“Two may be born this whole wide world apart,
And speak in different tongues, and have no thought
Each of the other’s being, and no heed,
And these o’er unknown seas and unknown lands
Shall cross, escaping wreck, defying death,
And, all unconsciously, shape every act,
And bind each wandering step t this one end –
That, one day, out of the darkness they shall meet,
And read life’s meaning in each other’s eyes.”
“The girls,” Annie and Zada Eleanora – middle-aged women – were busy making scrap-books for the little nephews, when one of them paused and read aloud the verse we have quoted.
The mother, an elderly woman, looked up from the book she was reading and said, “Why that makes me think of your papa and myself. I was born in Pennsylvania, and he in the State of Maine, and we met here, in the new country, the State of Ohio, and became –“
How Papa Found Mamma
The following story appeared in an 1888 issue of Arthur’s Home Magazine. It was written under the nom de plume of Pipsey Potts
Down went the scissors, scraps, paste and poems, and they both said, “Now while we are alone, and this is a broken day, and no man around to cook for, you must tell us the story, mother. You said you would some day” and though the mother declared it was foolish, and she couldn’t bear to hear old women tell of their love stories, she was wheedled into telling the girls how their papa met with and married their mamma.
Of course, they plied her with questions of “what did you say?” and “what did he say?” and “how were you dressed?” and “what did he have on?”
“Well, there is not much to tell,” she began, “for all these stories of falling in love and marrying and giving in marriage are pretty much alike. Let me see: Well, to begin at the very first, at one of the side branches, as you may say, it was in the year 1814, when your grandfather lived in Washington County, Pennsylvania, that his house, a double log-cabin, was burned and the family were left destitute. A good old man by the name of Coulter came to us one day bringing a present of a spinning wheel to my mother. That was the best gift he could have presented her with. She could spin flax and tow for the neighbors then, and soon earn some of the necessities of which we had been robbed. We all remembered this good man. After awhile we, with several other families, moved from our neighborhood to Jefferson County, Ohio.
“I remember one morning that my mother scolded me, while we were journeying, and I was walking along behind the wagon crying out loud. I felt grieved and wronged.
“Suddenly, I heard the tramp of horses’ fee beside me, and looking up saw a fair-faced, blue-eyed young man riding a colt. He had seen me crying. I put my check-linen apron up to my face to hide my blushes. He said, ‘Did something go wrong, Sis? You must learn to take things quietly. We all have our little troubles, you know, and it is better not to worry and take them to heart.’
“And then he told me they – his father’s family – were moving out to the State of Ohio, to Jefferson County, and I answered that we were going there too, and come to find out, he was John, the son of the man, Mr. Coulter, who had given your grandmother the new spinning-wheel. I told him I was Ellen, eldest daughter of Uriah Thompson, and presently the colt sidled off and cut up a frisky caper or two and ran on ahead, and that was the last I saw of the pretty boy for several years.
“Five years later, his family, and my family too, pushed on into the newer Ohio country and located within ten miles of each other.
“We had hard times in the new, uncleared lands. We all worked very hard. My mother’s children came fast, and she was over-worked, and her temper was none of the best; not very patient, mother wasn’t; and one day, when a man, riding horseback and leading another horse with a woman’s saddle on, came hunting for a girl to spin flax, I did not hesitate to go with him.
“I cannot tell you how glad I was to find out that he was John Coulter, the boy who had cheered the crying lass behind the movers’ wagon years before. He did not know who I was when he came to our house. How strange that our paths should cross each other again! We both laughed over it, and my heart was not heavy nor my hand unsteady while I was tying up my woolen hose, and my capes and aprons, and the few clothes I possessed. I felt as if I were going among friends instead of strangers.
“He was married, and his wife had two children, and he was prospered and well-to-do. His mother had died meantime, and his father had married again – the widow Price – and John had married her daughter, Polly.
“When I climbed up on the bars and got on to the old farm horse, I hailed a cheerful good-bye to my mother.
“It was a ten-mile ride over a new road in the month of March. John Coulter said when we should reach the home of his wife’s brother, Zacharah, we would call in and warm a minute.
“Although it was less than half a mile from his own home, we stopped in to warm. We were chilled through and chattering with cold.
“Now, Zachariah’s mother it was who had married John’s widowed father, so that his stepmother was his mother-in-law and his father his father-in-law. She left five children at home when she married – one a sixteen-year-old girl who had never learned how to conduct a household, and that cold, damp day everything was sixes and sevens. Zachariah was making lye hominy in a big kettle in the side fireplace. His brothers and sisters were at school, and he taught them evenings while he conned his own lessons in arithmetic.
“The poor fellow apologized. He pulled his hat down over his eyes and stirred the corn as if he were making mush and afraid it would burn. Suddenly he remembered the gallantry of a gentleman, and taking off his hat, he hurried and brought out the jug of whisky, poured out each a drink in good measure, and handed it to us.
“That was common and customary in those early days. He would have been uncourteous had he not shown us this mark of respectful attention. Whisky was the currency in those times of slavish toil and privation.
“Well, I like my new home. John was kind and intelligent, and his wife, Polly, was more like a good elder sister to me than a task mistress.
“She had one sorrow. Her brother Zack, as they all called him, wanted to go to sea. The love of the sea was in his blood. His grandfather had been a captain on a vessel for many years and his stories had impressed themselves upon the boy. He did not care for the society of the fair sex, he hated farming, he wearied of the monotony of life in the clearing and the wild wood, and after his mother married and left them he was more and more dissatisfied. But ‘patience to see the issue,’ was requited.
“One day when John went to the nearest city he bought me a woolen shawl, something I had needed for a long time. I had worked long enough to earn it. It was the yellowish-green color of a quince, with a vine about the edge of scarlet roses bedded in moss. It was very rare and fine, and the first good article of apparel I had ever owned.
“The weekly singing-school was held that evening at Zack Price’s. When I put on my beautiful shawl to go with John and Polly, I had it on wrong side out, Polly said.
“’Now Ellen, that’s good luck. That shawl will bring you nothing but fortune the best. I am so glad, and it does become you wonderfully; that ripe tint suits your hair and eyes.’
“After the singing closed – now, girls, don’t you laugh, for this happened fifty years ago when all manners and customs were so different from these times – when it closed, the boys began to select their girls to escort home. Bowing and blushing, and drawing on their yarn mittens. Just beside the fireplace stood Sally Jones and Hannah Hazen waiting for some beau to ask to ‘see them safe home’ or to ‘have the pleasure of their company.’
“I always went with John and Polly, and I stood beside them while they rolled, each, a baby in a wooly, half-sleyed blanket ready for the cold walk home. Just as John took up little ‘Buzz,’ a man’s hand reached out and laid hold of mine with no uncertain grip, and the husky words, ‘I’m going with you, Ellen’ fell on my ears. It was Zachariah, poor, bashful, sorrowful, lonely Zachariah, whose eyes, far-searching, were looking away toward the sea for the companionship for which his soul was hungry.
“John and Polly went to bed with the babies, and I sat a spell with Zack that evening.
“We spent a very pleasant two hours. I told him how I had crossed paths with John Coulter, and how it seemed providential, that in a way we could not understand, he was to lead me, or to help me. And when we talked about the sea. I told him of the dangers that lay in a life on the ocean wave
“When he started home he asked if he might ‘come and see me’ on the next Saturday evening. I told him I had no objections, but I seriously thought that Hannah Hazen and Sally Jones might not approve of it.
“He said Han and Sally might go to the old Harry, for all he cared, lazy girls who could not spin six knots a day without they proved the truth of the old saying, and spun after dark, because when ‘the sun was in the west, lazy girls worked best.’”
“He came on Saturday evening, as agreed on.
“What did I wear? Well, I had a yellow and white home-made cotton gown, check. We bought the cotton yarn, colored it copperas, and wove it ourselves. Then I wore a dress handkerchief, folded three-cornered, pinned down between my shoulders, crossed in front and pinned smooth, a linen apron with three rows of little tucks, a string of blue and white glass beads, and another string of gold ones, called a ‘neck-lace,’ that Polly made me wear. They had belonged to her great-grandmother in old Vermont. My hair was twisted in a coil round a horn-comb behind, and at the sides was rolled in long rolls or curls around side combs. It was a pretty fashion. I did not need to rub my cheeks with coarse flannel nor press a prickly mullen leaf with a stinging spat on them, like Sally Jones or Hannah Hazen, for I had the roses of health planted there in my childhood.
“Well, he came ‘to see’ me, and stayed till midnight. I cannot remember all that we talked about, only that he spoke of his mother marrying again, and leaving her children to do for themselves, and he cried, and I felt so sorry that I cried too. I pitied them so. A home without father or mother was not much of a home in those days.
“Well, when Zachariah left, he asked me to take a walk with him the next morning. He said we would follow the path, take the canoe and ride up to the bend and walk from there to the ripple and home again in time for dinner.
“I often remember a trifling little incident that happened that morning. I went to the garden to pick a pan of currents, and the first bush I raised had a nestful of eggs under it, fifteen fresh, white eggs hidden away there that we did not know of.
“Polly said if a girl found a hidden nest, when not looking for it, it was a sure sign of an offer of marriage; said she never knew it to fail; that the day before John asked her to have him, she found a hatful down under the woodbine beside their door.
“What did I wear that May morning?
“Well, a pale-blue and white striped gingham dress, fresh from the ironing table, and a blue ribbon around my head, tied at one side in a bow with ends; and my new calf-skin shoes; and a corded pink-and-white check sunbonnet.
“Did father pop the question that day?
“He did. That was his errand. We were sitting on a mossy log in old man Broady’s sugar camp when he up and said, ‘I need you, Ellen Thompson. I guess you are the ship that is waiting for me, and sea is the sea of matrimony,’ and he took hold of my hand with a powerful grip and said: ‘Now, I’ll not let go till you say “yes” or “no,” even if you are a week considering. I have a home, such as it is, to take you to. The farm will be mine when I get it paid for and boys “bought out.” I have stock plenty, good health, willing hands and I never cared a snap for any other girl but you, and, Ellen, I never will. We were meant for each other; there is a real downright providence in all this, and it all came about, don’t you see, through John Coulter.’
“His grip tightened. I said I wanted to think awhile. He said I was no baby, I knew my own mind as well then as in a month, and his fingers closed so painfully tight that, half-laughing and half-crying, I said ‘yes.’
“We were married two weeks from that day by the circuit preacher at Jim Gwin’s cabin – it was there the regular preaching was held, because we had no meeting-houses for five years after.
“The cabin stood down below Horner’s house, where George has his garden now, and it was crowded. We were married after service.
“What did I wear?
“Well, I was dressed nice for a bride in those days; had on a white jaconet dress, and corded petticoat, and a silk dress handkerchief with silk fringe all round it – the wedding gift of your father, girls – side-comb curls on each temple, a wreath of apple-blossoms on my head, and a beautiful, light, gauzy green veil down over my face.
“People said I didn’t look scared, but rosy and serious.
“When the preacher said, ‘Salute your bride,’ you papa laid the veil aside quite gracefully and kissed me with a good deal of noise, or so it seemed to me. We had an infair at my father’s. As was the custom, the party rode horseback, in couples, forming a procession, I used to be a pretty sight to see an infair company, gay and rejoicing. There were ten couples of us. My family had received the message only the day before, and not much preparation had been made, but I put on one of my mother’s old dresses and killed chickens, and the other girls pinned up their dresses and stewed apples and berries and made pies and cookies, and we did have a grand time.
“We all rode home that same evening in the moonlight, and we sang good old Methodist hymns as we rode along through the woods and up and down the wild hills.
“I thought I never heard sweeter singing, and all the parts were carried on the same as the church choirs do nowadays.
“I never regretted my choice. Your father was a good, kind man. Sometimes I sit and think about how strangely it all came to pass, as you read in the verse awhile ago – how incidents not worth noticing or remembering shape themselves, and bind each act and step to this one end, that one day, out of the darkness the mystery will be made plain, and great events will grow out of nothings. How true that life’s great loss may be our gain, and that we all need only patience to wait for results.
“It’s such a pleasure to me to recall one incident in your dear papa’s last sickness. He had lain seemingly unconscious for an hour or two when he rallied and, looking up into my face, he held my hand around the wrist, and smiling said: ‘Ellen, you were the right one; you were sent to me. You made a better man of me, and, Ellen, I meant to hold your hand a week down in Broady’s sugar camp if you hadn’t said yes;’ and his laugh was fresh and as full of joy as a child’s laugh, recalling the boyish reminiscence that flitted back over all the long years even to his peaceful dying and departing to be with Christ.”
© 2011 Peggy Mershon Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org