Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Joys of Childhood

Essay presumed to be by Belle's younger brother Benjamin Franklin Tisdale Jr. (1860-1893) circa 1873 about childhood events in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Photocopy of handwritten document on three sheets of legal sized paper. Location of original is unknown. Transcribed exactly as written.


[Page 1]

The Joys of Childhood

O! Childhood Joys are very Great
Aswinging on his Mothers gate
A Eatin Kandy till his mouth
Is all stuck up from North to south

I selected this subject because I once was a child. You may regard that as an extraordinary statement nevertheless it is true. I remember that one of my favorite Joys, was to go out in the big road, (up in country) and pile dust on my head and when I got tired of that I used to throw it at Willie and try to stuff it in his ears, eyes, & nose, but when we went in the house Mama would take us out into the bath-room & suddenly sounds as of applause mingled with piteous wails would rise on the air. When we came out we felt warm and naturally supposed that one of mama's slippers did too, But the interview in the bath room was not one of our Joys, though we did think it was one of mama's. When we got ourselves muddy dabbling in the Bayou (which was another innocent little Joy) the dirtiest places used to be the nicest to us.

[Written in the margin]
If there was company I would say I'm a good boy ain't I mama You Wont Whip me will you Mama but I felt much like a fly and Mama looked like a spider and then there would be another interview in the Bathroom.

One day while we were in the city (we were in the country in the summer) Mama sent Annie (the nurse) with us to get our hair cut Annie and mama a few days 

[Page 2]

before had been talking about shaving hair and one said it would make the hair come out curly, the other said it would come out black, and so Annie took it into her head to get our heads shaved and so we went to a shop I got Shaved first without any thing happening of any note, but when Willie got in the chair the barber lathered half his head and shaved it he Jumped out of the chair and said: You shan't put any more white sugar on my head; and we had to go to another barber shop where Mary, Belle and the rest of Willie were shaved. When we got home Mama & Papa were Just sitting down to dinner We all came in single file. Papa was Just opening his mouth to receive a piece of meat & Mama was Just going to cut a piece when they caught sight of our heads. They looked like paralysis had struck them, I was going for my chair (for I was as hungry as a wolf) when Papa Jumped up and said: Get out of my sight we all got into back parlor, I was so mad I kicked over some chairs etc but finding this was not enough to appease my anger I went into the back yard and caught a little chicken & bit its head of. After that I went in the house and eat some dinner which set me all right. 

[Page 3]

 Soon after this we went up to the country. Well the night we started there was dancing on the boat and Mary & Belle had gone to Bed on account of their Heads. They were in the top berth and poked their heads out to see the dancing & some boys were on a sofa opposite and commenced to laugh at them they laughed too, not knowing what they were laughing at. But Belle happened to throw her hand up & it fell on her head She yells out: Oh! Mary its our heads. In they went like a retiring & modest turtle does his head. When we got home the folks were all at breakfast & when we appeared like four bald headed Ghosts there was a laughing and spitting & coughing for half an hour after we came. One of my pet little Joys was to bite my Tongue & go out in the Kitchen & yell Put Lard on it! Another was when I was hungry to go out on the Back steps & Bellow!!!; I'm Starvin on Earth These are all the Joys I remember now (except a Propinquity to hit every thing that came in our way that was smaller than ourselves.) so I'll take my quietus.

Judging from the handwriting Frank's essay was probably written about 1873 when Frank, born March 1860, would have been about 13 or 14. He mentions older sisters Mary and Belle and little brother Willie, born November 1861, but not sister Lee, born February 1864. Willie is able to jump down from the barber's chair and speak which would date the events to about 1863 or 1864.

There is another essay in the same handwriting on the same type of legal sized paper titled "Mr. Perkins At the Dentist." I was able to find that story published in several newspapers in the mid 1870s identified as being "From the Danbury Newsman." 

According to Wikipedia The Danbury Newsman was James Montgomery Bailey (1841-1894), an American journalist from Danbury, Connecticut. Montgomery established the Danbury News in 1870 and wrote humorous sketches about commonplace happenings that won him a national reputation and made his paper known throughout the country. They were often picked up and reprinted in other newspapers. His first book, Life in Danbury, consisting of selections from his newspaper articles, was published in 1873. “Mr. Perkins Visits the Dentist” appears on page 95. See Internet Archive .

I could not find “The Joys of Childhood” in any of Montgomery's writings but the style is similar. Did Frank copy a story by Montgomery and change the characters' names to those of his own family or did he just mimic the writer's style in his own original writing? In either case it is an entertaining look at the Tisdale children's life in the 1860s when they were riding the steamboats up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to visit their grandparents.

I did find the opening poem in The Singing School from Laura Ingalls Wilders Little House Books. Evidently it was a common children's song of the period.
Oh, childhood's joys are very great
A swingin' on his mother's gateA eatin' candy till his mouthIs all stuck up from north to southAnd other things he likes quite wellThat I ain't time just here to tellBut though I have to mind the ruleI'd rather go to the singing school!
Oh the singing school's beautiful

Oh, the singing school's beautiful
If you'll have me for your teacher
I shall be a happy creature
For I dote upon the singing school