Isabella Alden, a Presbyterian pastor’s wife who was a godly lady and an outstanding homemaker, is one of my favorite authors. I have read at least half of the books that she wrote and have found them to be refreshing and encouraging–and, yes, challenging.
This is a story of a thirteen-year-old young lady who has been living with her aunt and uncle but has been called home by her father. She arrives to find the home in a dismal state, to say the least. The book is about the transformation of a home and the transformation of many lives.
1. A homemaker cares for her appearance.
Home is not a place to look sloppy or to wear dirty clothes. It is a place to serve, and looking our best for our family is just as important as looking our best when we go to the store or go to church. A homemaker realizes that she has a “uniform” and wears it proudly.
“A trim little figure in a brown and white gingham dress, a brown straw hat trimmed with broad bands and ends of satin ribbon, with brown gloves on her hands, and a ruffle in her neck. This was Nettie Decker; neat and orderly, from ruffle to buttoned boots.”
You will notice that while Nettie’s clothes were not expensive, they were net and clean. A homemaker’s job begins when she gets dressed in the morning; she knows that she cannot be in “work” mode if she stays in her lounging clothes all day.
2. A homemaker does not need to be old.
While the definition of “old” differs, the age of thirteen cannot be said to be old, unless it is said by a five-year-old! Nettie’s aunt must have trained her well while Nettie was young, and how blessed was her family for her thorough training!
3. The homemaker begins work by donning an apron.
If you are one of those rare people who can work in the garden and look as though you had been reading a book, I applaud you! For the rest of us, aprons are lifesavers because they help us keep our clothes clean. When this book was written in 1887, the average person did not have a closet full of clothes. They had just a few dresses for every day wear and one or two church dresses. Therefore, they wore aprons to keep from having to hand wash their clothes more than once a week.
It is easier to put on a fresh apron than to change an entire outfit!
4. The homemaker cleans the kitchen before she begins to cook a meal.
First Nettie swept the floor. Next she looked for the kettle to heat water for cleaning.
“Then an old kettle was dragged out from a hole in the corner, which poor Mrs. Decker called a closet. It was to hold water, while the fire heated it, but first it must be washed; everything must be washed that was touched.”
A clean kitchen will keep your family healthy and will go a long way to avoid food poisoning and other food borne illnesses.
5. A homemaker uses clean tools in order to clean.
“Nettie searched. She found at last a rag so black and ill-smelling that without giving the matter much thought she opened the stove door and thrust it in.”
Nettie knew that the dishes would not be clean if they were washed with a dirty dish cloth. Here is what she did instead.
“Quite at the bottom of the trunk was a pile of towels, all neatly hemmed and marked. Two of these she selected; looked thoughtfully at one of them for a moment, and then with a grave shake of her head, got out her scissors and snipped it in two. Now she had a dishcloth, and a towel for drying. But what a pity to soil the nice white cloth by washing out that iron kettle! Nettie had grave suspicions that after such a proceeding it would not be fit for the dishes. Still, the kettle must be washed, and to have used the black rag which she had burned, was out of the question.”
She also cleaned the dishpan and kettle before using them. Next she washed the shelves before she put clean dishes on them.
6. A homemaker is resourceful.
When Nettie returned home, there were not many tools for her to use even for cleaning. While she had some linens and dish cloths in her trunk, she did not want to waste one of her fresh, clean dish cloths to wash out the kettle because she knew the dish cloth would not be good for anything but the fire (they burned trash back then) afterward. Here is what she did:
“Quite at the bottom of the trunk was a pile of towels, all neatly hemmed and marked. Two of these she selected; looked thoughtfully at one of them for a moment, and then with a grave shake of her head, got out her scissors and snipped it in two. Now she had a dishcloth, and a towel for drying. But what a pity to soil the nice white cloth by washing out that iron kettle! Nettie had grave suspicions that after such a proceeding it would not be fit for the dishes. Still, the kettle must be washed, and to have used the black rag which she had burned, was out of the question.
There was no help for it, the other neat dishcloth must be sacrificed. So taking the precaution to wipe out the iron kettle with a piece of paper, and then to heat it quite hot, and apply soap freely, the cloth escaped without very serious injury; and in less time than it takes me to tell it, the water was getting itself into bubbles over the stove, and a tin pan was being cleaned, ready for the dishes.”
7. A homemaker decorates after she cleans.
While a clean table may be thought as sufficient by some, Nettie took the extra care to add a simple but clean table cloth to the table.
“Her proposed present to her mother had been a tablecloth, not very large nor very fine, but beautifully smooth and clean, and hemmed by her own patient fingers. She must get it out to-night, as no other appeared; and of course she could not set the table without one. So it was spread on the clean table, and the few dishes arranged as well as she could.”
Notice that she made sure the table was clean; then she added a clean table cloth. Once the table cloth was on the table, she set the dishes on the table.
8. A homemaker makes appetizing meals for her family.
While every family budget is different, a homemaker can make her home an inviting place to be by making simple but delicious meals for her family. A delicious meal served on a clean table with clean dishes can make the home a refuge for the other family members. Because Nettie took care of her family in this way, the father and brother enjoyed coming home instead of going to other places after work.
9. A young homemaker needs encouragement from other homemakers.
Although Nettie had done much for her family the first day at home, there was no place for her to sleep at night. The kind next-door neighbor Mrs. Smith gave Nettie a clean, neat room where she could spend the night.
Nettie was encouraged as soon as she stepped into Mrs. Smith’s kitchen. Here is the description:
“There was nothing very remarkable about that kitchen. At least I suppose you would not have thought so, unless you had just spent an afternoon in the Decker kitchen. Then you might have felt the difference. The floor was painted a bright yellow, and had gay rugs spread here and there. The stove shone brilliantly, and the two chairs under the window were painted green, with dazzling white seats. A high, old-fashioned, wooden-backed rocker occupied a cosey corner near the clock. A table set against the wall had a bright spread on it, and newspapers, and a book or two, and a pair of spectacles lay on it. The lamp was in the centre, and was clear and beautifully trimmed.
Simple enough things, all of them, but they spoke to Nettie’s heart of home.”
A homemaker can encourage another homemaker just by taking care of her own home!
While watching other homemakers is not always possible, I find that reading or listening to books such as this one is quite possible. Homemaking inspiration is found in many older fiction and non-fiction books.
10. A homemaker plans ahead.
At night after she cleaned the kitchen, Nettie thought about what to have for breakfast the next day. She did not procrastinate til morning to plan her breakfast. She gathered wood for her fire, looked through the kitchen cupboards to see what needed to be used up, and planned what she would need to purchase in the morning.
Today we may prepare batter ahead of time for pancakes, or better yet, make them the night before and heat them up in the morning. We may see what fruit or leftovers need to be used up and incorporate that into our morning meal.
Since I enjoyed the story immensely, I would like to share with you a few bonus homemaking tips.
11. A homemaker saves seemingly unneeded items to be able to share with others.
While minimalism is the trend today, Mrs. Job Smith kept a few trunks full of older things she did not use. These were a huge blessing to Nettie as she sought to make her parents’ living room a pleasant place to be and wanted to put up curtains and make some furniture for that room.
“Well, now,” said Mrs. Job, “I’ll just tell you what it is. If you see anything in life to do with these rolls of things, here is a bundle of old muslin curtains, embroidered, you know, and dreadful pretty once, I suppose, but they are all to pieces now. Mrs. Percival, a lady I used to clear starch and iron for, gave them to me; paid me in that kind of trash, you know, though what in the world she thought I could ever do with them is more than I could imagine. But I was younger then than I am now, and was kind of meek, and I lugged home the great roll and said nothing; only I remember when I got home I just sat down on a corner of the table and cried, I was so disappointed. I had expected to be paid in money, and I had planned two or three things to surprise Job, and they had to be given up. Well, as I was saying,” she added, in a brisker tone, having roused from her little dream of the past to watch Nettie’s fingers linger lovingly and wistfully among the rolls of soft muslin, “they have never been the least mite of good to me. I have just kept them because it didn’t seem quite the thing to throw such pretty soft stuff into the rag-bag, and they were dreadful poor trash to give away; and Sarah Jane, she is tired of having them in the attic taking up room, and if there is anything in life can be done with these things in this trunk, I wish you would just go shares, and make some things for me too. Sarah Jane would like it, first-rate.”
Mrs. Job Smith accepted payment for these things through Nettie’s services of sewing.
What was your favorite homemaking tip from this book? Please share this article with a friend who loves homemaking!
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