The Island at the Center of the World

The Life of a Day,
page 2 of 7

blown up in increasing puffs with skilful bellows from last night’s brands upon the hearth. And quickly the slender line of smoke grew and grew to a great cloud over each steep-roofed house, and soon with the smell of the burning brush and light pine that were coaxing into hot flames the sturdy oak back and fore logs, were borne forth also appetizing odors of breakfast to greet the early morn, telling of each thrifty huysvrouw who within the walls of her cheerful kitchen was cooking a good solid Dutch breakfast for her mann.

Cans of buttermilk or good beer, brewed perhaps by the patroon, washed down this breakfast of suppawn and rye-bread and grated cheese and sausage or head-cheese; beer there was in plenty, in ankers, even in tuns, in every household. Soon mynheer filled his long pipe with native tobacco, and departed with much deliberation of movement; a sturdy, honest figure, of decent carriage, neatly and soberly and warmly clad, with thrift and prosperity and contentment showing in every curve of his too-well-rounded figure. Adown the narrow street he paused to trade in peltries or lumber, if he were middle-aged and well-to-do; and were he sturdy and young, he threshed grain on the barn-floor, or ground corn at the windmill, or felled wood on the hillside; or perchance, were he old or young, he fished in the river all day long, — a truly dignified day’s work, meet for any sober citizen, one requiring much judgment and ski’l and reflection.

And as he fished, again he smoked, and ever he smoked. “The Dutch are obstinate and incessant smokers,” chronicles the English clergyman Wolley, Chaplain of Fort James, New York, in 1678, “whose diet, especially of the boorish sort, being sallets and brawn and very often picked buttermilk, require the use of that herb to keep their phlegm from coagulating and curdling.” The word “boorish” was not a term of reproach, nor was the frequent appellation “Dutch bore,” over which some historians of the colony have seen fit to make merry, both boor and bore meaning simply boer, or farmer. “Knave meant once no more than lad; villain than peasant; a boor was only a farmer; a varlet was but a serving-man; a churl but a strong fellow.”


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