Infomotions, Inc.The Whistling Mother / Richmond, Grace S. (Grace Smith), 1866-1959

Author: Richmond, Grace S. (Grace Smith), 1866-1959
Title: The Whistling Mother
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): hoofy; dad; mother; hart; awfully
Contributor(s): Nichols, Beverley, 1899-1983 [Editor]
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Size: 6,423 words (really short) Grade range: 10-12 (high school) Readability score: 62 (easy)
Identifier: etext6845
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Title: The Whistling Mother

Author: Grace S. Richmond

Release Date: November, 2004 [EBook #6845]
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[Illustration: musical notation.]

I have the greatest mother on earth. I can't call her a "little
mother," for she's five feet six inches tall, and weighs just exactly
what she ought to according to the table of weights. If she were a
trifle less active she might put on too much flesh, but she'll never
keep still long enough for that. I always enjoy having her along on
any kind of an outing, for she's game for just anything, and awfully
good company, too. In fact, she seems more like a vigorous girl than
anything I can compare her with. And I think her sons are mighty lucky
chaps--especially just now that the war game's on.

Yes, that's a picture of Mother; neat little holder for it, isn't it?
Yes, I know; she does look interesting, doesn't she? She's an awfully
good shot, and drives her own car, and rides like a Cossack, and does
a lot of other things--not to mention making home--well--what it is. I
suppose I'm rather braggy about her, but I tell you I feel that way
just now, and I'm going to tell you why.... She's pretty, too, don't
you think so? I thought you would.

The thing that started me off was Hoofy Gilbert coming across the dorm
hall with a letter in his hand. We called him Hoofy because he hated
walking so, and always drove his big yellow roadster from one class to
another, even if it was only a thousand feet straight across the
campus to the next lecture. Well, Hoofy came in that day--it was just
before the Easter vacation--looking as if he were down and out for
fair. It turned out he'd written home about enlisting, and he'd got
back a letter from his mother, all sobs. He didn't know what to do
about it. You see the fellows were all writing home, and trying to
break it gently that when they got there they'd have to put it up to
the family to say "Go, and God bless you!" But it was looking pretty
dubious for some of my special friends. Their mothers were all right,
an awfully nice sort, of course, but when it came to telling Bob and
Sam and Hector to enlist--they just simply couldn't do it.

Hoofy said he'd got to enlist, in spite of his mother. He knew it was
his duty, but he'd rather be shot than go home and go through the
farewells. He knew his mother would be sick in bed about it, and she'd
cling round his neck and cry on his shoulder, and he'd have to loosen
her arms and go off leaving her feeling like that. And his father
would look grave and tell him not to mind, that his mother wasn't
well, and that she couldn't help it--and Hoofy really didn't think she
could, being made that way. Just the same, he dreaded going home to
say good-bye--dreaded it so much he felt like flunking it and wiring
he couldn't come.

I told him he mustn't do that--that his mother would never forgive
him, and that he'd have to put on a stiff upper lip and go through
with it. And Hoofy owned that that was the thing he was really afraid
of--that his upper lip wouldn't keep stiff but would wobble, in spite
of him. And of course a breakdown on his own part would be the worst
possible thing that could happen to him. No potential soldier wants to
feel his upper lip unreliable, no matter what happens. It's likely to
make him flinch in a critical moment, when flinching won't do.

I was looking up at a picture of Mother on the wall over my desk as I
advised him to go home, and he asked me suddenly what _my_ mother
wrote back when I told her. I hated to tell him, but he pushed me
about it, so I finally got out her letter and read him the last
paragraph--but one. Of course the last one I wouldn't have read to

"It's all right, Son, and we're proud as Punch of you, that you want
to be not only in America's '_First Hundred Thousand_,' but in
her '_First Ten Thousand_.' We know it will stiffen your spine
considerably to hear that your family are behind you. Well, we
are--just ranks and rows of us, with our heads up and the colours
waving. Even Grandfather and Grandmother are as gallant as veterans
about it. So go ahead--but come home first, if you can. You needn't
fear we shall make it hard for you--not we. We may offer you a good
deal of jelly, in our enthusiasm for you, but you could always stand a
good deal of jelly, you know, so there's no danger of our making a
jelly-fish of you--which wouldn't do, in the circumstances. That's
rather a poor joke, but I'll try to make a better one for you to laugh
at when you come. When shall we expect you? No--we won't have the
village band out, and will try not to look as if we had a hero in our
midst, but we shall be awfully glad to see Jack just the same."

When I looked up after reading this, Hoofy looked like a small boy
who's been staring in a shop-window at a fire-engine he can't have. He
heaved a big sigh, and said: "Well, I wish my mother'd take it that
way," and went out, banging the door after him. And I got up and went
over and took Mother down and looked at her, and said to her: "You
game little sport, you--you'd put the spine into a jelly-fish any
time. And I wouldn't miss going home to hug you for good-bye if I knew
the first round of shot would get me as a result."

So then I packed up, and went around and saw the dean, who assured me
that, even though I didn't stay to finish my Junior year, I'd keep my
place and get my dip, no matter how long the war lasted. Then he
looked over his spectacles at me, and said it was a good thing I was
so tall and slim--it would be a crack marksman who could get me, or
even tell me from a sapling at five hundred yards; and we grinned at
each other and shook hands. Good old Hamerton--I hope he'll be there
when I get back. Then I wired Mother and took the train for home.... I
don't know why I always write and wire Mother instead of Father, for I
think a lot of my dad. But he's pretty busy at the office, and not
much of a letter-writer, except by way of a stenographer. Mother
always gives me his messages in her letters, and when I get home he
and I talk up to date, and then Mother and I go on writing again.

Just Mother met me at the train--the girls were in school, and Dad not
yet home from the office. My kid brother hadn't been told, for fear
he'd cut school altogether. Mother had the roadster--and it was
shining like a brass band. She looked just as she always
does--tailored out of sight, little close hat over her smooth black
hair, and black eyes shining through a trim little veil that keeps all
snug. No loose ends about Mother, I can tell you, from the top of her
stunning little hat to the toes of her jolly little Oxfords over silk
stockings that would get anybody. Even her motoring gloves are "kept
up," as we say of a car, The sight of her, smiling that absolutely
gorgeous smile that shows her splendid white teeth, made me mighty
glad I'd come home.

Act as if I'd come to say good-bye, and could stay only twenty-four
hours? I should say she didn't. Kissed me, with her hand on my
shoulder--glove off--and then said: "Want to spin round the Circle,
Jack, before we go home? By that time they'll all be there."

"Sure," I said, grinning at the car. We're not rich, and I don't sport
a car to go to lectures with, like Hoofy and a lot of other fellows,
so ours always looks darned good to me when I get home. Mother
understands how I'm crazy to drive the minute I can get my hands on
the wheel, so without an invitation I put her into the seat beside me
and took the driver's place myself. She settled down, same as she
always does, and remarked:

"It's always so good to have you drive. I never shall get quite the
form you have."

Which wasn't true a bit, for she drives just as well as I do--she
ought to, I taught her. But she has an awfully clever little trick of
making a fellow feel good, and I like it--who wouldn't? A lot of
mothers never lose an opportunity to take a son down a bit--though I
don't suppose one would whose son had come to say goodbye. That same
sort are the ones to weep on their boys' shoulders, though, I've

We started off at a good clip, and right away Mother said:

"Now, tell me all about it," exactly as if I'd just won an
intercollegiate, or something like that.

So I told it all to her, and was glad of the chance. I hadn't had time
to write much about it, but I could talk fast enough, and I did; and
she listened--well, she listened just exactly as another fellow would.
I mean--you didn't have to colour the thing, or shave off anything, or
fix up any dope to ease it for her, because you knew she wanted it
straight. So, naturally, you gave it to her straight--which is much
the best way, if people only realized it--for it's all got to come out
in the end. And when I was through, what do you suppose she said? Just
about the last thing you'd expect any mother to say:

"It's all perfectly great, and I don't wonder you want to go. Why, if
you didn't want to go, Jack, I should feel that I'd been the wrong
sort of mother."

Now, honestly, do you blame me? I looked down at her--I'm a good deal
taller than she is--and for a minute I wanted to get down in front of
her among the gear-shifts and put my head in her lap. But of course I
didn't do anything so idiotic as that. I just laughed and said: "Not
you,"--and put out my hand and squeezed hers--she'd left off her
motoring gloves. And she squeezed back, and looked up at me with those
black eyes of hers--and that was all there was of it, and we were off
again on details, with no scene to remember. A fellow doesn't like

Well, then we got back to the house, and everybody was there--except
Dad, and he came soon. There were my two young sisters, Sally and Sue;
and my kid brother, Jimmy--mad as fury because he hadn't been told;
and Grandfather and Grandmother. Everybody was all smiles, and nobody
even suggested that the time was short--which it blamed was. Dad came
in and shook my hand off, and we settled down to talk.

Pretty soon there was dinner, a perfectly ripping dinner, with
everything I like--including tons of jelly, at sight of which I
grinned at Mother and she grinned back--if you can call her gorgeous
smile a grin. After dinner the lights were put on and we had some
music, as we always do when I'm home--little family orchestra with two
fiddles, a flute, my mandolin, and the piano, and I noticed we didn't
play any but the jolliest sort of things. Then Dad and I sat down
again on the big couch in front of the fireplace to smoke and talk,
with the kids hanging round till long past their bed-time. I went up
with Jimmy, my twelve-year-old brother, when at last he was ordered
off to bed, and told him a lot of yarns and made him laugh like
everything--which was rather a triumph, for I'd been afraid his eyes
were a bit bleary.

When I came back everybody had cleared out except Mother. My heart
came up in my throat for a minute, she looked so pretty and young and
regularly splendid, there by the fire. I said to myself: "I don't
believe I can stand a heart-to-heart talk--and not break. But I've got
to go through with it--and I will, if it takes a leg!"

Well--I've always called her my whistling mother. It's a queer title,
but it's hers in a peculiar way. She always could whistle like a
blackbird. She never did it for exhibition; I don't mean that--I
should say not--but she did do it for calls to her family, in the
woods or in the house when there were no guests about; and she often
whistled softly over her work. Perhaps you don't think that's a
womanly thing to do--but it's better, from my point of view--it's
sporting. For Mother's got something of a temper--you'd know anybody
with so much grit must have a temper--and lots of times when she
wanted to be angry, suddenly she'd break out in a regular rag-time
whistle, and then laugh, and everything would be all right again.

She and I had a special call of our own, one she'd made up. I'd know
it anywhere in the world. It was a pretty thing--just a bar or two,
but rather unusual. Well, as I came in the door that night she looked
round and gave that whistle. I thought for a minute I was gone--but I
bucked up all right and answered it. And that--yes, it was actually
the only minute she gave me that evening that tried my pluck. She
began to talk in the nicest, most matter-of-fact way in the world. Not
too awfully cheerful, you know, overdoing it, but just as if I'd come
home for the summer vacation, and there was all the time anybody
needed to talk things over. And she kept that up. The only thing that
marked the difference was that her hand was in mine all the time we
sat there--but that was nothing new, either, and didn't break me up at
all. Maybe you could imagine how grateful I was to her. Good
Lord--what if I'd had to face a mother like Hoofy Gilbert's! What a
chance to put a fellow on the grill and keep him there--his last
evening at home! No wonder Hoofy had dreaded to go.

She kissed me good-night, when we broke up, in just exactly the old
way--no extras. Oh, maybe I did put a little more muscle than usual
into the hug I gave her--Mother's great to hug, just exactly like a
girl--but that was all. We parted with a laugh. Afterward, when I was
in bed, with the firelight still flickering on the little hearth in my
old room, she came in, in some kind of a loose, rosy sort of silk
thing, and her long black hair in two braids, and stooped down and
kissed me, and patted my shoulder, and went out again without saying a
word.... Maybe I didn't turn over then for a minute, and bury my head
in my pillow and have it out a bit. But that didn't count, because
nobody saw.

Next morning was just the same; and we had the greatest sort of a
breakfast--everything tasting bully, the way it does at home, you
know. Then I went down to the office with Dad, and saw the boys, who
all came round and gave me the glad hand, and wished me luck.
Everybody I met on the street wished me that, except an old lady or
two, who sighed over me--but I didn't mind them, they just made me
want to laugh. Then home, and lunch, with Mother looking ripping in
the jolliest sort of a frock. And we had lots of fun over a letter
she'd had from some inquiring idiot, who wanted to know a lot of
things she couldn't tell him; and she asked our advice, and of course
we gave it, in chunks. In the afternoon she and I took another spin
and, as I'd quite ceased to fear I couldn't see it through, it went
off mighty well.

I was a little owly about dinner, though, because soon afterward it
would be train time. But I needn't have been. My family certainly is
the gamest crowd I ever saw. Even Grandfather, who takes things rather
seriously as a rule, told a couple of corking stories, and Grandmother
laughed at them in a perfectly natural way, though I couldn't help
suspecting her of bluffing. Of course, when it came to that, I knew
they were all bluffing. But I tell you, a fellow wants a bluff at a
time like that, and he isn't going to misunderstand it, either--not
from my sort of people.

The time came at last when I had to go up to my room and get my
stuff--and I knew what would happen then. Mother would come, too, and
we'd say our real good-bye there. That's only fair to her--and to me,
too, for I wouldn't miss it, even though it's the real crisis in every
going away. But--that night--well....

Of course, you know, the room's full of my junk--things I've had since
I was a little chap, all the way up, to things I had in my Freshman
year and thought were awfully sporty--and then discarded and brought
home to keep in remembrance of my foolish youth. I'm pretty fond of
that old room. I don't need to explain that much, probably. Any fellow
would know.

I took one look around before Mother came--I thought one would be
about all that would be good for me. The fire was burning rather
brightly on the hearth, but I'd put out the other lights.... Then
Mother came in.

If I hadn't caught a glimpse of her hands I shouldn't have known, but
I did happen to see them as she came in. They were clinched tight at
her sides, just the way I've often clinched mine before I went into a
game on which a good deal depended. But the next minute her arms were
round my neck in the old way, and she was holding me so tight I could
hardly breathe--and I don't believe she could breathe much, either,
for I was giving her back every bit of that, with some to spare. I
have an idea she was saying, inside, "I won't--I _won't"_--just
the same way I was. And she didn't--and I didn't--though _not to_
certainly pulled harder than anything I ever _didn't_ do in my

She didn't keep me long. Just that one great hug, and something else
that goes with it, and then _what_ do you think she said? If I'd
had a hat on I'd have taken it off to her at that moment. She looked
up into my face, and showed me hers, all smiling, and not a tear in
her eyes, and said:

_"Jacky, you're a brick!"_

And then I just broke out into a great laugh of relief, and I shouted:

_"Mother, you're a whole brickyard!"_

And we went downstairs carrying my luggage between us, and the worst
was over, and the thing I dreaded hadn't happened.

Perhaps you think she ought to have prayed over me, and given me a
Bible, and a lot of good motherly advice. Don't you think it! The
prayers had been spread over twenty-two years of my life, and the
Bible was all marked up with her markings. As for the good
advice--well--if she hadn't done her level best, long before that, to
teach me to keep clean, and think straight, and "hit the line
hard"--it was too late to begin then. But she didn't have to begin
then, because the thing was done, as well as any mother on earth could
do it. And if you think that little thumb-marked book wasn't in my bag
at that minute, you don't think right, that's all.

Dad said a few fatherly things to me before I went, like the all-round
trump he is, and I was glad to have him. I could stand that all right.
But I couldn't have borne anything from Mother--not then--and she knew
it. How did she know? That's what gets me. But she did, the way she's
always seemed to know things without being told. She's that sort, you

They all went down to the station with me, in the seven-passenger,
with Dad driving. We didn't talk much on the way. I tried not to see
the familiar old streets. I hadn't told anybody what train I was going
on, but some of my old friends found out and came down just the same,
and were there in a bunch to send me off. They hurried up to us, and
shook hands and jollied me, and everything was lively. When the train
came in we all went together to it, and then I saw the boys stand back
and look at Mother. I don't know what they expected to see, but I'm
pretty sure it wasn't what they did see.

It was evening, but instead of putting on an awfully stunning
fur-bordered coat over the things she'd worn to dinner, as she usually
does when she goes out in the car at night, Mother'd taken the trouble
to go back to the tailored suit and little close hat she wears in the
street and for driving. She knows I like her best that way--and I
certainly did that night. I can't tell you why, except that the things
we've always done together have been mostly in street-and-sports
clothes--tramping and motoring and golfing--and so forth. She always
seems more like a sort of good chum dressed like that than when she
puts on trailers and silky things--though, my word! if you don't think
she's a peach in evening dress you never saw her. Her neck and
shoulders--but that's neither here nor there just now. The thing I'm
telling is that she'd gone back to the clothes that make her look like
a jolly girl, and I knew she'd done it so I could remember her that

It wasn't so hard then to go. It was all over in a minute. Nobody hung
round my neck. Even when it came to Mother, whom of course I always
leave till the last, she just gave me one good kiss, with her hands on
my shoulders, and then I jumped on board. The train didn't linger
long, for which I was mighty glad. When it pulled out, and I looked
back at them all standing there--the whole bunch of them--suddenly I
couldn't see them awfully well. But I gave a big wink that cleared my
eyes, and saw that Mother was smiling, just as she always does,
exactly as if I'd been going back to prep-school after my first
vacation home. It wasn't a teary smile, either--it was her very
best.... I see it now, sometimes, when I'm just dropping off to sleep.

I've thought about that send-off a lot since I got away. I've realized
since, more than I did then, that it must have taken just sheer pluck
on all their parts to see it through as they did. Of course, my young
sisters couldn't understand all it meant, but my kid brother's read a
heap, as I easily found out when we talked about it, and I know he had
to do a few swallowings of the throat on the side not to show how he
felt more than he did. As for Grandfather and Grandmother, they went
through the Civil War, and they knew, better than any of us, what
might be ahead. Dad--well--Dad has wonderful control of himself
always, and I should be surprised if I saw his heart on his sleeve at
any time, yet I knew perfectly that he felt the whole thing
tremendously. He was banking on doing his bit in the Home Defence
League, and the Red Cross, and everywhere else he could get his hand
in, and I could tell well enough that he was aching to be in active

But after all, it's the mothers, I think, who do the biggest giving
when their sons go to war. I suspect it's what they put into their
sons that stands for the real stuff in the crisis. I don't think there
are many weak mothers, like Hoofy Gilbert's, even among the ones who
are invalids. But I wish more of them understood what it is to a
fellow to have his mother hold her head up!

[Illustration: musical notation]

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