Tramping on life; an autobiographical narrative
Now I am writing these things just as I was told them by my grandmother. For I have utterly no remembrance of my mother. Consumption ran in her family. And bearing and giving birth to me woke the inherited weakness in her. She was not even strong enough to suckle me.
I was born in the early eighties, in Mornington, Ohio, in a section of that great, steel-manufacturing city which was neither city, suburb, nor country, — but a muddy, green-splashed, murky mixture of all three. They told me, when I was old enough to understand, that my mother was English, that her folks lived in Cleveland and owned a millinery and dry goods store there . . and that my father met my mother one day in Mornington. She was visiting an uncle who ran a candy store on Main Street, and, she girl-like, laughed and stood behind the counter, ready for a flirtation. . .
My father was young, too. And he was employed there in the store, apprenticed to the candymaker's trade. And, on this day, as he passed through, carrying a trayful of fresh-dipped chocolates, he winked at my mother and joked with her in an impudent way . . and she rebuffed him, not really meaning a rebuff, of course . . and he startled her by pulling off his hat and grotesquely showing himself to be entirely bald . . for he had grown bald very young — at the age of sixteen . . both because of scarlet fever, and because baldness for the men ran in his family . . and he was tall, and dark, and walked with rather a military carriage. I was four years old when my mother died. When she fell sick, they tell me, my grandfather did one of the few decent acts of his life — he let my father have a farm he owned in central Kansas, near Hutchinson. But my father did not try to work it.
He was possessed of neither the capital nor knowledge necessary for fanning. He went to work as a clerk in a local hotel, in a rapidly growing town. Crazy with grief, he watched my mother drop out of his Ufe a little more each day. My father and mother both had tempers that flared up and sank as suddenly. I had lung fever when I was a baby. That was what they called it then. I nearly died of it. It left me very frail in the body.
As soon as I could walk and talk my mother made a great companion of me. She didn't treat me as if I were only a child. She treated me like a grown-up companion. I am told that I would follow her about the house from room to room, clutching at her skirts, while she was dusting and sweeping and working. And to hear us two talking with each other, you would have imagined there was a houseful of people.
My father's anguish over my mother's death caused him to break loose from all ties. His grief goaded him so that he went about aimlessly. He roamed from state to state, haunted by her memory. He worked at all sorts of jobs. Once he even dug ditches for seventy-five cents a day. He had all sorts of adventures, roaming about.
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