Widow Cahoon and Her Grandson
by the American Sunday-School Union
"I wish to make a call in —— street," said
a lady to me, as we together were visiting some of
the poor of the city. "There is a Mrs. Smith
living there, a poor old woman nearly eighty years
old. She is infirm and partially blind. She has a
little grandson, and she has no means with which to
take care of him. We hope to persuade her to give
him to us, and let us find a good home, by adoption,
It was a warm winter's morning. Snow had
fallen the day before, but it was rapidly disappearing.
The foot sank in the melting mass at every
step. The crossings were muddy, and it required
some skill to pick our way along dry-shod.
We turned into the street, and sought for the
number which had been given us. We found it on
the door of a low, shed-like building, old and out
"Does Mrs. Smith live here?" we inquired.
"Is there an old lady, who is almost blind, and
who has a little grandson, in the house?"—we
further asked, thinking Mrs. Smith might not be
known by name.
"No, ma'am. There is no such person here."
"Does she live in the neighbourhood?"
"She may be in No. ——."
We made inquiries at several doors, dodging in
quickly to avoid the great drops which came pattering
down on the pavement from the gutterless
eaves, but we could learn nothing of the object of
At length we came to a grocery, and, stepping in
by the mackerel barrels which stood at the door, we
repeated our inquiry—
"Can you tell us where Mrs. Smith lives?
She is an old lady, almost blind, and has a little
"Oh, yes! I know her well. She is a deserving,
The man followed us to the street to point out
the house where she lived. As he was telling us, a
woman passed by. He spoke to her, saying,
"You know where Mrs. Smith lives—the old
lady who is almost blind, and who has a little
"Will you show these ladies the place?"
She walked on with us till she came to a large
tenement building, and then directed us to a room
in the upper story. We thanked her, and entered
the narrow hall, and passed up the still narrower
We knocked at the door, and were bidden to
enter. The old lady was not there. We inquired
for her again, and learned that she had just gone
out. The woman said she would send for her. A
boy, ten or twelve years old, went to find her.
While he was gone, we talked with his mother,—a
round-faced, good-natured, intelligent Irish woman.
We asked her where Mrs. Smith lived, and she
said she was most of the time with her. Poor
woman! she had only a living-room and a bed-room
for herself and four children, yet she was willing to
share them with another as poor and more helpless
She was a widow, too, and had no one to depend
upon. Her husband died last spring. During
the summer she had provided for her family by
washing and cleaning, but this winter she finds
it almost impossible to get work. One of the
children is a babe, who was lying on a rough, unpainted
board-cradle, rudely put together by some
unaccustomed hand. This infant had been taken
care of during the summer by his brother, not more
than ten or twelve years old, while his mother was
absent at work. There was a little girl, about eight
years old, who attends the Industrial School. She
was quite unwell, and had not been able to go out for
several days. She sat in the great rocking-chair,
looking sad and disconsolate, as most sick children
do. She was comfortably clothed. Her dress she
had received at the school, and had sewed on it herself
doing all her little fingers could do to make it.
Her hair was neatly combed. She was feverish
and very thirsty. Sometimes she went to the pail
herself for a cup of water, and sometimes her
brother would get it for her. He seemed kind,
gentle, and sympathizing—a good example for
some more favoured boys.
Pretty soon the door opened, and an aged woman,
bent with years and breathing hard and painfully,
entered the room. A boy, with a complexion fair
and transparent, through which the blue veins
showed themselves, immediately followed her. She
greeted us kindly, and took a chair by my side,
bending towards us that she might hear more
easily, for she was almost deaf. She told us that
since her daughter's death she had been entirely
dependent on charity.
After talking with her a short time, Mrs. B——,
the lady accompanying me, gave her little grandson
a penny to buy some candy. She did so, because
she wished to talk with his grandmother about him,
and thought he had, perhaps, better not be in the
room. So soon as he left, she asked the old lady
if she had made up her mind to part with the
child. She had been spoken to a fortnight previously
in regard to it by another lady, and seemed
then unwilling that he should leave her. She said
she had come to the conclusion that she must give
him up, for she was too old and feeble to take care
of him, and she was constantly anxious about him.
She could not do for him all that he needed, and
she knew it would be much better for him to be
adopted in some kind family, where he could be
brought up as a son. She spoke of him most tenderly
and affectionately. He was her earthly all.
She had taken care of him from his infancy. She
came from Ireland for that very purpose. His
father had died before he was old enough to remember
him, and his mother had supported him by her
The grandmother's name was not Smith, as we
called her. It was, as she said, widow Cahoon.
The daughter's name was Smith, and the sunny-haired
boy was David. Last May, Mrs. Smith died
of cholera, leaving her aged mother homeless, and
her beautiful boy an orphan.
When David returned with a great piece of molasses-candy,
he did not keep it all himself. He
divided it among the other children without being
told to do so. This showed that he was a generous
child, and loved to make others happy. When he
had eaten his portion, his grandmother washed his
face, neck, and hands, and put on his best clothes,
which his mother had made for him before her death.
He looked very tidy and comfortable in his brown
overcoat and his new boots—a New-Year's present.
The grandmother tied up a pair of shoes and a
few socks in a little bundle. When she handed it
to David, he burst into tears. He felt that he was
really going from his dearest friend. She wept
aloud for a few minutes, but when she saw how
much it affected him, she wiped away her tears, and
attempted to cheer him. He summoned his resolution
and became once more calm.
Mrs. B—— took him by the hand, and led him
down stairs. As he left the room, I gave mine to
his grandmother, who uplifted it in both her's, as if
pleading, in silent agony, for strength to bear this
new trial. I shall never forget the expression of that
wrinkled, up-turned face. Dear old grandmother!
Who will comfort her now? David will not forget her,
but he cannot put his arms around her neck, nor
cheer her with the sunlight of his bright face. She
is alone—none of her kindred near. The lady who
took charge of David will do what she can for her,
but her heart must yearn for the dear boy that
poverty and age compelled her to give to the fostering
care of strangers.
When David reached the street, the tears were
tracing their way over his round, plump cheek, but
soon a smile played around his mouth. Mrs. B—— took
him into a toy-shop, and purchased for him a
tin horse suspended in a wheel, which he could roll
about the room. He selected this himself, and it
was delightful to see with how much pleasure he
looked at it, as he carried it in his hand.
We concluded to make no more calls that day,
but to take David directly to Mrs. B——'s. When
his coat and cap were taken off, he began to roll
the horse across the floor. Sometimes he would
come and stand by my side, and examine it closely.
I said to him—
"Have you ever been in the country?"
"Oh, yes. I was there a month, when we buried
"Where were you?"
"We were with Elek, grandma's son."
"Why doesn't your grandmother live with him?"
"He isn't kind to her."
"Was his wife kind?"
"No; she said she wouldn't live with him if
"What did you see in the country?"
"I saw the fields, and the trees, and horses, and
"Did Elek have a cow?"
"Yes; and she went away every day, and at
night she came home, and they milked her."
"Did you see any birds?"
"I saw birds no bigger than that," said he, putting
his hand over his horse so as to hide more
than half of it, "and they sang all the time. And
there were some chickens, that laid eggs, and then
Elek's wife sold the eggs to the baker to pay for
"And had you apples or peaches?"
"I used to throw small stones at the apples, and
knock them off. The peaches I could reach with
my hand. I had just as many as I wanted."
The little orphan's month in the country had been
a sunny spot in his memory, clouded only by the
unkindness of Elek towards the grandmother he
loved so much.
How strange it is that children can ever forget
how much they owe their parents! When the
widow Cahoon was young, she had watched over
his infancy. She had carried him in her arms,
unmindful of her own weariness, and had done
all for him that his helplessness required. But
now she is old; her eyes are dim; her hearing is
impaired; her hands are tremulous, and she is unable
to provide for herself. Yet Elek's heart is hard.
He has forgotten all her love, and will not even give
her a home. He cannot prosper.
I well remember, when a child, what a fearful
impression a passage from the "words of Agur"
made on my mind: "The eye that mocketh at his
father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens
of the valley shall pick it out, and the young
eagles shall eat it." "Honour thy father and
mother, (which is the first commandment with
promise,") Paul writes to the Ephesian children,
"that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest
live long on the earth."
I should fear to hear Elek's future history. It
must be dark and sorrowful. His poor old mother
uttered a groan, when, as she was talking about
David's mother, I asked if she had any other children.
"He isn't kind to her," explained its meaning.
"Sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child."
I left David with Mrs. B——, who will find him
a home in some family where they wish to adopt a
little son. "He will make friends for himself,"—she
said, confidently, and I felt so also, for his sweet,
intelligent face is too attractive and winning not to
find its way to some loving heart.
When Mrs. B—— talked with him about his
mother, he wept. She soon comforted him, and
told him that God would provide for him. He
seems to possess a sensitive nature, with, at the
same time, the power of self-control.
Who of you would like this orphan for an adopted
brother? He is only five years old. I have written
to a kind lady of my acquaintance, who has
adopted two little girls, to inquire if she does not
wish to add David to her household treasures.
There are many such homeless children in New
York, and it is an act of Christian charity to adopt
and educate them, and one which is rich in blessings
to every heart that is open to receive the fatherless
Mrs. B—— would like to have adopted David herself
but she has so much to do for so many orphan
children, that she concluded she had not the time to
devote to him. She sent him to a place known as
the Home of the Friendless. This is a large brick
house, built on purpose to shelter those who have
no home of their own. There are always many
children there, who are kindly taken care of till
homes can be obtained for them. Those who are
large enough attend school.
I was so much interested in David that I often
called to see him. The first call was made one day
just before dinner. I looked about for my little
friend, and found him in the wash-room. He was
standing by a great towel, and wiping his fair,
plump face as nicely as he could. I kissed his
clean, rosy cheek, and inquired if he remembered
me. He smiled, and said, "Yes, ma'am." He
appeared quite happy and contented. His teacher
told me that he was a remarkably good boy.
Several applications were made for David by
those who heard his story, and found room in their
hearts and houses for the fatherless and motherless
boy. His grandmother, knowing that she was
too aged and feeble to take care of him, gave
him to the Home. It was a great trial to do
so, but she loved him too well not to seek his
best interests. She was willing to live alone,
uncheered by the presence and affection of her
darling grandchild, if she could only feel that he
would be kindly treated and educated by Christian
A lady in Illinois wrote that she had a dear little
son in heaven, and wanted David to come to her
to supply his place in the home circle, where he
would find those whom he might call "father,
mother, and grandmother." A clergyman in Connecticut
proposed to adopt him, and was coming to
New York the first of May to take him home, if it
should be thought best.
While David was at the Home for the Friendless,
his grandmother occupied a room not far from Mrs.
B——'s. It was on the lower floor, so that she was
no longer exhausted by going up so many flights
of stairs. Several ladies united, and each sent her
a dinner one day in the week, and saw that she
was provided with breakfast and tea. They furnished
her with comfortable clothing, for which
she manifested much gratitude.
It was always pleasant to call upon "Widow
Cahoon," and hear her talk about herself and her
previous charge. She told us about his parents
and grandparents. His father's father was a Methodist
clergyman, and his grandmother, Smith, was
a most devout woman. She loved to talk of their
excellencies of character, and the good they had
accomplished. I never heard her without being
reminded of God's faithfulness in showing mercy
unto thousands of them that love him and keep his
One day, when I was at Mrs. B——'s, "Widow
Cahoon" was ushered into her private room—a back
parlour on the second story. She was much out of
breath, and it required some time for her to recover
herself sufficiently to talk. At length she spoke
of her children, some of whom she hoped were
living. Two sons and a daughter had come to
America long before she did, and had gone to
Pennsylvania. She had not heard from them for
twelve years. She had often prayed that she might
see them before she died, and she hoped still that
she should. She had been the mother of eleven
children, and here she was entirely alone,—no relative
near her to care for her in her age and helplessness.
She was very desirous Mrs. B—— should
write to Pennsylvania to make inquiries about her
children. It seemed almost a hopeless effort, but, to
gratify her, Mrs. B—— wrote to the postmaster
of the town where her sons were last heard from.
In about a week an answer came from the postmaster
saying that he was well acquainted with
James, and had seen him a short time previously.
He spoke highly of him, as an industrious and
respectable man, and one who would be happy to
provide for his mother. In regard to her other
son, he said he did not know him personally. His
reputation was good, and his circumstances were
such that he could assist in the care of his mother.
From James the "Widow Cahoon" afterwards
learned that her daughter had married and moved
farther west, but she had not been heard from
for ten years. When Mrs. B—— read the letter
to her, she was much overcome, and the tears
chased each other down her furrowed cheeks.
"Glory be to God!" she exclaimed. "He has
lifted a load off my heart. I shall see my sons
before I die. Bless the Lord that I ever saw the
like of you! I have been trying seven years to get
that letter written!"
I had the pleasure of carrying to her a letter
from James, and reading it to her myself. As
I entered the room she was sitting by the little
stove in a large rocking-chair, looking as comfortable
as one could wish. She seemed very happy,
and told me about the prospect of seeing her sons.
"They will send for me, and I shall go to them,"
was a cheering and delightful thought. She said
she was expecting every day a letter from James.
When I told her I had brought it, her face lighted
up, and she uttered expressions of thankfulness,
evidently from a full and overflowing heart. She
spoke of David, and of being once more with him,
if "the boys should send for him." She wished
to do what was best for the child, and was still
willing he should be adopted, if it was thought
desirable. She expressed the utmost confidence in
Mrs. B——, and was willing to leave it all to
her judgment. This was the last time I ever saw
the "Widow Cahoon," and we shall probably never
meet again. She had no earthly treasure to confer
upon me, but she gave me her blessing, and, I
doubt not, will remember me in her prayers so long
as she remains upon earth; and when the spirit-world
is our home, I shall expect her face, unwrinkled
by sorrow or age, to beam upon me a
heavenly welcome. It was but little I did for this
poor widow, and yet that little has been rich in
blessings to me, and may be to mine, for whom
she fervently prayed.
James, in his second letter, sent a check to his
mother to pay her fare from New York to Pennsylvania
with a request that David might accompany
her. He will provide for them both in
So soon as arrangements could be made, the
now happy widow and her little grandson started,
under the protection of a friend, for her new
home in the country where, I suppose, they now
are. What a pleasure it must be to James to
have his mother once more with him, and to be
able to do something for her who has done so
much for him! Little David will again see the
birds and the chickens, and be surrounded by
kind and loving friends. The ladies of the Home
will occasionally inquire about him, and if he
needs their care they will provide for him, as
his grandmother made them his legal protectors.
If I ever hear more about David which I think
will interest you, I shall write you again in regard