I have a favorite pasttime. I love to read old children’s books. Anything printed for children between 1750 and 1940 interests me. I especially prefer books written between 1890-1935 including many published by Cupples and Leon.
I know, I know. I’m an adult. I should ‘put away childish things’. Well, I don’t think so. I think that as a parent and a citizen concerned for the children of our day, it is good for me to be aware of good literature no matter whom the intended audience.
“So,” you assume, “You’re saying that we need to exhibit proportion in our reading choice.” Not really, but that’s probably a true statement as well. No, the book I was reading centered on the idea of proper proportions in our lives.
The book, Patty Fairfield by Carolyn Wells, is about a fourteen year old girl who is sent to spend the year equally divided between four aunts and their respective families. Her father admonishes her to pay attention to proper proportion shown or not shown in the families in order to see what kind of home they want to make at the end of the year. (They’ve always lived in boarding houses due to the death of Patty’s mother at an early age.)
The first home is very grand and elegant. The family is ostentatiously wealthy and concerned only with appearances and position. Patty sees the effect of constant boasting about the cost of things and the dissatisfaction with always wanting the best.
She leaves that home and moves to the second family. They are a very literary civic minded family who are extremely well regimented. Every moment of every day is well planned and engaged in intellectual pursuits. Committies of every kind and studies of every topic overrule any chance of interaction with family or personal interests that are not of a ‘higher order’.
The third family she visits is a happy-go-lucky bunch full of fun and frolic. They spend little time in any serious venture and their plans rarely come to fruition due to lack of ambition and diligence. So, while much more fun to be around than her previous cousins, she does find herself without a bed the first night, dinner another night, and a party must be gathered at the last minute due to no one mailing the invitations!
Finally she visits the last family and learns that there is a time and place for all of these things. That one can be wealthy without announcing it at every turn, one can have fun without ignoring duty, and education is not an end in and of itself.
She, of course, learns that the home she enjoyed the most was the one with ‘proper proportion’. I’d say, she enjoyed the home where they truly lived the injunction to have ‘moderation in all things’. In the end, she begs her father to settle in the town so that she may continue to learn how to be a proper housekeeper for him by the aunt who exhibited the qualities she wanted to emulate.
It was quite the eyeopener. Our home is rarely proportionate. We do exercise all things and in some we do have reasonable proportion but I do believe we swing like pendulums from heavy schooling to light, from many projects to few, from lots of entertainment to lots of work… In my quest to keep our schedules from being burdensome, I need to remember this encouraging little book.
I think I’ll also reread the second book and share some thoughts I remember from it.