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- The Long Ago - 4/6 -
came swinging sturdily across the street, his ladder hung on his right shoulder, his wax taper in his left hand. Quickly, unerringly he placed the ladder against the iron post that sent its metallic ring into the clear night air as the ladder struck, and was three rounds up almost before it settled into position. Then a quick opening of the glass; a struggle with the matches in the wind, a hurried closing of the door, one quick look upward; an arm through the ladder and a swing to the shoulder - and Jimmy the Lamplighter was busily off to his next corner.
Once, in the later years, he came with his new lighter - a splendid brass affair, with smooth wood handle, holding a wax taper that flickered fitfully down the street and marked old Jimmy's pathway through the dusk. Although he could reach up and turn on the gas with the key-slot at the end of the scepter and light it with the taper, all at one time, he ever carried the ladder - for none could tell when or where a burner might need fixing, or there would be other need to climb the post as in the days of the lamp and sulphur-match.
Short of stature, firm of build, was old Jimmy. The night storms of innumerable years had bronzed his skin and furrowed his face. Innumerable years, yes - for so faithful a servant as old Jimmy the Lamplighter was not to be cast away by every caprice of the public mind which changed the political aspect of the town council. So Jimmy stayed on through the years and changing administrations -in the sultry heat of the summer nights, or breasting his way through winter's huge snow-drifts, fronting the wind-driven sleet, or dripping through the spring-time rain, his taper hugged tight beneath his thick rubber coat, his matches safe in the depths of an inside pocket.
And tonight, as the Boy still watches, in memory, old Jimmy on his rounds, they are a bit odd, these queer old street lamps that just seem to belong to the night, after the garish blaze of electric signs and the great arc-lights in the shop windows. Yet it shines through the years, this simple lamp of the Long Ago, as it shone through the night of old - a friendly beacon only, the modest servant of an humble race. . . . .
Jimmy's boy Ted, who carried his father's ladder and taper when the good old man laid them down, now nods in his chimney-corner o' nights. But his boy, old Jimmy's grandson, is still a lamplighter - still illuminating the streets of his town, still turning on its lamps when the loon calls weirdly across the river in the gathering dusk.
He bears no ladder nor fitful taper - he dreads no sultry summer heat - he breasts no snowdrifts - he battles against no wind-driven sleet and rain.
There he sits, inside yonder great brick building, his chair tipped back against the wall, reading the evening paper while the giant wheels of the dynamo purr softly and steadily. He lowers his paper - looks at the clock - then out into the early twilight . . . . then slowly turns to the wall, pushes a bit of a button, takes up his paper again, and goes on with his reading - while a thousand lights burn white through the city! . . . .
Ah, Jimmy, Jimmy! the world is all awry, man! Your son's son lights his thousand lamps in a flash that's no more than the puff of wind that used to blow your match out when you stood on your ladder and lighted one!
Come to think of it, the Old Folks never made such a fuss about flies as we make nowadays. You cannot pick up a magazine without running plump into an article on the deadly housefly - with pictures of him magnified until he looks like the old million-toed, barrel-eyed, spike-tailed dragon of your boyhood mince-pie dreams. The first two pages convince you that the human race is doomed to extermination within eighteen months by the housefly route!
Grandmother never resorted to very drastic measures. The most violent thing she ever did was to get little Annie, Bridget-the-housewoman's Annie, to help her chase them out. They went from room to room periodically (when flies became too numerous), each armed with an old sawed-off broom-handle on which were tacked long cloth streamers - a sort of cat-o'-nine-tails effect, only with about a score or more of tails. After herding the blue-bottles and all their kith and kin into a fairly compact bunch at the door, little Annie opened the screen and grandmother drove them out - and that's all there was to it.
Another favorite device (particularly in the dining-room and kitchen), was the "fly-gallery" - a wonderful array of multicolored tissue-paper festooned artistically from the ceiling or around the gas-pipes to lure or induce the fly into moments of inactivity. There was no extermination in this device - it was purely preventive in its function - the idea being that since there must be fly-specks, better to mass them as much as possible on places where they would show the least and could be removed the easiest when sufficiently accumulated.
But the greatest ounce-of-prevention was the screen hemisphere. Gee! I haven't thought of that thing for years, have you? Of course you remember it - absolutely fly-proof - one clapped over the butter, another over the crackerbowl, another over the sugar!
And say! I almost forgot! . . . (Yes, I know you were just going to speak of it!) . . . That conical screen fly-trap where the flies see something good inside, crawl up to the top and then over and in - and then can't get out - but just buzz and buzz and buzz - and make a lot of fuss about it - bluebottles and all - no respecter of persons - and when it gets full of the quick and dead in flydom, Bridget takes it out in the back yard and dumps it. Very simple . . . clean, peaceful, effective.
My, My! But it's a far cry back to those days, isn't it? And wouldn't you like right this minute to sneak into the cool, curtain-down, ever-so-quiet dining-room again . . . and nose around to see if anything edible bad been overlooked - and see one of those dear old round fly-screens guarding the sugar!
The Autumn Leaves
There were three recognized uses for leaves in the Autumn - first, to be banked by the wind along fences or sidewalk edges and provide kicking-ground for exuberant youngsters returning home from school; second, to be packed around the foundations of the house as a measure for interior comfort in winter; and, third, to be pressed between the pages of the big Bible and kept for ornamental purposes until they crumbled and had to be thrown away. This last-named use was always questioned by every red-blooded boy, and more tolerated than accepted - a concession to the women of earth, from little sister with her bright-hued wreath to mother and grandmother with their book of pressed leaves.
Even for purposes of comfort their use was more or less secondary - granted because the banking-up process was a man's job and an out-door enterprise. Then, too, it was a lot of fun to rake the big yard and get the fallen leaves into one or two huge piles; and wheelbarrow them to the edge of the house where old Spencer had driven the wooden pegs that held the boards ready to receive the leaves. Load after load was dumped into the trough-like arrangement and stamped down tight and hard by old Tom's huge feet and little Willie's eager but ineffective ones - and then the top board was fastened down, and never a cold winter wind could find its way under the floors with such a protective bulwark around the house. . . . And in the spring the boards had to be taken down - and countless bleached bugs fairly oozed out into the spring sunlight - and the snow-wet soggy leaves were raked out and burned, and the smoke was so thick and heavy that it hardly got out of the yard.
But the real use of leaves - their only legitimate function in the Autumn, according to all accepted boy-law - was for kicking purposes.
Plunging through banks of dry leaves along the edge of the sidewalk-knee-deep sometimes - scattering them in all directions, even about our heads - there was such a racket that we could scarcely hear each other's shouts of glee. And we'd run through them only to dive exhausted into some huge pile of them, rolling and kicking and hollering until some kid came along and chucked an armful, dirt and all, plumb into our face! This was the signal for a battle of leaves - and perhaps there would have been fewer tardy-marks, teacher, if there had been fewer autumn leaves along the route . . . Perhaps!
There were influences that tempered the joys of leaf-kicking - some "meanie" was always ready to hide a big rock, or other disagreeable foreign substance, under a particularly inviting bunch of leaves - then watch and giggle at your discomfiture when you came innocently ploughing along!
What a riot of wonderful color they made just after the first frosts had turned their green to red and gold and brown! As a boy I disdained so weak a thing as noticing the coloring on Big Hill - but now, in the long-after years, I realize that its vivid Autumn garment was indestructibly fixed in my memory and has lived - saved for me until I could look back through Time's long glass and understand and love that glorious picture. Not even the brush of a Barbizon master could tell the story of Big Hill, three miles up the river from Main Street bridge, gleaming in the hues that Jack Frost mixed, beneath the blue-gold dome of a cloudless sky - for it could not paint the chatter of the squirrel, or the glint of the bursting bittersweet berry, or the call of the crow, or the crisp of the air, or the joy of life that only boyhood knows!
Getting in the Wood
An autumnal event of importance, second only to the filling of the meat-house, was the purchase and sawing of the wood.
Three sizes, remember - the 4-foot lengths for the long, low stove in the Big Room, 12-inch "chunks" for the oval sheet-iron stove in the parlor, and the fine-split 18-inch lengths for the kitchen. (Yes, they burned wood in the kitchen - not only wood, but oak and maple and hickory - the kind you buy by the carat nowadays!)
And what a fire it made! Two sticks of the long wood in the stove in the Big Room, and the damper open, and you'd have to raise the windows inside of fifteen minutes no matter how low the thermometer registered outside. In the kitchen grandmother did all her cooking with a wood fire - using the ashes for the lye barrel - and the feasts that came steaming from her famous oven have never been equalled on any gas-range ever made. (Gas-range! how grandmother would have sniffed in scorn at such a suggestion!) Even coal was only fit for the base burner in the family sitting-room - and that must be anthracite, or "hard" coal, the kind
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