The Old Backhouse

Probably not written by James Whitcomb Riley


When memory keeps me company and moves to smiles or tears,
A weather-beaten object looms throughout the mist of years,
Behind the house and barn it stood, a half a mile or more—
And hurrying feet a path had made straight for its swinging door.
Its architecture was a type of simple classic art,
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part,
And oft' the passing traveler drove slow and heaved a sigh,
To see the modest hired girl slip out with glances shy.
We had our posey garden that the women loved so well,
I loved it too, but better still, I loved the stronger smell
That filled the evening breezes so full of homely cheer,
And told the night-o'er taken tramp that human life was near.
On lazy August afternoons it made a little bower,
Delightful, where my grandsire sat and whiled away an hour,
For there the summer mornings its very cares entwined,
And berry bushes reddened in the steaming soil behind.
All day fat spiders spun their webs to catch the buzzing flies
That flitted to and from the house where ma was baking pies,
And once a swarm of hornets bold had built a palace there,
And stung my unsuspecting aunt--I must not tell you where.
Then father took a flaming pole--that was a happy day,
He nearly burned the building down, but the hornets left to stay.
When summer bloom began to fade and winter to carouse,
We banked the little building with a heap of hemlock boughs.
And when the crust was on the snow and the sullen skies were gray,
In truth the building was no place where one should wish to stay,
We did our duties promptly; there one purpose swayed our mind,
We tarried not nor lingered long on what was left behind.
The torture of that icy seat would make a Spartan sob,
For needs must scrape the gooseflesh with a lacerating cob
That from a frost-encrusted nail was suspended by a string—
My father was a frugal man and wasted not a thing.
When grandpa had to ‘go out back’ and make his morning call,
We’d bundle up the dear old man with a muffler and a shawl,
I knew the hole on which he sat—‘twas padded all around,
And once I dared to sit there—‘twas far too wide I found.
My loins were all too little, and I jack-knifed there to stay,
They had to come and pry me out or I'd have passed away.
Then father said ambition was a thing that boys should shun,
And I must use the children's hole till childhood days are done.
And still I marvel at the craft that cut those holes so true;
The baby hole, and the slender hole that fitted Sister Sue.
The dear old country landmark; I've tramped around a bit,
And in the lap of luxury my lot has been to sit.
But ere I die I'll eat the fruit of trees I've robbed of yore,
Then see the shanty where my name is carved upon the door,
I ween the old familiar smell will soothe my jaded soul,
I’m now a man, but none the less, I'll try the children's hole.