My family and I have always tried to be together. In whatever situation, place, time, in happiness or in sadness, we have been together and that's something I thank God for! My whole life I studied in a Christian School in Colombia. It was a big part of my life and that was where I started to get to know God better. God helped me go through different situations and that was when a wonderful love for God was born in me. I started to have a thankful heart for what He has done for me on the Cross, Just as He gave His life for me, I decided to give mine to Him.
And this picture is just a proof of that. God has led me to leading worship bands in singing and playing piano. These are some of my favorites things to do. We are a meaning-making species. We make meaning by finding patterns. We go to the origins and trace our way to the present in an effort to unravel understanding. This process of tracing—of narrative creating—is innate. Because of this innateness, this impulse for story, I find the need to understand my own. So I ask this question: How has story impacted my own life? Like most, my earliest memory of story comes in the form of tales I was told at bedtime.
However, more than anything, I thrived off of stories that my mom would tell me from her own life, specifically her childhood. Stories about school and cooking and her insistence on regularly rearranging the furniture in her house. These are my origin stories. My love for stories started to grow. In first grade, we regularly had story time. I still have a clear image of sitting on the carpet at the front of the room while my teacher, seated on chair so she was taller than all of us, carefully annunciated all of the words that strung together into tales about bears and chickens and kids and life.
While some students got lost in this story time—vicariously transported into worlds other than their own—I saw this time as a springboard for writing my own stories.
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When I was six years old, I came home from school and told my parents that I wanted to write books. They were pleasantly helpful and encouraging. This is the first time that I consciously remember writing. When I was twelve years old, I got my first mp3 player. This took story writing to a new level. Music offered a backdrop to the narratives in my head. In my daydreams, I have written an uncountable amount of stories. My narratives had changed since my first writing endeavours: my protagonists were now young adults who faced challenges in the field of romance, friendship, academics, and ballet.
In many ways, I consider these my meaning-making years. I learned a lot about myself through the stories in my head. When I got to university, I became immersed in a community of people who also loved to write. My stories were given a platform. Not only was I encouraged to write, writing became a daily expectation. My university years were some of the most tumultuous years of my life. I learned about myself and my craft and my field and my world.
It was transformative. Still, here am I sitting down, with the mists already gathering about my head, to write about the people, desires, disappointments and despairs that have moved me in my brief stay on what we are pleased to call this earth. Doubtless, too, the emotion to live makes most of us seek to project our personality a short distance beyond the waiting grave.
But whatever the reason may be, I am doing what many, many men have done before, and will do again--talking and gossiping about the past. I am doing this as a boy plays baseball by the hour or dances through the night. I am doing it because all living things crave activity, and I am still alive.
Whether the movement is a journey around the globe or an unsteady walk from the bedroom to the dining room and back, it is but a response to what is left of the emotions, appetites and energies that we call being. The young man's reflections of unfolding life concern the future--the great, broad, tempestuous sea on whose hither shore he stands eagerly waiting to learn of other lands and climes. The reactions and recollections of the old concern the stormy journey drawing to a close; he no longer builds castles or plans conquests of the unknown; he recalls the tempests and tumults encountered on the way, and babbles of the passengers and crew that one by one dropped silently into the icy depths.
No longer does the aging transient yearn for new adventures or unexplored highways. His greatest ambition is to find some snug harbor where he can doze and dream the fleeting days away. So, elderly men who speak or write turn to autobiography. This is all they have to tell, and they cannot sit idly in silence and wait for the night to come.
Autobiography is never entirely true. No one can get the right perspective on himself. Every fact is colored by imagination and dream. The young look forth across the sea to a mirage of fairylands filled with hidden treasures; the aged turn to the fading past, and through the mist and haze that veils once familiar scenes, bygone events assume weird and fanciful proportions. Almost forgotten men, women and children reappear along the far-off shore, and their shadows are reflected back in dimmed or magnified outlines in the softly setting sun.
Then, too, all human egos, and perhaps other egos, place prime importance upon themselves; each is the centre of the great circle around which all else revolves; no one can see and feel in any other way. Although all intelligent people realize that they are as nothing in the procession that is ever moving on, yet we cannot but feel that when we are dead the parade will no longer move. So while we can still vibrate with tongue and pen and with every manifestation of our beings, we instinctively shout to the crowd to pause and for a little time turn their eyes and ears toward us.
That is what I am doing now, and am doing it because I have nothing else to do. I am doing it because it helps topass away the time that still remains. I know that life consists of the impressions made upon the puppet as it moves across the stage. I shall endeavor not to magnify the manikin. I am interested not in the way that I have fashioned the world, but in the way that the world has moulded me. I hope that no one will turn from this book for fear it is sad and will make him unhappy. I am not an optimist in the ordinary sense of the word.
I can tell of my life only as I see it, but I fancy that the story will not be unduly serious or tragic. I have never taken any one very seriously, and least of all myself. I am not trying to teach any moral or point any way. The billions on billions of humans that have come upon the stage, made their bow, and then retired beyond the scenes, have one and all played the same part. One and all they, for a time, have taken a distinctive form and name, and then disappeared forever. One and all, they have known joys and sorrows, and most of them are now lost in sleep and oblivion.
My life has not been sad, and as the end approaches it brings no sorrow.
When the evening hours have crept on I have always looked forward with satisfaction, if not pleasure, to the night of rest; a space of time with no consciousness to mar the peace and serenity of the void between the evening and the coming dawn. So, to-day, after a long life of work and play and joy and sorrow, I am fully aware of the friendly night that is stealing on apace. The inevitable destiny brings no fear or pain, so why should others be saddened by what I have to tell? One cannot live through a long stretch of years without forming some philosophy of life. As one journeys along he gains experiences and even some ideas.
Accumulated opinions and philosophy may be more important to others than the bare facts about how he lived, so my ambition is not so much to relate the occurrences as to record the ideas that life has forced me to accept; and, after all, thoughts, impressions and feelings are really life itself. I should like to think that these reflections might make existence a trifle easier for some of those who may chance to read this story. As I have already said, my father's ancestors were rebels and traitors who took up arms against Great Britain in the War of the Revolution.
It is easy for me to believe that my father came of rebel stock; at least he was always in rebellion against religious and political creeds of the narrow and smug community in which he dwelt. But ancestors do not mean so much. The rebel who succeeds generally makes it easier for the posterity that follows him; so these descendants are usually contented and smug and soft. Rebels are made from life, not ancestors. My father, in his early life, was a religious man.
He was born into the Methodist Church. This indicates that he came of plebeian stock, for there were also an Episcopalian and a Presbyterian Church in the little town. Either his parents were too humble for one of these aristocratic temples, or, perhaps my grandfather was converted at a Methodist revival, which was one of the affairs to go to, even after I was born. My father had a serious but kindly face. In his leisure hours he was always poring over books. I wish I knew more about his youth; it might furnish some interesting data as to the development of the family and the pranks of heredity and environment.
He was one of seven children who came with their father to eastern Ohio, which was then almost a frontier land. The family must have been very poor, and their means of existence precarious in those early days, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. When a boy, I knew most of my uncles and aunts; they seemed fairly intelligent, but I cannot remember ever seeing a book in the house of any member of my father's family excepting in my father's home.
Not only were there no books in my grandfather's house, but there were practically none anywhere in the community. One of my earliest recollections is the books in our home. They were in bookcases, on tables, on chairs, and even on the floor. The house was small, the family large, the furnishings meagre, but there were books whichever way one turned.
How my father managed to buy the books I cannot tell. Neither by nature nor by training had he any business ability or any faculty for getting money. My mother's father was a fairly prosperous farmer. Neither he nor any of his family were church attendants. Out of the five or six children, my mother alone cared especially for books. Her family were substantial people of fair intelligence, but were inclined to believe that a love of books was a distinct weakness, and likely to develop into a very bad habit. One who spent his time reading or studying when he might be at work was "shiftless" and improvident.
Benjamin Franklin's Almanac, with its foolish lessons about industry and thrift, was the gospel of the family. Aside from one uncle who seemed fairly well-informed, I do not remember that a single one of my mother's brothers and sisters cared at all for books. Of my father's children, seven of us grew to mature years, and all but one had a liking for reading and learning; most of us would leave almost any sort of work or amusement to spend our time with books.
How did it come about that of my father's family he alone, out of seven or eight, had any thirst for learning? And why was it that of my mother's family she was the only one that cared for books? And why did it happen that of the children of my father and mother all but one always had an abiding love for reading? Of the group interwoven with my father's early life, why had he alone that overwhelming desire for books? Was it imparted to him through the seed from which he grew? Was heredity the cause? Apparently his father did not care for books, and certainly conveyed no fondness for learning to his other sons and daughters.
My grandparents on both sides each reared one child who in the yearning for education seemed as strangers to the rest. I know nothing of my great-grandparents, but they must have been still more obscure. Is there any reason for speculating upon some possible spark of life from some unknown and improbable outside source? In my parents' offspring, the case was reversed; but the problem is the same; one child cared nothing for the intellectual life, and all the others prized books.
If I knew my father's and mother's childhood associates I might find that some companion or school teacher at the right time kindled the quenchless flame in their young minds; but of this I have no knowledge. It is clear that both my parents, who met at school, away from home, had already shown a bent for study; and this was doubtless nurtured by the school.
They married, and their zest for books was a part of the new home life, and we children were brought up in an atmosphere of books, and were trained to love them. It is easier for me to believe that our taste for them came from our early environment than that it was carried down in the germ-plasm of which so little is really known. Why did one brother not care at all for books? Who can tell? He was older than I, and of course I did not know his closest friends or when some alien influence might have entered and moulded his life.
It seems reasonable to believe that by some intervention at a critical period he was led into another direction that perhaps changed the whole tenor of his nature and his life. Soon after the marriage of my father and mother they went to Meadville, Penna. My father chose Meadville on account of Allegheny College, a Methodist institution, located in the town.
I know nothing of how they lived. I should have known, but, long before I ever thought of beguiling my last years with a story of my life, the lips which could have spoken were closed forever. It would be hopeless to search for the happenings and doings of an obscure man. My father must have undergone great privations. He graduated from the college, where my two sisters received diplomas later on. He was still religious. His religion was born from a sensitive nature that made him pity the sad and suffering, and which, first and last, tied him to every hopeless cause that came his way.
On another elevation was a Unitarian seminary, and in the town was a Unitarian Church. Both my parents must have strayed to this church, for when my father's time had come to take a theological course he went to the Unitarian school in Meadville, on the other hill from the Methodist college, where he took his first degree. In due time he completed his theological course, but when he had finished his studies he found that he had lost his faith. Even the mild tenets of Unitarianism he could not accept. Unitarianism, then, was closer to Orthodoxy than it is to-day, or he might have been a clergyman and lived an easier life.
His trend of mind was shown by the fact that his first son was Edward Everett. When it came my turn to be born and named, my parents had left the Unitarian faith behind and were sailing out on the open sea without a rudder or compass, and with no port in sight, and so I could not be named after any prominent Unitarian. Where they found the name to which I have answered so many years I never knew. Perhaps my mother read a story where a minor character was called Clarence, but I fancy I have not turned out to be anything like him.
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The one satisfaction I have had in connection with this cross was that the boys never could think up any nickname half so inane as the real one my parents adorned me with. Some years before I was born my parents left Meadville and moved back to the little village of Kinsman, about twenty miles away. I have no idea why they made this change, unless because my father's sister lived in Kinsman.
All life hangs on a thread, so long as it hangs; a little movement this way or that is all-controlling. So I cannot tell why I was born on the 18th of April in , or why the obscure village of Kinsman was the first place in which I beheld the light of day. When I was born the village must have boasted some four or five hundred inhabitants, and its importance and vitality is evident because it has held its own for seventy-five years or more.
If any one wants to see the place he must search for the town, for in spite of the fact that I was born there it has never been put on the map. But in truth, Kinsman is a quiet, peaceful and picturesque spot. Almost any one living in its vicinity will inform the stranger that it is well worth visiting, if one happens to be near.
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The landscape is gently rolling, the soil is fertile, beautiful shade trees line the streets, and a lazy stream winds its way into what to us boys was the far-off unknown world. Years ago the deep places of the stream were used for swimming-holes, and the shores were favorite lounging-places for boys dangling their fishing-lines above the shaded waters.
There I spent many a day expectantly waiting for a bite. I recall few fishesthat ever rewarded my patience; but this never prevented my haunting the famous pools and watching where the line disappeared into the mysterious unfathomed depths. The dominating building in Kinsman was the Presbyterian Church, which stood on a hill and towered high above all the rest.
On Sunday the great bell clanged across the surrounding country calling all the people to come and worship under its sheltering roof. Loudly it tolled at the death of every one who died in the Lord. Its measured tones seemed cold and solemn while the funeral procession was moving up the hillside where the departed was to be forevermore protected under the shadow of the church. If I had chosen to be born I probably should not have selected Kinsman, Ohio, for that honor; instead, I would have started in a hard and noisy city where the crowds surged back and forth as if they knew where they were going, and why.
And yet my mind continuously returns to the old place, although not more than fiveor six that were once my schoolmates are still outside the churchyard gate. My mind goes back to Kinsman because I lived there in childhood, and to me it was once the centre of the world, and however far I have roamed since then it has never fully lost that place in the storehouse of miscellaneous memories gathered along the path of life.
I have never been able to visualize the early history of my parents. Not only had they no money, but no occupation; and under those conditions they began the accumulation of a family of children which ultimately totalled eight. These were born about two years apart. I was the fifth, but one before me died in infancy; it is evident that my parents knew nothing of birth-control, for they certainly could not afford so many doubtful luxuries. Perhaps my own existence, as fifth in a family, is one reason why I never have been especially enthusiastic about keeping others from being born; whenever I hear people discussing birth-control I always remember that I was the fifth.
All his life my father was a visionary and dreamer. Even when he sorely needed money he would neglect his work to read some book. My mother was more efficient and practical. She was the one who saved the family from dire want. Her industry and intelligence were evident in her household affairs and in my father's small business, too. In spite of this, she kept abreast of the thought of her day. She was an ardent woman's-rights advocate, as they called the advanced woman seventy years ago.
Both she and my father were friends of all oppressed people, and every new and humane and despised cause and ism. Neither of my parents held any orthodox religious views. They were both readers of Jefferson, Voltaire, and Paine; both looked at revealed religion as these masters thought. And still, we children not only went to Sunday school but were encouraged to attend.
Almost every Sunday our mother took us to the church, and our pew was too near the minister to permit our slipping out while the service was going on. I wonder why children are taken to church? Or perhaps they are not, nowadays. I can never forget the horror and torture of listening to an endless sermon when I was a child.
Of course I never understood a word of it, any more than did the preacher who harangued to his afflicted audiences. At Sunday school I learned endless verses from the Testaments. I studied the lesson paper as though every word had a meaning and was true. I sang hymns that I remember to this day. Among these was one in which each child loudly shouted "I want to be an angel! As a boy I sang it often and earnestly, but in spite of my stout and steady insistence that I wanted to wear wings, here I am, at seventy-five, still fighting to stay on earth.
On religious and social questions our family early learned to stand alone. My father was the village infidel, and gradually came to glory in his reputation. Within a radius of five miles were other "infidels" as well, and these men formed a select group of their own. We were not denied association with the church members; the communicants of the smaller churches were our friends. For instance, there was a Catholic society that met at the home of one of its adherents once in two or three weeks, and between them and our family there grew up a sort of kinship. We were alike strangers in a more or less hostile land.
Although my father was a graduate of a theological seminary when he settled in Kinsman, he could not and would not preach. He must have been puzzled and perplexed at the growing brood that looked so trustingly to the parents for food and clothes. He must have wearily wondered which way to turn to be able to meet the demand. He undertook the manufacture and sale of furniture. His neighbors and the farmers round about were the customers with whom he dealt. Even now when I go back to Kinsman I am shown chairs and bedsteads that he made.
He must have done honest work, for it has been more than fifty years since he laid down his tools. Now and then some old native shows me a bed or table or chair said to have been made by me in those distant days, but though I never contradict the statement, but rather encourage it instead, I am quite sure that the claim is more than doubtful.
Besides being a furniture maker, my father was the undertaker of the little town. I did not know it then, but I now suppose that the two pursuits went together in small settlements in those days. I know that the sale of a coffin meant much more to him and his family than any piece of furniture that he could make.
My father was as kind and gentle as any one could possibly be, but I always realized his financial needs and even when very young used to wonder in a cynical way whether he felt more pain or pleasure over the death of a neighbor or friend. Any pain he felt must have been for himself, and the pleasure that he could not crowd aside must have come for the large family that looked to him for bread. I remember the coffins piled in one corner of the shop, and I always stayed as far away from them as possible, which I have done ever since.
Neither did I ever want to visit the little shop after dark. All of us boys had a weird idea about darkness, anyhow. The night was peopled with ghosts and the wandering spirits of those who were dead. Along two sides of the graveyard was a substantial fence between that and the road, and we always ran when we passed the white stones after dusk.
No doubt early teaching is responsible for these foolish fears. Much of the terror of children would be avoided under sane and proper training, free of all fable and superstition. My mother died when I was very young, and my remembrance of her is not very clear. It is sixty years since she laid down the hard burden that fate and fortune had placed upon her shoulders. Since that far-off day this loving, kindly, tireless and almost nameless mother has been slowly changed in Nature's laboratory into flowers and weeds and trees and dust.
Her gravestone stands inside the white fence in the little country town where I was born, and beside her lies a brother who died in youth. I have been back to the old village and passed the yard where she rests forever, but only once have gone inside the gate since I left my old home so long ago.
Somehow it is hard for me to lift the latch or go down the walk or stand at the marble slab which marks the spot where she was laid away.
Still I know that in countless ways her work and teaching, her mastering personality, and her infinite kindness and sympathy have done much to shape my life. My father died only twenty-five years ago. He is not buried in the churchyard at Kinsman. The same process of the reduction of the body to its elements has gone on with him as with my mother. But in her case it has come about through accumulating years; with him it was accomplished more quickly in the fiery furnace of the crematorium and his ashes were given to his children and were wafted to the winds.
Who am I--the man who has lived and retained this special form of personality for so many years? Aside from the strength or weakness of my structure, I am mainly the product of my mother, who helped to shape the wanton instincts of the child, and of the gentle, kindly, loving, human man whose presence was with me for so many years that I could not change, and did not want to change.
Since then a brother and sister, Everett and Mary, have passed into eternal sleep and have gone directly through the fiery furnace and their ashes are strewn upon the sands. I know that it can be but a short time until I shall go the way of all who live; I cannot honestly say that I want to be cremated, but I am sure that I prefer this method of losing my identity to any other I might choose. The memory pictures of the first fifteen years of life that drift back to me now are a medley of all sorts of things, mainly play and school. Never was there a time when I did not like to go to school.
I always welcomed the first day of the term and regretted the last. The school life brought together all the children of the town. These were in the main simple and democratic. The study hours, from nine to four, were broken by two recesses of fifteen minutes each and the "nooning" of one hour which provided an ideal chance to play. It seems to me that one unalloyed joy in life, whether in school or vacation time, was baseball. The noon time gave us a fairly good game each day. The long summer evenings were often utilized as well, but Saturday afternoon furnished the only perfect pleasure we ever knew.
Whether we grew proficient in our studies or not, we enjoyed renown in our community for our skill in playing ball. Saturday afternoons permitted us to visit neighboring towns to play match games, and be visited by other teams in return. I have snatched my share of joys from the grudging hand of Fate as I have jogged along, but never has life held for me anything quite so entrancing as baseball; and this, at least, I learned at district school.
When we heard of the professional game in which men cared nothing whatever for patriotism but only for money--games in which rival towns would hire the best players from a natural enemy--we could scarcely believe the tale was true. No Kinsman boy would any more give aid and comfort to a rival town than would a loyal soldier open a gate in the wall to let an enemy march in. We could not play when the snow was on the ground, but Kinsman had ponds and a river, and when the marvellous stream overran its banks it made fine skating in the winter months. Then there were the high hills; at any rate, they seemed high to me, and the spring was slower in coming than in these degenerate days, it seemed.
To aid us in our sports there was a vast amount of snow and ice for the lofty, swift slides downhill, and few experiences have brought keener enjoyment, which easily repaid us for the tedious tug back to the top.
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I am not at all sure about the lessons that I learned in school, but I do know that we got a great deal of fun between the study hours, and I have always been glad that I took all the play I could as it came along. But I am quite sure that I learned something, too. I know that I began at the primer and read over and over the McGuffey readers, up to the sixth, while at the district school. I have often wondered if there was such a man as Mr. McGuffey and what he looked like.
To me his name suggested side-whiskers which, in Kinsman, meant distinction. I never could understand how he learned so much and how he could have been so good. I am sure that no set of books ever came from any press that was so packed with love and righteousness as were those readers. Their religious and ethical stories seem silly now, but at that time it never occurred to me that those tales were utterly impossible lies which average children should easily have seen through. McGuffey furnished us many choice and generally poetical instructions on conduct and morals.
And the same sort were found in other books, also. I remember one that I used to declaim, but I do not recall the book where it was found; this was an arraignment of the tobacco habit. It is not unlikely that this gem had something to do with the Methodist Church not permitting a man who smokes to be ordained as a preacher. Anyhow, I haven't heard of or seen this choice bit of literature and morals for sixty years, but here it is, as I remember it:.
The girls made their hatred of liquor just as clear, although I do not recall their words, but I do know the title of one recitation. The name carried a threat to all of us boys, declaring:. From what I see and hear of the present generation I should guess that Doctor McGuffey and his ilk lived in vain. I am inclined to think that I had the advantage of most of the boys and girls, for, as I have said, my home was well supplied with books, and my father was eager that all of us should learn.
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He watched our studies with the greatest care and diligently elaborated and supplemented whatever we absorbed in school. No one in town had an education anywhere near so thorough as his education that hard work and rigorous self-denial had afforded him.
I am never certain whether I have accomplished much or little. This depends entirely upon what comparisons I make. Judged with relation to my father, who reared so large a family and gave us all so good an education from the skimpy earnings of a little furniture store in a country town, I feel that my life has been unproductive indeed.
How he did it I cannot understand. It must have been due largely to the work and management of my mother, who died before I was old enough to comprehend. But from the little that I remember, and from all that my older brothers and sisters and the neighbors have told me, I feel that it was her ability and devotion that kept us together, that made so little go so far, and did so much to give my father a chance for the study and contemplation that made up the real world in which he lived.
In all the practical affairs of our life, my mother's hand and brain were the guiding force. Through my mother's good sense my father was able to give his children a glimpse into the realm of ideas and ideals in which he himself really lived. But I must linger no longer at the threshold of life, which has such a magic hold on my conscious being. In due time I finished my studies at the district school, and now, grown to feel myself almost a man, was given newer and larger clothes, and more books, along with which came a little larger vision; and I went to the academy on the hill, and timorously entered a new world.
My eldest brother, Everett, who was always the example for the younger children, was then, by what saving and stinting I cannot tell, pursuing his studies at the University of Michigan; and my oldest sister, Mary, was following close behind. I have not the faintest conception how my father and mother were able to accomplish these miracles, working and planning, saving and managing, to put us through.
Any one who desires to write a story of his ideas and philosophy should omit childhood, for this is sacred ground, and when the old man turns back to that fairyland he lingers until any other undertaking seems in vain. But the first bell in the academy tower has stopped ringing and I must betake myself and my books up the hill. As I entered the academy I was at once aware that I had changed. I had stepped out of childhood, where we were controlled by commands, and had become a youth, where I had some rights.
In all my years at the district school our teachers were women. Now we had a man. It took some time and trial to feel out just how far we dared to run counter to his will, or to act on our own. But we learned, in the true scientific manner, of trial and error, and trial and success. We had left arithmetic behind and had algebra in its place. And instead of our English grammar we now made a bold effort at Latin. We took McGuffey's with us, for the sixth reader was not used in the primary grade.
So we were still pursued by silly, fantastic stories teaching what McGuffey must have thought were moral precepts. But all this did not last long. Then, for the first time, we studied history. Not for any special purpose, or, seemingly, with any end in view, but it was necessary that we put in the time. We still had baseball.
We now were older and stronger and more fleet of foot, and took more pride in the way we played. Most of the games in the district school were far beneath our dignity at the academy, but baseball received all the former adoration, and even more. We began to be self-conscious about the girls, but this was quite easily and rapidly overcome. As I look back at my days at the district school and the academy, I cannot avoid a feeling of the appalling waste of time. Never since those days have I had occasion to use much of the arithmetic that I learned.
In fact, only the merest fraction has ever been brought into service. I am satisfied that this is the experience of almost all the boys and girls who went to school when I was young; and as near as I can tell this is true to-day. I began grammar in the grades, and continued it in the high school, but it was a total loss, not only to me but to all the rest. I would be the last to deny the value of a good understanding of some language, but the method of our public school was the poorest and the most expensive for getting that understanding.
For my part, I never could learn grammar, at either the primary or the high school. I have used language extensively all my life, and no doubt have misused it, too; in a way, I have made a living from its use, but I am convinced that I was rather hindered than helped in this direction by the public schools.
I am well aware of my own defects in the use of language and have always tried, and still try, to correct my shortcomings in this respect, but with only indifferent success. Most of the rules for grammar and pronunciation are purely arbitrary. Any one who makes any pretense of observation and experience cannot fail to note the differences in the forms of speech and pronunciation in different countries and in various sections of each country.
The correct use of words can only come from environment and habit, and all of this must be learned in childhood from the family or associates, otherwise it will not be known. Committing rules represents only feats of memory that have no effect on speech.
Memorizing history is likewise of no avail. We learned the names of presidents and kings, of the generals, of the chief wars, and those accidents that had been accepted as the great events of the world; but none of it had any relation to our lives. We studied Roman, Greek, and Egyptian histories, and then took English, French, and German, too, but all of the happenings had a dreary far-off setting that was no part of the world and time in which we lived.
To us they meant nothing but dry and musty dates and proper names. Even dates did not connect us with the events of their day. Ira Meacham, then the oldest citizen in Kinsman, seemed as far away in the past and as detached from us as Noah and his adventures with some kind of boat and cargo of animals and equally alien to our time and place. In youth, and probably in later life, everything back of our own existence seems weird and unreal and far removed from the life that we know.
Attempting to store the brain with unrelated facts and matters entirely irrelevant to the present is worse than useless, for it confuses and distorts. As I look back at the district school and the academy, I plainly see the boys and girls that gathered at the ringing of the bell.
They were the children of the men and women of Kinsman and the territory just outside. Most of these families were farmers. Next in number were the small shop-keepers. There were two or three blacksmiths, a stone-cutter, a tinner, a carpenter, a few laborers, two doctors, two or three preachers, and a dentist.
Few of these had ever been far from home, and all knew next to nothing of the outside world. Most of their children followed in their steps. Very few of these laughing, boasting boys and girls ever left the old village, and almost none were drawn into any broader or different fields than their parents knew before. None of them ever found any practical use for what they learned, or tried to learn at school beyond ordinary reading and writing.
The exceptions who aspired to other avenues were moved by some inner or outer urge and specially prepared for their future course of life. Schools probably became general and popular because parents did not want their children about the house all day. The school was a place to send them to get them out of the way. If, perchance, they could learn something it was so much to the good.
Colleges followed the schools for the same reason. These took charge of the boy at a time when he could be of little or no use at home, and was only a burden and a care. All established institutions are very slow to change. The defects of schools and colleges have been discussed for many years, and the lines of a rational and worth-while education have been developed to take their place, but still the old-time education with most of the ancient methods persists and flourishes yet. It is worse than useless to try to make scholars of the great majority of boys and girls.
In fact, scholarship as it is understood is not so necessary to life as people have been taught to believe. Man does not live by books alone. Indeed, they fill a very small part of the life of even those who know how to read. Schools were not established to teach and encourage the pupil to think; beyond furnishing a place for keeping the children out of the way, their effort was to cement the minds of pupils according to certain moulds.
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The teachers were employed to teach the truth, and the most important truth concerned the salvation of their souls. From the first grade to the end of the college course they were taught not to think, and the instructor who dared to utter anything in conflict with ordinary beliefs and customs was promptly dismissed, if not destroyed. Even now there are very few schools that encourage the young or the old to think out questions for themselves.