Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 12

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THE ELDER SISTER IN THE HOME

I WONDER how many of my girls have the great privilege of being the sister in the family? And when I say sister I mean the oldest daughter. Sometimes she is the baby whom God first gave to the happy household; sometimes she has two or three brothers to greet her when she comes into the world, but as long as she is the first girl, she is always sister, and to her come special rights and privileges. I want to talk to her just a little bit and tell her what these rights are, what the privileges are, and what the pleasures are. She is very near to me because she and I stand side by side, and I know, perhaps better than she does, the mistakes that may be made and the privileges that are within her reach. She is, before everything else, the closest one to the dear mother. A boy may come near to the maternal heart, but he never gets her confidence, and she never quite relies on him as she does on her oldest girl. The mother and the daughter are close friends. And between these two, little affairs can be talked over, little troubles discussed and made easier to bear, little pleasures thought out and made possible, and all life itself made fuller of joy than it would be if sister did not exist.

I wonder if you know your influence? And I wonder if you use it? I wonder if you realize that you can be the cheerful, loving, willing, helping hand? My dear girl, if you do you can be a comfort to so many people. You can give the loving word of advice, you can help the one who is in doubt, and by the beautiful power of kindred and love, you can have an influence that is greater than any other over your brothers and sisters. What do I mean? Well, in this, the little talk between you and me, I am going to tell you—tell you just what your position is, and what you can make of it to each member of the household.

TO YOUR MOTHER

As your mother is queen of the household you can be her prime minister. She can decide what is right to be done and you will help her in carrying it out. She represents the brain and heart, you represent the hand and heart. There come times in all households when the machinery that has run so smoothly seems either to stop entirely, or to be so clogged that the wheels move slowly and in a way that is irritating to everyone.

In many homes the cause for this differs. But a very common one is the introduction of a poor or an old relation: one who is queer, possibly tiresome, and yet who has the claim that blood and poverty always have on kindred and kindness. The boys fret the old lady, father sees so little of her that she doesn't trouble him, and yet she worries mother. It may be that she is your grandmother, and because she is an old lady she doesn't realize the material or mental changes that have taken place, and she exacts from the daughter of forty-five what she had from the daughter of fifteen—that is, continual consideration and obedience.

Mother, whose views of life have broadened, and who is a very busy woman, is irritated by these demands. Here comes one of your opportunities. You have left school; you have a good bit of time on your hands; devote as much of that as you can to grandmamma; make the hours that you spend with her pleasant to her, and when you grow weary in well-doing stand in front of the looking-glass by grandmamma's side and remember that some day you will be as old as she is and will want patience and consideration shown to you. Find out what she likes to have done for her, and do it; see if she fancies walking with you, and go with her gladly. And if, once in awhile, or indeed very often, she should drift into a kindly gossip about people who are dead and buried, and whom you never knew, listen to her with interest, and think to yourself that when you grow old and a trifle garrulous, you will probably yearn for a sympathetic listener. Never let her feel for one minute that she is a burden. Tell her of your friends and of the pleasures in your daily life. Get her interested in you, and to your surprise grandmamma will suddenly grow much younger. Loving-kindness has worked this miracle.

That is one of the things you can do to help mother. You can amuse and entertain grandmamma, and then when mother's leisure hours come she will find her happy and pleased, and the life between them will seem like a renewal of the old days when they were both many years younger. "And thy days shall be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."

TO YOUR FATHER

I never saw a man who wasn't proud of sister. He may love his boys, but this oldest girl gets very close to his heart, and she can do much to make life pleasanter to him. To my sorrow I have seen her sit and sulk when he was present, I have seen her complaining because she didn't have what all the other girls had, and I have known her to think that her father represented a money-making machine, bound to take care of her and give her a good time. And she might be so much more. When father comes home in the evening it ought to be her place to greet him with a smile and as much merriment as she can. It is her honor to be his daughter, and that means to give him all the pleasure possible and to keep from him the little frets and worries. Sometimes if a question of great importance comes to her she goes to him to ask how it shall be solved, and if she has been a good daughter she will certainly get from him considerate advice and loving thoughtfulness. Some day when the blushes cover her face she will go to her father to tell him that she loves the man who has asked her to be his wife, and then he will look at the man who wishes to be her lifelong companion, not only through the rose-colored glasses which she wears, but through those clear ones of good sense, and he will consider and weigh in the balance the man who wishes to take from him his dearest one. For, sister, that is what you can be to him—his heart's delight.

I know a man who says that his oldest daughter would make pleasant the poorest home that can be imagined. He says no matter how much everybody else is down in the depths, she always has a merry greeting, a funny story, an interesting topic, or a pleasant question for discussion that interests everybody else and puts down the inclinations of the other members of the family to tell of their woes and worries, as a sauce for their dinners, rather than of their pleasures and interests. I call that being a great deal to one's father. He who is out in the busy world earning the bread and butter doesn't want to be met with complaints and cross looks; he wants to be greeted with a kiss, to be entertained by the mind which he has really formed by earning the money to pay the teachers to broaden and round it, and to be able to look at the bright, cheery girl, neat in her dress, sweet in her manner, and ever ready to make glad those who are sad.

TO YOUR BROTHER

Brother is close to you in years. A little older or a little younger, but near enough to you to be your companion and friend if you wish to make him so. What are you going to do? Are you going to let him drift away from you and find his pleasures away from home? Or are you going to keep him close to you and make him a sharer in everything that comes to you? I think, dear sister, you are going to do the last. There is a cigar-shop down street where the boys of the neighborhood drift in and smoke and talk. Possibly they do nothing more harmful, but your brother might just as well have all this pleasure at home. And this is the way you can make him happy: Make him feel that his friends are yours, and if he will not bring them to the house because of some queer idea, and all young boys have them, then get your mother's permission to write a note to each and every one asking him to come on a certain evening, and then have some of your friends to meet them. Put yourself to a little trouble the first time; have a nice little supper, plenty of music, pleasant games, and the simple, innocent dancing that is permissible in a home. Find out who is the shyest, or better still, the roughest of these friends, and pay to him the most attention, for you want him to come again. And you must convince him that he will have a better time if he comes to Jack's home and meets Jack's sister than if he induced Jack to spend an evening with him in the cigar store. After a while you will find that your brother will rely on you; you will find that his friends come to you with their little confidences, and gradually Jack's house will be cited as the one where a fellow can go without being treated as if he always did wrong.

I once knew of a household like this, a household long ago broken up, but where innumerable stray boys, boys without sisters, or who lived in boardinghouses, came to enjoy themselves, and where they knew they could always drop in for Sunday evening tea, and not only have good things to eat but a pleasant time altogether. Two or three of them who sang well would lift their voices in praise to Almighty God and all the rest of them would come in on the chorus.

HOW TO REFINE HIM

That is your work. The young boy who is careless about his appearance, unrefined in his manners, and lacking all thought is the one over whom a sister has had no influence. So when he comes to you, even though you are forced to regard him as somebody else's brother, do what you can in a quiet way to make him conscious of right and wrong. You will have an opportunity some day to tell him how difficult it was to teach your own brother that hands well cared for, that clothes well brushed, and clean linen were necessary if he wished to associate with his sister. That boy will look in an embarrassed way at his own hands; he may become conscious of a mussed and decidedly soiled collar, and he may remember that his clothes are not very well brushed and that the hat he wore was thick with dust. As soon as he recognizes these facts he will reform, and you will be surprised to see how quickly he will remedy his mistakes, and how certainly he will realize that in his own person he must express refinement if he desires to be a friend of Jack's sister.

Then when the impolite word is spoken—or perhaps it may go beyond that and be a rude or vulgar word—a little look and a little reminder that he has forgotten himself will cause him to think, and the possibilities of the man who once begins to think are wonderful. The fact that Jack's friends admire you, that Jack's friends find you charming, will make Jack very proud of you, and he will suggest to the boys who come to the house that they have got to do this, or they have got to stop that if they want to meet his sister. My dear girl, you have no idea what your influence is over your brother.

The day will come when brother will ask you with many blushes if you know that pretty girl who lives in the next block. It doesn't take you but a minute to understand that your brother is in love. Possibly you may feel a touch of jealousy, but if you do, don't betray it, for you must remember there will come a love to each of you that is stronger than any other, and you have no right to find fault with him if he has found this love before you.

TO YOUR SISTERS

Having made little mistakes, having been the pupil of that great teacher, experience, it is only right for you to give the hand of guidance to your younger sisters. This you can do in such a way that you do not seem to put yourself up on a pedestal and preach to them, but you do appear to be what you really are—interested in their not making the same mistakes that you have, and so forcing all life to become smoother to them through your goodness. The inclination of an older girl is to patronize a younger one. Don't do this. Make your sister or sisters your companions and friends; try to induce each one of them to make the home-life more interesting and to co-operate with you in lifting the burdens from the shoulders of the busy mother. Tell your sisters of your pleasures; let them feel that together you can discuss their daily lives, and enter closely into whatever seems of importance to them. Help a bit with the lessons; give a word of encouragement to that one who tires of the many hours of practice on the piano; tell her of the great pleasure that music gives to others, how its sweet strains will deaden the voice of scandal and kill the unkind word. Teach your younger sisters the womanly care they should give to their clothes; teach this by gentle words. Make them understand the refinements of the table, but do this in that best of all ways—set them a good example. Make them comprehend that even a little lady has lost her claim to the title if her apron is soiled, if her hair is mussed, and if her manners are bad. Make your sisters seem of importance. Ask them to help you with some of your tasks, and you will be surprised to see how willingly this is done when the duty is recognized not as a duty, but as a something to be done with pleasure because it is helping mother or sister.

IN YOUR PLACE

When God put you in the place that you now occupy, when He made you sister of a household, He meant that you should be a pleasure and an example to those around you. Don't believe He meant you to be a prig. He meant you to be merry and wise, happy and considerate, counting it no trouble to do a service for those you love, or indeed, if it came in your way, even for those who were strangers to you. He meant that you should love and respect old age or weakness. He meant that you should be a joy forever to your father and mother. He meant that you should be mother's little comforter, sharing her happiness with her and helping her, as far as possible, in her troubles and worries. Be willing, more than willing, to do what is right, and so by love, generosity, and consideration to fill your place perfectly, and when Prince Charming comes he will be made the happiest man in the world, because all of the family will say, "What will we do without sister?"