committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

EARLY LIFE AT HOME AND IN SCHOOL.

        On September 26, 1832, a baby girl opened her blue eyes for the first time. It was in a farm-house in Clarion County, Pa. Mother said," She looks like her father." Father said, "I will name her Joanna Patterson, for my dearest and best aunt." A sweet little sister about four years old wanted to see the baby, but she could only see with her hands, for her eyes had been totally blind for more than a year. A brother about seven years old, also gladly welcomed this little baby. Two of her sisters and one brother had moved to heaven before she came.

        The first work that I remember doing was" taking care of baby." Before I was fourteen years old five brothers and two sisters had been added to our family. Two of these died when quite young, a brother before I can remember, and a sister when I was seven years old, left us for a home in heaven. Rebecca, my blind sister, was a great help in taking care of the children. She dearly loved them. Mother was so sorry for sister's blindness that she seldom gave her any work to do, but when I was old enough she gave me a great plenty to do. I wanted help and soon found that Rebecca had wonderful power to see with her hands. She could shell the peas, grind the coffee, gather currants when I took her to the bushes, she could wash dishes and clothes, and oh, so many things. At first mother objected to my having her work, but when she saw it made sister happy to help me, she let me have my way. I taught her how to knit, and for many years she knit all the stockings for the family, and also learned how to knit beautiful lace. She could even tell the color of flowers by the sense of touch. She loved me dearly and would do anything to please me. I was in a fair way to become selfish, only that my brothers demanded their rights, and sometimes I thought a little more; yet they were as good as brothers generally are. It was well for me that I was taught to give up sometimes. As I look back over my childhood life, there is nothing I am more thankful for than being one of a large family. Where there are so many to clothe and feed, we must think of others and learn to give brother a piece of our apple. I am very thankful also for my blind sister. She was a great blessing to the whole household. If the boys were sometimes rude to me, they never dared to speak a cross word to Rebecca. She was the sweet, gentle angel that often settled our childish quarrels. Another cause of thanksgiving is being a country girl. God's plan for his children is the country, the city is one of the many inventions man sought out. You see more of God's handiwork in the country ; the trees, the flowers, the birds, the animals. All these were a constant delight to me and are till to-day. The country cannot fail to please and comfort any who will simply open their eyes and look. I did not attend school regularly. It was only open two or three months in the year, and that in the winter time, but somehow I learned to read before I was eight years old. My oldest brother Richard taught me some lessons. We used to study together in a book called "Introduction to the English Reader," and committed some verses to memory. We had but few books and papers in those days, but we had the Bible and the Episcopal Hymn and Prayer book. These especially interested my sister. To her I owe much of whatever love I have for books. She would say, "Joanna, read to me, and I will wash the dishes, sweep the floor, take care of the baby, if I must carry him round to keep him quiet. I will do anything if you will only read." I was the one who always led her out to the barn, into the garden, into the fields, and to a neighbor's house, or wherever she wanted to go. Usually I enjoyed it, because I loved her and she loved me, and we both loved the dear little children, and yet I remember I sometimes tired of waiting on her. I wanted to go out in the fields and play. I am sure I was always selfish, and yet I know my name was called very often to serve in many ways nearly every member of the family. I am very thankful to-day that there has always been some one weaker than myself along some line, one that I could really help and comfort. Oh, if I had always done it gladly and cheerfully, what a happy little girl and big girl I would have been. But I did not know it was more blessed to give than to receive; therefore by my impatience and selfishness I lost many blessings. Some one may read this who says, "My life is all service, every one of the family calls on me to give and to help. They think I never get tired. I cook, I wash, and I mend. Strange, no one tries to help me." Oh, how many times I have heard such pitiful complaints from persons like myself, who were only doing their duty, but who spoiled the good they did by complaining. Did you ever read Luke 6:38? The pay for real service is given into the heart, but it can't get there until love opens the door, then our joy is complete.

        Like many children I was careless. I did not know that forgetting a duty was a real sin, but one day I saw the sad results of my negligence. Mother had a nice garden of vegetables and of flowers. I helped her take care of them. I think I was about nine years old. Mother often said, "Be sure to shut and fasten that garden gate." Yet, I left it open one night, the hogs got in and destroyed the garden. I never can forget it. I was scolded but not whipped. I never was whipped in my life, but this time I suffered more than any one else, cried all day, and said to myself, "Just to think! everything is lost, because I forgot to close that gate. I will never forget again," but many times since "my forget" has caused great losses and made me lose many opportunities of doing good. I remember another "I forgot." About a year later I was washing the dishes on the table that had a leaf that could be let down or lifted by means of a slide. Mother often said, "Do not put the dishes on the leaf, for the table may upset." I forgot, and the table did upset and there lay the broken dishes. Mother was in the next room, heard the racket, and came and looked on in dismay. Some choice things were broken. Mother was angry, and I suppose I might have been severely punished, only father happened to come in just at that time and quietly took mother into the next room. I heard him say, "Mother, don't whip her." She didn't want to follow this advice. "You are spoiling that girl; she deserves to be whipped," was mother's angry reply. I heard no more, for I left the room, saying to myself, "I have the best father in all the world. I am going to try hard to be good, and let mother see I am not spoiled, because she does not whip me." Perhaps a whipping would have done me good, but I think not. It might have helped some children, but surely I suffered enough that day and for many days. Rebecca was so glad I wasn't punished. She heard what father said. It's a long time since I was a little girl and I have forgotten much of what did happen. It was a very commonplace life that I lived. Nothing remarkable. I liked to work in the garden, rake hay with my brothers, gather the sheaves of wheat into piles of thirteen; the men set twelve of them on end and put one on the top for a roof. We called that a shock of grain, which was thus protected until ready to be taken into the barn. I could harness a horse, and ride on horseback without a saddle. I used to carry water for the men in the harvest field. Had it not been for Rebecca I fear I would not have taken much time for reading, because when not at work I would have been playing in the meadows with the calves and the lambs.

        Father often told me that I must have a good education, and then he would take me to the north of Ireland, his native home. He often would describe the country to me. Father was fond of poetry, and used to recite some of Burns' poems. I remember three: "A Man's a Man for a' That," "Highland Mary," "The Louse on Misses Bonnet." He was also fond of history and yet he never bought his children books. I know they were hard to obtain in those days. I often think to-day what a blessing appropriate books would have been to me and my brothers. For this and many other reasons I am now asking God to send me $1,000,000 so that I can supply the homes of our dear colored people with books to read. Many of them do not know the value of such an addition to their fireside. I would also need to have some one to go into their homes and show them how to read these books to their children. I would not put one cent of this money into a public library, but would supply the individual homes and thus win the children to love home. Perhaps we would form select reading clubs that could meet in different homes, and so use the social element to secure the reading of good books. All reading the same book at the same time has been the great inspiration of our Fireside School plan. One million dollars is a large sum of money for which to ask. But "I am coming to a King, I may large petitions bring." I believe this prayer will be answered, because it is a very great need. Bad books are scattered broadcast. "If good we plant not, vice will fill the place. And rankest weeds the richest soil deface."

 
 
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