Henry David Thoreau
Memories of Thoreau
-Anonymous ("a lady who knew him when she was a child, from the age of six to that of fifteen", in Henry D. Thoreau by F. B. Sanborn)
The time when Mr. Thoreau was our more intimate playfellow must have been in the years from 1850 to 1855. He used to come in, at dusk, as my brother and I sat on the rug before the dining-room fire, and, taking the great green rocking-chair, he would tell us stories. Those I remember were his own adventures, as a child. He began with telling us of the different houses he had lived in, and what he could remember about each.
The house where he was born was on the Virginia road, near the old Bedford road. The only thing he remembered about that house was that from its windows he saw a flock of geese walking along in a row on the other side of the road; but to show what a long memory he had, when he told his mother of this, she said the only time he could have seen that sight was when he was about eight months old, for they left that house then.
Soon after, he lived in the old house on the Lexington road, nearly opposite Mr. Emerson's. There he was tossed by a cow as he played near the door, in his red flannel dress, -- and so on, with a story for every house. He used to delight us with the adventures of a brood of fall chickens, which slept the night in a tall old fashioned fig drum in the kitchen, and as their bed was not changed when they grew larger, they packed themselves every night each in its own place, and grew up, not shapely, but shaped to each other and the drum, like figs!
Sometimes he would play juggler tricks for us, and swallow his knife and produce it again from our ears or noses. We usually ran to bring some apples for him as soon as he came in, and often he would cut one in halves in fine points that scarcely showed on close examination, and then the joke was to ask Father to break it for us and see it fall to pieces in his hands.
But perhaps the evenings most charming were those when he brought some ears of pop-corn in his pocket and headed an expedition to the garret to hunt out the old brass warming-pan; in which he would put the corn, and hold it out and shake it over the fire till it was heated through, and at last, as we listened, the rattling changed to popping. When this be came very brisk, he would hold the pan over the rug and lift the lid, and a beautiful fountain of the white corn flew all over us. It required both strength and patience to hold out the heavy warming-pan at arm's length so long, and no one else ever gave us that pleasure.
I remember his singing 'Tom Bowline' to us, and also playing on his flute, but that was earlier. In the summer he used to make willow whistles, and trumpets out of the stems of squash leaves, and onion leaves. When he found fine berries during his walks, he always remembered us, and came to arrange a huckleberrying for us. He took charge of the 'hay rigging' with the load of children, who sat on the floor which was spread with hay, covered with a buffalo-robe; he sat on a board placed across the front and drove, and led the frolic with his jokes and laughter as we jolted along, while the elders of the family accompanied us in a 'carryall.'
Either he had great tact and skill in managing us and keeping our spirits and play within bounds, or else he became a child in sympathy with us, for I do not remember a check or reproof from him, no matter how noisy we were. He always was most kind to me and made it his especial care to establish me in the 'thickest places,' as we used to call them. Those sunny afternoons are bright memories, and the lamb kill flowers and sweet 'everlasting,' always recall them and his kind care.
Once in a while he took us on the river in his boat, a rare pleasure then; and I remember one brilliant autumn afternoon, when he took us to gather the wild grapes overhanging the river, and we brought home a load of crimson and golden boughs as well. He never took us to walk with him, but sometimes joined us for a little way, if he met us in the woods on Sunday afternoons. He made those few steps memorable by showing us many wonders in so short a space: perhaps the only chincapin oak in Concord, so hidden that no one but himself could have discovered it-or some remarkable bird, or nest, or flower.
He took great interest in my garden of wild flowers, and used to bring me seeds, or roots, of rare plants. In his last illness it did not occur to us that he would care to see us, but his sister told my mother that he watched us from the window as we passed, and said: 'Why don't they come to see me? I love them as if they were my own.' After that we went often, and he always made us so welcome that we liked to go. I remember our last meetings with as much pleasure as the old play-days.
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