You know what I like best about America’s territorial history? It’s the stories of one person doing good or a kindness for another. I think something about the overland trail, and the muddy disappointment that was the ending place, made people take notice of each others struggles. It moved them to compassion, empathy…and simply, kindness to a stranger.
The pioneer stories are rife with these tales, of sudden widowers taking in sudden orphans. Or the one I remember where a family ended up adopting a man ‘old and friendless’ who had tagged along behind them. At first they worried about the extra mouth to feed when times were already so lean. But his unassuming manner and ready help soon made him a valued member of the family.
I have a few old books about how to run a home. These books often make me laugh because they are so quaint and ….goodness….some of the things women were expected to do! But while pawing through Our Home by C E. Sargent (1891) I came across a lovely poem. The city-sophisticate might call it corny. As would anyone under 35, maybe. But I think it expresses a sentiment of simplicity and kindness, and is worth sitting down to read, and ponder. Wouldn’t this sort of kindness make a more perfect world? I think so. I think Jennie B. Cross might have thought so also, for this was her book, a gift from her ‘Papa.’
The poem is preceded by a quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe:
“…‘be not forgetful to entertain strangers….What do you want when away from home in a strange city? Is it not the warmth of the home fireside and the sight of people that you know care for you? Is it not the blessed privilege of speaking and acting yourself out unconstrainedly among those who you know understand you? And had you not rather dine with an old friend on simple cold mutton offered with a warm heart, than go to a splendid ceremonious dinner party among people who don’t care a rush for you? Well, then, set it down in your book that other people are like you, and that the art of entertaining is the art of really caring for people. “if you have a warm heart, congenial tastes, and a real interest in your stranger, don’t fear to invite him though you have no best dinner set and your existing plates are sadly chipped at the edges, and even though there be a handle broken off from the side of your vegetable dish. Set it down in your belief that you can give something better than a dinner, however good,—you can give a part of yourself. You can give love, good will, and sympathy, of which there has perhaps been quite as much over cracked plates and restricted table furniture as over Sèvres china and silver.”
Blest be that spot where cheerful guests retire To pause from toil, and trim their evening fire; Blest that abode, where want and pain repair, And every stranger finds a ready chair: Blest be those feasts with simple plenty crown’d, Where all the ruddy family around Laugh at the jest or pranks, that never fail, Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale, Or press the bashful stranger to his food, And learn the luxury of doing good.
From: Our Home, A Key to a Nobler Life, by C. E. Sargent, A. M., King, Richardson & Co., Springfield, Mass. 1891.