GrandPapa's Letter part 8
Franklin B. Van Valkenburgh

Sabbath Day's Journey Heavenward

And now we will return to that Sunday morning, when, the beasts all made comfortable for the day, we congregated in the Dining room for breakfast; Father sat at the head of the table, and when we all are seated he placed his right hand upon the table, with his thumb turned up, just as though he would say, as you have often said when taking that position "Simon says. Thumbs up," he did it for another purpose, however, and SILENCE being thereby attained, he invoked the Divine Blessing on the food and those who were to partake of it, and all "fell to. " The family was always a large one consisting, as I remember it, of Father; Mother; David; Jacob; Kate; Getty; Mary two pairs of twins, one or two "Hired Girls, " one or two clerks from the store, and very often one or more school masters or school Maams, and as many visitors.

We always all sat at table at the same time, and all that was to be eaten for the meal was placed on the table before any one sat down, except it were upon occasions when we indulged in griddle cakes, and that never happened of a Sunday.

Sunday was intended to be a day of rest from all secular labors; very little cooking was done, and none but necessary work of any kind; but if any clergyman from out of town, or any other man for that matter, was in the village, he was pretty sure to be at our table. After breakfast the table was cleared, and each member of the family being provided with a Bible/ we read a verse each, in succesion, until the end of the Chapter was reached, and then Father read the commentaries of some venerable preacher named Scott upon that chapter, with his own comments, and the older persons present asked questions or made suggestions, until that portion of the Holy Scriptures was, or was supposed to be understood. Sometimes, after Dave and Kate had been away, and thought themselves old enough to discuss questions of history or theology we had a diversity of views expressed, but Father's word always ended the discussions.

Then, all kneeling but Dave, who preferred to stand, Father offered prayer: He was a fluent speaker at all times, and had many of the Psalms, and much of the New Testament at his tongues end; but, as this matter of praying in public two or three times a day rendered it impossible for him to avoid repeating himself, and some of his invocations were as familiar to us as the ten commandments, which it would have been counted disgraceful not to know "by heart, " it was no uncommon thing to hear some one who had knocked at the door told "Just wait a moment, Father has got to the Jews, " or to some other familiar phrase in his prayer. That he began with our fathers father, and went cautiously down the stream of time until he included among the subjects of his prayers "the generations unborn," was a matter of course, and if by any accident he missed any body, such was his carefulness that he would go back in order to get them in, so that all who came after them in the order of his prayers would get a double blessing asked for them on that day. He was honest and sincere in his belief in the efficacy of prayers, and if it were only for the comfort he got out of his religion in this "vale of tears, " it was the best investment he ever made.

When Father was absent from home Mother led us in prayer and in singing, and it was a benediction and a blessing to hear her pray or sing, and this reminds me of a fact I have overlooked, which was that all present at prayer time were expected, invited, and required to join in the song of praise and thanks which preceded the prayer; and if the boy with wet feet or a sore head sometimes introduced a discordant note into that portion of the services, it is possible that he was not wholly to blame.

Prayers over, we all donned our best, and leaving one at home to attend to the fires or to the culinary department, we marched solemnly to church. Father and Mother leading the way, and we following after in the order of our ages. In the winter time one of us carried Mother's foot stove, a small sheet iron stove, full of holes at the sides and top, with a handle to carry it by, inside of which was a drawer filled at the last moment with glowing coals from the fire-place, and deposited in Mother's corner of the pew, so soon as church was reached; Each of us carried his own Bible and Sunday School Books.

In Summer time, instead of the foot stove mother carried a bunch of freshly picked coriander plant, the seeds from which she distributed amont the sleepy ones somewhat in advance of the time when Father's cane was likely to come into requisition, or, in lieu of the coriander seed, a small amount of candied sweet flag root, which was an eye opener and a tongue biter.

"The Second Bell, " name as familiar as our own in those days, tolled for ten minutes immediately before the church services opened, giving ample time in which to walk from our house to the church, where we ascended a high and broad flight of steps, to enter a narrow hall running entirely across the edifice, and at doors at each end leading into the Sanctuary; WE entered at the right end of the room and passing up a long aisle with square pews on the wall side of it, and slips reaching to the middle of the room on the other side, we walked nearly the whole length of the room, until we reached another aisle which turned to the left, and crossed the room to the aisle on the other side of the room, We walked just half way across the room on this aisle, to our pew, which was in the middle of the church on this rear aisle and immediately beneath the choir gallery and in front of the pulpit.

The pews, which reached all around the three sides of the room, were all square, say six feet to each side, and cushioned seats occupied three sides, while the door was in the middle of the other: Our pew had a table in the middle of it, and Father sat at the right side of that door, Mother in the next corner, Dave at the left side of the door, and the rest of us where we pleased , the favorite seat being the one nearest Mother and farthest from Father for the reason that Mother's shoulder or lap was the best place in the world for a sleepy babies head, and that Father's cane had on it a white ivory knob, which repeated applications had shown to be harder than any sleepy head in the pew. The gallery was reached from doors in the hall, and extended around three sides of the church, and held a small organ and a large choir, who were practically out of sight of the people below, and so took some liberties during the services, of course we all wished to get into the Gallery, but that was forbidden ground to us.

The pulpit was a small round box, high up in the air, approached from stairs on either side, with a reading desk in front, on which lay a large red plush pillow, with cords and tassels that hung over in front, crowned with the Great Bible, and Hymn Books. In front of the pulpit stood the communion table, and the room was lighted by long windows on either side of the room, and along the rear, one of which, in our pew, often afforded us with means for studying horse nature as it was exemplified by the numerous teams belonging to worshipping farmers, which filled the long row of stalls in the rear of the church lot.

The first pew at the right as you entered the door was "the widows pew. " and was occupied by any one who could not afford to pay Pew rent, and semi-occasionally by belated boys and girls, too modest to walk the length of the church after services had begun. The end of the gallery over this pew was reserved for the colored brethern and and sisters of whom there were several, although they mostly preferred to go fishing, on pleasant days, and to stay at home and do their own praying on other days. Services were long and tedious. First came an invocation by the parson, or Dominie, then an anthem by the choir, and then the LONG PRAYER, the L-O-O-O-ONG prayer/I mean, My bones ache now as I remember the peoples and nations and creeds and denominations and heathen and pagans, and brethren and sisters, and dear children, and those of a larger growth, and families in affliction and and distress, and the bereaved, and those who were in our midst for the purpose of obtaining an education, and the teachers and pastors among us, and those who had gone from among us to bear the good tidings of great joy to the heathen in far distant lands and the dear ones who were detained for other causes or for no cause at all, and most especially for those who would not hear or listen to the Gospel so freely offered, OH GOD Thou knowest them all, " whom we were expected to stand up and pray for. "GOD BLESS all and every one of them" say 1; But sometime I did wish the parson would bunch the lot, and not particularize to such an inordinate extent, believing as I did that The Good Lord knew as well as he, who needed care.

After the long prayer came another hymn everybody rising and joining in the singing, those in the body of the church turning to face the choir, and so looking the occupants of our pew directly in the face, and affording us an opportunity to see who was in the house: Following this hymn came the TEXT of the sermon, which any one of us might, and probably would be called upon to repeat before night, for the instruction of some one who had failed to hear it, or who having heard had forgotten it, although such request was likely to be preceded by the suggestion that it was asked for "simply to see if YOU remember it; Dear. " This was at a time when the questions of "Faith without Works" or "Works without Faith" and their efficacy as means of Grace add eternal salvation for lost men; and of the responsibility of man for his own acts, and of Adam for all things; and of Predestination, and foreordination were subjects of discussion in and out of the pulpit by everybody, and when a six year old boy would as like as not be asked whether he had been "converted," and whether he sometime felt the striving of the "Spirit" or the struggling of the Old Adam in his soul, and be asked to "relate his experiences" at the Mother's Meetings.

Old Father Smith; worthy name of a worthy disciple, was in our pulpit, and went from there to be a minister to the prisoners at Sing Sing after a long and bitter controversy in the church, being followed by the remark made by, or at least attributed to Dave, the incorrigible, that "that was his fit place, as the poor fellows in his pews not only could not get out during services, but had already been "convicted of sin," and were already well on the way to "conversion??"

During the sermonizing, which lasted an hour or an hour and a half, according to the strength of the parson, the Deacons were all on the look out for any one who nodded, and between them and Father we had a lively time, nevertheless I had many a good nap while apparently listening to the prosy stuff, which was entirely beyond my comprehension, as indeed I believe it was beyond that of most of the congregation; not to mention the many furtive glances I gave to the quadrupeds in the sheds, or to the bipeds in the pews.

Such was the depth to which I had already fallen in consequence of that awful slip of our progenitors in the Garden of Eden that I cannot recall the day when there was not in my private firmament some "bright particular star" of the female persuasion, upon whom it was "bliss unuterable" to fix and rest my eyes; or night, dark and cheerless if when she was not within the range of my loving glances: "Where oh where is the good Elijah. " Where oh where are those brilliant objects of my loving adoration?? Alas for the constancy of my sex: I can not to day even recall the name of one of those whose personalities then filled my horizon.

Home and Foreign Missions were the fads at the time and in the circles of which I write, and the boy who would not cheerfully give up a promised sled or book or knife to aid in sending the Gospel to some little nigger in Africa, or to help convert the heathen in Ouis-consin, was doomed to perdition from before the creation; and when the long stick, with a stocking stretched over a loop at the end of it, so as to form an open mouth to engulph all our pennies, and a tassel at the bottom, was thrust into ones face by the slab sided collector of contributions, you put in your pennies with good grace, or received a LOOK that doomed you to everlasting fire for your meanness. After I heard Dave say that he had figured the whole thing out, and that all the pennies we could scrape together wouldn't be enough to carry a shoe peg to Africa, or purchase a pair of shoes for a missionary in Ouisconsin, I used to make a pass at the contribution bag, and save my penny for candy, and I have yet to repent that action.

It was a fact sometimes commented on that of the twelve children in our family, the oldest had a straight roman nose, dark hair and complexion, and was tall and slim, while the next had decidedly red or auburn hair, a pug nose and light complexion, and so it went entirely through the family, color form and complexion alternating with mathametical precision.

Another family in the neighborhood were all very tall averaging in that family of ten or a dozen, over six feet in height, and so it came to pass that the member of the family who remained at home of a Sunday morning, on asking who was at church would be told in all good faith what there were sixty or seventy feet, of W's and ten or twelve layers of V. V

"All good things have an end, " and so, as a matter of course, did the sermon, and then the "brethren and sisters, " assembled themselves together, after the manner of the worldly, and lunched and gossipped, while the children, "the dear lambs of the flock" were gathered in the pews and slips, and put through their paces in the Sunday School; Prayers were offered by the superintendent, and often "a few words by our dear brother from Bath," or elsewhere, and then the lesson was heard and a few songs of Zion sung, and whoever had the lesson best, was allowed, (precious privelege, ) to pass the contribution box and collect the uncollected pennies, then followed some more singing, and a few more remarks, by the Pastor or some teacher, and we were allowed to run home and get a drink of water, and a "bite, " with the injunction to be sure to get back in time for the afternoon services, for, inasmuch as most of the worshippers were farmers, and had far to go and much to do after church, services were held again in the afternoon, when the same performances, barring taking up the collection, were gone through.

Our house was near the church, our well was a cool one, and very accessible, and Mother was a famous housekeeper, and a cooker of good things, and Father was a politician and very popular; What more needs to be said; OF COURSE half the congregation gathered at the pump, and if they went inside the house and got a luncheon, was not that to be expected? And so it was that Sunday generally cleaned the house of edibles, even if it did not lower the well perceptibly.

The services in the afternoon lasted until about three o'clock, and then, if we had "been good children, " and known all our lessons, and remembered the text, and would promise to be very quiet, we might take hold of each others hands, and walk reverently down to the "Grave Yard, " To reach this restful place we walked about half a mile, directly away from the church, crossed the little creek which ran diagonally through the village, passed the Cannon House, a little red one storey building wherein were housed the cannon, which was kept for use on the Fourth of July, and the BIER, which was always called into service when a funeral occurred, and which we had sometimes seen carried by the bearers of our young companion, and entered an untidy and sometimes poorly fenced yard, in which were many mounds, and many long, fearful hollows which had at sometime been mounds, a few grave stones & less monuments. Walking carefully among the graves, some of which were quite sunken into the ground while others were nicely rounded up and covered with well trimmed grass and flowers, avoiding stepping on a grave, lest the former occupant of the body buried there should visit us, we strolled past the stone which informed us that the body of _______infant son of "Who was called to God at early dawn, and died some hours before he was born, " was buried there, and wondering whether that was intended for "poetry," or a "connundrum", to the corner where reposed the bodies of our baby brothers, Lucius and George and George Rudd; These we reverently cleared of grass and weeds and strewn with the posies we had brought for the purpose, and with many doubts as to their whereabouts, & trembling at the prospect before us, unless we were speedily converted and made right, we wandered along home in time to go for and milk the cows, and get ready for supper and for bed?? Oh no, but for Church, for after supper, and at "early candle light," there were other services in the Church, - A "Temperance Meeting" perhaps, or an "Abolition Meeting," but always something, even if only a meeting for prayer and conference; To this service only those of us went who wished so to do, but to us it was the pleasantest of all, for with the glowing lamps, and the chance of meeting some one whom we cared to meet on the way, and the POSSIBILITY of hearing an entertaining lecture, and possibly of running a part of the way home, when we could get out of the sight of our elders, we often went for the third time to church.

A portion of the furnishing of our house which was almost as noisy as the great knocker which adorned the front door, was the Dinner Bell which was rung outside the door for every meal, and could be heard at the store or school house, and in fact almost all over the village. At nine o'clock on Sunday evening it called us all to prayers, which were of the same character and only a trifle shorter than those in the morning, and either after or immediately before them, we sat in the Dining Room, and sang the songs of Zion, before going to bed, which we found for several years in Mothers room, and later on in the room which you have seen, over the dining room. ; and thus ended our : "Sabbath day's Journey Heavenward!"

If I laugh at it now it is no sign that it was not then an irksome and exceedingly tiresome day, and so it happens that your father may have allowed to his children much greater latitude than was good for them, in relation to the observance of the Sabbath Day, and in some other matters, because of the strictness with which he was brought up.

About once a month, on Friday afternoon we attended the "Mother's Meetings. " which were held in the parlors of the different houses in the neighborhood. Of most of the parlors we never had a glimpse except at these meetings, and that was enough? They contained all of the elegancies of the house and were rarely opened; never for us except on these occasions, or on funeral occasions when, if possible they were more gloomy than at the "meetings, " My recollection of them is of entering a darkened room from the bright sun shine, with blinking eyes and the feeling that the soil from the street might still be on my feet, notwithstanding my exertions at the scraper; or that some taint from the "slough of despond, " might linger in my soul, and I well knew that in either case, condign and well deserved punishment was sure to follow.

For myself I must say I think I was a favorite, partly because I was, as you have seen, "only a passbiy healthy boy, " but mainly because I would clean my feet, and honestly tried to learn my lessons and be good. I remember one meeting at a house which I never entered except to attend one of them, at which I recited the whole of the L I Psalm, and was greatly praised therefor, and GIVEN A BOOK?? I loved the Psalms, and knew several of them by heart, and that book was highly treasured for many reasons; for you must understand that books were not as common possessions as they now are, when YOU have more books of your own than were to have been found in almost any house in our village, and when for a boy to have a book of his very own, was quite a distinction. Of course Father had a good many, and I had read and re-read Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress, and Fox's Book of Martyrs; and Sanford and Merton, and Charlotte Temple, and Baron Trenk in Chains, which latter book we used to call "Char Lotty Temple and Baron Trench in chains". Before I was ten years of age, but they were as unlike the Illustrated and illuminated books read by the children of this age as night is to day; Gare and Frank "The twins, " were of course always very much together, and there was always a good deal of rivalry between them, and especially as to what they read, so when a new book came into the house we used to lie on the floor with the book before us, and read diligently until the whole of it was devoured, each anxious lest the other get through first.


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