A Sewing Machine for Christmas: 1898

 1877-sewing-machine

I very well remember the day before Christmas in Boston some years ago, when the mail carrier brought the morning letters, and one of them had in it a check for $50 from a well-to-do friend, inclosed in a letter which said: “I have more money than time. I would like to do something to make Christmas a little more cheerful and happy to somebody, but I have no time to look up a case. You must, in your work, know of some family where this money will make the Christmas time seem a time of good will. Use it in your own way to bring the most happiness.”

While I held the letter in my hand, grateful in my heart to my friend for choosing me as the messenger of his good cheer, and wondering where I could best use it, to make it meet his requirement, I was called from my study to see a little girl from one of the worst alleys of the South Boston slums of that day. She was about eleven years of age, but though she was not large for her years, there was in her face an acquaintance with care, and a knowledge of suffering, that made her look like a little old woman.

It was a sad little tale of woe she had to tell me. Her father had been killed a few months before by falling from a building. The mother and the four children, of whom this was the eldest, were left without anything but their own resources to get a living. The mother was not strong enough to go out to wash or scrub, and so she had tried to keep the wolf from the door by sewing while the little elven-year-old was housekeeper and caretaker of the other children.

The mother had bought a sewing machine some months before, and had been trying to pay for it by installments, but had had a hard time to meet the weekly payments. She did it for a while, but when the cold weather came on in November, and they had to have coal and a little extra clothing she had fallen behind, and now, on this day before Christmas, the agent had been around, and threatened to take away the sewing machine, and then what was to become of them they could not tell.

If you could have looked in that little girl’s eyes, and heard her tale, you would have had a new conception of what a great thing a sewing machine may be, under certain circumstances. If it had been a title to heaven she was talking about, the little thing could not have been more tearfully in earnest.

I clutched my friend’s check in my hand with a sudden consciousness of what I was going to do and told the little girl to tell her mother not to worry, and that I would look the matter up and see what I could do for her.

I went at once to the sewing machine company and found that there was still owing $28 on the machine. I paid off the contract and put the receipted paper in my pocket. Then along toward evening I had a grocer load up his wagon with a barrel of flour, a barrel of potatoes, some sugar, and tea, and a whole host of goodies, including a good fat chicken for the Christmas dinner, and with some soft blankets and some warm clothing and toys for the children. I paid a Christmas eve visit to that little tenement house suite in the slum alley.

I called just ahead of the wagon, and told her I hoped she would be willing to accept a little Christmas remembrance, which a good hearted friend of mine had asked me to bring for him; and then before the astonished eyes of the mother and children the flour and potatoes, and all the good things came in, borne on the shoulders or rolled in by the big bluff grocer boys.

The woman was overcome with gratitude and the tears ran down her cheeks, while the little children danced for joy. The woman tried to thank me, and then she said what seemed to me at the time, the most pathetic thing I had ever heard.

“Do you think this good friend of yours, who has been so kind, would be willing to take back part of these things and pay the amount on my sewing machine lease?”

Poor soul, how could she be happy so long as the mortgage on her sewing machine was unappeased, and her one permanent stay in self-support threatened to be taken from her?

You can imagine the joy with which I thrust my hand into my pocket and took out the canceled lease and handed it to her, saying: “My friend wanted me to hand you this paper, too, and tell you that nobody would ever trouble your sewing machine again.”

Then there seemed nothing left to wish for. The mother grabbed both my hands, and in spite of all I could do, wet them with her kisses and tears. The children were finally speechless at such munificence, and I went out from them with my heart singing, if it were in my throat, and the tears blinding my eyes.

My only regret was that my generous friend could not see with his own eyes the joy his gift had brought, and thus be able to realize more clearly than would otherwise be possible the truth of Christ’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

LOUIS ALBERT BANKS

Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 11 December 1898: p. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Banks was the author of White Slaves: or, The Oppression of the Worthy Poor, The Saloon-keeper’s Ledger, and many works on temperance and religion. He was well-positioned to seek out those in need of assistance, although Mrs Daffodil has always found the sorting of the poor into “deserving” and “undeserving” to be a trifle unjust.  Surely the Unworthy Poor are similarly oppressed and may starve just as efficiently. And, speaking frankly, where should we be if we were all given exactly what we deserved? Mrs Daffodil does not normally make a habit of it, but who can quarrel with the notion of being kind?

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the joys of the season and all good things in the New Year. She will return on 4 January, 2017, with more jottings on fads, fashions, and follies.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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