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Yale University Press
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Dec 31, 1920
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The idea of a family level society, discussed and disputed by anthropologists for nearly half a century, assumes moving, breathing form in Families of the Forest. According to Allen Johnson’s deft ethnography, the Matsigenka people of southeastern Peru cannot be understood or appreciated except as a family level society; the family level of sociocultural integration is for them a lived reality. Under ordinary circumstances, the largest social units are individual households or small extended-family hamlets. In the absence of such "tribal" features as villages, territorial defense and warfare, local or regional leaders, and public ceremonials, these people put a premium on economic self-reliance, control of aggression within intimate family settings, and freedom to believe and act in their own perceived self-interest.

Johnson shows how the Matsigenka, whose home is the Amazon rainforest, are able to meet virtually all their material needs with the skills and labor available to the individual household. They try to raise their children to be independent and self-reliant, yet in control of their emotional, impulsive natures, so that they can get along in intimate, cooperative living groups. Their belief that self-centered impulsiveness is dangerous and self-control is fulfilling anchors their moral framework, which is expressed in abundant stories and myths. Although, as Johnson points out, such people are often described in negative terms as lacking in features of social and cultural complexity, he finds their small-community lifestyle efficient, rewarding, and very well adapted to their environment.
Ah, but it was a sweet and wonderful thing to see Miss Lady dance, a strange and wondrous thing! She was so sweet, so strong, so full of grace, so like a bird in all her motions! Now here, now there, and back again, her feet scarce touching the floor, her loose skirt, held out between her dainty fingers, resembling wings, she swam through the air, up and down the room of the old plantation house, as though she were indeed the creature of an element wherein all was imponderable, light and free of hampering influences. Darting, nodding, beckoning, courtesying to something that she saw—it must have moved you to applause, had you seen Miss Lady dance! You might have been restrained by the feeling that this was almost too unreal, too unusual, this dance of the young girl, all alone, in front of the great mirror which faithfully gave back the passing, flying figure line for line, flush for flush, one bosom-heave for that of the other. Yet the tall white lilies in the corner saw; and the tall white birds, one on each side of the great cheval glass, saw also, but fluttered not; since a lily and a stork and a maiden may each be tall and white, and each may understand the other subtly.

Miss Lady stood at length, tall and white, her cheeks rosy withal, her blown brown hair pushed back a bit, one hand lightly resting on her bosom, looking—looking into the mirror, asking of it some question, getting, indeed, from it some answer—an answer embodying, perhaps, all that youth may mean, all that the morning may bring.

For now the sun of the South came creeping up apace, and saw Miss Lady as it peered in through the rose lattice whereon hung scores of fragrant blossoms. A gentle wind of morning stirred the lace curtains at the windows and touched Miss Lady’s hair as she stood there, asking the answer of the mirror. It was morning in the great room, morning for the southern day, morning for the old plantation whose bell now jangled faintly and afar off—morning indeed for Miss Lady, who now had ceased in her self-absorbed dance. At this very moment, as she stood gazing into the mirror, with the sunlight and the roses thus at hand, one might indeed have sworn that it was morning for ever, over all the world!

Miss Lady stood eager, fascinated, before the glass; and in the presence of the tall flowers and the tall birds, saw something which stirred her, felt something which came in at the window out of the blue sky and from the red rose blossoms, on the warm south wind. Impulsively she flung out her arms to the figure in the glass. Perhaps she felt its beauty and its friendliness. And yet, an instant later, her arms relaxed and sank; she sighed, knowing not why she sighed.

Once, several years ago, there lived in a city far from the sea-shore a widow by the name of Mrs. Pickle, who had Twins named Zuzu Pickle and Lulu Pickle. At first glance, these Twins seemed much like ordinary twins in appearance. Both had blue eyes, pretty curved lips, and rosy cheeks; and as they were quite alike in size, it may seem that, like many other twins, they must have been hard to tell apart. Such, however, was not the case. Indeed, they could not well be confused with each other, for, aside from the fact that Zuzu was a boy and Lulu a girl, one had green hair and the other blue. This peculiar color of their hair made them quite different from most twins, and led to a great many strange circumstances, some of which are described in this story.

The father of these Twins was Aurelius Pickle, an innocent and good man, who for many years was known as a very skilful chemist. Like many other chemists, he wasted a great deal of time in doing things which did not bring in any money. For instance, he worked many years on a compound intended to change a person's hair from any color to a rich, dark brown or to a deep and shining auburn, at will. Aurelius Pickle was a poor man, and hence did not have the means for his researches that he desired. He often told his wife that it was fortunate they had Twins with such long hair, for thus he could make all the experiments for the Twofold-tint Compound, which was what he intended to call the hair-coloring fluid on which he was working. Whenever he made a new kettleful of this, he would try it on the long rich hair of the Twins.

At last he hit upon two new mixtures, one or the other of which he felt sure would be just the thing. He tried one on the hair of Lulu and the other on that of Zuzu. To his great surprise, the hair of Zuzu became a fine pale green, while that of Lulu turned at the same time to a pale blue, much the color of the ribbons around the neck of a new baby.

The Twins, seeing themselves in the glass, were much pleased with their appearance, and said they felt sure no one in town had hair like theirs; which in all likelihood was true. With their father, however, it was quite otherwise. Indeed, what he thought was never fully known. He was taken suddenly ill, and sank back upon his couch, where he rapidly became worse, and could get no further than to ask his children to call their mother. When she appeared, Aurelius Pickle smiled feebly and motioned her toward the cupboard where he kept his Chemical Substances. He could do no more.

This, in brief, is how there came to be such a person as the Widow Pickle. It is not unusual for widows to have Twins, but seldom could be found such Twins as these.

"Then you offer me no hope, Doctor?" The gray mane of Doctor Samuel Ward waved like a fighting crest as he made answer:

"Not the sort of hope you ask." A moment later he added: "John, I am ashamed of you."

The cynical smile of the man I called my chief still remained upon his lips, the same drawn look of suffering still remained upon his gaunt features; but in his blue eye I saw a glint which proved that the answer of his old friend had struck out some unused spark of vitality from the deep, cold flint of his heart.

"I never knew you for a coward, Calhoun," went on Doctor Ward, "nor any of your family I give you now the benefit of my personal acquaintance with this generation of the Calhouns. I ask something more of you than faint-heartedness."

The keen eyes turned upon him again with the old flame of flint which a generation had known—a generation, for the most part, of enemies. On my chief's face I saw appear again the fighting flush, proof of his hard-fibered nature, ever ready to rejoin with challenge when challenge came.

"Did not Saul fall upon his own sword?" asked John Calhoun. "Have not devoted leaders from the start of the world till now sometimes rid the scene of the responsible figures in lost fights, the men on whom blame rested for failures?"

"Cowards!" rejoined Doctor Ward. "Cowards, every one of them! Were there not other swords upon which they might have fallen—those of their enemies?"

"It is not my own hand—my own sword, Sam," said Calhoun. "Not that. You know as well as I that I am already marked and doomed, even as I sit at my table to-night. A walk of a wet night here in Washington—a turn along the Heights out there when the winter wind is keen—yes, Sam, I see my grave before me, close enough; but how can I rest easy in that grave? Man, we have not yet dreamed how great a country this may be. We must have Texas. We must have also Oregon. We must have—"

"Free?" The old doctor shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the arch pro-slavery exponent.

"Then, since you mention it, yes!" retorted Calhoun fretfully. "But I shall not go into the old argument of those who say that black is white, that South is North. It is only for my own race that I plan a wider America. But then—" Calhoun raised a long, thin hand. "Why," he went on slowly, "I have just told you that I have failed. And yet you, my old friend, whom I ought to trust, condemn me to live on!"

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