Not Like Mother's
by Charles Hoy Fort
Say, I don't know what some folks wants! I never lived grander than I did in Mrs. King's boarding house; and for five dollars a week for board and a hall room, or board and a big front room, if you could get some one to double up with you, I thought it was all right. Truth is, I felt sort of out of my spear in being in society, like in Mrs. King's parlor in the evening. I guess I always was sort of refined like, and when I learned my trade I says to myself:
"I give the old man and the old woman just three more chances, and then it's me for civilization!" I did. The third time she begged him off a fine in the morning for trunning the pint can and all at her, for her insisting on more than her share of the eighth pint, I says:
"There's no more of this slum life for mine; I'm going to be refined, I am!" Both of them calls me a unnatural blaggard, and one makes out to hold me while the other goes in for thumping me with a beer bottle, but I carries the door and parents and all half down the stairs with me, and in a half hour was in a different spear of life.
And I must say Mrs. King's boarding house come up to all my notions of society that I read of in the Sunday papers. There's no cans rushed, except genteel in paper bags, and not cans but hall-room pitchers; there ain't much scrapping in the halls, and all there is is done subdued and gentle by the ladies, and not one of them says to another lady: "Come down in the yard and I'll lick you!" None of that! Only a harmless little clinch by the hall rack once, and the lady that done the biting didn't cause no hurry-up call, as her teeth was only counterfeits.
But I was going to tell you about Alonzo Grudgger! Anyway, where I was brought up there wasn't never no variety in feeding. We got stews and fried chops, and the butt ends of hams, and the little calves of lambs' legs for five cents a pound, and that comprises everything. So much as a meat pie the old woman didn't know how to make, any more than she knew more than the commonest kind of sewing. Hash was a luxury for me, and I took to it passionate, and was astonished to hear it disreputed; because at home it was always too much trouble to make, being it's got to be chopped first. When we had anything left over, it was put out on the fire escape and forgot, and then has the window broke with its effluviums out in the sun a month later.
And this brings me up to Alonzo Grudgger. I learned my trade, I did, and I don't ask no odds of no man; but I must say I wasn't at my ease when I got in society. The ladies would congregate in the parlor, and I was that speechless with admiration as they talked about styles and their jobs, in the high-toned language them society folk uses.
That's why I just couldn't comprehend when Alonzo Grudgger begun his kicking. Him kicking in that society boarding house, which had its day beginning and ending with the same two sounds you couldn't mistake, was you on desert islands--the dropping of shoes in rooms all around you at half-past ten at night, and the song of the chopping bowl at six in the morning.
And I don't say it was Alonzo's fault, either. It was the funny papers caused it. Alonzo reads some of them comical jokes about landladies, and boarders saying sarcastic things about meals they serves. It seems to amusing and odacious to him that he gets imbued--and where I gets words like that I don't know; none of my parents could use them--but Alonzo gets imbued, and begins by saying:
"These biskets is fine! They's just like the little cakes of soap my mother used to make." He ain't got his nerve worked up yet, but has a look around, sly and uneasy, for encouragement from the rest of us. I'm scandalized, I am, and can't raise my eyes from a beef bone at his odacity, but Spiler, he says: "Yes?" That's all he says, and it's a very little word, but it's the meaning he puts into it.
This Spiler is a lad always liking to see trouble, him never getting in none himself, but never happy unless he's seeing others having it.
Mrs. King, she says nothing. And that's just her mistake! Did she come out with one horty glance and something cold and cutting, Alonzo wouldn't never dare make no more breaks like that. But finding his remarks received meeklike, he gets bolder and enterprisinger. When there's a stew he says:
"Should old acquaintance be forgot!" There ain't no doubt; that was certainly a funny comical. If you stop and figger out the meaning of that, you'll see how hoomerous it was. He meant he'd been seeing that in one form or another for a week maybe--but you just stop and figger it out for yourself, and you'll be rewarded. I ain't saying I'm any smarter than you, but the full meaning of that comicalness sweeps over me and I chokes, it's so original! Isn't it? I can't get over it! You take my advice and think that out for yourself.
"Shortcake?" says Alonzo. "You call this shortcake? Well, you ought to see what my mother used to make! No, I'm wrong!" he says. "At last here is something up to its claims; it's short cake, sure enough!"
Well, if it wasn't the funniest joke I ever see! He pulls a tape from his pocket and begins to measure the cake. I don't suppose you can see the meaning at first, but if you lay everything else aside and close your eyes, it'll come to you that he meant the name of short cake and the measurement of it, and both "shorts" used in different senses, and yet, as he used them, meaning the same. You won't grasp that all at once; but you just put your mind on it, and when you see the point you tell me was there ever a funnier joke than that.
Well, the landlady's one of them kind that listens, and rages to herself, but ain't got the courage to call you down, unless she gets in a rage first. She knows that's her way, and Alonzo needs to be put back in his place, but she ain't able for him unless she's mad clean through first.
"Honest," says Alonzo to me, "I'm spoiled for living in such low-class style as this. My mother was the grandest presider over a culinary department you ever see! When a lad's brought up to good cooking and knows what good cooking is, it grinds him something fierce to have fodder like this put in the manger before him!" And he talks on about the sooperiority of his mother's cooking till there comes the twin taps all around us. It's the thud of heels, and right after it the patter of toes, as in rooms all around the shoes come off and never land flat-footed.
Say, I'm that sort of a nature I begin to think like Alonzo thinks. It does seem so to your credit to be uppish that I have to be that way, like Alonzo, and then maybe no one'll ever suspect I ain't to the manner born, and was born with my baby clothes got from the churches and hocked three days later and never redeemed for the others when they come rapid, for it's easier to beg more than pay interest. As I say, by joining in, it seemed I'd let on I was to the manner born, and no one'd know I wasn't always in society, did I kick with Alonzo. And me that never saw such grand cooking in my life before, though now I've been in other boarding houses, I know it was something feerocious.
Alonzo says the pie crust is all right and serviceable and not a knot in it, but, strictly speaking, it ought to be planed first.
I say the soup reminds me of the Hudson River when the ice is breaking. What I meant by that I ain't got the slightest idea, but the words seemed to run together pleasing, and that's as much as you can get out of most jokes.
But Spiler's whispering : "Well, if you two ain't devils!" Then, for the landlady to see, he looks indignant on the other side of him. And the landlady's mad, but not yet clean through enough so's she can fall on Alonzo and rend him lim from lim. She picks on old Pop Lennon, who owes a week or so. He's pretty meek, but she rises a peg so's she can turn on Miss Blubbery, the lady typewriter. She says:
"Miss Blubbery, it's something shocking of you to sit on the bannisters until half-past ten at night with a man!"
"Don't you never give me such a call in public!" says Miss Blubbery, and she rattles her knife and fork like she was taking down an aunty mortem dictation; and the landlady has gone up such another peg of wrath she's able for Alonzo. She says:
"It's a shame you ever left your mother, Mr. Grudgger! Why don't you go back to her, if her cooking's so sooperior to ours?" And she looks at me like she's saying: "You can take that to yourself, too!"
"I would!" says Alonzo, spunky enough, because Spiler is sniggering so's to lead him on indefinite. "You can just bet I'd go back to her, if I had to travel eighteen thousand miles, only I don't know where to find her. She married again, and the family broke up, all of us going in different directions. I haven't seen her in six years. Oh, this is a cranberry tart, is it? I thought it was wall paper. You can just bet I'd go back to mother's cooking, did I know where to find her. I guess I'll make a change, anyway; any cooking is better than these insults to palates and assassinations of digestions!"
"You just make a change whenever you feel like it! snaps the landlady. "And I don't want to hear no more comments from you. If you are so dissatisfied with the cook, you just go in and tell her about it. You tell her, if you don't like her cooking!"
That suggestion don't make no hit with Alonzo: he's heard of the size and feerocity of the lady in the kitchen, and there's stories she used to be a lady prize fighter. But just that little exchange of frank speaking calms him so he don't say no more at the table and goes burns up the funny papers that led him into the evils of humor.
Then Spiler's the discontented lad for you! There's no more trouble; and as trouble is the spice of life, as the poet hath it, he needs a little more seasoning in his experiences.
One evening, while the rest of us is at dinner, Spiler wanders into the kitchen and begins talking. He's a regular gossip, that lad is! He'd tell anything for to cause trouble. There's sounds that would terryfigh you. We hears burly shouts of: "Who is he? Where is he? Who is it says my cooking ain't to be compared with his mother's?"
The huge, brawny cook, with sleeves rolled to her elbows, displaying an arm that a butcher might have envied, sprung into the dining room with fire in her eye. The rest of the bunch kind of shrunk from her aspeck, but Alonzo give a cry of recognishun. She starts back with a cry also. Alonzo had arose from his chair. She looks at Alonzo; Alonzo looks at her. Then the arms of the much-abused cook were flung about Alonzo's neck as she exclaimed, with a sob: "Oh, my boy! My son Alonzo!"
An' we were struck with amazement when Alonzo replied: "Mother!"
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