Parents and children can take heart that family life in the good old days was not especially tranquil.
Consider the Hutchinsons, circa 1840:
Mr. Hutchinson is beset with lung and stomach ailments, but refuses to see a doctor, turning instead to whiskey.
The proper Mrs. Hutchinson raises her voice to "Mr. Hutchinson" when he throws the doctor out of his house. She demands that household employees be called "servants" and know their place in the "skullery."
Daughter Ellen sneaks to her bedroom to read a book -- adults wouldn't understand, she says -- lent to her by her father's apprentice, a young man who also lives in the house.
Sara, the kitchen servant, must hide the help she gets from the same apprentice and a friendly huckster who stops by the kitchen.
The personal dramas of these individuals are woven into a family portrait in "Steps in Time," a historical pageant presented seven times a week at the 1840 House. Members of the Hutchinson family, their boarders and servants move swiftly through the small rooms of the historic row house, as they play out middle-class life in Baltimore in the mid 19th century.
And the audience follows: upstairs, downstairs, even down into the dank basement, where Sara, the free black woman, prepares dinner for the Hutchinsons. All the house is the stage and the spectators are sometimes so close that the actors brush against them as they go about their routines.
This is the sixth year for "Steps in Time," but each year the historical drama is different with a new script and new characters. After the 30-minute presentation, several of the actors, staying in character, talk with the audience about 1840s life and some of the conflicts of the drama. Most of the actors are students at Baltimore's School for the Arts.
The 1840 House, one of Baltimore's City Life Museums, is dedicated to telling the stories of ordinary people of long ago.
"Steps in Time" will be presented through Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 7 p.m. Thursdays; and Saturdays at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults; $3 for senior citizens and college students; and $2 for children 6 to 18. This fee includes admission to the museums adjacent to the 1840 House. On Thursday evenings, when the other museums are closed, all tickets are $2. Space is limited for performances. For more information and to make reservations, phone 396-3279.