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    Ch. 2: Early Influences

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    Boys remained boys in those old days very much longer than they do now. The smartness of children like my grandsons, Shem, Ham and Japhet, for instance, who at the age of two hundred and fifty arrogate to themselves all the knowledge of the universe, was comparatively unknown when I was a child. To begin with we were of a different breed from the boys of to-day, and life itself was more simple. We were surrounded with none of those luxuries which are characteristic of modern life, and we were in no haste to grow old by taking short cuts across the fields of time. We were content to remain youthful, and even childish, taking on ourselves none of the superiorities of age until we had attained to the years which are presumed to go with discretion. We did not think either arrogantly or otherwise that we knew more by intuition than our parents had been able to learn from experience, and, with a few possible exceptions, we none of us assumed that position of high authority in the family which is, I regret to say, generally assumed by the sons and daughters of the present. For myself, I was quite willing to admit, even on the day of my birth, that my father, in spite of certain obvious limitations, knew more than I; and that my mother in spite of the fact that she was a woman, was possessed, in a minor degree perhaps, but still indubitably possessed, of certain of the elementary qualities at least of human intelligence. As I recall my attitude towards my elders in those days, the only person whose pretensions to superior attainments along lines of universal knowledge I was at all inclined to resent, was my maiden aunt, Jerusha, my father's sister, who, having attained to the kittenish age of 623 years, unmarried, and having consequently had no children, knew more about men and their ways, and how to bring up children scientifically than anybody at that time known to civilized society. Indeed I have always thought that it was the general recognition of the fact that Aunt Jerusha knew just a little more than there was to know that had brought about that condition of enduring spinsterhood in which she was passing her days. Even her, however, I could have viewed with amused toleration if so be she could have been induced to practice her theories as to the Fifty-seven Best Ways To Bring Up The Young upon others than myself. She was an amusing young thing, and the charming way in which even in middle age--she was as I have already said 623 years old at the time of which I write--she held on to the manners of youth was delightful to contemplate. She always kept herself looking very fit, and was the first woman in our section of the world to wear her hair pompadour in front, running to the extreme psychic knot behind--she called it psychic, though I have since learned that the proper adjective is Psyche, indicating rather a levity of mind than anything else. It should be said of her in all justice that she was a leader in her set, and as President of the Woman's Club of Enochsville was a person of more than ordinary influence, and it was through her that the movement to grant the franchise to all single women over three hundred and forty, resulted in the extension of the suffrage to that extent.

    Incidentally I cannot forget the wise words of my father in this connection. He had always been an anti-suffragist, but when Aunt Jerusha's plan was laid before him he swung instantly around and became one of its heartiest advocates.

    "It is a wise measure," said he. "Safe, sane and practical, for no single woman will confess to the age of qualification, so that in passing this act we grant the prayers of our petitioners without subjecting ourselves to the dangers of women's suffrage. Remember my son, that it always pays to be generous with that which costs you nothing, and that woman's suffrage is as harmless as the cooing dove if you only take the precaution to raise the age limit high enough to freeze out the old maids."

    I should add too that Aunt Jerusha had a way with her that was not without its fascination. To look at her you would never have supposed that she was more than four hundred years old, and the variety of eyes that she could make when there were men about, was wonderful to see. I noticed it the very day I was born, and when I first caught sight of that piquante little glance that now and then she cast in my direction out of the tail of her eye, I began rummaging about in the back of my subconscious mind for the precise words with which to characterize her.

    "You giddy old flirt!" was the apostrophe I had in mind at the moment, but, of course, having had no practice in speech I was compelled to forego the pleasure of giving audible expression to the thought.

    Unfortunately for me Aunt Jerusha equipped with that intuitive knowledge of what to do under any given circumstances that invariably goes with the status of maiden-aunthood in its acute stages, now assumed complete control of my destinies; and for a time it looked as though I were in a fair way to become what the great Egyptian ruler, King Ptush the Third was referring to in many of his State papers as a "Meticulous Mollycoddle." To begin with, Aunt Jerusha was a strong believer in the New Thought School of Infantile Development, and when I was barely six weeks old she began strapping me on a board like an Eskimo baby, and suspending me thus restrained to a peg in the wall, where, helpless, I was required to hang and stare while she implanted the germs of strength in my soul by reading aloud whole chapters from the inspired chisellings of the popular seer Ber Nard Pshaw, who was to the literature of that period what King Ptush was to statecraft. He was the acknowledged leader of the Neo-Bunkum School of Right Thinking, and had first attracted the attention of his age by his famous reply to one who had called him an Egotist.

    "I am more than that," he answered. "I am a Megotist. The world is full of I's, but there is only one Me."

    Upon this sort of thing was I fed, not only spiritually but physically, by my Aunt Jerusha. When, for instance, I found myself suffering from a pain in my Commissary Department for the sole and sufficient reason that my nurse had inadvertently handed me the hard cider jug instead of my noon-day bottle of discosaurus' milk, she would rattle off some such statement as this: Thought is everything. Pain is something. Hence where there is no thought there can be no pain. Wherefore if you have a pain it is evident that you have a thought. To be rid of the pain stop thinking.

    Then she would fix her eye on mine, and gaze at me sternly in an effort to remove my sufferings by the hot poultice of her own mushy reflections instead of getting the peppermint and the hot-water bag. When night came on and I was restless instead of wooing slumber on my behalf with soft and soothing lullabies, or telling me fairy-stories such as children love, she would say: The child's mind is immature. His conclusions, therefore, are immature. Whence his decisions as to what he likes lack maturity, and consequently to give him that for which he professes to like is equivalent to feeding him on unripe fruit. So we conclude that what he says he likes he really does not like, and to please him therefore, it becomes necessary to give him what he professes to dislike. Ergo, I will read him to sleep with the seventeenth chapter, part forty-nine of the works of Niet-Zhe on the co-ordination of our æsthetic powers in respect to the relative delights of pleasure and pain.

    I will do my Aunt Jerusha the credit of saying at this point that her method of putting me to sleep was efficacious. I do not ever remember having retained consciousness past the third paragraph of her remedy for insomnia.

    I tremble to think of what I should have become had this fauntleroy process of rearing been allowed to continue unchecked. There were prigs enough in our family already without afflicting the world with another, and it rejoices me to this day to recall that just as we were reaching the point when it was either an early and beautiful demise in the odor of sanctity as a perfect child, or my present eminence as the most continuous human performance on record for me, my father stepped in, reasserted his authority and rescued me from the clutches of my Aunt Jerusha. Returning one day from business, he discovered Aunt Jerusha sitting in a rocking-chair in the nursery before me reading aloud from her tablets, whilst I, as usual, hung strapped and suspended from a hook on the picture moulding. It was my supper-time, and she was feeding me according to the New Thought method of catering. The substance of her discourse was that hunger was an idea, nothing more. She was proving to her own satisfaction at least that I was hungry only because I thought I was hungry, and as father came in she was trying to persuade me that if I would be a good boy and make up my mind that my appetite had been appeased by a series of courses of thought biscuits, spirituelle waffles, and mental hors d'oeuvres generally I would no longer be hungry.

    "Fill your spirit stomach with the food of thought, Methy, dear," she was saying as my father appeared in the door-way. "Make up your mind that it is stuffed with the crackers and milk of the spirit; that your spiritual bread is buttered with the oleomargerine of lofty ideals, and sugared with the saccharin of your granulated meditations, and you will grow strong. You will become an intellectual athlete, like the great King Ptush of Egypt; a winner in the spiritual Marathon--"

    "What are you trying to do with this kid, anyhow?" demanded my father at this point. "Turn him into a strap-hanger, or is this just a little lynching party?"

    "Hush, Enoch," protested Aunt Jerusha. "Do not project an unsympathetic thought wave across our wires. I am just getting little Methy into a receptive mood. He is having his supper."

    "Supper?" roared my father. "You call that stuff supper? Why, the child is getting thinner than a circus lemonade--"

    "In the grosser sense, yes," replied Aunt Jerusha, calmly, after the manner of maiden ladies who are sure of their position. "But look at those eyes. Do they not betoken a great and budding soul within that is hourly waxing in strength and beauty?"

    "My dear Jerusha," said my father, unhooking me from the wall and handing me a ripe red banana to eat, "all that you say is very lovely, and I have no doubt that under your administration of affairs the boy will sooner or later become a bully idea, but I hate a man whose convexity of soul has been attained through a concavity of stomach. What this boy needs at this stage of the game is development in what you properly term the grosser sense, I might even go so far as to say the butcher sense as well as the grocer sense. Ham and eggs is what he needs."

    And with that he sent out and had a diplodocus carnegii killed, and fed me himself for the next ten days on dainty morsels cut from the fatted calf of that luscious bird. It was thus that I escaped the fate of the over-good who die young and became a factor in the world of affairs rather than a pleasant memory in the minds of my family.

    As for my education it was limited, and I may say desultory. In this my Aunt Jerusha was allowed a greater authority than in the matter of my diet, and she early made up her mind that the great weakness of the educational system of the day was the tendency of the teachers in our schools to cram the minds of the young.

    "There is no hurry in days like these when people live to be eight or nine hundred years old," she observed to my mother. "There is not very much to be learned as yet. Science is in its infancy, very little history has been made, and as for Latin and Greek, it is entirely unnecessary for Methy to study those languages, because as yet, nobody speaks them, and with the possible exception of that tramp poet, Homer, who passed through here last week on his way West, nobody is using it in literature. Teach him the three Rs and all will be well. Taking the alphabet first and learning one letter a year for twenty-six years he will be able to read and write as early in life as he ought to. If we were more careful not to teach our children to read in their childhood we should not be so anxious about the effects of pernicious literature upon their adolescent morals. If I had my way no one should be taught to read until after he had passed his hundredth year. In that way, and in that way only can we protect our youth from the dreadful influence of such novels as 'Three Cycles, Not To Mention The Rug,' which dreadful book I have found within the past month in the hands of at least twenty children in the neighborhood, not one of whom was past sixty."

    It was thus resolved that my education should proceed with due deliberation and even as Aunt Jerusha had suggested, I was taught only one letter a year for the first twenty-six years of my life, after which I took up addition, multiplication, short and long division and fractions. My father would not permit me to learn subtraction.

    "It is a waste of time," said he. "Children subtract by intuition. Put in all your time teaching Methy how to add and multiply."

    My history was meagre, because as Aunt Jerusha had said, history itself was meagre. There had not even been a flood, much less a first, second, or third Punic War. Nobody in my time had ever heard of Napoleon Bonaparte or George Washington or Julius Cæsar, or Alexander, save a few prophets in the hills back of Enochsville, in whose prognostications few of their contemporaries took any stock; as was indeed not unnatural, since when they attempted to prophesy as to the weather they showed themselves to be rather poor guessers. If a man prophesies a blizzard for to-morrow and to-morrow comes bringing with it the balmy odors of Spring, no one is likely to set much store by his prognostications concerning the possible presidential candidacy of a man named Bryan six or seven thousand years later. Consequently the only history with which I took the trouble to familiarize myself was that which ante-dated my birth, and even that was somewhat hazy in the minds of historians. My predecessors in the patriarchal profession were a reticent lot, inherited no doubt from our original ancestor Adam, who could never be got to talk even to members of his immediate family on the subject of his early years. True, it is generally believed that he had no early years, and that he was born on his fifty-ninth birthday, but even as to that he would not speak. I shall never forget the look on his face when I asked him at a Thanksgiving dinner one year if he had ever been a monkey with a tail. He rose up from the table with considerable dignity, and leading me out into the wood-shed turned me over on his knee and subjected me to a rather severe course of treatment with a hair-brush.

    "There, my lad," he observed when he had done. "If I had had a tail that is about where I should have worn it."

    I never referred to the subject again.
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