“Why Don’t Somebody Wake up to the Beauty of Old Women?” and Other Gems from Uncle Tom’s Cabin



I finished listening to Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe on Thursday. I have been  listening to it on librivox.org,  for the LEMI scholar phase project Sword of Freedom that I am mentoring with my good friend Katie and my son, who is a youth mentor. (LEMI stands for Leadership Education Mentoring Institute.)  After seeing my three older children do this project, it’s great to finally read the books myself! I love learning about the time period of the Civil War, aka the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression.


This is a book that I want everyone to read! But if you have a public school education, as I do, you probably weren’t exposed to it. I certainly wasn’t. Even though some school districts have banned the book go here to read why it’s important to read it anyway.


In this day of political correctness, when people don’t want to read or discuss anything that mentions God or Jesus or heaven, I can see why this book would be banned. The main character could only do what he did because of his faith in Jesus, which he mentions repeatedly throughout the story. This book reminds us about a past in the United States that we never want to relive, but does exist in some parts of the world, when sadly, people are treated as objects to be bought and traded and worked to death.  It also reminds us about a faith in a Savior who is as much alive today in heaven as He was when this book was written. But another part of the book is how often Mrs. Stowe mentions the power of women as homemakers, wives, and mothers.


It has so many gems in it about the value of homemaking and how to be a good woman, wife, mother, and homemaker. Mrs. Stowe uses characters to foil each other, as good and bad examples. I have to laugh every time she has Mrs. St. Clare speak. That woman is so silly and pathetically selfish and weak as a wife, mother, and homemaker! Then she has the good example of the Quaker woman who helps some slaves escape to Canada, below:



By her side sat a woman with a bright tin pan in her lap, into which she was carefully sorting some dried peaches. She might be fifty-five or sixty; but hers was one of those faces that time seems to touch only to brighten and adorn. The snowy fisse crape cap, made after the strait Quaker pattern, – the plain white muslin handkerchief, lying in placid folds across her bosom, – the drab shawl and dress, – showed at once the community to which she belonged. Her face was round and rosy, with a healthful downy softness, suggestive of a ripe peach. Her hair, partially silvered by age, was parted smoothly back from a high placid forehead, on which time had written no inscription, except peace on earth, good will to men, and beneath shone a large pair of clear, honest, loving brown eyes; you only needed to look straight into them, to feel that you saw to the bottom of a heart as good and true as ever throbbed in woman’s bosom. So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why don’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women? If any want to get up an inspiration under this head, we refer them to our good friend Rachel Halliday, just as she sits there in her little rocking-chair. It had a turn for quacking and squeaking, – that chair had, – either from having taken cold in early life, or from some asthmatic affection, or perhaps from nervous derangement; but, as she gently swung backward and forward, the chair kept up a kind of subdued “creechy crawchy,” that would have been intolerable in any other chair. But old Simeon Halliday often declared it was as good as any music to him, and the children all avowed that they wouldn’t miss of hearing mother’s chair for anything in the world. For why? for twenty years or more, nothing but loving words, and gentle moralities, and motherly loving kindness, had come from that chair; – head-aches and heart-aches innumerable had been cured there, – difficulties spiritual and temporal solved there, – all by one good, loving woman, God bless her!





That quote makes me think of Michelle Duggar, although she’s not that old. But she’s definitely soft-spoken and only speaks kind things. At least in all the 19 Kids and Counting episodes that I’ve watched. Whenever I raise my voice at my kids I think about Michelle and how she wouldn’t be yelling. At least I am thinking about that. I hope someday to ALWAYS speak softly to them. Actually, I do feel like I am getting better. I notice sometimes that I am speaking too harshly and I change my tone. I also think of my mom, pictured above. She never yelled at us. She’s the lovely woman in my pictures above and below, talking to her grandchildren.




I love this description of happy family life involving breakfast chores on an ordinary morning with a wise beautiful mother presiding:



The next morning was a cheerful one at the Quaker house. “Mother” was up betimes, and surrounded by busy girls and boys, whom we had scarce time to introduce to our readers yesterday, and who all moved obediently to Rachel’s gentle “Thee had better,” or more gentle “Hadn’t thee better?” in the work of getting breakfast; for a breakfast in the luxurious valleys of Indiana is a thing complicated and multiform, and, like picking up the rose-leaves and trimming the bushes in Paradise, asking other hands than those of the original mother. While, therefore, John ran to the spring for fresh water, and Simeon the second sifted meal for corn-cakes, and Mary ground coffee, Rachel moved gently, and quietly about, making biscuits, cutting up chicken, and diffusing a sort of sunny radiance over the whole proceeding generally. If there was any danger of friction or collision from the ill-regulated zeal of so many young operators, her gentle “Come! come!” or “I wouldn’t, now,” was quite sufficient to allay the difficulty. Bards have written of the cestus of Venus, that turned the heads of all the world in successive generations. We had rather, for our part, have the cestus of Rachel Halliday, that kept heads from being turned, and made everything go on harmoniously. We think it is more suited to our modern days, decidedly.

This was a fun family meal we had on a family vacation a few years ago. That looks like a raw hunk of meat by my dh’s right hand! I am still figuring out what that was.

This particular passage describes what I would like to achieve in all of our preparation for meals and the actual enjoyment of the meal. I love how she writes of the knives and forks having a “social clatter” as they are being set on the table and that the chicken and ham have a “cheerful and joyous frizzle in the pan, as they rather enjoyed being cooked.”

While all other preparations were going on, Simeon the elder stood in his shirt-sleeves before a little looking-glass in the corner, engaged in the anti-patriarchal operation of shaving. Everything went on so sociably, so quietly, so harmoniously, in the great kitchen, – it seemed so pleasant to every one to do just what they were doing, there was such an atmosphere of mutual confidence and good fellowship everywhere, – even the knives and forks had a social clatter as they went on to the table; and the chicken and ham had a cheerful and joyous fizzle in the pan, as if they rather enjoyed being cooked than otherwise; – and when George and Eliza and little Harry came out, they met such a hearty, rejoicing welcome, no wonder it seemed to them like a dream.

At last, they were all seated at breakfast, while Mary stood at the stove, baking griddle-cakes, which, as they gained the true exact golden-brown tint of perfection, were transferred quite handily to the table.

Rachel never looked so truly and benignly happy as at the head of her table. There was so much motherliness and full-heartedness even in the way she passed a plate of cakes or poured a cup of coffee, that it seemed to put a spirit into the food and drink she offered.

It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple, overflowing kindness.

This, indeed, was a home, – home, – a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.


That my friends, is the power a woman has with mealtime. To make a slave feel equal at the table, because of the love you put into the food and the way you serve it. And aren’t we all slaves in some way to appetites and addictions? May what we serve at the table, both in terms of food and conversation, give hope and life to our family members and friends who dine with us, to increase their vision and their desire to change and come closer to God.


This isn’t my current home, but it’s the image I hold in my mind of my dream home.

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