Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 6. War or No War?

The Electric Franklin

November 12, 1775

I'm planning to spend a little time every day with Aunt Jane, reading English poetry. On my advice, Aunt Sally is diligently reading or re-reading some Shakespeare, and casually drops a quote from Romeo and Juliet now and then. Jane and Sally now collaborate in the kitchen and have produced, to Grandfather's delight, a dish called "New England boiled dinner" (a mixture of corned beef, cabbage, turnips and potatoes) which brings him right back to his long ago childhood, but horrifies Willy. In the midst of Willy's screaming that he will have none of it, Benny suggests that we should all put on happy faces and say "What luck Willy won't eat it, we can feast on his portion." As soon as his plate is shared amid groans of satisfaction, Willy remembers that he is hungry and looks pathetically around the table. We all eat and keep talking. All except Grandfather who sneaks a piece under the table to the baby rebel. And a second piece, and a third.

— "We see you, Ben" declares Aunt Jane. "You have never changed. You are still dead set against observing the rules."

— "Who? Me? What rules?" He is the picture of innocence.

— "Yes, you. I don't remember the episode myself because I was too young, but my parents would often talk about the time when Father was salting the winter's provisions and calling for God's blessing over each layer, you said, with your usual impertinence, that if he were to say grace over the whole cask, once and for all, it would be a vast saving of time."

There bursts a more or less suppressed laughter around the table while Grandfather mumbles, not really to the point, that he has always hated wasting time. He is intently watching Willy.

— "Sally," he says, "I believe that children should be treated the same way as people who come from a faraway country, people whom one has to ease gently into our own customs. Once he has acquired learning, Willy will do great things because he stands his ground — and Benny because he thinks before he talks. You are to be congratulated, you and Richard, on the brains of your boys. Let them spread their wings."

After the four Baches retire to bed, I understand that Benjamin and Jane are still engaged in what must have been a life-long theological dispute: Is one's soul to be saved, as Jane maintains, only by submission to Providence, prayers, and strict observance of Puritanism, or is it enough, as Grandfather maintains, "to serve God by doing good to men"? Grandfather tries to joke his way out of this rather painful conversation by assuring his sister that when she gets to Heaven — a few years after him, of course — she'll find him asking God how He managed to put electricity into the clouds in the first place. Just a friendly talk, scientist to scientist, since God kindly revealed to him the way to help mankind through the lightning rod. Jane, who has no sense of humor at all, just frowns. But their devotion to each other remains intact, I'd say.