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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #120

She came to feel that talking to Father, when they were alone together, was almost like thinking aloud, only better, because there was somebody to help you figure things out when you got yourself all balled up. Before this Helen had spent a great deal of time trying to figure things out by herself, and getting so tangled that she didn’t know where she had begun nor how to stop the wild whirl racing around in her head. But now, with Father to hang on to, she could unravel those twisted skeins of thought and wind them into balls where she could get at them. One day, as she washed the breakfast dishes for Father to wipe, she noticed how the daffodils Aunt Mattie had brought were reflected in a wet milk-pan. It made her think a poem, which she said over in her head to make sure it was all right, and then repeated to Father, “The shining tin usefulness of the milk-pan Is glorified into beauty By the presence of a flower.”  Father listened, looked at the golden reflection in the pan, said appreciatively, “So it is,” and added, “That’s quite a pretty poem, especially the last phrase.” Helen knew it was pretty. She had secretly a high opinion of her own talents. Why had she said it aloud except to make Father think what a remarkable child she was? She washed the dishes thoughtfully, feeling a gnawing discomfort. It was horrid of her to have said that just to make Father admire her. It was showing off. She hated people who showed off. She decided ascetically to punish herself by owning up to her conceit. “I only told that poem to you because I thought it would make you think what a poetical child I am,” she confessed contritely. “It wasn’t that I thought so much about the flower.” She felt better. There now! Father would think what an honest, sincere child she was! Oh, dear! Oh, dear! That was showing off too! As bad as the first time! She said hastily, “And I only owned up because it would make you think I’m honest and don’t want to show off!” This sort of tortuous winding was very familiar to Helen. She frequently got herself into it and didn’t know how to get out. It always frightened her a little, made her lose her head. She felt startled now. “Why, Father, do you suppose I said that too, to make you ...” She lifted her dripping hands out of the dishwater and turned wide, frightened eyes on her father. “Oh, Father, there I go! Do you ever get going like that? One idea hitched to another and another and another; and you keep grabbing at them and can’t get hold of one tight enough to hold it still?” Lester laughed ruefully. “Do I? Nothing but! I often feel like a dog digging into a woodchuck hole, almost grabbing the woodchuck’s tail and never quite getting there.” “That’s just it!” said the little girl fervently. “I tell you, Helen,” said Lester, “that’s one of the reasons why it’s a pretty good thing for anybody with your kind of mind, or mine, to go to college. If you try, you can find out in college how to get after those thoughts that chase their own tails like that.” “You can?” said Helen, astonished that other people knew about them. “I suppose you think,” conjectured Lester, hanging up the potato-masher, “that you’re the only person bothered that way. But as a matter of fact, lots and lots of people have been from the beginning of time! You’ve heard about the Greek philosophers, haven’t you? Well, that is a bout all they were up to.” There was a pause, while Helen wiped off the top of the kitchen table. Then she remarked thoughtfully, “I believe I’d like to go to college.” It was the first time she had ever thought of it. Dorothy Canfield, The Home-Maker (1924). pp. 213-216

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