81. The Old Peabody Pew: A Christmas Romance of a Country Church
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
third book for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge
Kindle book, 49
Because I read this on the Kindle, my 'copy' doesn't have this old cover, but isn't it wonderful!
I read perhaps her most famous book seven years ago, and jotted down these words.
'Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm 1903
By Kate Douglas Wiggin
Recorded Books read by Barbara Caruso
This was wonderful and as fresh as if it were just written. It felt a bit like Anne Of Green Gables, and Pollyanna. Rebecca's family is very poor, and she is given the chance for an education by going to live with two old maiden aunts. The young girl has a wonderful, cheerful outlook on life. I have a sense that all these books were written about a girl who could be an example to the reader. She isn't without troubles and problems, yet she remains steadfast and optimistic. Even as a grown woman, I found myself learning from her. Well written with memorable, real characters.'
I found The Old Peabody Pew to be equally so. It is a lovely, enjoyable Christmas romance. We meet the Dorcas Society, a group of 'excellent women' as Barbara Pym would have described them. They care for the material needs of the church, the Tory Hill Meeting-House in Edgewood, Maine, doing as much of the work themselves as possible, and getting a few excellent men to do what they cannot. Kate Douglas Wiggin founded The Dorcas Society of Hollis & Buxton Maine, and was its first Honorary President. There is a short article about it here. The Old Peabody Pew is performed as a fundraiser each year in the very church named in the story, the Tory Hill Church. I'd love to attend this annual event.
The pre-Christmas project in our story is cleaning the pews and putting in as much carpet as they could afford. They put in a stretch of rug down the aisle, and then go to work on their own family pews. They talk as they go about their work, and the reader gets to know the various personalities, and some of the town stories. Kate Douglas Wiggin doesn't turn her writer's eye away from the sadnesses of life, but she also offers humorous aspects. Mrs. Burbank notes that
"indeed, most of those who once owned the pews or sat in them seemed to be dead, or gone away to live in busier places."To which Lobelia Brewster replies:
"I've no patience with 'em, gallivantin' over the earth. I shouldn't want to live in a livelier place than Edgewood … We wash and hang out Mondays, iron Tuesdays, cook Wednesdays, clean house and mend Thursdays and Fridays, bake Saturdays, and go to meetin' Sundays. I don't hardly see how they can do any more 'n that in Chicago!"We also learn that Lobelia 'would not have considered matrimony a blessing, even under the most favourable conditions.' But the Widow Buzzell sees life quite differently. Speaking of her late husband she says,
I used to think Tom was poor company and complain I couldn't have any conversation with him, but land, I could talk at him, and there's considerable comfort in that. And I could pick up after him! Now every room in my house is clean, and every closet and bureau drawer, too.The Peabodys of the title are all dead now, except the son Justin, who is one of those who moved away looking for more opportunity. Mrs. Burbank has recently sent him a request for a contribution for church repairs at an address in Detroit. Justin tried to live in Edgewood. He worked the farm and though he did everything right, he 'could not make the rain fall nor the sun shine at the times he needed them.' He had a terrible time with crows and various insects.
The women have spoken of him as being weak, by offering this information, the reader learns that he did make an honest attempt before heading west. Yet even there, after he's earned some money, he invests it and loses it, showing us that maybe there really is something called bad luck and that it happens even to good people who try. The news is full of people in our own time who have worked all their lives and now have no job or house.
Our heroine is Nancy Wentworth, a thirty-five year old schoolteacher; a kindly, cheerful person with a hidden melancholy, for she is in love with Justin. The descriptions of their relationship from ten years earlier show readers that we are in a very different time and place. Love was expressed quite modestly and innocently in such a society in those days. Nancy recalls a time when she sat in the Peabody pew with her friend, Justin's sister Esther.
Justin sat beside her, and she had been sure then, but had long since grown to doubt the evidence of her senses, that he, too, vibrated with pleasure at the nearness. Was there not a summer morning when his hand touched her white lace mitt as they held the hymn-book together?And after his two years of trouble with the farm, when he was downtrodden and leaving Edgewood, he says upon parting.
"You'll see me back when my luck turns, Nancy."And to her these words were 'a promise, simply because there was a choking sound in Justin's voice and tears in Justin's eyes.' Nancy 'lived for' this phrase all the years since. Then she receives two anonymous letters listing meaningful verses from the Bible which raise her hopes that they might be from Justin.
Nancy tells the women that she will clean and carpet the Peabody pew rather than her own because it is more visible in the church, and also in honor of her friend, Esther. She comes back after her supper, and does her work alone in the church. At least she believes she is alone.
I dearly loved this book. You may read it online here.
Many of her books are also available here, as well as on Kindle.
This is my third (adult) book for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.