Not to make merry in a season of repentance, but last night after reading from the lenten sermons of Leo the Great, I picked up Diaries and Letters, 1930-39 of Harold Nicolson edited by his son, Nigel.Here a letter from father (in Persia, aka Iran) to son (aged 9 at home in England).16th July 1926: "I do hope that you won't make Mummy nervous by being too wild. Of course men must work and women must weep, but all the same, I hope you will remember that Mummy is a frightful coward and does fuss dreadfully about you. It is a good rule always to ask before you do anything awfully dangerous. Thus if you say, 'Mummy, may I try and walk on the roof of the greenhouse on my stilts?', she will probably say, 'Of course, darling', since she is not in any way a narrow-minded woman. And if you say, 'Mummy, may I light a little fire in my bed?' she will again say, 'Certainly, Nigel'. It is only that she likes being asked about these things beforehand."
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.