Episode 7. Ups and Downs of Family Life
Today, Aunt Jane wants me to tell her what I learned in my London boarding school. I dig out Mr. Elphinston's letter in phonetic spelling, the one Caldwell sent me last summer, and — giggling all along — she reads that "Tempel dances, plays, and draws uncommonly, he can indeed take anny likeness. Nor must you fancy him engrosed by dhe ellegant arts. He haz had dhe onnor of introduccion to Cezar, Virgil, Horrace, and dhe Greek testament."
— "Who are those people you have been introduced to?" she wants to know.
— "Julius Caesar, who wrote about war in his day, and two wonderful poets, Virgil who sang the beauty of Nature, and Horace who made fun of Roman society. All of them lived in the 1st century before Christ."
— "Ah, so this is the Caesar in the Bible. 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; render unto God that which is God's.' "
— "Do you mean to say there were poets before Christ?"
— "Excellent ones, as well as playwrights, engineers, architects, sculptors, a brilliant civilization that flourished first in Greece and later in Italy."
She looks so taken aback that I see myself dropping out of the "perfect" category.
— "Aunt Jane, it is not my fault or theirs if they died a few years before Christ was born ..."
She frowns and I quickly produce my other Elphinston document: his bill for my last semester before we embarked for Philadelphia: 15 pounds for board and education, 5 shillings for books, 6 shillings for my seat in church, 10 shillings for the servants, and various sums for mending, dancing, drawing, music, plus ... "a whole year of tea in the parlor."
— "Tea in the parlor! What on earth did they teach you?"
— "How to drink my tea like a gentleman. How to balance the fine china cup and saucer. How to hold them up for the lady of the house to pour a little cold milk first — not to crack the china when the boiling tea arrives — how to behave in a genteel manner for the next ten minutes."
Aunt Jane is grinning. She pulls a green box from under her bed and triumphantly holds out a fairly large bag of tea. I put on a horrified face.
— "Aunt Jane! The crime of crimes! Don't you know that ..."
— "Of course I know. But I bought this well before the non-importation law. Quick, Temple, let's have some."
And off she goes, to heat water in Aunt Sally's empty kitchen. As we start sipping from our sturdy mugs, I decide not to tell her about my father's tea parties in his fancy parlor. Instead, I remark that there is a lot to be said for those practical American mugs that keep the tea hot while they warm your hands.
As we empty our mugs, I tell Aunt Jane that I think baby Hannah's health is improving. She has been crying much less these last few days.
— "No, no." she replies. "It means she is getting weaker. Believe me, I know about sick babies."