesick, and the trend of all the letters bearing the date of “January, 1909,” betrays the settled conviction of boy and girl that dolls are stuffed with sawdust and “all the world is hollow! hollow! hollow!” The ground swell is in full action.

Now is the nick of time for the box from home.

In preparing for Christmas the mothers who have had experience along this dark-blue line have held back a few things, which, but for that wise forethought, would have gone into the array of holiday gifts that made glad the hearts of children. Let her bring them out now from their hiding places and make them bear their part in the blessed work of “making believe.”

I digress here to observe that those who have put the habit behind them with other childish things lose much of the flavor and sweetness of everyday life.

The lose much who do not read Lewis Carroll’s inimitable “Alice” books. They lose more, and they will go on losing, who cannot appreciate the delicate, delicious humor of the works. Nobody who has been with our darling Alice “Through the Looking Glass” will ever forget Humpty-Dumpty’s arguments in favor of the “un-birthday presents,” as opposed to that bestowed on the anniversary. According to him, “there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents.”

“Certainly!” said Alice.

Then—“there’s a knockdown argument for you!”

My readers are more stupid than I could be made to believe if they fail to apply the “knock-downer” for themselves in connection with this, my un-anniversary lay sermon.

The case you fill for the “un-birthday” and “un-holiday” surprise should have a lingering fragrance of the festive season. Some wants were left unsatisfied, as you may know. I doubt if the boy has a pincushion on the dressing bureau he may share with a roommate. I would be willing to wager that he has not a shoebag to hang on the inside of his closet door, or a framed photograph of his country home. A cake with his initials on top will bring up a glow of self-importance that will strengthen his resolution to live up to the ideal the old mother sets up for him in her heart. A pocket edition of an author you know to be a favorite with him will go with him on trolley car and train, and when summer days come will be a companion in forest rambles.

Mary is not superior to enjoyment of home-made “goodies.” We have no better word for bonbons, fruits, cookies, nuts, candied cherries and plums, beaten biscuits, wee jars of pickles and jams, fancy cheeses—that go into the composition of a Saturday supper in a dormitory, with one’s dear particular group of cronies to help dispose of it.

The box from home may keep the “dumpish” boy off the streets for more than one night. It will put a different complexion upon the world Mary has discovered to be hollow all through.

If you have no bairns of your very own, or if yours have passed their school days, or if they are still in the nursery, do a little make-believe on your own account. The year is still new and the need of each human creature for comfort and cheer is ever old and never distant from each one of us. Bethink yourself who dwell in luxury and love among your own people of the lonely lad who is trying to “keep straight” in a sixth-rate boarding house upon a wage of $10 per week; doing his very best to be honest and clean and diligent in business for the sake of the old mother who lives 1000 miles away, or for the dearer sake of her who died last winter.

Brace up the sinking heart of the girl from a village you know of in New Jersey or in Michigan, who is fighting the world single-handed. God help her! in in the wilderness of a city of 1,000,000 souls (so-called), not one of which cares for hers. Bestir your wits and energies to send her a box from home. She may have no home now, but beguile her into believing that she has by the beautiful appropriateness of what she will draw from the depths of the fairy coffer. Things which her mother might thought of; useful trifles that she may keep about her every day and handle gratefully; books of cheer wet and dreary evenings when she is too tired to sew or knit or even to sleep. Not trashy, sensational fiction or goody-goody books, but healthful stories with more laughter than tears in them. And do not forget “sweeties” of the right kind, done up in tissue paper and tied with bright ribbons, such as everybody used at Christmas and next-t-nobody uses between times. In short, such a box as the girl would have had on a birthday from the homestead in that far-off State had not poverty pulled it down over her head and beaten her forth to struggle for bread and shelter.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange