I TIED the napkin around Fred's neck and placed before him his. glass of orange juice, his cereal, his big glass of foamy milk. In my own opinion, I classified myself among the superior mothers whose children are brought up in the approved manner of an enlightened day. Fred ate it all dutifully and then slipped down from his chair.
"Now can I go over to Jimmy's house, Mother?" he asked.
"But, Fred," I remonstrated. "You were over there yesterday and the day before. Why not have Jimmy come over here today?"
"Oh, he wouldn't want to." Fred's lip quivered in spite of his six years of manhood. "Please, Mother."
"Why do you like Jimmy's house better than ours, son?" I pursued. It came to me suddenly that Fred and all his companions were always wanting to go to Jimmy's house. "Why," he said hesitatingly, "it's 'cause, it's---'cause Jimmy's house is a singing house."
"A singing house?" I questioned. "Now what do you mean by that?"
"Well," Fred was finding it hard to explain, "Jimmy's mother hums when she sews; and Annie-in-the-kitchen, she sings when she cuts out cookies; and Jimmy's daddy always whistles when he comes home." Fred stopped for a moment and added, "Their curtains are always rolled clear up, and there are flowers in the windows. All the boys like Jimmy's house, Mother."
"You may go, son," I said quickly. I wanted him out of the way so I could think.
I looked around my house. Everyone told me how lovely it was. There were Oriental rugs. We were paying for them in installments. That was why there was no Annie-in-the-kitchen here. We were paying for the overstuffed furniture and the car that way, also. Perhaps that was why Fred's daddy didn't whistle when he came into the house.
I put on my hat and went over to Jimmy's house, even though it was ten o'clock in the morning. Mrs. Burton would not mind being interrupted in the middle of the morning. She never seemed to be in a hurry. She met me at the door with a towel around her head.
"Oh, come in. I have just finished the living room. No indeed, you are not interrupting. I'll just take off this headdress and be right in."
While 1 waited I looked around. The rugs were almost threadbare; the curtains, dotted Swiss, ruffled and tied back; the furniture, old and scarred but freshened with new cretonnes. A table with a bright cover held a number of late magazines. In the window were hanging baskets of ivy and wandering Jew, while a bird whistled in his cage hanging in the sun. Homey— that was the effect.
The kitchen door was open, and I saw Harry, the baby, sitting on the clean linoleum, watching Annie as she pinched together the edges of an apple pie. She was singing "Springtime in the Rockies."
Mrs. Burton came in smiling. "Well," she asked, "what is it? For I know you came for something. You are such a busy woman."
"Yes," I said abruptly, "I came to see what a singing house is like. Fred says he loves to come here be cause you have a singing house. I begin to see what he means."
"What a lovely compliment." Mrs. Burton's face flushed. "You see, John doesn't make much. I don't think he ever will. We have to cut somewhere, and we decided on the nonessentials. I am not a very strong person, and when Harry came we decided Annie was an essential if the children were to have a cheerful mother. Then there are books, magazines, and music. These are the things the children can keep inside. They can't be touched by fire or reverses, so we decided that they were essentials. Of course, good wholesome food is another essential. We don't buy things out of season, so our bills are small. The children's clothes are very simple—I make them my self. But when all these things are paid for, there doesn't seem to be much left for furniture. We find we get almost as much pleasure from our long country walks as we could get in a car, especially if we had to worry about financing it. We don't go into debt if we can avoid it. Moreover, we are happy," she concluded.
"I see," I said thoughtfully. I looked over at Jimmy and Fred in the corner. They had manufactured a train out of matchboxes and were loading it with wheat.
I went home. My Oriental rugs looked faded. I snapped my curtains to the top of the windows, but the light was subdued as it came through the silken draperies. The overstuffed couch looked bulky and not nearly so inviting as Mrs. Burton's old day-bed with pillows you weren't afraid to use. I hated my house. It didn't sing. I was determined to make it sing.