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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Getting Ready for Meetin’

By Sarah Pratt McLean Greene (1856–1935)

[Born in Simsbury, Conn., 1856. Died in Lexington, Mass., 1935. Cape Cod Folks. 1881.—Revised Edition. 1888.]

WHEN the ancient couple made their appearance, I remarked silently, in regard to Grandma Keeler’s hair, what proved afterward to be its usual holiday morning arrangement. It was confined in six infinitesimal braids, which appeared to be sprouting out perpendicularly in all directions from her head. The effect of redundancy and expansiveness thus heightened and increased on Grandma’s features was striking in the extreme.

While we were eating breakfast, that good soul observed to Grandpa Keeler: “Wall, pa, I suppose you’ll be all ready when the time comes to take teacher and me over to West Wallen to Sunday-school, won’t ye?”

Grandpa coughed, and coughed again, and raised his eyes helplessly to the window.

“Looks some like showers,” said he. “A-hem! a-hem! Looks mightily to me like showers, over yonder.”

“Thar’, r’aly, husband! I must say I feel mortified for ye,” said Grandma. “Seein’ as you’re a perfessor, too, and thar’ ain’t been a single Sunday mornin’ since I’ve lived with ye, pa, summer or winter, but what you’ve seen showers, and it r’aly seems to me it’s dreadful inconsistent when thar’ ain’t no cloud in the sky, and don’t look no more like rain than I do.” And Grandma’s face, in spite of her reproachful tones, was, above all, blandly sunlike and expressive of anything rather than deluge and watery disaster.

Grandpa was silent a little while, then coughed again. I had never seen Grandpa in worse straits.

“A-hem! a-hem! ‘Fanny’ seems to be a little lame, this mornin’,” said he. “I shouldn’t wonder. She’s been goin’ pretty stiddy this week.”

“It does beat all, pa,” continued Grandma Keeler, “how ’t all the horses you’ve ever had since I’ve known ye have always been took lame Sunday mornin’. Thar’ was ‘Happy Jack,’ he could go anywhers through the week, and never limp a step, as nobody could see, and Sunday mornin’ he was always took lame! And thar’ was ‘Tantrum’”——

“Tantrum” was the horse that had run away with Grandma when she was thrown from the wagon and generally smashed to pieces. And now Grandma branched off into the thrilling reminiscences connected with this incident of her life, which was the third time during the week that the horrible tale had been repeated for my delectation.

When she had finished, Grandpa shook his head with painful earnestness, reverting to the former subject of discussion.

“It’s a long jaunt!” said he; “a long jaunt!”

“Thar’s a long hill to climb before we reach Zion’s mount,” said Grandma Keeler, impressively.

“Wall, there’s a darned sight harder one on the road to West Wallen!” burst out the old sea-captain desperately; “say nothin’ about the devilish stones!”

“Thar’ now,” said Grandma, with calm though awful reproof; “I think we’ve gone fur enough for one day; we’ve broke the Sabbath, and took the name of the Lord in vain, and that ought to be enough for perfessors.”

Grandpa replied at length in a greatly subdued tone: “Wall, if you and the teacher want to go over to Sunday-school to-day, I suppose we can go if we get ready”—a long submissive sigh—“I suppose we can.”

“They have preachin’ service in the mornin’, I suppose,” said Grandma. “But we don’t generally git along to that. It makes such an early start. We generally try to get around, when we go, in time for Sunday-school. They have singin’ and all. It’s just about as interestin’, I think, as preachin’. The old man r’aly likes it,” she observed aside to me, “when he once gets started; but he kind o’ dreads the gittin’ started.”

When I beheld the ordeal through which Grandpa Keeler was called to pass at the hands of his faithful consort, before he was considered in a fit condition of mind and body to embark for the sanctuary, I marvelled not at the old man’s reluctance, nor that he had indeed seen clouds and tempest fringing the horizon.

Immediately after breakfast he set out for the barn, ostensibly to “see to the chores”; really, I believe, to obtain a few moments’ respite, before worse evil should come upon him.

Pretty soon Grandma was at the back door calling in firm though persuasive tones:

“Husband! husband! come in, now, and get ready.”

No answer. Then it was in another key, weighty, yet expressive of no weak irritation, that Grandma called, “Come, pa! pa-a! pa-a-a!” Still no answer.

Then that voice of Grandma’s sung out like a trumpet, terrible with meaning—“Bijonah Keeler!”

But Grandpa appeared not. Next, I saw Grandma slowly but surely gravitating in the direction of the barn, and soon she returned, bringing with her that ancient delinquent, who looked like a lost sheep indeed and a truly unreconciled one.

“Now the first thing,” said Grandma, looking her forlorn captive over, “is boots. Go and get on yer meetin’ gaiters, pa.”

The old gentleman, having invested himself with those sacred relics, came pathetically limping into the room.

“I declare, ma,” said he, “somehow these things,—phew! Somehow they pinch my feet dreadfully. I don’t know what it is,—phew! They’re dreadful oncomf’table things somehow.”

“Since I’ve known ye, pa,” solemnly ejaculated Grandma Keeler, “you’ve never had a pair o’ meetin’ boots that set easy on yer feet. You’d ought to get boots big enough for ye, pa,” she continued, looking down disapprovingly on the old gentleman’s pedal extremities, which resembled two small scows at anchor, in black cloth encasements, “and not be so proud as to go to pinchin’ yer feet into gaiters a number o’ sizes too small for ye.”

“They’re number tens, I tell ye!” roared Grandpa, nettled outrageously by this cutting taunt.

“Wall, thar’ now, pa,” said Grandma, soothingly; “if I had sech feet as that, I wouldn’t go to spreadin’ it all over town, if I was you—but it’s time we stopped bickerin’ now, husband, and got ready for meetin’; so set down and let me wash yer head.”

“I’ve washed once this mornin’. It’s clean enough,” Grandpa protested; but in vain. He was planted in a chair, and Grandma Keeler, with rag and soap and a basin of water, attacked the old gentleman vigorously, much as I have seen cruel mothers wash the faces of their earth-begrimed infants. He only gave expression to such groans as—

“Thar’, ma! don’t tear my ears to pieces! Come, ma! you’ve got my eyes so full o’ soap now, ma, that I can’t see nothin’. Phew! Lordy! ain’t ye most through with this, ma?”

Then came the dyeing process, which Grandma Keeler assured me, aside, made Grandpa “look like a man o’ thirty”; but to me, after it he looked neither old nor young, human nor inhuman, nor like anything that I had ever seen before under the sun.

“There’s the lotion, the potion, the dye-er, and the setter,” said Grandma, pointing to four bottles on the table. “Now whar’s the directions, Madeline?”

These having been produced from between the leaves of the family Bible, Madeline read, while Grandma made a vigorous practical application of the various mixtures.

“‘This admirable lotion,’”—in soft ecstatic tones Madeline rehearsed the flowery language of the recipe—“‘though not so instantaneously startling in its effect as our inestimable dyer and setter, yet forms a most essential part of the whole process, opening, as it does, the dry and lifeless pores of the scalp, imparting to them new life and beauty, and rendering them more easily susceptible to the applications which follow. But we must go deeper than this; a tone must be given to the whole system by means of the cleansing and rejuvenating of the very centre of our beings, and, for this purpose, we have prepared our wonderful potion.’” Here Grandpa, with a wry face, was made to swallow a spoonful of the mixture. “‘Our unparalleled dyer,’” Madeline continued, “‘restores black hair to a more than original gloss and brilliancy, and gives to the faded golden tress the sunny flashes of youth.’” Grandpa was dyed. “‘Our world-renowned setter completes and perfects the whole process by adding tone and permanency to the efficacious qualities of the lotion, potion, and dyer, etc.’”; while on Grandpa’s head the unutterable dye was set.

“Now, read teacher some of the testimonials, daughter,” said Grandma Keeler, whose face was one broad, generous illustration of that rare and peculiar virtue called faith.

So Madeline continued: “‘Mrs. Hiram Briggs, of North Dedham, writes: I was terribly afflicted with baldness, so that, for months, I was little more than an outcast from society, and an object of pity to my most familiar friends. I tried every remedy in vain. At length I heard of your wonderful restorative. After a week’s application, my hair had already begun to grow in what seemed the most miraculous manner. At the end of ten months, it had assumed such length and proportions as to be a most luxurious burden, and where I had before been regarded with pity and aversion, I became the envied and admired of all beholders.’”

“Just think!” said Grandma Keeler, with rapturous sympathy and gratitude, “how that poor creetur must ’a’ felt!”

“‘Orion Spaulding of Weedsville, Vermont,’” Madeline went on—but here I had to beg to be excused, and went to my room to get ready for the Sunday-school.

When I came down again, Grandpa Keeler was seated, completely arrayed in his best clothes, opposite Grandma, who held the big family Bible in her lap, and a Sunday-school question-book in one hand.

“Now, pa,” said she, “what tribe was it in sacred writ that wore bunnits?”

I was compelled to infer from the tone of Grandpa Keeler’s answer that his temper had not undergone a mollifying process during my absence.

“Come, ma,” said he; “how much longer ye goin’ to pester me in this way?”

“Why, pa,” Grandma rejoined calmly, “until you git a proper understandin’ of it. What tribe was it in sacred writ that wore bunnits?”

“Lordy!” exclaimed the old man. “How d’ye suppose I know! They must ’a’ been a tarnal old-womanish lookin’ set any way.”

“The tribe o’ Judah, pa,” said Grandma, gravely. “Now, how good it is, husband, to have your understandin’ all freshened up on the Scripters!”

“Come, come, ma!” said Grandpa, rising nervously, “it’s time we was startin’. When I make up my mind to go anywhere I always want to git there in time. If I was goin’ to the Old Harry, I should want to git there in time.”

“It’s my consarn that we shall git thar’ before time, some on us,” said Grandma, with sad meaning, “unless we larn to use more respec’ful language.”