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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/856006-A-gift-from-the-past
Rated: E · Book · Writing · #2044345
Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
#856006 added August 1, 2015 at 3:00am
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A gift from the past
Today, I have been exploring my 6 volume Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, a very popular 19th century poet from Indiana who wrote in the vernacular of his community. The collection is copyright 1913, is leather bound, and has gold page edges, inherited from my grandmother’s generation. It is poetry of the sort she loved and memorized. In fact, it is much easier to memorize than modern verse as it filled a place in society similar to the role popular music has today. I remember my parents reading his work to us as young children. Some of it is funny, some honoring this or that, and though much is very idealistic, some has almost an element of social criticism. I read about a person confronting his Congressman in the barber shop about silver vs. paper currency. It was making fun of political arguments as neither side actually said anything of substance. Seems like how things are in the world today.

I ran across a poem that is so familiar I can almost type it from memory:
Little Orphant Annie
To all the little children;- the happy ones and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones, yes the good ones too; and
All the lovely bad ones.

Little Orphant Annie has come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up an’ brush the crumbs away.
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch an’ dust the hearth an’ sweep’
An’ make the fire and bake the bread, an’ earn her board an’ keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done’
We sit around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-lis’nin to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobbel-uns ‘at gits you ef you Don’t Watch Out!

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,--
An when he went to bed at night; away up-stairs,
His Mommy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wazn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press;
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout;-
An’ the Gobbel-uns ‘ll git you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!

An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ –kin;
An’ wunst, when they wuz “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowd what she’s about!
An’ the Gobbel-uns ‘ll git you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!

An’ Little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quIt, an’ the moon goes grey,
An’ the light-nin’ bugs in dew is all squenched away,-
You better mind your parents, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ help the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Or the Gobbel-uns ‘ll git you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!

As a child, like the child in the poem, I was more interested in the “Gobble-uns” than in the content of the poem. It seems that a child, because she was orphaned, had to “earn her keep” by doing household tasks for a family with whom she lived. The children identified with her as another child, but also related to her as someone with different knowledge and gave her an elder sister status. There is no way to know if she was older. It is clear her life was different from theirs, and I suspect that, although they were in school, she was not.

We have a lot of politicians saying they want to revert to a time when welfare was handled by the church. This is a very clear, contemporary description of the life of the person left without a source of support. The child became the servant with no chance to learn reading and writing and arithmetic skills. This would doom her to a life of poverty, unless by some odd luck, she married well. She had no protection from exploitation. If she was raped and pregnant, she was shunned and left to starve. If she was of African descent, it was even worse.

I do not comprehend why anyone would prefer to go back to this. What more can I say?

© Copyright 2015 Louise Wiggins is Elizabeth (UN: howellbard3 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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