How but in custom and ceremony

Are Innocence and Beauty Born?

—William Butler Yeats


The Singing House

Thursday, November 15, 2012

written by May Morgan Potter

I tied the napkin around Fred’s neck and placed before him his glass of orange juice, his cereal, his big glass of foamy milk. In my own opinion I classified among the superior mothers whose children are brought up in the approved manner of an enlightened day.

Fred ate it all dutifully and then slipped down from his chair.

“Now can I go over to Jimmy’s, Mother?” he asked.

“But Fred,” I remonstrated, “you were over there yesterday, yes, and the day before. Why not have Jimmy come here today?”

“Oh, he wouldn’t want to.” Fred’s lip quivered in spite of his six years of manhood. “Please, Mother.”

“Why do you like Jimmy’s house better than ours, son?” I pursued. It came to me suddenly that Fred and all his companions were always wanting to go to Jimmy’s house.

“Why,” he explained hesitantly, “it’s ‘cause—it’s ‘cause Jimmy’s house is a singing house.”

“A singing house?” I questioned. “Now what do you mean by that?”

“Well,” Fred was finding it hard to explain, “Jimmy’s mother hums when she sews; and Annie-in-the-kitchen, she sings when she cuts out cookies; and Jimmy’s daddy always whistles when he comes home.” Fred stopped a moment and added, “Their curtains are rolled clear up and there’s flowers in the windows. All the boys like Jimmy’s house, mother.”

“You may go, Son,” I said quickly. I wanted him out of the way so I could think.

I looked around my house. Everyone told me how lovely it was. There were oriental rugs. We were paying for them on installments. That was why there wasn’t any Annie-in-the-kitchen here. We were paying for the overstuffed furniture and the car that way, also. Perhaps that was why Fred’s daddy didn’t whistle when he came in the house.

I put on my hat and went over to Jimmy’s house, even if it was ten o’clock and Saturday morning. It came to me that Mrs. Burton would not mind being interrupted in the middle of the morning. She never seemed to be in a hurry. She met me at the door with a towel around her head.

“Oh, come in. I have just finished the living room. No indeed, you are not interrupting. I’ll just take off this headdress and be right in.”

While I waited, I looked around. The rugs were almost threadbare; the curtains, dotted Swiss, ruffled and tied back; the furniture, old and scarred but freshened with new cretonnes.  A table with a bright cover held a number of late magazines. In the window were hanging baskets of ivy and wandering Jew, while a bird warbled from his cage hanging in the sun. Homey, that was the effect.

The kitchen door was open and I saw Jerry, the baby, sitting on the clean linoleum, watching Annie as she pinched together the edges of an apple pie. She was singing, singing “Springtime in the Rockies.”

Mrs. Burton came in smiling. “Well,” she asked, “what is it? For I know you came for something; you are such a busy woman.”

“Yes,” I said abruptly, “I came to see what a singing house is like.”

Mrs. Burton looked puzzled. “Why, what do you mean?”

“Fred says he loves to come here because you have a singing house. I begin to see what he means.”

“What a wonderful compliment!” Mrs. Burton’s face flushed. “But of course my house doesn’t compare with yours. Everyone says you have the loveliest house in town.”

“But it isn’t a singing house,” I objected. “It’s just a house without a soul. Tell me how you came to have one.”

“Well,” smiled Mrs. Burton, “if you really want to know. You see, John doesn’t make much. I don’t think he ever will. He isn’t the type. We have to cut somewhere, and we decided on nonessentials.

“I am not very strong and when Jerry came we decided Annie was an essential if the children were to have a cheerful mother. Then there are books, magazines, and music.” She pointed to the radio. “These are things the children can keep inside. They can’t be touched by fire or reverses so we decided they were essentials. Of course good wholesome food is another essential, but we don’t buy things out of season, and our bills are not large. The children’s clothes are very simple and I make them.

“But when all these things are paid for, there doesn’t seem to be much left for rugs and furniture. But we find we get almost as much pleasure from our long country walks, with Jerry in her buggy, as we would in a car, especially if we had to worry about financing it. We don’t go into debt if we can avoid it. Moreover, we are happy,” she concluded.

“I see,” I said thoughtfully. I looked over at Jerry and Fred in the corner. They had manufactured a train out of match boxes and were loading it with wheat. They were scattering it a good deal, but wheat is clean and wholesome.

I went home. My oriental rugs looked faded. I snapped my curtains to the top of the windows, but the light was subdued as it came through the silken draperies. The overstuffed couch looked bulky, and not nearly so inviting as Mrs. Burton’s old day-bed with pillows you were not afraid to use.

My house was not a singing house. I determined to make it sing. ❖


1932                            Originally published in PTA Magazine.

February 1, 2008       Excerpts published on the blog Cabbages and Kings.

November 28, 2008  Full, edited version published on the blog Cabbages and Kings.

November 15, 2012  Full, edited version published on the blog Linnet on the Leaf.

© Copyright

The story “The Singing House,” by May Morgan Potter, is believed to be in the public domain. The painting Garden and Meadow, Normandy, Risle Valley, by Louis Aston Knight, is believed to be in the public domain.

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