Isabel C. Byrum.

How John Became a Man Life Story of a Motherless Boy online

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breakfast. As he held them close to his breast, with their beaks close
to his cheek, he again thought of his mother; also he wondered about a
certain change that had come over his father.

For a time after their removal to their own home, the father had been
very devoted to John and had seemed to understand something of the boy's
loneliness. Perhaps it was a realization of this loneliness and a desire
to bring into the life of the child the motherly interest of which he
had been deprived that had turned the father's heart toward a certain
young lady of his acquaintance. Anyway, whatever was the cause, the
father became more and more interested in this young woman; while, on
the other hand, he paid less attention to John, whose loneliness daily
increased. Night after night John's pillow was dampened by the tears he
shed while waiting and listening for the sound of his father's returning

In course of time the father married and brought home his new bride.
At first John was very shy; but he was glad. Oh, how he wished that she
would be what he had day-dreamed that his own mother might have been!
He could then have given her all his love and confidence. He could have
told her all his boyish plans for the future, asking her for the advice
he would need. But the new mother failed to fulfill his hopes. Even she
did not understand the longings of his boyish heart; nor did she realize
that the poor little neglected boy was measuring her by what he had
imagined a true mother to be. She was kind to John; but that was all.
Her time and attention were given to her husband; and John daily saw the
gulf between his father and himself widening and deepening. A feeling of
discord crept into John's heart; all attraction for home was severed;
and he felt that his happiness would have to be sought from other


Visitors and Pastimes

During the winter that followed his father's marriage, John's
stepmother's brother came to live with the family; and the influence of
this stepuncle, whose name was Ed, was as bad or worse than Will's or
Charley's could ever have been; for Ed was older and wiser, and knew
much more of sin.

In Ed's home both the father and the mother used tobacco a long time
before their child was born. When he was just a little infant, he
worried and cried a great deal. He continued to do this, seemingly never
to be satisfied, until finally the parents imagined that he wanted
tobacco; and sure enough he did. The mother tied a small amount in a rag
and gave it to her baby to suck, and immediately he became quiet and
contented. So, from that time she gave him tobacco to stop his crying.
As he grew, the quantity he used gradually increased until, when he was
in his teens, he spent much of his money for tobacco. He went without
many of the necessary things of life in order that he might have the
money those things would cost to spend for tobacco.

The Bible tells us that God is abundant in goodness and truth, keeping
mercy for thousands and forgiving iniquity and transgression and
sin ... Parents may be sorry for their sins, and be forgiven for
their transgressions; but their children must suffer from inherited
ill-dispositions, unnatural appetites, or diseases.... Oh, what a
responsibility is resting upon the parents of the future generations!

Now, tobacco acts directly on the mind. It clouds the understanding and
dulls the memory; and sometimes it has much worse effects. The story is
told of the experience of a brilliant young man - a graduate from Andover
College - who, for a time, seemed to have a wonderful future before him.
After a few short successful years, however, all hopes were blighted;
he was thrown into an insane asylum a physical wreck. The doctors said
that tobacco had done it; but regardless of this, he was each day given,
according to the rules of the asylum, a small quantity of tobacco.
For twenty years he was in this seemingly hopeless condition; and then
suddenly, one day as he was walking the floor, his reason returned, and
he realized what was the matter. Throwing the plug of tobacco through
the iron grate of his cell, he said: "What brought me here? What keeps
me here? Why am I here? Tobacco! tobacco! tobacco! God help, help!
I will never use it again!"

He was restored; and for ten years he preached the gospel.

But not only does tobacco injure the mind; it also affects the blood and
sensitive tissues and the different organs of the body, which in order
to act normally and to do their work properly must be in healthful
condition. When the blood becomes saturated with the deadly poison that
comes from the pipe or cigar, and the soft membranes of the mouth become
filled with the poisonous secretion from the quid, as a consequence,
every member of the body becomes affected, and disease and suffering
are the final results. Lord Bacon said, "To smoke is a secret delight,
serving to steal away men's brains." Many others have expressed
themselves in even louder terms against the evil effects of tobacco;
but we must now return to John and to Ed, his stepuncle.

Soon after Ed came to live in the family, he paid a visit to a
neighboring town; and while there, he stole from a store a case of plug
tobacco. This he stealthily brought to his sister's new home, confiding
his secret to no one except John; and by generous promises he persuaded
John to say nothing about the matter. At this time John was in his
thirteenth year. He still keenly felt that something was dreadfully
missing in his life; so he turned to Ed, hoping to find that something
in his companionship. But again he was disappointed. The standard of
Ed's ideals were so far below the standard that John had fixed for
himself that John was conscious of a constant repulsion in his heart
toward Ed. As a consequence, John's loneliness increased.

About the time Ed arrived in the neighborhood, another dangerous pastime
was introduced. Dancing found a place in the social gatherings; and
again John was an apt scholar. Before very long he was considered to be
one of the best among the young people in this art; and for the time
being he seemed to find real enjoyment in the amusement. There was a
fascination about it that helped him partly to forget his troubles and
heartaches, also the discouragements with which he had been haunted so
much of late.

During the winter that followed, the social spirit increased and the
months were full of changes and excitement. The uncle with whom John and
his father had spent several years came with his family for a prolonged
visit. A hearty welcome was given the visitors, especially by John; for
regardless of the fact that in order to make room for the company he had
to exchange his nice warm bed in the house for a less comfortable one in
the sod cellar, he rejoiced in the thought that he could once more be
with his old companion, Will. In fact, any change was appreciated by
John in his restless, discontented frame of mind.

The first evening the boys retired early, partly because they had no
light and partly because they wanted to visit about bygone days. They
had so many things to say to each other; and besides, they wanted to lay
their plans for a jolly time while they could be together. Will laughed
heartily about John's intense desire to become a man, and asked him how
he felt about it now. It was in a discouraged tone of voice that John

"There ain't so much fun in it as I supposed. The older I get, the
more unhappy I feel. Why, Will, there are times when I almost wish that
I were dead. No one seems to care for me or to have any time to give me.
It's just 'John here' and 'John there'; and if I dare to say anything,
I'm laughed at or told to keep still. It was different before Pa got
married. Then he used to talk to me and try to help me when I got
lonesome; but now I just have to get along the best way I can.
If I like anything it's all right, and if I don't it's the same.

"I'll just tell you, if it wasn't for Pa, I'd run away from home! As for
being a man, I don't think that it is so wonderful after all. The men
that I know are all so bad. Just look at Ed! I'm getting so that I can
hardly endure Ed!"

In reply to John's great outburst of sorrow, Will had no words of
sympathy to offer. All that he could propose was that they could spend
their evenings in playing cards (for Will, too, had learned many things
since John had left; and card-playing was one of them). John was pleased
with the suggestion; but he said, "I haven't any cards." As usual,
however, he was quick to invent a way out of that difficulty and added:
"Hey, Will! why couldn't we make some? I know where there's a lot of
cardboard boxes that we could cut up. One could cut while the other
marked them. You would know how to make them, would you not?"

"Yes, I think so," Will answered. "We could do that all right in the
daytime; but how could we work in the dark? And does it get very cold
in here?"

"Oh, it doesn't get so awfully cold; and as for a light, I can get a
dish of lard and put a rag in it which we can light! That won't be a
very good light; but I think we can get along."

The boys found that it was no small task to make the cards. First they
had to cut the cardboard. This John did with a very sharp knife. Next,
they drew hearts and diamonds and other necessary markings. To be sure,
the set of cards was a very crude one when it was finished; and when the
boys began to shuffle them in the pack, they were disappointed because
of the bulky appearance and wished for a more perfect set. But John
had done a good job in cutting them out, and the marking answered the
purpose very well. So night after night, by the aid of the flickering
and sputtering light, furnished by the rag burning in the saucer of
lard, the two boys, with heads bent low, sat scheming and planning,
each striving to get ahead of the other in the game.

Long before Will's visit was ended, both boys had become so skillful in
playing that the one could scarcely get the better of the other unless
one in some way cheated. This caused them to try many underhanded tricks
and encouraged them to bet and gamble; and in course of time they had
exchanged as wagers the greater part of their simple belongings. Taking
advantage of one another became a part of the game and seemingly was the
principal aim. And the evenings that they did not spend in dancing were
spent in indulging in these dangerous amusements. (Card-playing - as does
also dancing - wields an influence that is very harmful, especially to
the young. As the interest in the game increases, the players' desire
for things that are good and wholesome is lessened. One player sees only
the pleasure that he derives from getting the better of the one he is
playing against. He fails to see that each time he stoops to unfair
methods in order to gain his purpose he helps to pave the way for other
things that are wrong and deceitful.)

When the first warm days of spring arrived and the grass of the prairie
began to unfold its tiny blades, John's uncle said it was time for him
and his family to return home. "It's a long way, Will," he said; "and
we must get there in good time to plant a big crop of 'tobaker.' You
remember we didn't have near enough to do us last year!" Will agreed;
but the boys were all sorry to be separated again, and when the day of
departure came, it was very hard indeed for them to bid one another

During the winter months John had not thought much about his aunt, for
Will and he had been too deeply interested in other things. But now at
the last moment that old longing again clutched at his heart. When he
saw them disappearing in the distance and finally lost them to view,
like a flash the desire that had so long been smoldering within his
heart was fanned, as it were, into a mighty flame, and in his mind he
resolved what he would do. "I will stay in this home no longer!" he
cried in his distress. "My father may miss me; but if I stay here,
I shall die!" and going to his father, he stated his intentions.


Leaving Home

As John's father looked into the deep pathetic eyes of his son, he
in part understood the meaning of what he read. He could see that the
soul of his child was crying out for something; but again he failed to
understand the true longings of the young heart. He failed to see that
the boy was being crushed by sinful habits, and that for parental care
and interest he was starving. In ignorance the father supposed that
the boy's unrest was due to a longing to know more of the world, to
a feeling akin to that which an explorer experiences.

Poor man! Could he have known just then what really was troubling his
boy, he could have stayed the spirit of unrest by holding out to John
the "olive branch of peace." He could have said: "John, we have drifted
apart. We are not to one another what we used to be. Stop, my boy; sit
down here. Let us carefully talk these things over before you take such
a step. Out in the world you will meet many temptations and evils, more
than you have ever known." And many other tender words of advice he
might have spoken to the child; but these things were left unspoken.

Instead, his father only said, "John, I would like to have you remain
at home a while longer; but if you are determined to go, you may, only
remember to try to do as nearly right as you can! I have wanted to bring
you up well for your mother's sake; for she had made so many plans for
your future. My wish, John, is that you become a good man."

John was deeply touched by his father's farewell speech; and had there
been any other drawing to keep him at home, he certainly would have
remained. As it was, he soon gathered together his belongings, and while
still in his thirteenth year, said good-by to his people, and went away
to work for a thrifty farmer.

During the two years preceding his departure from home, John had now
and then worked for the farmers in different parts of the country. This
and his attendance at the social gatherings had enabled him to become
acquainted with numbers of boys, some of whom were very wild and rough.
But because of the companionship of Will during the winter months, the
evil influences of his wide circle of friends had not been so strong.
But when the cousins were parted, John's companions were again some of
the roughest and toughest in the community. Because of this his tobacco
and beer bills increased, and to this alarming expenditure he added many
accounts for whiskey.

John had made a discovery. He had found that Ed, in order to satisfy the
awful craving and gnawing in his stomach (a sensation produced by the
tobacco poison), was using a generous supply of whiskey; and for the
same reason John began to use it. Whiskey did perhaps satisfy for the
time being; but John also discovered that the seemingly good effect
was very soon gone and that the old trouble was again there, only with
renewed force and strength. Another thing he found, too, was that he had
added to his list of evil habits one even more fierce and strong than
the others.

When John left home, his desire was principally to find relief for his
loneliness; but he had another object. His expenses had been heavy and
hard to defray. And now with the amount he had to pay for his whiskey
added to what he was already spending for beer and tobacco, his bills
were so high he felt that he must have more money in order to meet them.
This seeming necessity was, therefore, one thing that urged him to take
the step he took.

[Illustration: Leaving the Old Homestead]

The farmer for whom John began to work was known among his men as "the
captain." All the hired help worked under one manager, or boss; so
John's experience while in this service was new and varied.

"We have orders today to work for Farmer Z," explained the boss one
morning a few weeks after John's arrival. "And the captain says we must
be sure and get around there early in the morning, for we are to get our
breakfast over there."

The home of Farmer Z was some distance from that of John's employer; but
the prancing horses on which the men were to ride were soon carrying
them across the prairie, and it was not long until they were in sight
of Farmer Z's modest farmhouse. As they entered the gateway, Farmer Z
stepped into the doorway; and when he greeted the men with a kindly
"Good morning," John particularly noticed his countenance and expression
and wondered why he was so different from the comrades with whom he had
always associated. He noticed, too, that, as the men gathered in the
dining room and took their places around the table, they were quiet and
reserved; and he was puzzled by still another thing - Farmer Z bowed his
head and thanked God for all of His blessings and benefits and goodness
to them all.

Such things were new and strange to John; and when at the close of the
meal, the farmer invited them into another room, saying, "We always have
reading and prayer immediately after breakfast and would be glad to have
you all join with us," John suddenly felt extremely awkward and out of
place, and he longed to make his escape to the barn.

John could have given no reason for his feelings, unless it was that the
farmer's suggestion of prayer made him think about his mother and of the
time when his father had taught him the little prayer, "Now I lay me
down to sleep," and had told him that he very much desired him to be
a little man. But it was not strange that John should feel as he did;
for he had so often associated other scenes with that of learning the
prayer, but had since that time heard very little about the Bible. In
fact, the only part of the Bible that he had ever read was a few verses
in the small New Testament that had belonged to his mother; and he had
read these because he had heard that the reading of certain passages
would stop the toothache and relieve the nosebleed. He experimented one
time when he had the nosebleed, and his nosebleed did stop; but he was
not sure that it would not have stopped as soon had he not read the

Now, for some reason unknown to himself, John did not want to remain for
worship; so when he noticed one of the other men slipping out of the
back door, he quickly followed. The two were just about to enter the
barn when the farmer, calling to them in words that were gentle but
firm, said, "We always have our help come in with us for worship."
Seeing then that there was no way around going in except to stoutly
refuse, the two returned to the house; and with the others they seated
themselves in the room where it was evident that the family worship was
to be held. This experience was so entirely new to John that he actually
suffered. He did not know what to do nor how to act.

He observed that the children, the workmen, and the farmer's wife, were
all seated, so he sat down, too. He also observed that the men had left
their hats outside where they had washed; and this caused him to feel
very strangely, because he had his own in his hand. He dropped it,
however, beside his chair; then he began to watch the children and to
try to do just as they were doing. But as no two of the youngsters were
doing the same thing, he again felt troubled. The older members of the
family, he noticed, sat very still; and suddenly John realized that they
must be listening to the farmer, who had been reading. John knew that he
had not heard one single word that had been read, and here, the farmer
was now saying, "Let us pray."

When they knelt beside their chairs, John was again bewildered; but
having decided to do just as nearly as he possibly could the way the
rest did, he, too, slipped down upon his knees. For some reason that he
could not understand, a burning shame that seemed to benumb his whole
being swept over him, and he could hardly hear the farmer's words; but
he realized suddenly that the farmer was saying, "Dear Lord, bless the
help today, and keep them from accidents and danger."

Hurriedly glancing around, John saw the children peeking from between
their fingers; and hastily covering his own face with his hands, he gave
a quick glance toward Mr. A, his boss. Mr. A was kneeling beside his
chair, but was picking his teeth and looking out of the window. Just
then the farmer said, "Amen," and they all arose.

Then, as John compared his own attitude with that of Mr. A.'s, another
feeling of shame came over him; and for some time he kept asking
himself, "Why didn't I act unconcerned like the boss?" But John was not
a bad boy naturally. He was ignorant of what was right. He had never
understood that there is a Savior and that that Savior loved him and
left an example for him to follow. To be sure, he had often heard both
his Savior's and his Creator's names reviled and abused by his evil
companions. But he did not know that these were Beings to whom he could
go when in trouble; nor did he understand that in God's sight he was
a sinner.

More than once that day while working, John thought of the farmer's
words and wondered if the prayer would have any effect upon the day.
Some way he thought it would, and he decided to watch and see. The day
was ideal, and the help orderly; and God kept them free from accident
and trouble. It was all a mystery to John, and he pondered over it along
the way home and even during the night. Farmer Z had opened up a new
channel for his thoughts.


With the Circus

During the following year a circus that was passing through the country
stopped at a town near by; and John, together with a number of his
associates, attended some of the exhibitions. John's interest was at
once captivated, and he felt that it would be great to join the company
and to act the part of the clown; and he soon began to plan to secretly
join them the following season. His visions of great wealth enlarged day
by day, and in fancy he pictured a future of wonderful fame.

In due time the show company returned. They gladly accepted John's
proposal to join them; and so John, with his few earthly possessions,
to the surprise of all who knew him, disappeared from his home locality.
But John seemed doomed to disappointment; the showman's life was not
at all as he had pictured it. Instead of becoming fabulously rich in a
fairy-like way, he was taken very ill and had soon lost all the money he
did have. As soon, therefore, as he was able, he returned to his friends
at home, thoroughly disgusted with his undertakings; he was a wiser lad
than he was when he went away.

But, although John was disgusted, he was not disheartened. When he
was laughed at by his friends, he bravely bore their ridicule, and
endeavored to look on the bright side of things. Also, he explained to
them that show life, on the outside and to the sightseer, was not at
all what it was among the members of the company; but that behind the
curtains oaths were uttered, and abuse and nearly every kind of evils
could be witnessed.

When he was back once more among his old associates, he endeavored
to pass away the time in as pleasant a way as possible. Card playing,
gambling, and dancing were his amusements, but tobacco and whiskey were
his enjoyments; and as before, he was considered among his friends as a
jolly good fellow. But John was not truly happy; beneath his superficial
joyousness was a longing for something that he was unable to name or

Let us stop a moment and look at John. A glance tells us that a great
change has taken place. The ruddy complexion and childish features
were replaced by a sallow hue upon the sunken cheek; and the roguish
expression of the large brown eyes was lost in the haggard look that
well accorded with the telltale cough and the stooping shoulders. The
poisons of the tobacco and whiskey were doing their fatal work. His
entire system was heavily charged with nicotine and alcohol; and the
effect of these poisons constantly operating upon his nervous system and
digestive organs had made him but a wreck of his former self. It is true
that in stature he was as large as the man his father had desired him to
be; but he was far from being of the strong manly type that that parent
would have had him to become. Instead, he was weakly; and his body was
never free from pain and suffering.

The old adage that ignorance is bliss can never be aptly applied to
nicotine and alcohol. For only those who let them both entirely alone
can be truly happy or safe. When we examine what doctors have written
about the use of these poisons, we find that alcohol as well as nicotine

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Online LibraryIsabel C. ByrumHow John Became a Man Life Story of a Motherless Boy → online text (page 3 of 5)