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Cymric Strain

By Una Howell (USA - 1876-1949)

Chapter 27 - Disciplines

Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010



Mother was one of that large group of women who accept the challenge of motherhood with conscientiousness and from the start, though she did it lovingly, held us strictly to accepted rules of conduct. Obedience of the blindest sort was everywhere considered such a universal tenet of desirable behavior that we never thought of rebelling or questioning its justice. We greeted its irritations with much the same responses as those accorded scratchy underwear or unpleasant medicine soon forgotten. Viewed selfishly, it was a password to personal privilege. We never let our parents down outside our own grounds, either though I am sure we must have pulled at the lead strings at home when conditions were favorable.

As a group we managed to get along with a minimum of friction, though Mayne teased us all. Mary was his pet victim because she was so easily aroused and occasionally he went too far for serenity.

Mother, from earliest days, required us to eat our bread crusts. Mary hated them so genuinely that she ripped them off the soft centers and crammed them down first, leaving the generously buttered hearts for leisurely consumption. Brother knew the system and when Mary was not looking he would reach over and drop a pink paw over the cherished heart. When Mary turned and watched with indignation he would carry it to his mouth. I don’t remember that he actually ate a bite of her bread. He merely tortured her.

I would have to fight to keep from bursting into laughter and disgracing the family.

Father and Mother worried constantly over him and struggled to keep him busy. He had regular chores after school and in summer worked at some steady occupation in order to keep him from impairing the family honor. Springfield had two wagon factories and Father secured a place for him at one of the plants for the summer. He made a wagon for Mary and me that vacation and put it together at night. It was a sturdy plaything and practical as well. When we were sent to the grocery we could, and did, haul our purchases home in the wagon.

When fall arrived Father gave his permission for Mayne to register at Drury College and hoped that his ambition for an education had been aroused (he was only seventeen;) but Brother’s thirst was for the lighter pleasures, and he had such a jolly time in college that Father and Mother worried more than ever. That was the winter that he had his first love affair. He had always had a string of girls, chosen largely because of their good looks, but Emma Bennett struck deeper. Emma’s grandfather was governor of Arizona at the time her family moved to a big house two blocks below us on State Street and Emma was devastatingly handsome with soft brown eyes and stylish bangs. Calorie charts were unknown. They liked their ladies plump back in the ‘eighties,’ and Emma had curves as dangerous as Ozark roads.

Mary and I had heard of her. Lilly teased Mayne sometimes and we picked up fragments of information that were exciting. Dolmans were the style. (Dolmans were wraps with huge armholes and open sleeves through which the wearer could withdraw her arms.) Emma had a brocaded velvet one that fairly exuded sophistication. She was an ingratiating Juno and as she walked past our house, smiled at Mary and me. She probably did so because we were Maynard’s little sisters though at the time we had no notion of her identity. As she passed, her arms were always inside the Dolman. We thought she had none. Waves of pity rolled over us.

One day as Brother walked with her home from college he brought her into the house to meet Mother. As she entered the room Mary and I exchanged glances. It was the lady without arms.

“Emma, this is my mother,” Maynard said, and out through the Dolman sleeve came a hand.

“I’m very glad to meet Maynard’s mother,” she said and that was that. Mary and I collapsed on the floor.

“We thought you didn’t have any arms,” we shrieked with delight.

Mary and I continued to be interested in Emma as the attachment between her and Brother settled down to one of genuine affection. She painted a cravat for him. It was of beige colored satin and she decorated it with blue forget-me-nots. In loyalty he wore it a few times but Lilly’s teasing was so persistent that he finally hid the tie in his bureau drawer.

“What, you’re not wearied of the forget-me-nots!” Lilly would archly remark and with a flush he would reply, “Oh, no, I just thought I’d have a change.”

When it became too tender a point in answer to her query he said, “No, I’ve thrown it away.”

Then after he left for college she would go through his things, unearth it and lay it out on his dresser. That tie had more lies told about it than Bluebeard had wives. It was said to have been thrown from the train into a field of daisies, left in hotels, only to bob up serenely among Brother’s keepsakes where it was preserved for years.

With Lilly in high school and Mayne in college Mother and Father’s palpitations multiplied. They spent hours canvassing the perils of youth, which the coming of spring only intensified. Father left on a trip to Arkansas and after prayer had been resorted to, Mother had an idea. Uncle Dave still lived on his farm near Clinton. He would help them. With anxiety sitting on her shoulder, she took up her pearl-handled pen and began to write. It took most of the night but time was cheap and the soft air from outdoors and the pouring out of her troubles quieted her. She wrote:

My dear Brother Dave and Ann,

It is a long time since I have written to or heard from you directly and I presume you will be considerably surprised at getting this letter and more perhaps at its contents. I know you will not be offended and I therefore write with freedom and confidence. I am asking a favor and I hope that you will not say no unless you must.

You know Maynie is a big boy now, larger than his father. He has been in school most of his lifetime since he was eight years old and is above average in his studies but does not evince the avidity that his father wishes and thinks necessary in order to obtain a fine liberal education. He does not burn a drop of midnight oil in the pursuit of knowledge as a great many successful, and most of our self-made men, have done. He says himself that he does not wish to be a professional man, and if that is so, it is a waster of time and money to enforce a classical education upon him.

His father has lost patience with him that he does not embrace the grand opportunities of the age, and walk in the almost too royal road to learning, which the facilities, the methods and helps of the day have so improved. I am afraid we value a thing in proportion to the difficulty we have in attaining it. Still Maynie is young and may change his mind.

I think he has come to that place which comes to most boys and girls too, when it is necessary for them to sit at some other table and around some other hearthstone than the ones at home; when they feel the restraint of paternal authority irksome and hard, and long to be free. It is the age when some boys run away from home but I cannot bring myself to consent to Maynie’s going among strangers.

Please do not gather from my letter that Maynie is a bad boy. He is not. He is mischievous but he has no bad tastes or tendencies; is very fond of reading and has no liking for wishy-washy books either. He goes in good company (the best that there is here) and never loafs around nights, has never wanted to. He never uses tobacco in any form, nor liquor, and is not going to until he is twenty-one. That I believe. He has a great many warm friends who feel a deep interest in him and think him a boy of considerable promise. It does seem as though he is the material for a man above the average. You see the charge is a sacred one.

If by the end of vacation he becomes thoroughly anxious to go to school again and makes up his mind what he wants to do, we will consider it, and nothing would give Humphrey more pleasure than to see that he was resolved to study hard and get an education. I wish I could talk this over with you and get your ideas on the subject. When you do see him please tell us exactly what you think of him.

I know many smart boys who have made utter failures as men, and it has so often seemed to me to be the fault of their training. Humphrey is in Arkansas and I feared to wait until he returned, for school closes next week. I think he will endorse me in the main for we have talked and talked and hope for great results for a change.

Maynie will give you the news of our family. I hope you will write to us right away and that you will not say no.

Your loving sister,


A reply arrived posthaste. Briefly, it said, “Send him along.”

(There was really nothing else for Uncle Dave to do.)

So when college closed, in the company of the Middelkoff boys who were in his class, Brother took the train for Clinton, leaving an immense hole in the family.

Mother had thought that she would cease to worry once Brother was not at the table annoying Father with his care-free spirit but letters came occasionally and she found the strain continued. Finally, Father bought her a ticket to Clinton and since I was still a half-farer I went along for a weekend at the farm. We found Maynard thriving. The field-mice and the furrows didn’t seem to mind his high spirits and Mother was satisfied with her experiment.

(I was so pleased with the outlook that I picked a gorgeous bouquet of chigger-flowers for Mother and being ignorant of both botany and entomology, the chiggers had a feast and Mother had a polka-dotted child.)

After such a climax we were content to return to urban life.

The summer did not succeed however in arousing Mayne’s ambition. He was willing but not eager to return to college. Father and he had long interviews that tired them both but arrived nowhere. Father had a way of asking, “If I will agree to do so and so what will you promise etc., etc.,”

Brother finally agreed to do his best and returned to college.

Father was so exacting all through that winter and spring that Brother decided to get a position and go to work permanently. Two years of college would have to suffice. Through friends he secured a position in the Railway Mail Service and was assigned to a run between Memphis and Kansas City. He liked the new work. He had several days lay-off in Memphis at the end of each run but he preferred to come home instead so that most of his time was spent riding the rails.

Winter seldom lingered in Springfield and spring was never far behind. When her catkinned emissaries cast the potent spell on bees and birds and lethargic minds opened to green hopes, Brother proffered an invitation that boosted me to the top of the world.

“How would you and Mommy like to go to Memphis with me next week?” he asked at the breakfast table, one morning.

Can we, Mommy?” I implored, and Mother’s “We’ll see.” was reassuring. Mayne and I had always been devoted to each other. I kept watch over his girlfriends while he was out of town. When he came home from his run at midnight I would sit up in bed and regale him with gossip I had collected in his absence with news of the brown-eyed lovelies appropriately headlined.

The train for Memphis left at night. A ride on a train was a treat but at night there was no opportunity to see the countryside gallop by so my first excitement was in the hotel. Our hotel in Springfield was the typical commerical inn, untouched by the prismatic splendor of crystal and gold that the Peabody Hotel flaunted before our eyes. The black and white of waiters and linen pleasantly shocked itself on the negative of my mind. Waiters danced attendance, bibbed me with a junior tablecloth, and brought a footstool for my abbreviated legs.

Brother accepted the waiter’s recommendation as to food. And we consumed so much time that we had to hurry to get to the theatre in time.

The Peabodys seemed to have done well by Memphis. The theatre was also their gift. I had never been in a metropolitan theatre. Our own we called an opera house and it consisted of a long hall with a stage at one end, the whole on the second floor of a store and utterly prosaic. There ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ with its ‘man-eating bloodhounds,’ ‘Little Eva in Heaven,’ and the ‘beautiful gates ajar’ had stirred my budding sympathies. The front of the Opera House was labeled - ‘I-O-O-F’ - which I read one hundred feet. I was grown up before I learned that this building had been built by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

We arrived at the Peabody theatre just as the curtain rose, and I had my first glimpse of boxes. Mother had described them to me but having had experience only with those used as containers I had tried to picture a sort of piano box perched in midair. The sight of draperied canopies burgeoning from the sidewalls made me goggle-eyed. I had never heard an orchestra either.

The show was vaudeville and all I remember is Billy Scanlan. Billy was giving the song of ‘Peek-a-boo’ its premiere, and since I was the only child in the audience and seated in the third row, he made me the center of his act. The audience stared and I loved it. I was self-conscious but not at all insensible to the implied flattery and when I returned to Springfield the experience grew in importance. I regaled my ‘local’ friends with the recital of my experience with elaborate gestures.

Maynard’s connection with the mail service continued for a lengthy period. On rainy or icy nights Mother would look out the window and say, “This is a bad night on Hoosecup Hill.”

Then she would sigh, for when the train wheels slid on the rails, accidents were more likely and Mother never forgot that her first-born would be throwing the mail as it sped along in the night.

Before Mayne resigned from the mail service he gave me my first paying job. In his task of assorting letters while the train was in motion, each piece was thrown in a particular sack. It was necessary in bulking it into separate bunches to put a marker on each one to indicate its destination. The marker was merely a slip on which was written the name of the town for which it was destined. As a child I wrote a legible hand and was awarded a five-dollar goldpiece as a prize by the Board of Education. So Brother conceived the idea to offer me a certain sum to write markers for an entire run; he gave me a batch of slips and a detailed list. From that moment my leisure was at an end. Whenever I had an insatiate desire to do something, imaginary slips insinuated themselves between me and my play until for peace of mind I would return to my calligraphic task. When Maynard’s friend heard of the scheme they too engaged me. Making money was something I had not expected to do until I was of age. It was like manna from heaven, and netted me money enough to buy several Alcott books.

One day when I had delivered several packets to the mail clerks at the train, one of the boys (Ben Gravelly) said, “How would you like some money, Una?”

I blushed and then overcome by shyness ran down the platform. My sandals lifted the dust and I never stopped until I was several blocks away. Ben was highly amused and the next time he saw me, called me over and put his arm around me.

“Now, let me give you a piece of advice, Una,” he said.

“When someone offers you money, take it. Never run away from cash, especially when you have earned it. Collect it when it’s offered or you may come off short sometime.”

Since that day a trail of teachers, doctors, lawyers, composers and wise friends have put a figurative arm around me and, like Ben Gravelly, proffered fruits of their experience, that I might have a richer life. At the moment of their bestowal I had too little understanding to evaluate these gifts, that ranged from rosy apples to railroad passes and from summer vacations to scholarships. Once the editor of a Chicago newspaper offered to take me under his wing and train me to be an editor, after I had served him as a music critic. I was barely twenty at the time and it was only on the occasion of his death twenty-five years later, when distinguished leaders paid tribute to his achievements, that I full realized the magnanimity of the kindly editor’s offer.

Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - 1876-1949)

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father

Chapter 3 - Dartmouth

Chapter 4 - Killolog

Chapter 5 - America

Chapter 6 - Arrival

Chapter 7 - Gracious Living

Chapter 8 - I Am Born

Chapter 9 - My Name

Chapter 10 - Neighbors

Chapter 11 - The Cyclone

Chapter 12 - The Old cemetery

Chapter 13 - Music

Chapter 14 - Religion

Chapter 15 - The Circuit

Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1

Chapter 17 - Pageantry

Chapter 18 - Mommy

Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks

Chapter 20 - Decoration

Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals

Chapter 22 - Episode

Chapter 23 - Barn Life

Chapter 24 - Vanities

Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow

Chapter 26 - New Horizons

Chapter 27 - Disciplines

Chapter 28 - An Experimenter

Chapter 29 - Health

Chapter 30 - Murder

Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings

Chapter 32 - Charm

Chapter 33 - Problems

Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.

Chapter 35 - The Wedding

Chapter 36 - At Home

Chapter 37 - Cross Currents

Chapter 38 - A Baby

Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston

Chapter 40 - The Visitor

Chapter 41 - Buffetings

Chapter 42 - Agenda

Chapter 43 - David

Chapter 44 - Exit





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