Grandfather’s House

On February 11, 1802, Lydia Maria Francis was born in Medford, Massachusetts. She went by her middle name, Maria, pronounced Muh-rye-uh. She was well-educated and after finishing high school became a school teacher. In addition to teaching, Maria wrote for newspapers and other publications on a wide variety of subjects. She became something of a local celebrity. At 22 years old, Maria published her first book entitled “Hobomok” too much success. Her second book entitled “The Rebels: A Tale of the Revolution”, was set in her home state of Massachusetts. It, too, was successful. She wrote a cookbook, “The Frugal Housewife”, which was considered the authoritative cookbook for much of the United States.

Maria’s passion, however, was for the abolition of slavery. In 1828, Maria married David Lee Child, a Massachusetts lawyer. Together, Maria and her husband edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard in New York. As early as 1833, Maria fought for the abolitionist cause with her “Appeal for that class of Americans called Africans,” the first anti-slavery work printed in book form in the United States. In 1859, when John Brown was arrested for leading an anti-slavery raid in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, Maria wrote to Brown and volunteered to be his nurse. She sent a copy of her letter to Virginia’s governor who denied her request and reprimanded her for her sentiments. The author of her obituary contended that Maria’s writings “undoubtedly had a great effect in helping to create the anti-slavery sentiment of New England,” and noted that “her pen never grew weary in the cause of abolition until the unexpected end was reached.”

Maria is less remembered for her anti-slavery writings and more for a simple poem she wrote about the anticipation she felt at visiting her grandfather’s house near the Mystic River in Medford, Massachusetts. If you visit Medford today, you can still see Lydia’s grandfather’s house and the Mystic River. However, the house looks much different than the one from Maria’s childhood. Maria’s grandfather transformed the small single-story farmhouse into a majestic 2-story home. Sadly, the lush woodland surrounding grandfather’s house has been replaced by residential housing. You will probably recognize her poem though it has been altered with the passage of time. Originally, Maria’s poem spoke of “wood” in the singular usage rather than its plural form, “woods.” Maria’s poem mentions going to her grandfather’s house, not grandmother’s house, and most of us incorrectly associate it with Christmas. Lydia Maria Child’s poem recalls a visit on Thanksgiving Day:

Over the river and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the wood–
Oh, how the wind doth blow!
It stings the toes
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play,
hear the bells ring,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river and through the wood,
Trot fast my dapple grey!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting hound!
For this is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go
Extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood
Now grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?

hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

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