from Fruit Garden and Home
by Ellis Parker Butler
Those Who Work
Those who work have no terror in the prospect of tomorrow. To work is to live, and if happiness ever comes in this life it comes to those who work. People who work are prosperous and gentle. They have no false dollars in their pockets and no false halo over their heads. They are the people who forge ahead in the wilderness, making way for Eternity.
The man who works envies no man his money bags. He wants no man's glory, no man's honor, no man's happiness, save that which he has earned himself. Men who do not work are like children who do not play. Like Nero of old, they are fiddling ragtime while the Eternal City burns.
The man who squanders the golden hours of opportunity will never do anything else. Those who have learned to work will never get tired of life. The horny hand of toil never angles for another's pocketbook. Hands that work and serve well do not wear steel bracelets.
Work well, love well, laugh well and you have learned to live well!
If you are a Lady-of-the-House and have ever spent two years on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific ocean -- as I have no doubt most of you have -- you will think as I do about your housework in general and your kitchen work in particular. You will remember how delighted you were when the ocean cast you up on the lovely tropical island and discovered that your husband could make a really lovely and satisfactory house by leaning eight of the giant leaves of the bongo-bongo palm against a stake. The result of this was that there was absolutely no housework to do, for the floor was clean white sand and the morning breeze blew away the sand of yesterday and spread a new coat of spotless sand on the floor for today. Even greater was your joy, as you will remember, when you discovered the pingo-pingo vine growing there in great profusion, for the pingo-pingo vine was something like a brown tape from which hung a thick fringe of lustrously soft silvery fringe. It was only necessary to snip off a short length of pingo-pingo vine and tie it around your waist and you were fully and suitably clothed for that warm climate. In one-third of a minute you could snip off enough pingo-pingo vine to supply yourself and your husband with all the clothes needed for two years.
But your greatest joy was when you found that the dingo-dingo gourd, or melon, grew most profusely on your desert island. You had read, and knew it was a fact, that the dingo-dingo gourd was ideal food for that climate. By poking a hole in one end of the dingo-dingo gourd and drinking the liquid immediately you had a drink exactly like iced water or water fresh from a mountain spring.
If, however, you let the gourd stand one minute after puncturing it you had an exact substitute for iced tea. Let it stand two minutes and it gave iced coffee. Put it in the sun for one minute and you had hot tea, and two minutes in the sun caused it to decant hot coffee, either with cream or without, as preferred. The stem of the gourd was practically pure cane sugar and only an instant was required to break off as much as you wished.
The real value of the dingo-dingo gourd, however, was its food value. You discovered that eighteen varieties of this remarkable gourd grew on each vine, each gourd of a different color or with different markings. If you sliced open a blue dingo-dingo gourd, for instance, you found within it an exact substitute for roast beef, baked potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, apple pie and whatever was needed for a roast beef dinner. The yellow gourd, on the other hand, supplied a perfect chicken dinner in four courses, with soup and dessert. In fact, it did not take you long to discover that the eighteen varieties of dingo-dingo gourd furnished eighteen perfect and entirely different menus, ready to eat, while the smaller gourds furnished breakfasts, luncheons and suppers.
"Henry," you said to your husband, "this is perfect. Here we stay! Nothing can ever get me away from this delectable desert island. All my life I have been doing kitchen work and housework, and washing dishes and mending clothes -- but never again!"
That morning you went down to the edge of the ocean and sat on the sand and sang. The next morning you went down to the edge of the ocean and sat on the sand and sang and combed your hair.
The next morning you went down to the edge of the ocean and sang and combed your hair and wiggled your toes. For a year and six months, in absolute freedom from kitchen work and housework you went down to the edge of the ocean and combed your hair and wiggled your toes, but you had not been singing for a year and five months. At the end of a year and seven months you were the most bored woman on earth. You hadn't a thing to do. You would sit for hours looking at that confounded ocean and every two minutes you would sigh and move one leg and sigh again. The sixteen small pains that you had never had time to notice at home were with you always. You had nothing to do but notice them. You had all the leisure in the world, and these were the only uses you could put it to:
1st. You could wiggle your toes and comb your hair.
2nd. You could think about your pains and aches.
3rd. You could have time to look at your husband and think what a miserable mutt he was after all, and what an ugly nose he had, and that his eyes were too close together, and that the human ear -- in any form -- is a hideous monstrosity.
4th. You could and did have time to dwell on your troubles by the hour, and to invent new ones, and to imagine that your husband was intentionally slighting you, and to hate him for it.
5th. You could think this desert island was a miserable place, because it gave you no chance to show you really were worth something in the world.
6th. You could understand why your husband looked at you as if he thought you were worth about as much to him as a plugged nickel, and you could begin to wish you were back in America where old man husband may not have given much thought to your housework and kitchen work and dish washing and mending, but where he felt the lack of it like sin if you went away for a week or two. You wished you were back in your house at home where you knew you were doing something that was of some use to somebody.
And 7th. You could and did hate yourself and your husband and the disgusting breeze that swept the floor for you and left you nothing to fill your house. And the disgusting bongo-bongo house that never needed its windows washed. And the disgusting pingo-pingo vine that never gave you a chance to take a needle or a piece of goods or even a sock in your hands. And most of all you hated the dingo-dingo vine that did your cooking and left no dishes to wash. Before the two years were up, you remember, don't you, just how you could not stand it any longer. You got a fishbone and bit an eye in it, and peeled a fiber thread from a bongo-bongo leaf, and got some tough zingo-zingo bark and announced that -- no matter what the climate was -- you were going to make some winter underwear for your husband!
And the next day you began gathering the large flat shells of the mingo-mingo clam and set up in business as a dish-washing wife with a set of plates and dishes! And you braided a rug of the tendrils of the tingo-tingo vine so that you might have something to sweep, or at least shake the dust out of! And then you began to be happy on your desert isle.
If you ever want to know what a blessed thing your home work is, I advise you to go somewhere with your husband where he has nothing to do at all and you have the house to keep and the meals to cook and the dishes to wash. In a week he will be as blue as a blue-faced baboon, and you'll find him hunting up the broom and sweeping something -- it does not matter what; he'll sweep the side of the house or the limb of a tree. You'll find him hanging around the kitchen and first he'll tell you how the potatoes ought to be peeled, and then he will, on the sly, peel them for you. You'll find him wandering into the house like a lost soul and then he will disappear, and when you hunt him up you'll find him making the bed or darning a sock. Anything that is work, or seems like work, that he can be busy at!
The work a woman does in the house is the most blessed thing life gives her. I don't pity any woman for having any housework to do. I think the woman who has none to do with her own hands -- or no servants to supervise at the same sort of work -- is to be pitied. And I don't pity a man for having his own sort of work that he must do. If he did not have it he would be bored to death. The only way to keep a man or a woman from cutting their own throats when their work is taken from them is to give them something approximately as good.
I don't feel particularly sorry for the pioneer women whose housework kept them busy from dawn until long after dark. They may have felt sorry for themselves, but that is nothing -- we all feel sorry for ourselves now and then. I would feel sorry for the pioneer woman whose work about the house gave her something to do and who suddenly found herself with nothing to do for an hour every day. I would feel sorry for her if she did not have a few square feet of ground to grow a garden on.
Women, as I see it, have not battled themselves away from the kitchen and the sewing basket in order to join clubs and read books and enter politics and one thing and another. They have gone to those things because somebody took away the work they had depended upon to fill their days and evenings. When great-grandmother put the spinning wheel in the attic because factories took over her job of spinning and weaving, great-grandmother had to read books and play the melodeon and spend pleasant hours in her garden -- or die of ennui. And as ready-made garments, sewing machines, gas ranges, vacuum cleaners and one thing and another crept in and stole away more of the work of the house the women had to look for other interesting things with which to busy their hands and hours. All these things are good, too, but I doubt if they give the complete satisfaction that comes from one's own job done by one's self. I know mighty well that neither golf nor garden nor angling nor any of the things I like give me the actual happiness that I get from doing my work. In these days when interesting things are so very interesting it is fine and right and proper and good for a man and woman to have a share of them, but a professional club-woman -- one who makes it a life work -- is not a bit happier than a professional dish washer who, by the way, is often a man, and usually not as happy.
My observations lead me to believe that the happiest woman is one who has some -- or even a good bit of housework to do and who, when she had completed it because modern appliances and methods have taken from her any reason for spending all her hours at it, goes out to her garden or to her club or to a lecture or theater or auto jaunting, or all of them, or any of a thousand other things. We must have something to do that we think is worthwhile, or we can't be happy. A woman who is so busy at home that she can do nothing else can turn her unhappy life into a happy one by having a garden as large as a tablecloth, just outside her kitchen window, where she can see it as she works, and to which she can run out at odd moments to pick a blossom, turn a trowelful of earth or pull an interloping weed.
The happiest men I know are all workers, and the happiest women are those who have enough home work to feel that they are useful, but who are not so over-burdened with it that they feel like the camel that has a load of brick piled on top of the last straw. If a woman sees in her home work more than her strength can compass, the thing for her to do is to do as much as she can and let the rest slide. But the point of this article of mine -- which is some of my work, by the way, and not lazy-day loafing stuff -- is that enough housework to be worthwhile is a blessing, and that a woman's proper work in the house is nothing to fret about. To have it done away with entirely is to suffer a misfortune, and to have it trimmed down until it is not enough to be considered useful is a thing to be regretted.
Introducing gas ranges and electric washers and all the laboratory saving devices man can ever invent will not rob woman of her proper birthright of home work. These things only modernize her work and make it easier and, perhaps, more interesting -- which is as it should be when bank clerks no longer have the drudgery of footing long columns but pump them up on electric adding machines. And, you can bet your boots, if a woman has so much automatic machinery in the house that it looks like a factory, and has forty servants, she will have enough to do to keep her properly busy, if she supervises those servants and those machines properly! A man who manages a steel mill can be quite as happy as the man who pounds red-hot iron on an anvil.
But the thing I call Kitchen Economy can be overdone. A fond husband can be imagined, who, feeling sorry for his wife because she has enough housework to keep her busy and happy, takes from her the whole job and runs the house with a check book -- a check for the rent, a check for the man who sweeps the floors and washes the windows, a check for the meals that are sent in, a check from his check book for everything the wife does better and more interestingly.