In those days, and even until long after the Civil War, the houses were lighted mostly by candles. The old-fashioned fireplace gave us both light and heat in the rooms where they were, and made very pleasant the long winter evenings. Of course, in many ways they were not equal to our modern improvements, but we had some very happy times around the old fireplace. Mother made the candles we used, in molds especially designed for that purpose. I will not soon forget how I used to watch her put in the cotton wick, tie it at a certain place, and then melt and pour in the tallow. As soon as the tallow cooled, we had candles. Sometimes when we had no candles, we used what was called a grease lamp. This was merely a saucer with a little grease in it and a twisted rag, the greater part of which lay in the grease in the bottom of the saucer. The end which extended up over the edge of the saucer was lighted, and this device served as a lamp until Mother could make more candles.
Near the house was a garden from which Mother used often to gather bouquets to cheer me in my lonely hours. These loving acts of Mother's meant much to me in my affliction. Jesus said that the gift of a cup of cold water will be rewarded. I am sure that Mother's reward will be great.
When I was about five or six years old, an incident occurred which shows that I, although greatly afflicted, was not altogether wanting in activity. Two of my older sisters and I were playing on a shed adjoining one side of the corn-crib. My sisters wanted to jump off the shed, but were a little afraid to do so for fear they would hurt themselves. They finally decided that they would have me jump first, and if it did not hurt me, then they would jump. Little as I was, I understood their scheme. Nevertheless, I jumped. It hurt me quite a little; but when they asked me if I was hurt, I said, "No." Thinking then, that it would not hurt them, they jumped but they were considerably hurt too. Again they asked if it hurt me, and I admitted that it had. "Why did you not tell us?" "Because," I replied, "you were playing off on me because I am the youngest, and I would not let you know, so that you would have a chance to get hurt too."
One morning when I was about six years old, I was going to school in company with my brothers and sisters and other children who went the same road. It was late in the fall, and a heavy rain that had recently fallen, made the narrow lane through which we were obliged to pass, very muddy. Cattle had made deep tracks in the mud, in which the water had collected and then frozen. The bubbles underneath the ice had the appearance of money, and we children ran along looking at the bubbles, and saying "I have found some money." All at once I was sure that I did see a real coin under the ice at the bottom of one of the holes. When I called out "I have found some money," my brothers came quickly to investigate; and, sure enough, there was a fifty-cent piece stuck to the rim of an old pocket book. It had lain there so long that the leather had all rotted away. I was so delighted and spent so much time in enjoying the treasure I had found that I learned but very little that day.
One of my earliest recollections is of committing these lines to memory:
"In His pure eyes it is a sin To steal a penny or a pin."
Not long after this, when I was about four years old, I think, I went with my oldest sister to one of our neighbors on an errand. My sister, who could weave, wanted me to go to the home of another neighbor near by to borrow a part for the old-fashioned loom she was using. While at the house I saw a piece of pink calico about an inch square that attracted my childish fancy. I thought how nice it would be for the little quilt I had begun to piece. As I had no pocket, I put the piece of calico into the bosom of my dress and went back to my sister holding it as if I feared it would get away.
Noticing what I was doing, she said, "Mary, what is the matter?" "Nothing," I answered. "What have you there?" "Nothing," I replied again. Right there I told two falsehoods, the first of which I had ever been guilty. They were like black spots on a white robe. My sister said, "I know you have something," and drew out my hand still grasping the scrap of calico. "Where did you get it?" I told the truth then, and she said that I must go back and tell the woman I had stolen it. She took me back; but she had to do all the talking.
The old lady wanted to excuse me, and said, "Oh, let her have it; it dosen't amount to anything"; but my sister said, "No, she shall not have it, for she did not ask for it." Oh, how awful I felt! It was about a mile to our house, and I cried nearly the whole way home. On the way I said, "Ell, don't tell Mother"; and she promised that she would not. I had experienced now what Paul meant when he said, "Sin revived and I died." It was the first time in my life I had ever known what guilt was. Reproof given at the first offense has saved me many temptations in later life. Only twice afterward do I remember of having had a like temptation.
Perhaps the influence of this incident was strengthened by a story that my mother related to me while I was still a child. This story made a deep impression upon my young heart. In Carroll County, Ohio, not far from where she was raised, there lived two families by the name of Long. The fathers were brothers. Two boys of the two families used to trap for mink and other fur-bearing animals during the winter season. As the fur of the mink at that time brought a good price, the boys were more anxious to catch mink than any other animal. One of the boys once found a mink in his cousin's trap. When he told his mother what he had seen, she said, "Go back, take the mink out of your cousin's trap, set the trap just as it was before, put the mink into your own trap, and tell your cousin that you have caught a mink; he will never know the difference."
The boy did as his mother advised, and the cousin never learned of the deception until many years later. The boy who had stolen the mink went from bad to worse until, during the outbreak of the Mormons, I think, he was implicated in the murder of Colonel Davenport of Iowa. While on the scaffold, he confessed that his first step downward was in taking the mink out of his cousin's trap and telling a falsehood about it. God's Word was verified: "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."
Parents, be careful what example you set before your children. If you set a wrong example, they may rise up and curse you: but if you teach them the good and right way, they will "rise up and call you blessed." If when parents see one of their children entering upon his first temptation to take things that do not belong to him, they would do their duty, there would be more honest children today. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."
From my earliest childhood I liked poetry and could readily commit it to memory. I often learned poems that were quite difficult for one of my age. The beautiful poems I learned were like rays of sunshine on my pathway and added much comfort to a life that had but few pleasures.
I learned the alphabet at home and so made quite rapid progress after I began attending school, although I was greatly hindered because of stammering. Some of my teachers were very helpful to me in overcoming this difficulty. When Mr. Nutter, who taught our school one winter, saw that I could not recite because of my impediment of speech, he had all the classes recite with me so as to take away the embarrassment. I felt very grateful for his kindness.
One day when I was ten years old, I had a fit at school. Father thought that while I was afflicted in this way, it would be hard on my mind for me to study, and it would be best to keep me at home. During my last term at school, I read in McGuffey's Fourth Reader, studied the second part of Arithmetic, had learned to spell fairly well in the old Elementary Speller, and had also begun geography -- a study which I liked very much. I was beginning to learn to write; but as I was left-handed, my movements were very slow and awkward.