City of Dreams

The Life of a Day,
page 5 of 7

In the summer-time goodman and goodwife both went from stoop to stoop of the close-gathered houses, for a klappernye, or chat all together. This was a feature of the colony, architectural and social, and noted by all travellers, — “the benches at the door, on which the old carls sit and smoke.” Here the goodwife recounted the simple events of the day, —the number of skeins of yarn she had spun; the yards of linen she had woven; the doings of the dye-pot; the crankiness of the churning, to which she had sung her churning charm,—

                    “Buitterchee, buitterchee, comm
                    Alican laidlechee tubichee vall.”

Perhaps she told her commeres, her gossips, of a fresh suspicion of a betrothal, or perhaps sad news of a sick neighbor or a funeral. This was never scandal, for each one’s affairs were every one’s affairs; in the weal or woe of one the whole community joined, and in many of the influences or effects of that weal or woe all had a part. It was noted by historians that the Dutch were most open in discussion of all the doings of the community, and had no dread of publicity of every-day life.

Of this habit of colonial neighborliness, Mrs. Anne Grant wrote in her “Memoir of an American Lady” — Madam Schuyler — from contemporary knowledge of early life in Albany:—

“The life of new settlers in a situation like this, when the very foundations of society were to be laid, was a life of exigencies. Every individual took an interest in the general welfare, and contributed their respective shares of intelligence and sagacity to aid plans that embraced important objects relative to the common good. This community seemed to have a common stock, not only of sufferings and enjoyments, but of information and ideas.”

When the sun was setting and the cows came home, the family gathered on stools and forms around the well-supplied board, and a plentiful supper of suppawn and milk and a sallet filled the hungry mouths, and was eaten from wooden trenchers and pewter porringers with pewter or silver spoons. The night had come; here were shelter and a warm hearthstone, and, though in the new wild world, it was in truth a home.

Sometimes, silently smoking with the man of the house, there sat in the winter schemerlicht, the shadow-light or gloaming, around


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