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Text Cheaper by the Dozen
Mother took an active part in church and community work. She didn't teach a class, but she served on a number of committees. Once she called on a woman who had just moved to town, to ask her to serve on a fund-raising committee.
'I'd be glad to if I had the time,' the woman said. 'But I have three young sons and they keep me on the run. I'm sure if you have a boy of your own, you'll understand how much trouble three can be.'
'Of course,' said Mother. 'That's quite all right. And I do understand.'
'Have you any children, Mrs. Gilberth?'
'May I ask how many?'
'Certainly. I have six boys.'
'Six boys!' gulped the woman. 'Imagine a family of six!'
'Oh, there're more in the family than that. I have six girls, too.'
'I surrender,' whispered the newcomer. 'When is the next meeting of the committee? I'll be there, Mrs. Gilberth. I'll be there.'
One teacher in the Sunday school, a Mrs. Bruce, had the next-to-largest family in Montclair. She had eight children, most of whom were older than we. Her husband was very successful in business, and they lived in a large house about two miles from us. Mother and Mrs. Bruce became great friends.
About a year later, a New York woman connected with some sort of national birth control organisation came to Montclair from a local chapter. Her name was Mrs. Alice Mebane, or something like that. She inquired among her acquaintances as to who in Montclair might by sympathetic to the birth control movement. As a joke, someone referred her to Mrs. Bruce.
'I'd be delighted to cooperate,' Mother's friend told Mrs. Mebane, 'but you see I have several children myself.'
'Oh, I had no idea,' said Mrs. Mebane. 'How many?'
'Several,' Mrs. Bruce replied vaguely. 'So I don't think I would be the one to head up any birth control movement in Montclair.'
'I must say, I'm forced to agree. We should know where we're going, and practise what we preach.'
'But I do know just the person for you,' Mrs. Bruce continued. 'And she has a big house that would be simply ideal for holding meetings.'
'Just what we want,' purred Mrs. Mebane. 'What is her name?'
'Mrs. Frank Gilberth. She's community-minded, and she's a career woman.'
'Exactly what we want. Civic minded, career woman, and — most important of all — a large house. One other thing — I suppose it's too much to hope for — but is she by any chance an organiser? You know, one who can take things over and drive ahead?'
'The description,' gloated Mrs. Bruce, 'fits her like a glove.'
'It's almost too good to be true,' said Mrs. Mebane, wringing her hands in ecstasy. 'May I use your name and tell Mrs. Gilberth you sent me?'
'By all means,' said Mother's friend. 'Please do. I shall be disappointed, if you don't.'
'And don't think that I disapprove of your having children,' laughed Mrs. Mebane. 'After all, many people do, you know.'
'Careless of them,' remarked Mrs. Bruce.
The afternoon that Mrs. Mebane arrived at our house, all of us children were, as usual, either upstairs in our rooms or playing in the back yard. Mrs. Mebane introduced herself to Mother.
'It's about birth control,' she told Mother.
'What about it?' Mother asked, blushing.
'I was told you'd be interested.'
'I've just talked to your friend, Mrs. Bruce, and she was certainly interested.'
'Isn't it a little late for her to be interested?' Mother asked.
'I see what you mean, Mrs. Gilberth. But better late than never, don't you think?'
'But she has eight children,' said Mother.
Mrs. Mebane blanched, and clutched her head.
'My God,' she said. 'Not really.'
'How perfectly frightful. She impressed me as quite normal. Not at all like an eight-child woman.'
'She's kept her youth well,' mother agreed.
'Ah, there's work to be done, all right,' Mrs. Mebane said. 'Think of it, living right here within eighteen miles of our national birth control headquarters in New York City, and her having eight children. Yes, there's work to be done, Mrs. Gilberth, and that's why I'm here.'
'What sort of work?'
'We'd like you to be the moving spirit behind a Montclair birth control chapter.'
Mother decided at this point that the situation was too ludicrous for Dad to miss, and that he'd never forgive her if she didn't deal him in.
'I'll have to ask my husband,' she said. 'Excuse me while I call him.'
Mother stepped out and found Dad. She gave him a brief explanation and then led him into the parlour and introduced him.
'It's a pleasure to meet a woman in such a noble cause,' said Dad.
'Thank you. And it's a pleasure to find a man who thinks of it as noble. In general, I find the husbands much less sympathetic with our aims than the wives. You'd be surprised at some of the terrible things men have said to me.'
'I love surprises,' Dad leered. 'What do you say back to them?'
'If you had seen, as I have,' said Mrs. Mebane, 'relatively young women grown old before their time by the arrival of unwanted young ones. And population figures show... Why Mr. Gilberth, what are you doing?'
What Dad was doing was whistling assembly. On the first note, feet could be heard pounding on the floors above. Doors slammed, there was a landslide on the stairs, and we started skidding into the parlor.
'Nine seconds,' said Dad pocketing Ms stopwatch. 'They're short of the all-time record.'
'God's teeth,' said Mrs. Mebane. 'What is it? Tell me quickly. Is it a school? No. Or is it...? For Lord's sakes. It is!'
'It is what?' asked Dad.
'It's your family. Don't try to deny it. There're the spit and image of you, and your wife, too!'
'I was about to introduce you,' said Dad. 'Mrs. Mebane, let me introduce you to the family — or most of it. Seems to me like there should be some more of them around here someplace.'
'God help us all.'
'How many head of children do we have now, Lillie, would you say off hand?'
'Last time I counted, seems to me there was an even dozen of them,' said Mother. 'I might have missed one or two of them, but not many.'
'I'd say twelve would be a pretty fair guess,' Dad said.
'Shame on you! And within eighteen miles of national headquarters.'
'Let's have tea,' said Mother.
But Mrs. Mebane was putting on her coat. 'You poor dear,' she clucked to Mother. 'You poor child.' Then turning to Dad. 'It seems to me that the people of this town have pulled my leg on two different occasions today.'
'How revolting,' said Dad. 'And within eighteen miles of national headquarters, too.'
(Story by Frank B. Gilbreth, Junior;
and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Abridged)
'Now, you'd better come upstairs with me and I'll show you your room. It used to be mine when I was small and it has lots of pictures of bears round the wall so I expect you'll feel at home. 'She led the way up a long flight of stairs, chattering all the time. Paddington followed closely behind, keeping carefully to the side so that he didn't have to tread on the carpet.
'That's the bathroom,' said Judy. 'And that's my room. And that's Jonathan's — he's my brother, and you'll meet him soon. And that's Mummy and Daddy's.' She opened a door. 'And this is going to be yours!'
Paddington nearly fell over with surprise when he followed her into the room. He'd never seen such a big one. There was a large bed with white sheets against one wall and several big boxes, one with a mirror on it. Judy pulled open a drawer in one of the boxes. 'This is called a chest of drawers,' she said. 'You'll be able to keep all your things in here.'
Paddington looked at the drawer and then at his suitcase. 'I don't seem to have very much. That's the trouble with being small — no one ever expects you to want things. '
(Extractfrom "A Bearfrom Peru in England" by Michael Bond)
Our new home was altogether different. The night-nursery, which Jeanne and I shared, had its own bathroom and lavatory. This was promotion indeed. No longer a nurse to supervise but a children's maid, whose orders we could disregard. The day-nursery was on the other side of the house, and could be reached in three separate ways by running down the imposing main staircase, going through the dining-room, and running up a secondary staircase known as the green stairs; by running up the back staircase, which was outside the night-nursery door, along the white corridor on the second floor outside D's and M's bedroom,* and so down the higher flight of the green stairs; and by crossing the first-floor landing and slipping through the double drawing-room, which took about one minute.
* Dad and Mum' bedroom.
These last two methods were unpopular with the grown-up world, but when they were out the way a superb race could be set in motion between Jeanne and myself, one of us taking the first alternative, the other the second. I generally found the second most successful. It was cheating to go through the drawing-room. Besides, someone might be dusting there. Angela now had her own little bedroom, on the same floor as M and D, and was therefore superior. She did not join in the races.
I soon discovered that our lavatory window led on to a flat roof over the dustbins in the courtyard, and by climbing out of this window, and creeping along this same flat roof, one could drop down over the dustbins and reach the coutyard. This was promptly discouraged. A pity. It damped adventure.
The garden at the back of the house made up for this disappointment. First a lawn, then, encircled by bushes, a parapet that looked down on to the lower garden several feet below, where there was a herbaceous border, and also vegetables. I would walk along the narrow parapet, eyes front, while Jeanne, below me in the lower garden, would try to climb through it unseen, and so surprise me. This she seldom achieved.
(Extract from "Myself When Young" by Daphne du Maurier)
Michael gave the room a complacent glance.
'I've had a good deal of experience. I always design the sets myself for our plays. Of course, I have a man to do the rough work for me, but the ideas are mine.'
They had moved into that house two years before and they had put it into the hands of an expensive decorator. The house was furnished in extremely good taste, with a judicious mixture of the antique and the modern and Michael was right when he said that it was quite obviously a gentleman's house. Julia, however, had insisted that she must have her bedroom as she liked, and having had exactly the bedroom that pleased her in the old house in Regent's Park which they had occupied since the end of the war she brought it over bodily. The bed and dressing-table were upholstered in pink silk, the chaise-longue and the armchair in Nattier blue; over the bed there were fat little gilt cherubs who dangled a lamp with a pink shade, and fat little gilt cherubs swarmed all round the mirror on the dressing-table. On satinwood tables were signed photographs, richly framed, of actors and actresses and members of the royal family. The decorator had raised his supercilious eyebrows, but it was the only room in the house-in which Julia felt completely at home. She wrote her letters at a satinwood desk, seated on a gilt Hamlet stool. Luncheon was announced and they went downstairs.
They sat at a refectory table, Julia and Michael at either end in very grand Italian chairs, and the young man in the middle on a chair that was not at all comfortable, but perfectly incharacter.
(Extract from "Theatre "by W. S. Maugham)