From Cornfield Philosophy, by C. D. Strode, Illustrated, Chicago: The Blakely Printing Co., 1902; pp. 63-106.
HOW TO BE HAPPY THOUGH OWNING A SAW MILL.
Now we are getting down to business. I told you a while ago “How to get rich,” and now, after allowing you time to profit by that advice, I will tell you how to be happy. Once I have made you all rich and happy I will feel I have done my duty by you, and that my work in the lumber trade is about done.
My first idea was to reform the world all at once, but the undertaking was too extensive. So I am working on the plan of taking a certain job lot of people, making them rich and happy and then going on to another lot, and so on. And I must hustle along or I will not get around.
The only aim of man is to get as much happiness out of life as possible. Some seek happiness in one way and some another, but it is what we are all after. It is a singular fact, however, that a great many people go blundering through life without having a clear idea of what it is they want.64
If every man kept it constantly before his mind that it is happiness he is seeking, how many would go into the saw mill business? Do you believe there are many men who think they will be happier with a saw mill than without one?
The trouble with most men is that they do not have a clear and definite idea as to what end they are seeking. They plunge around, this way and that, following off every path they come to, and the first thing they know they are in deep trouble.
The way which leads to the saw mill business is broad and easy. You don’t have to hunt a saw mill. It hunts you. Every man that has one is trying to get rid of it and will resort to almost anything to accomplish his fiendish purpose. There was a lawsuit in Arkansas a short time ago, which startled and shocked the whole country. A man was enticed to Little Rock on the representation that an uncle had died there and left him a fortune. He was met at the depot by a couple of well-dressed, plausible men, who took him to a nearby saloon and plied him with liquor until his lights went out. The last thing he could remember he was singing “Down in Mobile.” When he came to he was in bed at a hotel. There were no marks of violence on him, nor had his valuables been taken. He had begun to think he had got off pretty well, when he came across a paper showing that some time in the night he had bought a saw mill. The court finally set the sale aside and ordered the two men to take the mill back. They refused and were sent to jail for contempt of court. And so the case stands to-day.
Yes, much of the misery of the world is caused by men not having it clearly fixed in their minds that what they want is to be happy. That is the first thing you must 65 do. You want to get a divorce, you want to be elected constable, or you want to get out of the lumber business, but you must remember that those things are only means to the great end — happiness.
But you cannot start right out at being happy. You’ve got to begin at the beginning and it takes a lot of practice. Follow my directions closely, but do not expect too great immediate results. Watch your symptoms closely, but if at the end of ten days you don’t begin to feel happier you may make up your mind that you are not a good subject.
Being happy is hard work and for that reason a good many people are not fitted for it.
Every man is born into the world with a great yearning. The feeling is usually strongest early in the morning. It seems that something has been left out of his life and he feels so tough about it that he can hardly get into his clothes and get out to breakfast. He drinks a cup of coffee and feels better, and vulgarly thinks it was coffee he wanted. By the time breakfast is over the yearning — the craving for that intangible something, comes back and he thinks it is a cigar. He really doesn’t care for the cigar, and if he would examine his heart closely he would know it, but he is restless and dissatisfied and thinks maybe he wants to smoke. Along about 11 o’clock the aching void recurs again and he tries to plug it up with a little free lunch. In the afternoon he yearns and yearns for something and if he doesn’t understand himself he is liable to believe it’s the ball game. So he goes through life chasing delusions, and after he has chased all of them and caught some of them, he comes to Solomon’s conclusion that there is noting to it, whereas, if he had known that the yearning was not a vulgar desire for any special thing, but a longing of the 66 soul for happiness, it would have saved him a lot of trouble.
There was once a great fair in a certain town, where many people congregated every day. At this fair there was a small tent erected, and over the entrance was a large sign: “The Great Nonesuch.” In front was a man taking money and there was a crowd of people constantly thronging through the entrance and coming out on the other side. They all went in with a curious expectant look on their faces and came out, some laughing and some swearing, but all urging their friends to go in.
So I joined the procession, paid my dime and started in. There was a little confusion at first — a little crowding and pushing — and then I was out in the sunlight on the other side. There was nothing in the tent but the fools who were passing through.
I had been sold, but why acknowledge it? So long as I kept still those who had not been through might imagine I had seen something wonderful and therefore envy me. As for those who went through, they were as badly sold as I was and could not make fun of me.
Life is a good deal like that. It is a great fair full of side shows with attractive fronts and eloquent “barkers,” but with very little in them except those who are passing through. Everyone who attends the fair has a desire for something, and the fact that he doesn’t know what it is leaves every fakir a chance to make him believe that what he wants can be found in his tent. So he tries them all without avail, pronounces the Great Fair a delusion and goes away.
I want you to guard against that state of mind. I know that a man who has been in the saw mill business for any length of time feels like cursing the universe and 67 giving up, but you must not do that. There is hope for you, even though you own two saw mills.
Another thing about this constant striving after something you don’t want when you get it; you are being worked.
Nature, for some reason, wants to get a lot of labor out of man and she implants this hankering in his breast and he nearly works himself to death. If it were not so serious it would be a pretty good joke. Even in the midst of my happiness it makes my heart sad to see people I like buckling into work the way they do.
I have heard of a man who had a mule that didn’t like to work. As an inducement he fastened a pole to the mule in such a manner that it dangled a bundle of oats just out of its reach. In endeavoring to get to the oats the mule would nearly pull itself through the collar.
That is the way man is being worked and you will never be happy until you learn to know that that bundle of oats is a delusion.
Another thing about this happiness business is that you mustn’t expect too much from it. You’ve got to watch pretty close or you’ll be happy and not know it. Being happy isn’t so very much fun.
I don’t know whether you can follow the advice given above or not, and I haven’t room to give any more. If you can and will you may be happy.
Another plan is to sell the saw mill.
THOUGHTS ON THANKSGIVING.
There is, it seems to me, too much carelessness and lack of system in most people’s method, or lack of method, of observing Thanksgiving Day. To my mind everything is better for having a little system and order introduced into it. A good many people go running around on Thanksgiving Day bubbling over with thankfulness, and if you stop one of them and ask him what he is thankful for he will either be unable to tell you or he will be thankful for that for which he has no business to be thankful, for which, in fact, he should be ashamed.
Such a course does not meet my approval. I believe in being thankful, but one should be thankful intelligently. Life is so short and there is so much to be done that one cannot afford to make false motions or rattle around unnecessarily. Every motion must be made to count, every edge be made to cut. So let us not waste 69 all the thankfulness of our hearts without knowing to what end or upon unworthy objects
Nor do I wish to be critical or niggardly; and once we have ourselves organized we will give good measure, heaped up and overflowing.
* * *
I hope you have been prosperous this year, for prosperity is a good thing to be thankful for, provided it be honestly come by; but if you have gained prosperity by taking advantage of the trust others have reposed in you or by taking advantage of your fellow man’s misfortune, I trust you will not have the nerve to go before the Lord and thank Him for it. Such prosperity does not come from the Lord. It comes from the devil, and if you give thanks at all, give them to the devil. Don’t insult the Lord by thanking him.
But if you have prospered honestly — if by reason of your industry, forethought and frugality you are reasonably free from financial worry and are able to feed your family on Thanksgiving turkey, you are a fortunate man and should give thanks accordingly.
You should also give thanks for adversity. Prosperity honestly come by is a good thing for any man, but so is adversity — provided it be met in the proper spirit. It takes adversity to develop a strong and noble character. No man was ever made great and good and strong by uninterrupted prosperity. It takes adversity. Adversity makes bone and muscle; prosperity makes only fat. Many a man has gone through life and missed the best things in it because of too much prosperity. So if, in the past year, you met adversity and bore yourself manfully, go down on your knees on Thanksgiving Day and thank the Lord with all your soul. If you have the proper stuff 70 in you, one year of adversity will do more for you than a dozen years of prosperity. The only qualities worth having are honesty, industry and frugality. It takes adversity to develop these qualities and they lead to prosperity.
Prosperity honestly come by and adversity bravely borne are things for which all men should give thanks. If a man is a thief and a coward — if he is too greedy to be honest and too weak to be brave, then he has little cause to be thankful and the Lord owes him an apology for creating him in such fashion. For I am not of those who relieve the Lord of all responsibility in the matter.
* * *
I believe a man should maintain his self-respect in all his relations in life, including his relation with the Almighty. It is true man is nothing but a little insect inhabiting an atom of creation which is whirling through space, but that is no reason he should grovel in the dust in slavish fear.
God put him here, it is fair to presume, for some purpose, and when he has done his duty to the best of his light and ability the obligation is mutual. When a man has done his best he has done all that an angel can do and is entitled to look all the universe, including the Almighty, squarely in the eye.
So, in giving thanks, I think that the man who has done his best should maintain his self-respect. I tell you frankly that I do not hold with some that the Lord is showing me a great mercy that He holds back the cliffs from falling on me or the waters of the earth from overflowing the land and drowning me. The Lord put me here for some purpose of His own; when He is through 71 with me He will take me away; and when I have done my best we’re square.
You’d rather have the service of the self-respecting man, wouldn’t you? The man who wants to earn his wages and call it even, in all kindliness and good feeling? Certainly you would.
You don’t want the services of the spineless creature who is willing to cringe and crawl and lick your boots? Certainly you don’t, and you have no right to insult the Almighty by supposing that such service is acceptable to Him.
Suppose you had a man in your employ whom you had employed because you needed his services, to whom you had been kind and who had been prosperous in your service; and suppose he should decide that he would take a day off to celebrate his good fortune and acknowledge his obligation to you.
Suppose that having come to that conclusion he should come down to your office in the morning and spend the whole day singing your praises and bewailing his own orneriness? Suppose he would insist on repeating, over and over, what a great, wise and powerful creature you are and what infinite kindness you display in not jumping onto him and kicking out a lung? What would you think of that for a thanksgiving?
No. It would be all right for the man to come down to the office in the morning and bring his wife and children, all dressed up clean and neat, marshal them into the office, take off his hat and express himself as being obliged to you for the kindness you had shown him in the past, which he hopes and believes he has deserved, and which he trusts you will continue to show and he to deserve for some time to come. That would be all right. Then you’d want him to take the family out to have a 72 good time and wind up with a modest blowout in the evening. Certainly you would, and if he hadn’t money enough you’d donate a fiver yourself.
* * *
It was a curious conception of God which our respected forefathers had. They believed that the great Creator of the Universe was of such a temperament that if man, being just a little species of bug, on an infinitesimal atom of creation, didn’t do just thus and so, and believe just this and that, he would be put into hell’s torments and kept there forever and ever and evermore; and the only way to propitiate this terrible being was to lie in the dirt on your back, stick up your paws in the air like a dog expecting a whipping and squawk the Creators’ praises in the bug language.
Their idea of Heaven was also peculiar. As one of their hymn writers expressed it
“When I’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
I’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when I first begun.”
The man who wrote that hymn should have been put in jail for sacrilege. The idea that the Lord would be pleased by having a lot of little creatures singing his praises for 10,000 years is sacrilegious.
I don’t believe such service is acceptable to the Lord and I would not enter on Thanksgiving Day in any such a spirit. I believe the Lord is built on broader lines than that. It is true that man is only a species of bug, but when he has done his best he is entitled to walk with his head up.73
Here is my idea of a good way for a man to spend Thanksgiving Day:
He should not fail to go to church in the morning, take the whole family and join heartily in the worship. Then he should go home and eat as good a dinner as he can afford, eating turkey if he can afford it, and if not, being thankful over a plate of rabbit.
After dinner he and his family should spend the day in such a manner as well bring them the greatest amount of wholesome, healthful enjoyment. After supper it would be well to gather about the piano or organ and sing a few old-fashioned hymns, such as “Rock of Ages,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and so on, go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.
After a day spent in such manner, a man arises refreshed and invigorated and more determined to get his share of the business than ever.
The old idea that Thanksgiving Day was a day to be spent in self-abasement and solemnity was handed down to us by our Puritan ancestors along with the old idea of the Almighty. These people were the so-called Pilgrims who landed in this country away back there three or four hundred years ago, took possession of a lot of land that did not belong to them, killed such of the Indians, the rightful owners, as didn’t like it and then set aside a day to return thanks to the Almighty for His mercies. And each year they stole more land, killed more Indians and gave more thanks. I have never heard, though, that the Indians have ever held a day of thanksgiving, from the day our hustling forefathers landed down to the present day.
* * *
The foregoing constitutes some thoughts on thanksgiving and some suggestions pertaining thereto which 74 are calculated to enable you to start in on your thanksgiving with a clear conception as to what you intend to do and why you intend to do it.
So far we have only treated of Thanksgiving Day in a general way. We have this year many special causes for thanksgiving which we should not overlook.
As a cornerstone for all our thanksgiving we should be grateful that it was allowed us to be born in such a blessed country. It seems to me it would be difficult to stir a nation to an expression of thanksgiving where the laws are unjust and cruel.
After all the demagogues and agitators have said, all men are equal before the law in this blessed country and one has as good opportunities as another. A man may lack the character to command success, but he has the consolation of knowing that there is no bar to his children sitting in the highest places, save such as are erected by their own inefficiency.
This is the most fruitful country and it has the best government of any in the world to-day, or of any which has ever been in the world. So let us give thanks for that.
Then we should be thankful that the grim spectre of Hard Times no more stalks abroad in the land. Let us give thanks that there is no man who need be idle or hungry in this great land to-day if he is able to work. It is a gracious blessing, that of being provided with employment at fair wages, or of receiving fair remuneration for energy and enterprise in business.
There are, then, many special causes for thanksgiving, each man having his proportion, and one about as many as another. Each should consider those causes for himself and give thanks accordingly.75
An important essential to a successful Thanksgiving is that a man shall cast out of his heart all enviousness. No man can properly give thanks for his Thanksgiving rabbit while envying his neighbor his Thanksgiving turkey. Remember also to be humble in your thankfulness. I have heard men offer thanks in a way which seemed very much like boasting before the Lord.
THE TRAMP AND LUCK’S ANGEL.
“I have heard people say there is no such thing as luck, and if I mistake not they are right. If such a thing exists it has missed me. If there is, anywhere in the broad expanse of the universe, such a thing, it is not onto its job. There was never such an opportunity for a force of that kind to get in its work as in my case. Luck! Why, sir, just a raveling of its garments; just a paring of its nail; just a bit of dust from its sandals; just a feather from its wing would suffice for me. I wouldn’t ask it to put in a day on my job. I wouldn’t ask it to give me a shower bath of blessings. But, great Scott, sir! I have wished for a bit of luck — just a little bit — I have yearned for it until my bones ached and I never got a smell — never heard the rustle of its wings.”
The speaker was a seedy, frayed-out individual of the upper class of hobos, who had escaped the vigilance of the janitor and was making the rounds of the office building trying to sell lead pencils, that could be bought anywhere 77 in the city at ten cents a dozen, at five cents apiece. I bought a pencil and encouraged him to talk and these are some of the things he said:
“I thought last month I had struck luck at last. At last it seemed to me that I was to enter the golden gate of prosperity on a free ticket, but it fell down on me.
“I am a printer by trade, but I haven’t had a job to speak of for five years. About a month ago, out at Cripple Creek, I accidentally met an old friend of my father’s and he was a man of wealth and the owner of the principal printing office in the place.
“Now I was born of wealthy and aristocratic parents — but there — I will not go into that. Not for the price of one lead pencil. Anyhow, my father’s friend was glad to see me and told me to come around in the morning and take the best job in the shop.
“That night I retired to a box car to sleep, a happy man, and in my sleep I dreamed such happy dreams. I seemed to be traveling a pleasant country lane where long, cool shadows make the walking pleasant. It looked to be spring, for there was an apple orchard alongside the road and the trees were laden with bloom, but there were great red and golden apples peeping from the green leaves and snowy blossoms. Of course, you understand that was only a dream. I am trying to give you the worth of your five cents by giving you a true account of a dream, and I wouldn’t tell a lie about a few apples.
“Then I came to a farmhouse and there was a sign on the gate which read, ‘Welcome. No dogs.’ I entered, and, standing in the embowered porch which was covered with some kind of a vine with red and green leaves and had great bunches of purple grapes growing on it, I knocked at the door. A silvery-haired, sweet-faced lady, 78 who looked the very image of my old, dead mother, and who spoke in the same gentle voice, brought me out a chair and I sat down at a table that came from somewhere, and a brown-haired, blue-eyed girl, the living picture of my sister whom I haven’t seen for twenty years, brought out things to eat. So many things and so good that I can’t tell about them; and I ate them all, while a big Maltese cat with a blue ribbon in its ears came and rubbed against my chair and a wren tittered in the corner of the porch.
“Then an old man who looked like my father used to look, only his face was softer and gentler, sat down by me and I told him all about myself since I had left home and how I had met a friend of his who was going to give me a good thing. The old man was pleased to hear about his friend, and I told him a lot about him.
“But while I talked I noticed that the vines had all gone from around the porch and the sun was shining in as hot as fire. Even the roof didn’t seem to keep it out, the whole side of the house glowed red hot. The blue-eyed girl at the door got wavery and turned into smoke that seemed to settle over everything and make a sort of golden haze. The old man faded into nothingness until there was nothing left but his eyes and they glowed like live coals.
“And all the time it got hotter and hotter, and I could hardly get my breath. I tried to go away, but couldn’t. Seemed like I was paralyzed, and I wondered if I was dying. I tried to call out, but I oculdn’t make a sound. I tried it two or three times and then I laid still a spell and tried to make out what ailed me. Then I tried again and yelled ‘Mother!’ with all my might — and it woke me up.
“And the whole darned town was on fire.79
“Yes, sir, that night Cripple Creek burned to the ground and I lost all chance of a job. I went to where the printing office had been, and it was gone. I worked about all day helping the women and children and did what I could, and when I returned to my box car that night I was tired, I tell you.
“I hadn’t had time to look up my father’s friend, but made up my mind to do so in the morning.
“But man proposes and the Lord disposes. That night at about midnight I was rousted out of that car by the vigilance committee, lined up with a lot of hoboes, escorted out of town and warned never to return.
“That ended the only piece of luck that had come within gunshot of me in years, and I was driven forth, a wanderer on the face of the earth.
“Another time when I was down in York State, I saw in a paper that a man I had known well, when he was a young man and I a school boy, had become a famous preacher out in Denver. I wrote him a letter telling of the hard time I had and how my best efforts came to naught and asked him to help me. I got the nicest kind of a letter in reply and he said if I would come to Denver he would try to get me a good start in life.
“I didn’t like to tell him I was on the hog train altogether, and hadn’t a cent, so I just wrote him I’d come, and boarded the first west-bound freight. You’ll never know how far it is from New York to Denver until you beat your way across. I had a hard time of it and was three weeks on the road, and when I arrived, what do you think?
“The man was dead. Don’t it beat thunder?”
BREWSTER JONES’ CHRISTMAS.
There was once a man named
Who lived in a melt of white
A likely man with a giant’s
And a giant’s strength, stal-
wart and limber.
He farmed some land and
worked like sin,
But the white oak soil was
And scarce returned what Jones
“It’s mighty hard lines,” said Brewster Jones
“Keepin’ the ends of things together,
Grubbin’ round ’mong stumps and stones
In every kind of wind and weather,
There’s a site for a saw mill over there,
And I’ll buy a saw mill, I declare,
And diamonds and rubies I will wear.”
He had a wife and children three,
And thought a great deal of them.
“And when I get a mill,” said he,
“I’m sure I’ll have more time to love them.”
But after Jones had bought his mill
He worked from break of day until
The moon went down, and there was more work
But there were the notes that must be paid —
Jones was not the man to shirk them.
He had a good many hands but none of them
Because of the way Jones had to work them.
But Jones was young and Jones was strong,
So he bowed his back and humped along,
Mingling cuss words with his song,
This Christmas the last of the notes came due,
And Jones had the money to pay it,
And a little money for Christmas, too —
He ought to be happy, but I can’t say it.
For alas! and alack! and well-a-day!
All the timber is cut away,
And you should hear what he has to say
THE MAN WHO THINKS.
So many people only look at the surface of things. The thing to do is to look down into the hidden springs. And other people don’t look ahead. They have no foresight. I tell you that you must consider. Even trivial little things should not escape notice, because you can never tell what may happen. I figure on everything, but by the time I have figured everything out it scarcely leaves time enough to make to make a living. I have the satisfaction, however, of knowing that I am prepared at all times for anything that can possibly happen. I know exactly what to do in case of a cyclone or an earthquake! I know exactly where to lay my hands on things in case of fire, and, in fact, you can scarcely mention an emergency but I have plan of action all mapped out. If none of the things happen it isn’t my fault.
This habit of forethought may, however, be carried to excess. I knew a man once who did this. He was 83 not so much given to abstruse speculation as to giving very weighty thought to the ordinary business of life. If he found a board off a fence he would stop and consider how he might replace it with the least expenditure of force. Not that he was lazy — only that he was scientific; but while he was laying his plans for replacing the board without waste of time or effort, a less thoughtful man would pick up a “dornick” and nail the board in place.
His excessive thoughtfulness was a detriment to him in other ways also. He would go out in the spring to cut stovewood, and I’ve known it to take him an hour to get ready to cut a tree down. He would sight it from all sides and make scientific calculations as to how and where it would fall. Then he would make scientific preparations so that when it fell it might lie in convenient position for working up. By some strange perversity the tree nearly always fell the other way, and the unfortunate man finally met his death by a tree falling wrong and mashing him. I am getting ahead of my story, however.
Once the tree was down and scientifically trimmed up, he would measure it and figure out how it would work to the best advantage. He would figure out a rail-cut here and a post-cut there, and then spend all day making rails and posts, when what he needed was stovewood.
His house was the talk of the country. When he came to build it he found he had not enough money to build a house. He had enough to build an addition to a house, but not enough to build a house, and as he had no house to build an addition to, the proposition would have stumped most men. Not so this man. He concluded to build the addition first and build the house afterwards and connect it to the addition.84
He drew elaborate plans of the dwelling. It was to be, when completed, a large, imposing two-story structure, with a wide hall through the center. At the end of the hall was a spacious fireplace, to catch the eye with a cheerful glow the moment the threshold was passed. On one side of the hall were the parlor and back parlor, which could be thrown together. On the other side were the sitting room and library. On the second floor were four spacious, well-lighted sleeping rooms.
Back of this main structure was an “ell,” containing the dining room and kitchen, with two garret rooms above for the use of the servants. So the house appeared in the plans. If I could draw as Saley can I’d draw a picture of the house, but I am not much on the draw except when it comes to filling a bobtail flush.
It must be remembered, however, that the man had not money enough to build the house. He had money only to build the “ell” containing the dining-room and kitchen and the two garret rooms for servants. So he built it, and to avoid tearing out the end of the structure when he should add the house to the addition, and as he had money enough to do it, he built the huge brick chimney and the fireplace, which was to adorn the end of the hall when the elegant two-story mansion should be built. And he ran that chimney up so that it would extend several feet above the mansard roof of the house that was to be. Then he painted two sides and one end of the structure. He didn’t paint the end which faced the road, because that was the end he intended to join to the house when he got able to build it. The weather boards would have to come off, he said, and there was no use to paint them. And there it stood with its unpainted end and large towering chimney facing the road, and the man lived in it twenty years until the tree fell on him 85 and mashed him; for he never got money enough to build the house, or even to paint the end of the addition.
And his wife was so ashamed of the place that she got a divorce and married a circuit-riding preacher.
And so it goes. A man may be too thoughtful and forehanded, and that is one of the things that worries me. I spend a great deal of time thinking whether I don’t think too much. I guess, however, I’ll just let ’er rip, because if I tried to restrain my thinking apparatus it would be more trouble to figure out just how much I should think on any given proposition than to give that proposition my usual and natural amount of thought. For you see I’d have to give the subject careful consideration from all sides before I could make up my mind just how much thought I could afford to give it. I hope I make myself plain. What I mean is that with all the things I have to think about I can’t afford to think about what I’m thinking about.
Still, you can never tell. The habit of thoughtfulness brings unexpected reward at times. I knew a man once who pondered so long and deeply upon things, and walked about with his hands behind his back, and his head bowed until he became round-shouldered — full-breasted on the back, some people call it. Well, this man was strolling through a forest one day, when a large limb broke off a tree and fell upon him. It struck him on the shoulders and knocked the wind out of him, but did him no serious injury. Now, but for the years of patient thought which had bowed the man’s head and humped his back he would have been walking erect and the limb would have hit him on the head and knocked his brains out.
The conclusion I reach in regard to this thinking business is that the man who thinks has many advantages 86 over the man who does not think, but he must be careful not to think too much. I hope I make myself clear, and that this article may be of vast benefit to you.
ANNALS OF THE POOR.
John Nemek worked at the stockyards. He was an “extra.” That means that when the run of hogs was large he had work. When the run was light he had none.
Formerly he had worked at his trade of laying brick. He was not a good workman, though, for he was awkward and slow, and the foreman swore at him constantly. Still, when times were good he found steady employment at fairly good wages. There was “backing up” and other rough work to be done, and John could do that very well, although he received less wages than the rapid men. He would have made up for the difference, if they would have let him, by beginning earlier and working later. He was a man constituted for long hours, and he scarcely know what to do with his leisure when he only worked from eight to five, until he built his house. He and Mary, his wife, were very saving, and they laid by a little each week until there was a snug little sum, and then they bought a lot and borrowed money from a building association to build a house.87
Then John had occupation for his spare time. The lot was away out in a suburb, and to save paying two carfares he would walk three miles of a morning and then ride a half hour on a street car to get down town. This trip, made twice a day, used up most of his leisure, and the remainder was occupying in improving their little place.
The World’s Fair was in prospect, work was plentiful, and there was not a happier family in Chicago than that of John Nemek. He and his wife were immigrants from Poland, and none of their people had ever owned a foot of soil, and they would have given much if their old neighbors could have seen their pretty little cottage. In making his daily trips back and forth, John used to think about his native land, and have day dreams about going back there some day and buying a cottage in his native village and setting himself up as an aristocrat. Not that he would put on airs. Not a bit of it. He would be kind and condescending to the poor, but he would receive consideration on all hands, he knew. He told his wife of that dream and they talked it over of an evening.
Two years’ payments had been made upon the house, and a little money had been laid away besides. Five more years, the man said, would let them out, and the house would be theirs beyond a doubt; and by that time, the man said, it would be worth double what it had cost. And the dream of going back to Poland began to take shape.
Then the panic came and there was no more work at the trade, not for John. Good men were out of employment and were glad to take his place at his wages. Neither could he find work at anything else. He was slow and awkward. His English was hard to understand, and people did not want him. There were too 88 many bright and capable men out of employment. And all the time the payments on the house had to be made, and there were so many mouths to feed. There were five children by this time. The eldest seven and the youngest a baby at its mother’s breast.
By the most rigid economy they got through the winter, but in the spring their little hoard was all gone, and they had to give up their place; and with barely enough money to pay a month’s rent they moved into a little flat.
Through the spring and summer John made enough to feed the family and pay the rent, but the clothes were all worn out; and winter came on without their having a dollar ahead.
However they got through the desperate time, the Lord only knows. In the coldest spell they had to move to the poorest quarter of the city and exchange their pretty furniture for some rattle trap affairs in order to raise enough to pay their rent.
But they got through the winter somehow. The children were sallow and emaciated from foul air, and lack of nourishment, and the wife had lost all her plumpness and looked worn and haggard.
Through the spring and summer work was less than ever, but they managed to get through. The children needed but little clothing, and they picked up partly decayed fruit around the stores and from the garbage boxes.
Another baby came, a sickly, puny child, that cried continually, probably from hunger.
As the summer advanced things grew worse and worse. There was absolutely nothing that John could get to do. In the three months preceding the election tens of thousands of better men than John were out of employment. He would start early in the morning, usually without breakfast, and tramp all day, picking up a banana 89 here, and a scrap of bread that some careless child had thrown away, there, and he would tramp all day hunting work. Occasionally he would get a job, but it was usually at work with which he was unfamiliar, and he was so slow to learn, and so awkward, that he could not hold it. The rent got behind, but they were allowed to stay in their miserable two rooms, for none of the very poor were paying rent. It was a bad time, and there was never enough to eat, and often nothing at all.
Then the frost came and pinched the children’s little bare toes, and there were no shoes for them, and no money. The last thing had been sold from the house, but the cookstove, a table and a few rickety chairs. There were two piles of straw and rags that answered for beds, but not enough of either straw or rags. There was no work nor money, and the Nemek family was face to face with another winter.
The honest, stupid father had streaks of gray in his hair, the mother was a wan and hopeless shadow of her former self, and there were six helpless children. Whatever was to become of them John didn’t know, and his wife didn’t know. He had gone to the county authorities once, but the man had looked him over and told him he looked able to work, and there were so many to help who were not that they could do nothing for him; and John had gone away.
Just before election he got on as an extra at the stock yards, and got an occasional day’s work, and it kept them from actual starvation. But the nights kept getting colder, and veritable winter weather came one day, and that night the children cried and fretted all night with the cold. John and his wife slept not at all, but walked about to keep warm and comfort the children. The next morning it got a little warmer, but two of the children 90 had fever. By diligent search among garbage boxes a little food was gathered up, but night set in colder than ever. One of the children acted very strangely and Mary believed it was going to die.
“If we don’t get some fire, John,” she said, “the child will die. Let us go out and hunt in the streets. Maybe we can find a board or a lump of coal.”
So they covered the children as warmly as they could, and went out. They hunted up one street and down another. Mary found a strip of board about half as long as her arm, but not another could be found.
“Let’s go down along the switch, Mary,” said John, “they’ve been hauling coal from there to-day, and maybe they have dropped some lumps.” So they went along the tracks, but not a lump could they find; and they came to the end of their search in front of a car piled high with lumps of coal.
Mary put her hand on John’s arm and whispered:
“Get up and get a lump, John.”
“It would be stealing, Mary,” whispered John.
“I don’t care, the boy will die if we don’t have fire.”
So John climbed on the car and handed down a lump of coal. then he threw down one for himself and climbed down. He was just picking up his lump when a hand was laid on his shoulder.
“Caught you, have I?” said a voice. “I’ll just take you both in.”
It was a night watchman, and he jerked John around roughly. He wore no uniform, and Mary’s understanding of English was limited. She didn’t know what had happened, but she was desperate, and she sprang and caught the watchman around the neck and jerked him away from John. They fell to the ground together, the man trying to strike her with his club. John went to his 91 wife’s assistance, and a struggle ensued, during which the watchman drew his revolver and fired and John fell. Mary began screaming at the top of her voice, and a big policeman ran around the end of the car.
The watchman explained in English, and Mary in Polish, and the officer soon understood the situtation.
“What’d you shoot for, you d—d idiot,” he said to the watchman. “You come with me,” and he laid a big hand on the watchman’s collar. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said to Mary in Polish, and he took the watchman with him and went across the street and hurried in a call for the wagon.
Mary bent over John.
“It’s just in the hip, Mary,” he said.
“But what’ll become of me and the children, John?” she moaned. “We’ll all die.”
The policeman came back, still holding the watchman.
“Are you much hurt, my man?” he asked of John.
“I don’t know sir, but I wish you’d let Mary have that coal, the children will freeze to death if you don’t.”
“You rest easy,” said the policeman, “we’ll take care of the children.”
Then the patrol wagon came for the watchman, and the ambulance for John. The policeman, after saying something to one of the men in the wagon, stayed behind. He picked up the biggest lump of coal and told Mary to take the other, and soon there was a fire going in the Nemek stove. Just as the policeman was leaving a young man in a big overcoat came and asked a lot of questions of Mary through the Polish policeman, and wrote the answers down in a notebook. Then they went away together, and Mary fed the fire until the room was in a glow. The children went to sleep, and she sat in a chair and slept from sheer exhaustion.92
In the morning the policeman came again with a basket of provisions. He said John was in the hospital and doing well, and would be around in a few days.
About noon a lady drove up in a carriage and asked for Mrs. John Nemek. She couldn’t understand Mary, but a neighbor was called in to act as interpreter, and the story was soon told. While they were talking the postman came with a letter. Mary opened it and a ten-dollar bill dropped out. She couldn’t read the letter, but the lady did. It was from a gentleman who said he had seen an account of their troubles in the morning paper, and sent the ten dollars to help them along, and when John got able to work he had work for him.
Then the lady went to her carriage, and the coachman brought in a box of clothing, and the lady said she would send her doctor to see the children.
And things are looking better in the Nemek household.
GOOD FOR THE BLUES.
I received a letter the other day thanking me for an article I had written and saying it was good for the blues. Now, that’s a nice thing to say. I had rather be good for the blues, if being good for the blues is being bad for them — that is, driving them away, chasing them out the window, up from the chimney, or off the earth, why, I’d rather be good for the blues than to lose ten dollars.
If a man comes into his office feeling sad and discouraged because things are not going his way; if the long, hard pull against the tide has worn him out and he feels like throwing himself into a chair and cursing the whole world, and then picks up something I have written and I succeed in twisting a smile out of him and hearten him up a bit, why, I’ve done a good thing. That’s what I have, and I’m glad of it. If as he reads along the blues creep out over the transom, or under the door, or just disappear into 94 the air like the mists of a summer morning, what more could I do for the man?
For the blues are dangerous things — dangerous, murderous things. They drive men to all sorts of foolishness, and sometimes to crime — yes, sir, even to murder and self-destruction. That’s so, and you mustn’t have the blues. They are the most senseless things in the world. What does anybody want to have the blues for? They are a disease. They are a lot of little devils that sit on a man’s shoulder and talk aggravating foolishness into his ear. They whisper of disaster, of vague and unknown ills. They warp and twist his business judgment. They make him cross and ugly to his family, so that he sits in the family circle like a cloud shadow on a summer meadow, and his children are afraid like the birds of the Storm King. They are malignant little devils that sit on his pillow and keep him awake far in the night, and force him to get up, maybe, and walk the floor. They are murderous little devils that torment and threaten until gloom gathers thick on their victim’s brow and despair seizes his heart. They conjure up spectres and hobgoblins, and ghosts and dreadful shadows of impossible calamities. They darken the landscape and turn the beauties of nature into creeping, crawling things, until a man cuts his throat, maybe, to be rid of them. That’s what they do. The picture isn’t overdrawn. You’ve known just such cases in your own neighborhood, haven’t you?
Now, if having the blues helped anything! But it doesn’t. It makes things worse. And, Great Scott! what’s the good of having the blues anyhow? If you are a sensible and intelligent man and have the blues, you are sick. What if you did lose a thousand dollars or so last year? You ought to be glad you had it to lose. You 95 want to lean right back in your chair and laugh about it. The money’s gone, anyhow, and if you go moping around you’ll lose another thousand or two this year. Sure as you live you will. You must laugh and grow fat. All those dreadful misgivings you have about your personal affairs and the future of your business are just the whisperings of the little blue devils. If business is dull it gives you all the more time to romp with the children and crack jokes with the “boys.” It gives you an opportunity to take your wife out to social gatherings and make her see a good time. If you can’t afford to go to the theater, you can go to church, and drop a pantaloon button on the contribution plate. That’s a lot of fun.
If you’ve got a note coming due in the bank and you can’t pay it, don’t worry about it and walk the floor and scowl and splutter. Just let it come due. Go in and tell the banker a funny story and laugh heartily about it. That’s the way to get him to renew the note. He’ll say: “That fellow’s in good spirits, and has lots of nerve, and he must be all right.” If you can’t get him to renew it that way you can’t get him to renew it at all, and you’ll just have to let him lose the money. Of course, you’ll feel sorry for him, but if he would bring it on himself, why, you can’t help it, and it’ll be such a good joke on him that it will give you an excuse to laugh about it, and that will be a good thing to do.
Instead of having the blues and being constantly on the lookout for something to feel badly over, you ought to be constantly on the lookout for something amusing. You will have more friends, more fun, live longer, and take up more room in the ground when you are buried.
IS MAN A FREE AGENT?
That’s what I want to know.
When I was a boy we had the subject up at a debating society. I had the negative, but after a hard fight the judges decided against me. So I looked on the matter as settled. When Squire Harsley, one of the judges, rendered the decision, he said in substance:
“Both sides of this here debate presented strong argyments. Not to mention names, I must say that the jedges were surprised at the argyfication of certain ones which from their general appearance we did not expect much (meaning me). Howsumever, the affirmatives supported their argyments from the scripter and we can’t go agin the scripter.”
So it was decided that man is a free agent. After Squire Harsley, Uncle Jim Bensley and Captain Jones, three of the solidest men in the community, had passed on the matter, it was not for me to set my judgment against theirs, so I reversed my opinion.97
Time and absence, however, have weakened the veneration I had for the wisdom of those substantial gentlemen, and it is my experience and observation that man is not by any means as free an agent as he might be.
Nor, on the other hand, do I hold to the doctrine of the fatalist, that a man may do nothing to modify his own fate — that if he is born to be damned he will be damned. Oh, no! I cannot believe that! That would be too tough!
A man is, within certain limitations, a free agent. His general direction is mapped out for him. He may have any one of two or three roads to travel, just so he gets to a certain place at a certain time. For instance, a man must die. He cannot avoid that, but the time and manner of his death is a matter over which he has some authority. He must work for a living, but the kind of a living he will be satisfied with rests to some extent with himself; and he has some selection as to the kind of work. He is greatly limited, however.
The thing that got me to thinking of this free agency business this morning is that I have to buckle in to work when I don’t want to. If I were a free agent, if that ridiculous decision of Squire Harsley was correct, I wouldn’t work a lick to-day. The work must be done, however. I’ve put it off until the last day in the afternoon, but now I am up against it.
I have always found it wiser in matters of this kind to pursue a waiting policy. I’ve seen men go out and do a job of work in a hurry, when, if they had waited a while, the necessity for doing it might have passed or someone else might have done it. A man may easily work himself to death if he keeps doing everything he sees to do. It is astonishing how much work you may escape by just waiting.98
One thing is certain — time cannot be recalled. If I can squeeze through an hour without working I count it a victory; for no matter what happens in the future, that hour is safe. During that hour I have escaped the curse of labor, and the hour can never be recalled. It is a malignant and cruel Fate which drives men to work and cracks a whip over their backs, and it seems to me to be every man’s duty to circumvent it when he can. Bear in mind that every hour you can squeeze through without working you are just that much ahead.
You must not despise little things. Some men cannot save a nickel or a dime. The amount is too small and insignificant. If they can’t save as much as a hundred dollars at a clip they don’t want to save anything. That is a mistake. It is by saving a nickel here and a nickel there, wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself, that fortunes are accumulated.
It is the same about resting. Some men will not start in to rest unless they can have at least a month. They scorn the little rests of an hour or even five minutes which the alert and careful man may squeeze in even in the busiest times. The long rest is all right and I like it, but I do not scorn the brief and healthful intervals of inactivity which come to the watchful and careful man.
Remember that time is precious and fleeting. If a minute passes in which you might have been resting and were not, remember it will never return. It is an opportunity wasted and you will never have another chance at it. Remember that just a few seconds here and a few there, snatched from a life of toil to which we are all condemned, aggregate a large total. I am presenting these things to you, because, while I realize that man is not a free agent, he may, by passive resistance, keep Fate sitting up nights. Nothing is so aggravating as passive 99 resistance. The man who will oppose you actively, who will argue with you and fight you is not so bad, so aggravating, as the one who merely offers passive opposition. Man is condemned to a life of toil, and Fate knows how to deal with the man who rails and storms and finds fault. It is the man who leans back in his chair, puts his feet on his desk and absolutely refuses to do anything until he is forced, who makes Fate earn its money.
JESSE THOMPSON’S PRUNES.
“No,” Jesse said, “my first business venture was not in the lumber line. First I was a druggist. Not an ‘active druggist,’ but what Vinnedge would probably call an ‘associate’ druggist. I had no license to fix up prescriptions and things like that. I furnished half the money and sold the patent medicines. No, we didn’t sell soda water. It was only a little bit of a town. We had no competition. I should think not! They thought we were crazy to start our drug store, which was the only one in town, and there was never any danger of anyone starting another.
“My partner was an old man. He was about my height, though not so heavy set. He was a great 100 schemer. He had never succeeded very well, but he said that was because he had never had anyone to put his plans into operation. In me he saw his affinity. With me to execute and him to plan, he was certain we would meet with great success.
“So we started the drug store. Our greatest handicap was that we hadn’t much money. The room we rented was rather large and we soon found we hadn’t money enough to stock it, even with empty bottles. So we partitioned off the back part. My partner said:
“ ‘It will be a good place to retire to, Jessie’ (he always called me ‘Jessie’), after business hours and consult about our plans.’
“We started in the spring, because in those days there was a good deal of chills and fever in that part of Indiana, and we figured on selling a lot of patent medicine.
“And we did sell a good deal, just at first. I remember one day we sold $5 worth, all in one day. That night my partner figured out a profit of $1.13 above all expenses.
“ ‘That ain’t very much, Jessie,’ he said, ‘but remember we’ve just started.’
“Well, it went on until the farmers got busy and then, do you know, there would be two or three days at a time that we would stand in that store, he behind one counter and I behind the other, and never sell a thing? It’s so. Not a thing. As luck would have it, it was the healthiest season in the history of the state up to that time. Not having anything else to do, I got into the habit of eating cough drops, and kept it up until they near ran me into consumption.
“Of course, we couldn’t stand it long, and finally, at one of our consultations, my partner proposed that we 101 add a line of fancy groceries to our stock of drugs. And there is where the prunes came in.
“There were two stores in the town where groceries were sold, but, as he pointed out, none of them carried a nice line of fancy groceries, such as fine canned goods, dried fruits, candies, etc.
“I had got tired of the drug business. I had eaten all our cough drops and had started to take some liver medicine, which tasted pretty good, but I thought a change to dried fruit and candy would do me good. So I consented.
“He had a cousin who traveled for a grocery house and he came to see us. My partner had every confidence in him, because he was a relative, and there is where we fell down. I never could understand what made his cousin do it, unless his house was long on prunes, and had offered a farm to the salesman who would get rid of the most of them.
“We bought a hogshead of prunes. Yes, we did. A whole hogshead of prunes. His cousin said that prunes were as staple as flour. In small lots they would cost us 10 cents, but by taking a hogshead we could get them for 8 cents. The secret of success in business, he said, was close buying.
“ ‘A good many people wouldn’t consider that two cents, but do you know,’ he said, ‘it’s a saving of 20 per cent?’
“Well, to cut it short, we bought the prunes. We didn’t realize how big a hogshead was — at least I didn’t.
“Do you know that sometimes I think that fellow sold us those prunes for a joke? After he had sold us the prunes he didn’t try to sell us much else. And we didn’t want much else. After we figured up what those prunes would come to, my partner smiled a sort of 102 sickly smile and said he guessed we wouldn’t buy much else till we saw how the prunes came out.
“They came, finally, and if we hadn’t had a pair of big folding doors in the rear we couldn’t have got them in the store.
“The worst of it was, they came in on Saturday afternoon, when a lot of farmers were around.
“Say, did you ever see a hogshead? Well, it’s quite a sizable little package, and this one had ‘Prunes’ marked on it big as life.
“ ‘My God!’ I heard one old farmer say, ‘look at that bar’l! Biggest I ever seen, and blest if it ain’t full of prunes.’
“We got it in the back doors and close them in the faces of the vulgar crowd.
“ ‘Go out the front way,’ my partner said, ‘and hold them back, and I’ll open it. Tell ’em ’tain’t all prunes. Tell ’em there’s a lot more goods in there.’
“I did so, and presently my partner came in. He was pale and looked worried. He called me to one side:
“ ‘Go back and look at ’em,’ he said, ‘I didn’t know there were that many prunes in the world.’
“Well, we passed it off as best we could. We got a few candies and one thing and another at the same time, but we couldn’t conceal the fact that we were long on prunes.
“I printed a sign, ‘Prunes for sale,’ and hung it out in front. As luck would have it, the prunes came just in berry time, when nobody wanted prunes; but some people bought a few. I think just from curiosity. At the end of a week we had sold seven pounds.
“Then I changed the sign as a result of a conference which lasted nearly all night. I made it read: ‘Prunes for sale, cheap.’ I changed that sign several times during 103 the next thirty days: ‘Prunes below cost;’ ‘Closing out our stock of prunes,’ etc.
“One I remember was a picture of the number 15, with a big knife cutting it in two. Underneath the sign: ‘Prices on prunes cut in two.’
“At the end of thirty days we had sold nineteen and one-fourth pounds and you couldn’t miss them.
“ ‘I tell you what, Jessie,’ my partner said one night, ‘we must eat as many as possible. When you feel hungry through the day don’t eat them cough drops. Eat prunes. And encourage your family to eat them. Keep them cooked up in all sorts of shapes. Make them into pies an’ dumplin’s, an’ short cake, an’ things.’
“I did as he suggested, but, of course, it didn’t amount to anything. Finally he came in one day with a long face and said:
“ ‘Jessie, do you know that — that the worms is in them prunes?’
“And do you know, boys, I was glad of it? I was getting tired of prunes. I took my sign in next day and we gave it out that our stock of prunes was exhausted.
“We got a couple of tramps to help us roll it out into the back yard late one night, and we covered it up with empty barrels and boxes so that it couldn’t be seen. We didn’t know what else to do with it. We could not burn it. We thought of burying it, but didn’t know what to do with the dirt which would come out of the hole.
“Then I persuaded an old farmer who wanted to start his son into business to buy us out and I left town for a year. When I came back the drug store had changed into an implement store. The prunes were gone and apparently forgotten.”
THE GREATEST MAN.
Now, when Judson reads that heading he will blush clear up to where the roots of his hair used to be, thinking that I mean him. But he is mistaken. Judson is all right in his way, but he doesn’t weigh much. No, I don’t mean Judson. I mean George Washington. I think Washington the greatest man the world has ever produced.
I only speak of this matter to give you a pointer. I have come to the conclusion, after carefully studying the life of Washington, that it isn’t much of a trick to be a great man. Washington wasn’t much of a scholar and nothing at all of an orator. It is said that he once threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River, at a point where no one of this generation can come near throwing a dollar across, but his greatness does not rest upon that feat. There are a good many men who might be able to throw a dollar across the river if they had the dollar, but a man has to work so hard to get a dollar these days that by the time he gets it he is too tired to throw it very far. Anyhow, very few people will risk a dollar in that manner when by putting another dollar 105 with it they can buy a copy of Cornfield Philosophy. The fact remains, however, that Washington could make a dollar go a long way.
Then they tell another silver dollar story on Washington. They say that he was so good a horseman that he could ride all day with a silver dollar between his knee and the saddle, without either dropping the dollar or stopping to spend it. The latter part of the feat was not so much of an achievement in his day as it would be in ours, for the country was thinly settled and you could ride all day without passing a saloon. Still, the fact that he would ride all day in such a country indicates that he was a man of fortitude and determination.
Another indication of Washington’s courage is the fact that he married a widow. Now, all men who marry widows do not become great, nor have all great men been the husbands of ladies who have previously been married. I feel it is my duty to state the facts in their entirety for fear you might rush off and marry a widow, thinking that you would have nothing else to do in order to become great. So far as my observation goes, I believe widows to be much the same as other women except that they know more and are apt, in moments of excitement, to draw comparisons between the existing husband and the previous one which are unfavorable to the existing husband. There is no record that the widow whom Washington married ever did this, but if she did George could point out to her that he (Washington) was the greatest man that ever lived and that her first husband was not a marker on the track. Then he could give her the horse laugh.
Then there is a story about a cherry tree which space will not permit me to give, but it shows that when Mr. Washington’s father caught him with his hatchet in his 106 hand and the tree cut down before him, George had too much sense to try to lie out of it. The moral is that you should never tell a lie when the truth will answer your purpose.
Washingon became notorious as a man who hardly ever told a lie, which leads me to believe that he would never have succeeded in the newspaper business. It is even reported that when he got in a bit late at night he told his wife exactly where he had been and what he had been doing. This, however, is only proof to me of his calm and serene good judgment, for having married a widow he knew it was no use to lie to her.
I started in to prove that it isn’t such a difficult matter to be a great man, and to correct some erroneous ideas which a good many people have. It isn’t necessary for you to throw a dollar across the Potomac River or any other river. It isn’t necessary that you be able to ride around all day with a dollar between your knee and the saddle, nor that you marry a widow. You might do all those things and still not be a great man. Being a great man is perfectly easy if you have the proper kind of raw material. Washington didn’t work any harder at being the greatest man on earth than you are working at running your business. All you need to do is to be wise and patient, brave and virtuous, and Judson will tell you that that isn’t hard to do. Then if you can find some promising young country in need of a father you are all right.