Search This Blog

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Cheaper By the Dozen

All of you probably know the movie, Cheaper By the Dozen. Well the year before last, while studying American history, I read the book. The book is actually really different from the movie and I really enjoyed reading it. The best thing is that it's actually true, and written by one of the sons and one of the daughters. Anyway, I thought I'd type out a fragment of it (A bit out of one of the chapters) and after reading that, perhaps you'll want to read the book. (I highly suggest it, it's fantastic)

When guests weren't present, Dad worked at improving our table manners. Whenever a child within his reach took too large a mouthful of food, Dad's knuckles would descend sharply on the top of the offender's head with a thud that made Mother wince.
'Not on the head, Frank,' she protested in shocked tones. 'For mercy sakes, not on the head!'
Dad paid no attention except when the blow had been unusually hard. In such cases he rubbed his knuckles ruefully and replied:
'Maybe you're right. There must be softer places.'

If the offender was at Mother's end of the table, out of Dad's reach, he'd signal her to administer the skull punishment. Mother, who never disciplined any of us or even threatened discipline, ignored the signals. Dad then would catch the eye of a child sitting near the offender and, by signals, would deputize him to carry out the punishment.
'With my compliments,' Dad would say when the child with the full mouth turned furiously on the one who had knuckled him. 'If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times to cut your your food up into little pieces. How am I going to drive that into your skull?'
'Not on the head,' Mother repeated. 'Mercy, Maud (Which was the closest she ever came to swearing) not on the head!'
Anyone with an elbow on the table might suddenly feel his wrist seized, raised, and jerked downward so that his elbow hit the table hard enough to make the dish dance.
'Not on the elbow, Frank. That's the most sensitive part of the body. Any place but the elbow.'
Mother disapproved of all forms of corporal punishment. She felt, though, that she could achieve better results in the long run by objecting to the part of the anatomy selected for punishment, rather than the punishment itself. Even when Dad administered vitally needed punishment on the conventional area, the area where it is supposed to do the most good, Mother tried to intervene.
'Not on the end of the spine,' she'd say in a voice indicating her belief that Dad was running the risk of crippling us for life. 'For goodness sake, not on the end of the spine!'
'Where , then?' Dad shouted furiously in the middle of one spanking. 'Not on the top of the head, not on the side of the ear, not on the back of the head, not on the back of the neck, not on the elbow, not across the legs, and not on the seat of the pants. Where did you father spank you? Across the soles of the by jingoed feet like the heathen Chinese?'
'Well, not on the end of the spine,' Mother said. 'You can be sure of that.'
Skull-rapping and elbow- thumping became a practice in which everybody in the family, except Mother, participated until Dad deemed our table manners satisfactory. Even the youngest child could mete out the punishment without fear of reprisal. All during meals, we watched each other, and particularly Dad, for an opportunity. Sometimes the one who spotted a perched elbow would sneak out of his chair and walk all the way around the tables so he could catch the offender.
Dad was quite careful about his elbows, but every so often would forget. It was considered a feather in ones cap to thump and elbow. But the ultimate achievement was to thump Dad's. This was considered not just a feather in the cap, but the entire head-dress of a full Indian chief.
When Dad was caught and his elbow thumped, he made a great to-do over it. He grimaced as if in excruciating pain, sucked in air through his teeth and claimed he couldn't use his arm for the remainder of the meal.
Organisationally, he would rest an elbow purposely on the edge of the table and make believe he didn't notice some child who had slipped out of a chair and was tiptoeing toward him. Just as the child was about to reach out and grab the elbow, Dad would slide it into his lap.
'I've got eyes in the back of my head,' Dad would announce.
The would-be thumper, walking disappointed back to his chair, wondered if it wasn't just possible that Dad really did.
Both Dad and Mother tried to impress us that it was our responsibility to make guest feel at home. There were guest for meals almost as often as not, particularly business friends pf Dad's since his office was in the house. There was no formality and no special preparation except a clean napkin and an extra place at the table.
'If a guest is sitting next to you, it's your job to keep him happy, to see that things are passed to him,' Dad kept telling us.
George Isles, a Canadian author, seem to Killian to be an unhappy guest. Mr. Isles was old, and told sad but fascinating stories.
'Once upon a time there was an ancient, poor man who's joints hurt when he moved them, whose doctor wouldn't let him smoke cigars, and who had no little children to love him,' Mr. Isles said. He continued with what seemed to us a tale of overwhelming loneliness, and then concluded:
'And do you know who that old man was?'
We had an idea who it was, but we shook our head and said we didn't. Mr. Isles looked sadder than ever. He slowly raised his forearm and tapped his chest with his forefinger.
'Me,' he said.
Lillian, who was six, was sitting next to Mr. Isles. It was her responsibility to see that he was happy, and she felt somehow she had failed on the job. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his dry, old man's cheek.
'You do, too, have little children who love you,' she said, on the brink of tears. 'You do too!'
Whenever Mr. Isles came to call after that, he always brought one box of candy for Mother and us, and a separate box Lillian. Ernestine used to remark, in a tone tonged with envy, that Lill was probably New Jersey's youngest gold digger, and that few adult gold diggers ever had received more, in return for less.
Dad was an easy-going host, informal and gracious, and we tried to pattern ourselves after him.
'Any more vegetables, Boss?' he'd ask Mother. 'No? Well, how about mashed potatoes? Lots of them. And plenty of lamb. Fine. Well, Sir, I can't offer you any vegetables, but how about.......?'
'Oh, come on, have some more beef,' Frank urged a visiting German engineer. 'After all, you've only had three helpings.'
'There's no need to gobble your grapefruit like a pig,' Fred told a woman professor from Columbia University, who had arrived late and was tryng to catch up with the rest of us. 'If we finish ahead of you, we'll wait until you;re through.'
'I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't pass your dessert until you finish your lima beans,' Dan told a guest on another occasion.
'Daddy won't allow it, and you're my responsibility. Daddy says a Belgian family could live a week on what's thrown away in this house every day.'
'Daddy, do you think what Mr. Fremonville is saying is of general interest?' Lill interrupted a long discourse to ask.
Dad and Mother, and most of the guests, laughed away remarks like these without to much embarrassment. Dad would apologize and explain the family rule involved, and the reason for it. After the guests had gone, Mother would get us together and tell us that while family rules were important, it was even more important to see that guests weren't made uncomfortable.
Sometimes after a meal, Dad's stomach would rumble and when there weren't any guests we'd tease him about it. The next time it rumbled, he'd looked shocked and single out one of us.
'Billy,' he said. 'Please! I'm not in the mood for an organ recital.'
That was your stomach, not mine, Daddy. You can't fool me.'
You children have the noisiest stomach I've ever heard. Don't you think so, Lillie?'
Mother looked disapprovingly over her mending.
'I think,' she said. 'There are Eskimos in the house.' (Mother called anything bad or evil-minded Eskimos)
One night, Mr. Russel Allen, a young engineer, was a guest for supper. Jack, in a high chair across the table from him, accidentally swallowed some air and let out a belch that resounded through the dining room and, as we found out later, was heard even in the kitchen by Mrs. Cunningham. I was such a thorough burp, an had emerged from such a small subject, that all conversation was momentarily suspended in amazement. Jack, more surprised that anybody, looked shocked. He reached out his arm and pointed a chubby and accusing forefinger at the guest.
'Mr. Allen,' he said in offended dignity. 'Please! I'm not in the mood for an organ recital.'


No comments: