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Old Time Customs
Memories and Traditions and Other Essays
The Surprise Party


AMONG the social conditions of the old times one remembers "The Surprise Party". Near the eventide of a winter day, when sleigh-driving by moonlight was a delight, a sled load of young folks, drawn by two horses, might often be seen turning with full speed into this door yard or that, and unloading its goodly freight of a dozen or more young men and maidens. Uninvited and unexpected, they knew full well that they were none the less welcome. And so with all the hilarity and frolicsomeness of a picnic party they hasten to the door where with equal overflow of joy they are received.

As for entertainment they give it no thought—they are in for a good time and pot-luck will suffice. Chance may be that the pantry is not fully prepared for an emergency; yet of doughnuts and molasses gingerbread, and, mayhap, at that season of the year, of mince pie—there cannot fail enough and to spare. At any rate one could supplement what another lacks. Then, if the bread basket is low, hot biscuit will help out and give variety. But the butter,—the tub is nearly empty! "O, well, we'll make milk toast." One-half of the family is detailed to prepare the evening meal; the other half to entertain the company meanwhile.

The menu is soon agreed on,—milk-toast hot biscuit, ginger-bread, and doughnuts with plum preserves. For a moment, there comes a hitch, there is no saleratus for the biscuit. Here it should be explained that saleratus was the name then given to bicarbonate of potash, which was used, like bicarbonate of soda at the present time, with sour milk to generate gas for raising dough. The chief cook however, was ready for the occasion. In the attic—the garret it was then called—is a basket of corn cobs which contained a large amount of potash. A handful of these cobs placed on the hearth is soon reduced to ashes, and by filtering the ashes a solution of potash is obtained which is used in preparing the dough. And soon the scene is changed to a general gathering around the tea table.

After supper, games of sundry kinds are in order, "Auction," "Bridge" and other games of card plays are modern inventions. Indeed, the then doubtful amusement of card-playing was tabooed as a game of chance. Country dances of various forms were in their highday, as were blind-man's buff, riddle-guessing and other forfeit games. Forfeits, it may be explained, were exacted for failures in guessing and were redeemed by a substitution imposed by an appointed judge. The forfeits were classed as "fine" and "superfine" according to the sex of the owner. A common substitute in redeeming "a fine" was—"Bow to the wittiest, kneel to the prettiest, and kiss the one you love best." It was here that the chief fun of the game came in. The redemption of the "superfine" was less thrilIing, as it seldom called for little more than recite a verse of poetry, telling a story, or bowing to the company.

In the small hours of the morning the party was ended, and the guests were on their way home, singing with variations,—

"Roll on, silver moon, guide the traveller on his way
Whilst the nightingale's song is in tune;
For I never, never more with my true love shall stray
By the bright silver light of the moon."

"Dashing through the snow
In a two horse open sleigh
O'er the field we go,
Laughing all the way,
Bells on bobtail ring,
Making spirits bright.
What fun it is to sing
A sleighing song to-night."

Chorus:

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
O what fun it is to ride in a two horse sleigh.


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