November 6, 1852

 

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Saturday Nov 6th  Had a hard time with Susan

to make her practice and understand her

lesson.  About eleven went with Susan 

to carry Miss Alger home  Dined at Alsons

left there about half past three but did

not get home untill dark  Stopt at Mr

Algers & at Copelands for Tumblers & at Morse

factory got half lb thread & twine

 

The struggle between mother and daughter continued, Evelina trying to get Susan to practice her piano and Susan resisting. Miss Alger, the piano teacher who had been staying with the Ameses, may have been relieved to return home. We might imagine that Susie was equally relieved to see her go. Mother and daughter rode together to take Miss Alger to her residence in the southeastern quadrant of Easton. After Miss Alger exited the carriage, did Evelina scold? Did Susie cry? How did the discussion go, or did they maintain injured silence? Or sidestep the topic altogether?

The ride back to North Easton was long (and “rather chilly,” according to Old Oliver*), in no small part because Evelina and Susan stopped for midday dinner at the family farm, visiting Evelina’s mother, brother and family. It was late in the afternoon when they finally left, but nonetheless they stopped just north of the farm – would this be Alger’s Corner? – and bought some glassware for the house. They forked left onto Washington Street and stopped at the Morse Factory for thread and twine.  A half pound of thread is a great deal of thread, if you come to think of it. Was the weight of a spool – or spools – included?

The tumblers were what we would call drinking glasses today. The term tumbler, of uncertain origin and now out of use, meant a flat-bottomed glass with no handle or stem.  The tumblers that Evelina bought were most likely pressed glass, as opposed to hand-blown glass. The latter had been slowly replaced in the marketplace since about 1825.

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

 

 

October 5, 1852

Golden Piano Keys

Oct 5th  Tuesday  Called this forenoon upon Augusta

and then went into Olivers to dine & all my family

After dinner Mrs Norris & self called at Mr Torreys

and I then carried Mrs N to the cars.  Augusta

went with us.  When I returned Mrs Witherell &

Mrs S Ames called with me at Mr Whitwells on

Mrs Wordsworth & on Mrs Morse  Our pianos came

to night.

A momentous day at the Ames homestead: Two pianos arrived from Boston – drawn by oxen, one would think – and were set up in the respective parlors on each side of the house. One was for Evelina’s daughter, Susan, and the other was for Sarah Ames Witherell’s daughter, Emily. Everyone, even the men of the family who were unlikely to play the instruments, must have been intrigued by the new additions to the parlors.

Modern historian Jack Larkin describes the stylish impact of the addition of a piano to a parlor in the mid-nineteenth century:

“The pianoforte, the direct ancestor of today’s piano, became the most decisive piece of American parlor furniture. That small minority of families – less than one in a hundred – who were able ‘to beautify the room by so superb an ornament,’ as a cynical music teacher suggested in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, had acquired ‘the ultimate badge of gentility…the only thing that distinguishes ‘decent people’ from the lower and less distinguished’ whether it was ever played or not.”*

It was certainly Evelina’s intention that this instrument would be played by her daughter Susan who, she believed, would learn to play it, and play it well. It was presumably Sarah Witherell’s desire as well that Emily would do the same.  Did they imagine piano recitals and concerts taking place within their freshly-papered, newly decorated parlor walls?  Did they believe that their daughters would excel and play as well as Helen Ames next door? Did their daughters share this expectation? Did their daughters even want to learn piano?

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 143