• U.S.

Books: Nostalgia

3 minute read

For seven generations the U. S. people have been moving to the city* but as their bodies moved cityward, their day dreams moved in the opposite direction. Year by year nostalgic books about the agrarian past have grown in popularity—books by and about grandmothers and grandfathers, memoirs of farm childhoods. One of the most popular was Delia Thompson Lutes’s The Country Kitchen, recalling the Michigan childhood of a sturdy, quick-eyed girl who grew up to edit women’s magazines, write etiquette books, &detest Faulkner and the end of Anthony Adverse.& The American Booksellers Association voted it &the most original book of 1936.& Its originality was its oldtime local color, particularly in its vivid reminder of Mother’s cooking on the farm. And it sold over 30,000 copies.

Last week in Millbrook (Little, Brown. $2.50) Author Lutes continued her homely reminiscences. In this volume her hardbitten, hard-eating, yo-year-old father has moved to a small 30-acre farm on the edge of a little village. It tells less about cooking, more about people, their gossip, scandals, fighting, country dances. Its highlights are Nell Peters’ illegitimate baby, Cousin William’s scandalizing city wife, the axe murder of Aunt Het. Like The Country Kitchen, its charm is that it dramatizes the horse-&-buggy atmosphere of an old almanac.

More nostalgic than any memoir, however, is The Old Farmer’s Almanac which last week made its 147th annual appearance. Published for the last two years by Little, Brown (is), it now lacks the crotchety personal stamp of Founder Robert Thomas, no longer carries temperance articles, nor illustrates them by pictures of a sinister mother mixing gin with milk to pacify the baby.

But its yellow paper cover, drilled for a kitchen nail, is the same as in 1793. Unchanged are its astronomical and tide charts, its page of “Poetry, Anecdotes and Pleasantries.” It has articles on molasses silage, fertilizer, a recipe for eggnog pie. Under “December hath 31 days,” a reader may still glean such nuggets from the recent past as “Sitting Bull killed in fight between Soldiers and Indians, 1890.”

The publishers stress the fact that New England fishermen never go to sea without a copy, that the Massachusetts Supreme Court consults it for exact data, that it L; required reading in astronomy at Harvard and Smith. It went to 125,000 subscribers last year, many of them in cities. Says New Hampshire Governor Francis P. Murphy in a typical reader’s testimonial: “. . . Just so long as The Old Farmer’s Almanac keeps coming out regularly I shall be reminded that, after all, this world is in many ways the same old world that our fathers knew.”

* In 1820, 93% of the U. S. population lived in rural arras; in 1850, 83% ; in 1900 60% ; at the last census, 43 % .

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