As we conclude this season’s focus on relationships, we share a beautiful portrait of the Howard home, the home of Elisabeth’s childhood…
My own memories of 103 West Washington Lane in Germantown [Pennsylvania] begin, I suppose when I was three or four years old. It was a double house, like the one Mother was born in. There were a small bank of grass between us and the sidewalk, a narrow side yard, and a back yard big enough for a sandbox, a clothesline, and a little strip of flower garden.
We had a tiled vestibule, a dark front hall with stairs running up the right side, a living room with mantel but no fireplace, a dining room with a bay window that looked straight into the bay window of the house next door, a pantry, a kitchen, and what we called the shed, a sort of lean-to at the back which held washtubs and tools. Upstairs were three bedrooms and one bathroom, on the third floor two more bedrooms and a storeroom. To me it was a perfectly good house, and it was not until years later that I realized how gloomy and cramped it was to my parents, used as they were to much more spacious homes. If we had heard them complain we would have felt deprived, for children are quick to pick up the parents’ attitudes to everything. Because they never betrayed a hint of discontent that I recall, we took the house for granted, as we did also the oriental rugs, beautiful pieces of antique furniture, and the sterling silver which my mother had from her family. Not until I reached my teens did I notice that not everyone walked on oriental rugs or ate with sterling silver every day.
That was the house we lived in. What was happening there was something far greater than its walls and its furniture and pictures and books. A home was being established. Its foundation was love for God, trust in His providence, obedience to His Word. God was there, talked about, talked to, present.
“The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you” (Ps. 102:28 NIV).
When I was a child I knew almost nothing of evil. T.S. Eliot wrote, “If humility and purity be not in the heart, they are not in the home; and if they are not in the home, they are not in the City.” Was our home not a place of humility and purity? I think it was. It was also a place of peace. We never heard our parents raise their voices to each other, and very seldom to us. If we wanted someone in another room or on another floor we did not shout, we went where they were…
It is amazing how often children do what is expected of them when the example is consistently set by both father and mother. My stepdaughter Katherine Scamman, the lovely mother of four who now live in Scotland, has a very soft voice. When my husband [Addison Leitch] and I visit them we notice that the children, some of whom are in their teens, speak softly. We also notice that parents who habitually scream at their children have children who scream.
The example of parents, for good or ill, is an influence far more profound than can be measured. Their discipline and orderliness, their calm control were not things we noticed at all as children, of course. It was just the way things were at home, and hence the way we thought things were supposed to be, so we were horribly shocked when we visited homes where things were not disciplined, orderly, and calm. As I look back I know that it was the presence of God that made the difference. Over the front door bell button hung a little copper plate with these words:
Christ is the Head of this house,
The unseen Guest at every meal,
The silent Listener to every conversation.
To a thoughtful child those words create an aura.
** Excerpt originally published in The Shaping of a Christian Family, pages 51-53.