In 1876, when she was just thirty-five years old, Isabella presided over a very busy household.
Her husband Ross had just been given the ministry of a Presbyterian church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the same time Isabella’s writing career was in full swing. Not only was she publishing an average of three novels a year, she was also the editor and principal contributor to The Pansy magazine, which, at that time, was published once a month.
Her son Raymond (whom she lovingly called Ray) was just three years old. To round out the household, Isabella’s mother Myra, and Anna Alden, Ross’s daughter from his first marriage, were also living with them.
In those early days Isabella was very candid about sharing her family life with readers of The Pansy magazine. She often shared brief anecdotes about her life and, in particular, about her son Raymond.
Not only did her readers love those stories, they also came to feel they knew Raymond personally. They even sent him cards and small gifts in the mail.
Isabella had a special column in The Pansy called “Pansy’s Letter-Box” in which she thanked readers for all their letters, including those addressed to Raymond.
One of her 1876 entries in the column was to a reader named Ida, who must have sent Raymond a gift with her letter. Here’s Isabella’s reply:
Then in November of that same year, Isabella shared this story about Raymond and her mother Myra, who was living with them at the time:
Ray was at the piano playing a tune; that is, he was running his fingers up and down the keys, and making a discord that frightened even the cat. Grandma sat in the arm-chair, and was singing to Ray’s music. Between them both, it was as much as we could do to stay in the room. At last something about grandma attracted Ray’s attention; the music grew slower and softer, and he kept a steady gaze on grandma’s face. At last he stopped playing, and his shrill little voice rang out:
“Grandma, what makes you growl so?”
“Growl!” said grandma, a good deal astonished. “Why, child, I’m singing.”
“I know you are, grandma, but what makes you growl all the time?”
Grandma stopped to laugh. “Pretty compliment that is to my singing!” she said at last. “Here I have been doing my best, and he calls it growling.”
Ray shook himself impatiently. “I know singing, grandma, I don’t mean that. I mean those little growls all over your forehead? Just so they look!” And then the little morsel wrinkled up his fair white forehead till he looked like a scowling patriarch.
The mystery was solved. The child meant “scowls.” Grandma, rather unused to singing to a piano accompaniment, especially to so remarkable a one as that was, had wrinkled her forehead into rows and rows of frowns; a very unusual sight on her smooth kind face. No wonder Ray was astonished. Grandma never made “growls” at him. How long will it take him to get all the long and short words into his little brain? How is he going to know that “growls” and “scowls” are two very different things? Perhaps, after all, they are not so very different? It is surprising how often they are found together!