For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column.
Usually her column fielded questions from young people who needed help navigating adolescent life, but in 1912 Isabella published a letter from a grown woman who had a much more adult problem on her hands.
Here is her letter:
I do not belong to the young people, but all the same I’m going to try to get in and get help if I can. I belong to the hum-drum class. Do you know them? I haven’t a grievance in the world that is worthy of the name. I’m a farmer’s wife, living with my husband and one son of nineteen on a fairly prosperous farm.
My husband is a good, kind, hard-working man, and our son is following in his footsteps. We have comfortable and fairly convenient things about us and I don’t have to work too hard. Then what, in the name of common sense, do I want help about? It’s a fair question, and I can’t answer it. I’m not even sure that there is any common sense in my want; but I know that I’m not satisfied.
Mrs. Alden, we work and eat and sleep, and work and eat and sleep again; that’s the whole of our life. Now, is that living? I used not to think so. I married for love and I love my husband, and am sure he loves me, but it would scare either of us to mention it.
Oh, we go to church every Sunday; but we live out a couple of miles—too far, I suppose, for people to walk, and we know no one but the minister, who calls once a year; my boy is timid and doesn’t make acquaintances easily so he has none. We know a number of people by name, and bow to them when we meet, but that is all. We go nowhere, and see no one from month’s end to month’s end. We read, all of us, and have books, and papers, but we have a habit of reading by ourselves, and I don’t know that we ever talk about anything together. We have acquired habits of silence, except for the necessary words. Understand me, we are not cross or “grouty,” but we are each of us alone; and I, at least, am dreadfully lonesome. I have some rather nice clothes, but what is the use of wearing them? Neither husband nor son would know whether I wore a calico wrapper or a blue satin gown; I’ve given up dressing.
I could say a good deal more, but I presume I shall think by tomorrow that I have said a great deal too much. If you print any of this, sign it …
A Farmer’s Wife.
Here is Isabella’s Reply:
Your letter makes me want to tell you a little story about a home that was like, and yet unlike yours, in which I spent some pleasant months. Father, mother and a son past 25 made up the family. The parents were past middle age and lived out of town; the son was in business in town and boarded at home. The usual cares incident to country life were upon them, so that they were very busy people, but their home was the cheeriest, most home-like, most comfortable and restful place that could well be imagined. Even in their busy hours they gave one, somehow, the impression of abundant leisure; I think this was in part due to the fact that their time was carefully systematized.
They, too, went “to church every Sunday,” and had by dint of steady service and genial helpfulness made themselves such a power there that after a time they became not only known, but sought after and leaned upon. In the Sunday school, in the prayer meeting, in the young people’s societies, in the official work of the church, it came to be understood that they could be depended upon.
But it was not so much or such matters that I wished to talk as of the so-called trifles which, in their quiet home-life created an atmosphere that breathed out perfume. Your “nice clothes” reminded me of this home-keeper. She always looked the perfection of neatness and suitability when about her multiform household tasks, and she always carefully dressed for supper; and always there were flowers on the table.
Meal-time in the home was a genuine social gathering, at which time not only the pleasant happenings of the day were considered, but the larger news of the country, of all countries. The mother, although she often deplored the fact that she was not able to carry out her desire for a higher education, is nevertheless a well-educated, cultured woman; both father and mother made such splendid use of the opportunities they had as to be far above the average in general knowledge, and the life they live and the reading they do daily adds to their store.
They had also trained themselves in other ways. You, my friend, do not think husband or son would know whether you wore wrapper or house dress to the supper table, but I doubt that; it is rather that they, like a great many others, have become speechless about many things. This family tells out its pleasant thoughts.
One evening I came suddenly upon a little by-play not intended for my ears and sight. It chanced that the mother’s simple home dress was unusually becoming, and the gray-haired husband, calling her by a pet name, said, “You look pretty enough to kiss,” suiting the action to the word.
The wife’s little laugh showed her pleasure n the token, and also the fact that this was no amazing exception to general rules. As a matter of fact, this husband and wife never separated for even a few hours without exchanging good-by kisses.
“You see, we are a pair of old lovers,” the mother said to me one day, with a half apologetic laugh, adding immediately, “Why not? I never believed that love and kisses were to be confined to the young; do you?”
As for “the boy,” which is the way that father and mother fondly speak of him, he is a man in every sense of the word, taking a man’s part in business, in the church, in civic affairs, and has about him the masculine air of authority and protection, even when he piles the box high with wood, that his mother may take no extra steps, and the masterful air with which he takes the pail or the heavy pitcher from her hand and makes her sit, laughing, to rest a minute, while he waits upon her; yet nothing sweeter or stronger or more holy has been shown to me than the loving comradeship that exists between those two.
The son walks to and from his place of business, and his cheery voice can be heard in the early morning, and again at noon, after his keen eyes have swept kitchen, pantry and porch to see if perchance he may take some further step to save his mother.
“Come mother, are you ready?” and away they tramp down the long, tree-lined avenue to the “lower gate,” chatting, laughing, enjoying each other, for all the word like a boy and girl out for a lark. I have a shrewd suspicion, also, that this is sometimes the hour for confidences.
Once, the father, looking after them with tender eyes, said to me: “She always goes to the big gate with him. If it should have to be given up, I don’t know which would miss it most, the boy or his mother.” And one, an old man, looking thoughtfully after the two from an upper window, said, “Only a good man would care for that.”
Is my little sermon preached, dear friend? There is no humdrum living in that home. There might have been; all the conditions that can so easily degenerate into humdrumness are there; but outspoken love and unselfish service have glorified them.