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Belles on Their Toes

Belles on Their Toes

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by Frank B. Gilbreth, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

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Life is very different now in the rambling Gilbreth house.When the youngest was two and the oldest eighteen, Dad died and Mother bravely took over his business. Now, to keep the family together, everyone has to pitch in and pinch pennies. The resourceful clan rises to every crisis with a marvelous sense of fun — whether it's battling chicken pox, giving the


Life is very different now in the rambling Gilbreth house.When the youngest was two and the oldest eighteen, Dad died and Mother bravely took over his business. Now, to keep the family together, everyone has to pitch in and pinch pennies. The resourceful clan rises to every crisis with a marvelous sense of fun — whether it's battling chicken pox, giving the boot to an unwelcome boyfriend, or even meeting the President. And the few distasteful things they can't overcome — like castor oil — they swallow with good humor and good grace. Belles on Their Toes is a warm, wonderful, and entertaining sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

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Belles on Their Toes

By Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey


Copyright © 1950 Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5708-9


Something for Dad

MOTHER WAS GOING TO Europe and leave us by ourselves. It was not an easy thing, but it was something she had to do for Dad. For us, too.

Frank carried her suitcases down the front steps to a taxicab parked under the porte-cochere of our house in Montclair, New Jersey. The driver climbed out of his air-cooled Franklin, and gave a hand.

"You the oldest boy?" he asked Frank.

Frank told him he was. Frank was thirteen.

"It's going to be tough on your Mother. All you kids, and you the oldest boy."

Everyone knew it was going to be tough. There wasn't any use talking about that.

"I'll put them on the train myself," said the driver, pointing his head at the suitcases. "I heard about your father."

Frank climbed the stairs and joined the rest of us on the porch, just outside the front door. That was where we usually said good-by when Dad went away on trips.

Dad had died three days before, on June 14, 1924. It seemed longer. He had had a heart attack at the railroad station in Montclair. It had happened in a telephone booth, while he was talking with Mother over the phone.

Dad liked regimentation and liked everything to be done by a system. He even had assigned each of us a number, which he used for routing intra-family correspondence and memoranda.

Mother wasn't that way. But from habit we lined up on the porch as we would have for Dad—by ages and in a sort of company front formation.

Anne, the oldest—she was eighteen—was at the tall end of the line. Jane, the youngest—not quite two—was at the short end. In between were Ernestine, Martha, Frank, Bill, Lillian, Fred, Dan, Jack, and Bob.

Anne told us to "dress right" on her. Dad always liked the line to be straight. We waited there for Mother.

We still weren't accustomed to seeing her in black. She looked tense and alone as she pushed open the screen door and came to the head of the steps. We wished she'd let some of us go with her to the boat, or at least to the Montclair station.

Mother stood there, tall, slim, and quite beautiful. Her figure never even whispered that she had had a dozen children. Her veil was pushed back over her hat, and her face was white and taut.

A few strands of red hair, the only part of Mother's person that wouldn't do her bidding, curled defiantly from under her hat. Everything else was black and white.

Whenever Dad said good-by there on the porch, he always made believe we were secretly glad to get rid of him. Nothing could have been further from the truth, because we worshiped him, and he knew it. But he'd say we were only waiting for him to get out of earshot, before we'd start a wild celebration that would run far into the night. He'd tell us our long faces didn't fool him any, and that some day he was going to ride around the block and come back and catch us decking the halls with boughs of holly, building a bonfire, burning him in effigy, and—the biggest sin of all—even using one of his Durham-Duplex razors.

Mother didn't want us to know how she felt about leaving, so she smiled and tried to act like Dad.

"Those long faces don't fool me any," she boomed as heartily as she could. "Just as soon as I'm out of sight ..." The boom dropped to a whisper, and then she couldn't go on at all. She held out her arms and we broke ranks and burrowed into them.

She didn't trust herself to talk for a while, and neither did we. Finally she pulled herself loose and started down the stairs. Just before she got to the cab, she turned and looked at us—at each one of us.

Mother has a way of making each child know he means something very special to her. Not just as one of the group, but as an individual person who has his own special claim on her heart.

"I love you so," she said quietly. "I would never leave you, if it didn't seem the only way we can stay together later on. You know that, don't you?"

We knew it, all right. Most of Dad's money had gone back into his business. Mother was going to try to operate the business herself—that was one reason the trip to Europe was necessary. If she failed, the family might have to be divided or to move in on Mother's relatives on the West Coast.

Mother's mother had invited all of us to come and live with her, in Oakland, California. Since there were so many of us, Mother thought it would be a bit of an imposition—more, in fact, than she was willing to impose on anyone, even her own mother. Several of Dad's friends had offered to adopt some of us. None of us wanted that.

"Don't worry about us," Anne assured Mother now. "Every thing will be hotsy, honest!"

"I'm sure it will, dear," Mother smiled. "Not only hotsy, but totsy, too."

The driver started to help her into the cab.

"I'm sorry about your husband," he said.

"Thank you very much." Now Mother's voice sounded far away

"I talked to a fellow that saw it happen. It must have been an awful shock for you."

"Shut up," Frank whispered fiercely. "Why can't he just shut up?"

Anne nudged Frank sharply, and he was quiet.

We got back into line as the cab started down the driveway. We could see Mother waving from the window in the back.

Lillian, who was ten, burst into tears.

"I want to go with Mother," she sobbed. "Tell her to come back."

Anne took two steps and stood in front of Lill, blocking her from view.

"I told you not to do that," Anne said between her teeth. "I told you the first one who did that before Mother left I'm going to murder."

Anne sounded as if she meant it, too.

"I can't help it," Lill cried. "She's got to come back."

All the way up Eagle Rock Way, we could see Mother waving. We smiled and waved back. Lill stopped crying before the car was out of sight, and Anne stepped aside, so that Lill could wave too.

The car disappeared around a curve, and Lill burst into tears again.

"I didn't mean to," she sobbed. "Honest, I didn't."

"It's all right," Anne told her. "We know you didn't."

"Do you think she could see me at the end, when I was waving?"

"I'm sure she could," Anne said. "Of course she could, honey." Anne burst into tears herself.

We went back into the house, and suddenly we didn't feel so depressed any more. Perhaps it was the saying good-by we had dreaded, even more than being without Mother. Mother had gone on trips before, and we had lived through them. And she'd be back in a little more than a month.

"Everybody," said Anne, drying her tears, "did fine. I think Mother was proud of us."

"We'll get things running like clockwork around here," Ernestine told us. "Mother won't know us when she gets back."

We began to see that what seemed the end of everything might really be just a beginning. There was even a certain exhilaration in knowing that Mother had had enough confidence in us to leave us by ourselves.

"Yes, sir," said Anne, almost gaily, "everything went so well that, for the first time, I think we're going to make a go of it." She was fairly beaming now. "Everybody behaved so well I could kiss you all."

"I knew it," said Bill, ducking. "The minute Mother leaves, you start making threats."

Anne grabbed him, and planted a resounding, moist smack on the side of his neck. Bill struggled, giggled, and hollered. The noise sounded fine after three days of whispers. The tension began to drain out of us.

"I know we're going to be able to stay together," Ernestine said. "I'm so sure of it now that I could almost go build that bonfire Dad always talked about."

"Let's see," Anne grinned. "Where's the nearest holly tree?"

"You keep away from his razors, though," Frank warned. "I'll be needing those one day."

Ernestine and Martha hooted. Bill mentioned something about how the cat would be fully competent to lick off any whiskers that Frank had at present or might produce for years to come. Anne kissed Bill loudly again, and he hollered some more.

Frank ran an exploratory hand across his chin, but there was no sound of sandpaper.

MOTHER SAILED with the tide that morning aboard the Scythia for England.

Dad had been scheduled to speak at the London Power Conference, and to preside over a session of the World Congress of Scientific Management, at the Masaryk Academy, in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Those two honors meant that his work in motion study and the elimination of fatigue in industry were being recognized internationally.

Dad had been a consulting engineer and efficiency expert, specializing in big industry. He was the creator of motion study, which as one skeptic alleged—and Dad never denied—was designed to "make it easy to work hard."

Dad's method was to study a worker's motions, and then to cut down those motions, often by redesigning the machinery that the man operated. Mother was his business partner. She had given him a dozen children and had written with him a half dozen books explaining motion study.

Now she wanted to make certain that he received the recognition the European meetings would bring. And so did we.

She had been invited to substitute for him at the two sessions. At first, it seemed out of the question to accept. And then it seemed to be the one opportunity of keeping the family together. Engineering was, and still is, a man's field. Mother knew there would be difficulties in trying to continue Dad's business. But if she made a success of her two speeches in Europe, before some of the biggest engineers in the world, she might have an easier time in convincing Dad's clients that she could do the work.

Mother wasn't accustomed to making decisions. Those, in the past, had been left to Dad. He had set the pattern, and she had followed it. Even the idea of twelve children had been his originally. But if Dad thought an idea was good, Mother was convinced it was marvelous.

There was a time when Mother wept easily, when she was afraid of walking alone at night, when a lightning storm would send her shuddering into a dark closet.

All that ended the day Dad died. It ended because it had to end. It ended because of the realization that what she really feared was that something would separate them.

Well, what she had feared had happened, and tears would not wash out a word of it. So she gave his speech in London and presided for him in Prague. And she was not afraid any more.


Austerity Budget

DAD USED TO COMPLAIN that if the Bureau of Standards in Washington ever needed a precise definition or an exact measurement of a Jack of All Trades Who Was Master of None, all it would have to do was to build a glass cage, create a vacuum therein, chill to zero degrees centigrade, and send for Tom.

Tom had been with the family for seventeen years as Dad's handy man. The title should not be taken too literally. In a house-hold whose routine was bound by a chain of efficiency, Tom was unquestionably the weakest link.

Tom knew a little something about everything. Not enough to fix it if it were broken, but enough to think he could. He was unwilling to concede that any job was too big for him, or that he had not done a similar, but infinitely more difficult, job before.

He never forgot a mistake, either, and so was able to keep making the same errors over and over again.

Tom was of Irish descent, small, light footed, and tough. Although no longer young even when he first came to work for us, he still clung to the belief that the bigger they came the harder they fell. As a result, he sometimes presented a battered and swollen appearance, and would walk around the house announcing darkly:

"I don't take nothing from nobody, unnerstand? Nothing from nobody."

He was always evasive when asked how he had received the bruises, but would manage to leave the impression that the six club-swinging bullies who sprang on him in the dark, when his back was turned, would be released from the hospital in a fortnight or so.

Tom liked children and animals, and all of us were immensely fond of him. Before Mother left, she had decided it would be necessary to discharge either the cook or Tom, as an economy move. It never occurred to any of us, or to Tom, that he should be the one to go.

"Why Tom," Martha had said, putting into words what all of us were thinking, "would be willing to cut off his right arm for us."

He would have, too. There was no guarantee, though, that in his eagerness to oblige he wouldn't have got rattled and cut off his left arm by mistake.

So the cook had departed and Tom had moved permanently into the kitchen. He now wore a butcher's apron and a chef's cap, and boasted that he never had followed a recipe in his life. This last was all too obvious.

The discharging of the cook was the only economy measure Mother had had time to effect. She hadn't said anything about our cutting other expenses. But Mother made it a policy never to tell us to do the things she thought we were old enough to do without prompting.

When Mother said good-by, for instance, there was no last minute outpouring about being good, and going to bed early, and brushing our teeth and doing what Anne told us.

We knew Mother wanted those things done, so there was no need for her to repeat them. She may have worried—of course she worried—about whether we'd do them or not. But she didn't intend to show any lack of confidence unless we gave her reason.

There was no doubt that the immediate problem was saving money. For the time being, perhaps indefinitely, there would be little or no money coming in. When there are eleven children in a family, there is always money going out.

We talked economy in the dining room before lunch, an hour or so after Mother's departure. From an odor not unlike that of burning leaves, we gathered that Tom was having trouble with the cooking again. Part of the economy drive would have to be aimed in that direction.

Anne had been left $600 to run the family during Mother's five-week absence. That included the cost of our tickets to Nantucket, Massachusetts, because we intended to spend the summer at our cottage there, as usual. Mother had made the boat reservations to Nantucket, an island off Cape Cod, and Anne was to pay for them when we picked them up.

We thought it would be a good idea to spend only $300, and to turn the rest back to Mother, as a surprise, when she joined us at Nantucket.

"In the first place," Anne told us, "there is the milk bill. Thirteen quarts a day. More than three gallons."

Anne was sitting at Mother's place, at the head of the oval dining room table. As the oldest one at home, the senior officer present, she was automatically in command. Ten feet away, in Dad's place, sat Frank. The rest of us, including Bob and Jane, who were still in high chairs, sat around the perimeter.

Anne had Dad's check stubs, some bills, and the family budget book spread out before her.

"The milk bill alone amounts to more than $50 a month," she said. "I don't see how Daddy paid for all these things. Cheaper by the dozen, nothing!"

We decided we could get along with only nine quarts, without anyone dying of malnutrition.

"Each of us is going to have to sacrifice a little," Anne continued, thumbing through the check stubs.

She called out the amounts on the stubs and what they were for. Food and clothes. We were going to have to cut down on them. Doctors' bills. We didn't intend to have any. Dentists' bills. Everybody's teeth that needed straightening had been straightened. Tobacco. Certainly not. Gasoline. We had already sold Dad's car. Dancing school ...

"Frank and I," Bill suggested, "could do our part by cutting out dancing school." Bill was eleven, and it was a fight every Monday afternoon to get him into his Buster Brown collar and patent-leather pumps.

"We couldn't ask you to do that," Martha smirked.

"We're willing to sacrifice a little," Bill said.

Dancing school went into the discard, and Bill ran a relieved finger around his soft and unbuttoned collar. Also abandoned were music lessons, which everybody sacrificed without too much reluctance. We drew the line at cutting allowances, since all of us thought Dad kept them trimmed pretty close to the bone. But we did institute a series of fines that would reduce our take-home pay. Leaving on an electric light or the cold water would cost the offender two cents; hot water, four cents; failure to do any of the things on the process charts, five cents.

Dad had the household organized on an efficiency basis, just as he organized a factory. He believed that what worked in a household would work in a factory, and what worked in a factory would work in a household—especially if the household happened to have eleven children.

The process charts, first developed for industry, were an example. They told each of us what we were supposed to do, and when we were supposed to do it.

The charts were in the boys' and girls' bathrooms, upstairs. They listed duties such as washing the dishes, making the beds, combing hair, brushing teeth, weighing ourselves, listening for fifteen minutes a day to French and German language records on the phonograph, sweeping, and dusting.


Excerpted from Belles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Copyright © 1950 Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. was born in 1911 in Plainfield, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Michigan. He became a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II and received a Bronze Star and Air Medal. In 1947, he joined the staff of what is now the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. A columnist and reporter, he authored and coauthored several books, including Belles on Their Toes (with Ernestine Gilbreth Carey), How to Be a Father, and Time Out for Happiness. In 1950, he was corecipient (with his sister) of the French International Humor Award for Cheaper by the Dozen. He died in 2001.

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey was born in 1908 in New York City and graduated as an English major from Smith College. In 1930, soon after graduation, she began fourteen years of New York City department store buying and management. Meanwhile, she married and had two children. A writer and lecturer, she has authored and coauthored seven books, including Belles on Their Toes (with Frank Gilbreth Jr.), Jumping jupiter, Rings Around Us, and Giddy Moment. In 1950 she was corecipient (with her brother) of the French International Humor Award for Cheaper by the Dozen. She lives in Reedley, California.

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