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Thursday, July 6, 2017

YOU SEE, HE BELIEVED SOAP AND WATER WERE POISON (1)

ABOUT THE POET
ERNESTINE LOOKS AT HER FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK
HAPPY ANIMAL FAMILIES  GROSSET & DUNLOP 1952
      Who was Ernestine Cobern Beyer, aside from being my beautiful mother?  Was she an obscure poet, now passé, whose words are not worth reviving?  Is her devotion to rhythm and rhyme quaintly anachronistic?  I don't think so.
      Good poetry never becomes outdated, and Ernestine was a genius in that art form.  In January of 1953, the publisher of Child Life, wrote in praise of her latest submission:  "There is no doubt that your talents in verse are truly outstanding.  I believe you stand a good chance of becoming the greatest children's poet of the day."        
     From the late 40s to the early 70s, Ernestine Beyer's rollicking verses appeared in Child Life, Wee Wisdom, Jack and Jill, and other current children's magazines.  One morning the poet woke up with the phrase "Birthington's Washday" repeating itself in her mind.  She reported to Jeeves (her name for her subconscious) that it seemed meaningless, but then she sat down and began to write with rapidity and ease.  The result was a poem about Birthington Biddle, a little boy who didn't like to bathe.  It
proved to be one of her best loved poems.

                                      BIRTHINGTON’S WASHDAY

 Birthington Biddle (his friends called him Bertie)
Would have been nice if he hadn't been dirty.
So grubby and grimy was Birthington's face,
His appearance, alas, was a perfect disgrace.

You see, he believed soap and water were poison,
And tubs were for clothes--not to wash little boys in.
Crusted with dust which flew up from the street,
He grew heavier, daily, and slower of feet.

And though his poor mother could hardly endure him,
She couldn't, it seemed, either change him or cure him.
On the day he turned ten, Bertie found to his shame,
He could no longer run or take part in a game.

Just one final cinder, just one speck of dust,
Had at last overburdened the weight of his crust.

Yes sir, one speck had stopped Bert in his track
Just as one final straw broke the poor camel's back.

Mrs. Biddle came running, and seizing a hose,
She hastily soused him from cowlick to toes.
The water gushed out in a glorious squirt,
And merrily melted his coating of dirt.




Thank goodness, that crust which had made him look fat
 Was banished forever in two minutes flat!
 His mother was filled with unspeakable joy
 As she gazed at her clean little, lean little boy.

This was a day she would never forget --
 His birthday!  The day Dirty Bertie got wet!
 That gurgle-and-slosh day, that sputter-and-splosh day,
 Known in the village as Birthington's Washday!


                                                                                                     Leo Harrington

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