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The Old-Home Folks

James Whitcomb Riley 1849 (Greenfield) – 1916 (Indianapolis)



Such was the Child-World of the long-ago--
The little world these children used to know:--
Johnty, the oldest, and the best, perhaps,
Of the five happy little Hoosier chaps
Inhabiting this wee world all their own.--
Johnty, the leader, with his native tone
Of grave command--a general on parade
Whose each punctilious order was obeyed
By his proud followers.

But Johnty yet--
After all serious duties--could forget
The gravity of life to the extent,
At times, of kindling much astonishment
About him: With a quick, observant eye,
And mind and memory, he could supply
The tamest incident with liveliest mirth;
And at the most unlooked-for times on earth
Was wont to break into some travesty
On those around him--feats of mimicry
Of this one's trick of gesture--that one's walk--
Or this one's laugh--or that one's funny talk,--
The way 'the watermelon-man' would try
His humor on town-folks that wouldn't buy;--
How he drove into town at morning--then
At dusk (alas!) how he drove out again.

Though these divertisements of Johnty's were
Hailed with a hearty glee and relish, there
Appeared a sense, on his part, of regret--
A spirit of remorse that would not let
Him rest for days thereafter.--Such times he,
As some boy said, 'jist got too overly
Blame good fer common boys like us, you know,
To '_so_ciate with--less'n we 'ud go
And jine his church!'

Next after Johnty came
His little tow-head brother, Bud by name.--
And O how white his hair was--and how thick
His face with freckles,--and his ears, how quick
And curious and intrusive!--And how pale
The blue of his big eyes;--and how a tale
Of Giants, Trolls or Fairies, bulged them still
Bigger and bigger!--and when 'Jack' would kill
The old 'Four-headed Giant,' Bud's big eyes
Were swollen truly into giant-size.
And Bud was apt in make-believes--would hear
His Grandma talk or read, with such an ear
And memory of both subject and big words,
That he would take the book up afterwards
And feign to 'read aloud,' with such success
As caused his truthful elders real distress.
But he _must_ have _big words_--they seemed to give
Extremer range to the superlative--
That was his passion. 'My Gran'ma,' he said,
One evening, after listening as she read
Some heavy old historical review--
With copious explanations thereunto
Drawn out by his inquiring turn of mind,--
'My Gran'ma she's read _all_ books--ever' kind
They is, 'at tells all 'bout the land an' sea
An' Nations of the Earth!--An' she is the
Historicul-est woman ever wuz!'
(Forgive the verse's chuckling as it does
In its erratic current.--Oftentimes
The little willowy waterbrook of rhymes
Must falter in its music, listening to
The children laughing as they used to do.)

Who shall sing a simple ditty all about the Willow,
Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray
That dandles high the happy bird that flutters there to trill a
Tremulously tender song of greeting to the May.

Ah, my lovely Willow!--Let the Waters lilt your graces,--
They alone with limpid kisses lave your leaves above,
Flashing back your sylvan beauty, and in shady places
Peering up with glimmering pebbles, like the eyes of love.

Next, Maymie, with her hazy cloud of hair,
And the blue skies of eyes beneath it there.
Her dignified and 'little lady' airs
Of never either romping up the stairs
Or falling down them; thoughtful everyway
Of others first--The kind of child at play
That 'gave up,' for the rest, the ripest pear
Or peach or apple in the garden there
Beneath the trees where swooped the airy swing--
She pushing it, too glad for anything!
Or, in the character of hostess, she
Would entertain her friends delightfully
In her play-house,--with strips of carpet laid
Along the garden-fence within the shade
Of the old apple-trees--where from next yard
Came the two dearest friends in her regard,
The little Crawford girls, Ella and Lu--
As shy and lovely as the lilies grew
In their idyllic home,--yet sometimes they
Admitted Bud and Alex to their play,
Who did their heavier work and helped them fix
To have a 'Festibul'--and brought the bricks
And built the 'stove,' with a real fire and all,
And stovepipe-joint for chimney, looming tall
And wonderfully smoky--even to
Their childish aspirations, as it blew
And swooped and swirled about them till their sight
Was feverish even as their high delight.
Then Alex, with his freckles, and his freaks
Of temper, and the peach-bloom of his cheeks,
And '_amber-colored_ hair'--his mother said
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:55 min read
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James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley was an American writer, poet, and best-selling author. During his lifetime he was known as the "Hoosier Poet" and "Children's Poet" for his dialect works and his children's poetry respectively. more…

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