My siblings and I possess several letters written by our mother Dorothy Harper, which only serve to make us more in awe of her.
She raised 5 children, with a husband who was away from home much of the time in the early years in his role as national youth leader for the Methodist Church in the US. She held down the home front, while writing scripts for religious radio programs, and volunteering for church and civic causes.
Here are some excerpts from one of the letters that our mom wrote almost every day that dad was travelling. This one was from the time there were only us three boys — Steve 1 year old, Hal 3, and Rusty 5.
The name of this is “From Morning Til Night.” As you drove out the driveway, the whole tribe, pajama clad, stood on the porch waving til the last streak of you disappeared down the road, then made a mad dash for the kitchen. Stevie hollered, “Bake-bake” (bacon) as he hoisted himself into his highchair. Russ and Hal had the usual verbal skirmish about who would sit in the green highchair. As they ate raisin bread toast and bacon, Hal said, “Mama aren’t you glad I didn’t wet my pants last night? Soon I’ll be a big boy up to the sky! I’ll be so big I haf to stoop down to come in the door.” The veracity of this statement was immediately challenged by Rusty, “Nobody can get that big. They couldn’t get in the house at all if they were that big.” This produced an argument that lasted thru breakfastâ€¦.
Hal sat dawdling over his scrap of bread. There was something on his mind: “Mommy, what makes food spoil?” I explained how little bugs called bacteria got onto the food and would eat and walk around on it and make it taste bad. Then followed much discussion. “Can we see the bugs? Why can’t we see little enough? Why don’t they like to live in the refrigerator? Why don’t we just keep some left-over bread and things out so they can get on them and not our good food? I want to hurry up and go to school to see that machine so I can look at all those bugs”â€¦.
Hal hollered from the living room, “What does m-a-c spell?” I answered, “Mac”. “You mean like Mac-a-roni? Oh! I didn’t know I could spell!” Delighted with himself. (Normally he just calls out letters like v-r-a that don’t spell anything.) This spelling spree is in imitation of Rusty who reads off letters from cereal boxes, signs, etcâ€¦
As I was writing this, Hal came up with an old pill box Bert Lyle left under the bed. “You know what I got in this? I got some old raisins I pulled out of my toast, and I’m saving them so the little bugs will have something to eat.”
Meanwhile. Russ is in the back bedroom teaching Stevie to jump across from one bed to the other. One is too high for Stevie to climb, but he pulls himself up and makes as if to dive across, and falls like a chunk of lead into Rusty’s arms. Both are tickled to death…
By this time, Hal is into the refrigerator. “Now, Hal, What am I going to tell you?” “You are going to say get out of the refrigerator—but I’m not the one letting all the cold air out. Stevie’s just standing here punching the light off and on and wasting ‘lectricity!”â€¦but as I return to writing, Hal is back in the refrigerator. “Hal,” I call in my warning voice, and the explanations just flow; “but Rusty wanted some water. Aren’t you glad I’m sharing my cold water with him?” By now Stevie has pushed his highchair over and is walking around on the table.
I herded them out to the front porch with a bunch of toy cars and planks to run them on, but Stevie has decided to call on the Johnsons. He is across the street in a wink at their front door in his diaper. When I get him back, settled with the ball and hammer set, Rusty and Hal want to go across the street to see the new child riding a stick-horse and playing cowboy.â€¦
While Stevie is contentedly banging away, I will recall for you the events of yesterday when ElizabethAnn (a girl from next door) pretended to be the Mommy washing Hal, and Hal squealing, “But I don’t want to be washed AGAIN!” She had washed Stevie’s hair under the hydrant for the third consecutive day, and brought him in curled and shiny on top as a new penny, but with as dirty a face and legs as a street urchin.
At nap time, we discussed deep sea fishing, with special emphasis on octopuses, and “what they do to you!” Before we went to bed, they needed to see a picture of one which I managed to find in a dictionary. Then, as a final gesture to ward off sleep, they wanted to play everybody-take-a-turn-singing-their-favorite-song. Rusty asked for “Go to sleepy little baby”, a song Grandma Harper mostly makes up as she sings. I said I didn’t know it, and Rusty exclaimed. “Well, Mother! I learned how to play “Hallelujah” on the piano and spell cat and tree. It looks like you’d be smart enough to learn one little old baby song!”
When Hal’s 2nd turn came (the first time he always chooses, “I Love Little Pussy”) he picked the song Rusty made up months ago when he told me he was going to “compose some songs.” It has such elevated thoughts as: “Ears from the hall, ears from the hall, earsy, dearsy, mearsy………..” The second verse is : “Nose from the hall…….etc.” Occasionally I choose this song when my turn comes, and this pleases them no end. It has become such a classic in the family.
Hal wistfully remarked, “I wish we had a mother hen and a daddy hen so we could get us lots of chickens, about a hundred, cause you got to have a mother and a daddy hen before you get baby hens, don’t you?”
COME HOME, Daddy Hen!