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"Organizing Grandpa" from Ladies' Home Journal

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Ladies' Home Journal
Organizing Grandpa
by Ellis Parker Butler T

The wave of organized reform that swept over the Parding family with such tremendously impressive force engulfed everyone but Grandpa Parding. Grandpa Parding, it is shameful to record, not only continued to be almost totally unregenerate, but was practically unaware that the Parding family was reformed. In his unuplifted way he continued to sleep with his windows closed when the weather was below zero. He bathed once a week, as formerly, unless he felt like putting off his bath until the eighth or ninth day. As usual he sat for hours at a time on a garden bench, smoking Sudden Death Mixture in his pipe and at the same time chewing plug tobacco -- a dirty habit he had learned during the Civil War when he served in Company K, Nineteenth Missouri Volunteers, Colonel Upton, and had part of his left hand shot away. Grandfather Parding was eighty-four and walked in an unhygienic manner, with his shoulders bent, leaning on a cane. This contracts the lungs, lessens the supply of oxygen for the blood and leads to a short life and early demise. It is altogether wrong -- the book says so.

Aw, Go on! It's not goin' t' rain, grandpa. you been sayin' for a week it was goin' t' rain, and it ain't.

There can be no doubt that Grandpa Parding, as he approached his eighty-fifth birthday, was living the wrong life in almost every particular. He ate too much meat; there can be no question that any physician who might have examined Grandfather Parding would have had to warn him that his blood pressure was too high, except for the fact that it was not. He would have been warned, too, that when he talked about Confederates, the Kaiser, Catholics, Methodists, fried egg plant, the Ku Klux Klan, Democrats or the income tax, and got into such rages that he could only paw the air and stutter, he was on the verge of apoplexy, had it not been that his rages seemed to do him good and leave him happier.

To be quite frank about the past, Grandfather Parding's had been mules. This was never mentioned by Mrs. Ed Parding, being a sort of skeleton in the Parding closet. When she had to speak of the very considerable wealth of Grandpa Parding, she gave the impression that Grandpa Parding had been something rather aristocratic in the way of a blooded stock raiser "in the West." The unpleasant truth was that for most of his life Grandpa Parding had raised mules in Missouri in the roughest possible way. He had been able to walk up to a jack and kick it in the ribs in a way that the jack never forgot, and he had done it often. He could also stand up to a mule and give it a dose of such awful profanity that at the end of ten minutes the mule would be abashed and deflated -- and it takes quite a little to abash a mule. Grandpa Parding could still swear, and at times he did.

Grandfather Parding knew well that on a certain date a grandfather -- who has been considered of some slight use until then -- becomes merely a useless encumbrance. This date is when the smallest grandchild no longer needs him as a nurse and playmate. Until then the grandfather is, by courtesy, supposed to be passionately fond of children and to earn to some extent the space he occupies in the universe, but after that date he is a total loss. If he is allowed to stick around a while longer, it is merely because it is not yet considered socially tactful to chloroform grandfathers, although that day will doubtless soon come. For these reasons Grandfather Parding did not make himself unnecessarily conspicuous. His favorite seat was the garden bench over against the Willoways' property, behind a clump of shrubbery that screened him from the Parding house, the Parding lawn and the Parding garage. Here, because the shrubbery shut off the breeze, the mosquitoes were especially bad, but Grandfather Parding was out of sight and out of mind and did not annoy anyone. The mosquitoes were a nuisance, but he could pretend they were mules and swear at them. Here, too, he was able to have a little conversation.

Grandpa Parding

The Willoway place was much less pretentious than the Parding place, but the Willoways did have two servants, and one was the cook. The Pardings did not even know that the Willoways had a cook. They never saw her and never thought about her, but she was an important person to Grandpa Parding. She was constantly washing dishcloths and other small pieces of fabric and hanging them on the line, and the line was strung close to Grandpa Parding's secluded garden bench. Whenever the cook hung anything on the line she exchanged conversation with Grandpa Parding. Usually this had to do with the weather.

"I dunno as I'd hang things outdoors if I was you, today," Grandpa Parding would remark prophetically. "Looks mighty like rain t' me."

"Aw, go on!" the cook would reply. "It's not goin' t' rain, grandpa. You been sayin' for a week it was goin' t' rain, and it ain't."

"Well, I dunno. Sort of looks to me like it was goin' to rain."

"Well, an' if it does, it won't do these rags no harrum. But I don't think it's goin' to rain anyways."

"Looks like it in the east. Pretty sure to rain before night when it looks like that in the east. Never known it to fail."

"I should worry," the cook would say, with a shrug of her plump shoulders that sent all her fat trembling, for she was a very fat woman.

On the whole, Grandpa Parding was well enough contented. He would have liked another tooth or two, because one tooth -- without another below it to champ against -- isn't much use. He felt too that plug chewing tobacco was not what it had once been, being now less tough of fiber than formerly.

The Sudden Death Mixture he used in his pipe seemed to have fallen off considerably too. He could remember when a whiff of it, puffed in the face of a mule would make the mule rear up on its hind legs and paw the air, but now a full mouthful, freshly puffed from the mouth, would not even kill a mosquito. But, everything considered, Grandpa Parding found life still quite desirable and satisfactory until organized reform swept over the Parding family.

The first splash of the wave came in the form of white paint, just after Mrs. Parding put her name to the pledge of the National Society for Better Gardens. This society was "nation wide," and of course had offices in New York. It was the outgrowth of the enthusiasm of a lady who actually wept when she thought of the poor neglected gardens of America, and it was supported -- until the dollar pledges began to come in -- by the National Association of Manufacturers of Rose-Bug Poison, who also probably wept when they thought of the poor neglected gardens of America. The society was a tenet society -- from the Latin tenet, he holds, third person, singular, present indicative of tenere, to hold. To give the members proper enthusiasm for the great work the society was doing, the organizers had made use of a clever idea. Instead of calling the local assemblies Clubs or Associations, they were called Tool Sheds. Each member, of the Third Grade, was permitted to be a Garden Tool, and to wear a badge shaped like the tool she chose to be. Thus Mrs. Parding, finding that the rake, the trowel and other simpler tools were already selected by other ladies, became a Wheelbarrow. She wore a badge shaped like a wheelbarrow, the cost of which was $1.17 silver, or $5.57 in gold, postage included, supplied by the Headquarters.

The point of the whole thing, however, was that upon joining the local Tool House the member was given a chart on which were printed the thirty tenets of the society, and on the chart, following each tenet, was a small square in which an X mark could be made when the member had obeyed that particular tenet. Thus Tenet I said: "I hold that my lawn should be as free from dandelions as the soul of the gentle violet is free from evil thoughts." Then came the little square. When the member's lawn was indeed as free from dandelions as the soul of the gentle violet is free from evil thoughts the member made an X mark in the little square and went on to Tenet 2. When she could show, in any one season, cross marks after ten tenets -- and the chart had been certified by the Warming Sunshine, or President, of the local Tool House -- the member was advanced from the Garden Tool grade and became an Insecticide. Mrs. Parding, in time, became Bordeaux Mixture, which entitled her to wear a blue-green badge with a view of a deceased potato bug on it. But if, by the end of the third season, the member could show all thirty of the tenets marked, she reached the highest honor possible and became a Flower. Mrs. Parding, for example, in due time reached this highest honor, and became a Sisyrinchium.

It is no mean triumph, I assure you, to begin as a mere Wheelbarrow, advance to be a Bordeaux Mixture, and finally become a Sisyrinchium, and she was justly proud.

Hardly had Mrs. Parding seen the lawn freed from dandelions than Mr. Ed Parding became a King of the Jungle.

Hardly had Mrs. Parding seen the lawn freed from dandelions than Mr. Ed Parding became a King of the Jungle. More specifically he became a Blue-Faced Baboon, for each of the Kings of the Jungle was entitled to be known as an animal. This was because a man, if he takes the name of an animal and behaves as that animal would behave, enters more enthusiastically into the spirit of the great movement backed by the New York organizers of the Kings of the Jungle.

The simple desire of the Grand Old Hairy Lion of the Kings of the Jungle -- for so the President of the organization was called -- was to draw men back to primitive purity and, as this seemed impossible while men were merely men, this deep thinker had conceived the idea of inducing men to think in animal terms. It is evident to all that Blue-Faced Baboons drink nothing but water, do not swear, avoid attending the religious services of the Holy Jumpers, never vote the Socialistic ticket, and do not read the lighter erotic books. Thus Mr. Parding, being a Blue-Faced Baboon, was the more incited to obey the Twenty-eight Instincts -- as the rules of the Kings of the Jungle were called -- and thus be able to make an X mark after each of them on the neat little chart furnished for the purpose. As an additional incentive Mr. Parding was entitled to promotion if he secured twenty-eight signatures to any or all of the Twenty-eight Instincts. When he had secured these he became, automatically, except for the purchase of a three-dollar badge from headquarters in New York, an Indigo-Blue-Faced Baboon.

After studying the Twenty-eight Instincts carefully, Mr. Parding decided the only one he could get his father to sign was that promising never to attend the religious services of the Holy Jumpers. Grandpa Parding, being an old reprobate, never attended any religious services whatever, and it seemed safe to believe he would agree to avoid those of the Holy Jumpers, if requested. When the Blue-Faced Baboon approached him, however, Grandpa Parding was in an ill humor. He had just seated himself on his bench and had discovered it was freshly painted.

Holy Jumpers? What in tunket are Holy Jumpers?" he growled. "What do they jump for, and how do they do it? You just tell me, Ed, and I'll jump my danged old head off. Everybody comin' around with 'You ought to do this' and 'You ought to do that.' What's the world comin' to? Everybody gone crazy with the heat? You bet I'll attend the services of the Holy Jumpers, and I'll attend them all I durned please -- if I can find out where they're at! A man ain't got no peace in the world any more. They pester the life out of folks, with their Wheelbarrow women and Blue-Faced men. There ain't nobody a man can associate with nowadays except the children."

But the children failed him next. Amelia, the eldest, joined the Girl Voyagers and became a Third Class Lady Pilot, with hopes of becoming a Second Class and then a First Class when she had made enough X marks on the Chart of Ship's Articles. She wore, on every possible occasion, the white middy blouse and blue skirt of the Girl Voyagers, and sat for hours doing various hitches and knots in her doll's hair. She almost pestered the life out of Grandpa Parding, for Article X of the Ship's Articles of the Girl Voyagers to which members subscribed when they Signed for the Voyage -- said. "Girl Voyagers are kind to the old," and Grandpa Parding was the only "old" handy. And when George, the second child, joined the Boy Pioneers and signed the twelve Pledges, one of which required him to do a good deed daily, Grandpa Parding was seriously annoyed. There were so many servants in the house and everyone was so efficient, that there seemed to be no one to do good deeds to except Grandpa Parding. With Amelia being so kind to him and George incessantly good-deeding him, Grandpa Parding had hardly a moment of rest, and he began to glower as soon as he saw either of the two approaching him with a chart in one hand, a pencil in the other and good deeds in their hearts.

"Dad baste it!" he would curse under his breath. "Here they come again! Now I got to be done good to!"

He would grit his teeth and bear it and only give his sigh of relief when the trial was over and the two turned their backs on him, wetting their pencils and making their little X marks on their charts.

In those days of trial Grandpa Parding found his greatest relief in the two youngest members of the family, the darling little twins, Jimmy and Emmy. They still came to his knee in his secluded resting place and asked him to tell them about the time he reached down from the limb of the cottonwood and grabbed the mule by the tail and let it kick while he h'isted its rear end off the ground.

"And -- and tell us, grandpa," they would stammer eagerly, "'bout the time when you shot at the crow and -- and hit the old man in the head and -- and he said, 'Huh, bee stang me!'"

With all their elders intent on nobler and better things, as per their charts, the little children were the only beings left to be interested in Grandpa Parding's stories. But they were enough.

By the hour they would listen to Grandpa Parding and then rush away to pretend the hose reel was a mule, and kick it in the ribs, or to play other childish games suggested by what they had heard.

During the weeks while Mrs. Parding was struggling upward, X mark by X mark, from Wheelbarrowhood to Bordeaux Mixturehood, and while Ed Parding was climbing from Baboonhood to Indigo-Facedhood, Grandpa Parding gloomily considered the world and its doings, and almost decided to pull up stakes and go back to Missouri where a few folks still chewed plug tobacco and cussed; but his friends were dead there. He hated to go away from Jimmy and Emmy.

And, putting sentiment aside, the money he had put into Ed's business needed some watching. It needed watching because Ed was not much of a business man, and the money Grandpa Parding had put in frequently needed replenishing. There seemed to be, in spite of the admirable Blue-Faced Baboonship of Ed Parding, a permanent red-ink balance, showing a loss, in his annual business reports. This was largely because Ed drew out so much for home expenses, but the joy and luxury of the family seemed to need the withdrawals. If Ed had not drawn a great deal of money the family would have had to curtail, move into a small house, discharge servants. Possibly they would not have been able to pay their dues in the Boy Pioneers, Girl Voyagers, Kings of the Jungle and Tool Shed.

"Mamma!" wept dear Amelia one day. "Grandpa scolded me. I was being kind to the old, and -- and I lighted a match to light his pipe, and -- and the match fell in his pants and burned a hole in them, and -- and he swore at it, and -- and he scolded me!"

"Yeh!" seconded George. "He's getting fierce. I went to help him walk from the bench to the garage, and I told him to take my arm, and he said to get-the-blazes away from him. He said he could walk better'n I could."

"My dear! What language!" exclaimed Mrs. Parding. "But you know, my precious ones, you must be gentle with grandpa; he's an old, old man. He is not responsible for what he says and does. He's just like a little child. Very old people often become childish, and your grandpa is in his second childhood now."

"And -- and he can be a Knight of the Snow-White Shield, can't he, mamma?" prattled Emmy, but Mrs. Parding was on her way to answer the telephone.

Jimmy and Emmy had that very morning become Pages of the Snow-White Shield, the first step necessary in the path toward being Knights of the Snow-White Shield, Order of Triple Glory. Their teacher had enrolled them. She had, rather hazily, explained that upon becoming Pages of the Snow-White Shield they also became Eggs of the Golden Eagle, thus receiving two charts, the first showing the Twelve Daily Exertions and the second showing the Fifteen Daily Duties of Man, with three hundred and sixty-five spaces for each Exertion and Duty, all ready to receive the X marks. The teacher -- hazily, as I have said, for she was not quite sure she understood it all herself -- had explained to the eager little faces before her that they were now all little Pages and Eggs, and that if they did the Exertions and Duties for a year they would all be advanced to be Esquires and hatched into Chicks of the Eagle. Another year and they would be Knights of the Snow-White Shield and Golden Eagles of the First Order of Merit.

That afternoon the two dear little ones wandered, hand in hand, to Grandpa Parding's bench. He was having his daily conversation with the Willoways' cook when they arrived, and they stood patiently until he was through.

"I tell you I never knew it to fail," Grandpa Parding was saying. "When the clouds bank up that way in the north, we always have rain. Never knew it to fail."

"Aw, no! No rain today," said the cook. "No rain for a week -- you see!"

"Huh! Lot you know about it," scoffed Grandpa Parding. "Well, well, here are my two little rosebuds, home from school again."

"And -- and it isn't not nice to be rude," said Emmy sweetly. "You was rude to that fat lady. You said 'huh' at her."

And -- and it isn't not nice to be rude,

"And if you say 'huh' at anybody it is rude," said Jimmy, "and you can't not be a Knight."

"And -- and you didn't not take a bath this morning, grandpa," said Emmy sweetly. "But I took a bath. Did you clean your tooth this morning, grandpa?"

"Great cats!" exclaimed Grandpa Parding. "You, too!"

"Because if you don't clean your tooth, grandpa, you won't hatch out," explained Jimmy. "You'll be a rotten egg, grandpa. Did you keep your temper today, grandpa?"

"No, by jimpson!" cried grandpa. "I lost it right now. You, too! What are you -- Green Snakes or Pink Puppy Dogs or what? What dad-fangled thing do you belong to -- the Young Mule-Basters of the Moon, or the Sons and Daughters of the One-Lunged Flivver?"

"We're Pages and Eggs of the Snow-White Shield and the Golden Eagle," said Jimmy and Emmy. "And you can be one, too, grandpa, for because you're into your second childishness," Emmy added.

"If you keep your finger nails clean," Jimmy supplied.

Grandpa Parding arose. "Get away from me," he shouted. "Get clean away from me. I'm done. I'm through." He started toward the garage.

"Grandpa! Grandpa!" called Jimmy. "Put your shoulders back."

"Hold your head up, grandpa," shouted Emmy.

"Get away from me," screamed Grandpa Parding, and he hastened to the garage and slammed the doors and bolted them. Outside he heard Emmy say:

"I guess he don't want to keep a chart, does he?"

"Le's ask him," suggested Jimmy.

Grandpa!" they called in unison, Grand-pa! Gra-a-nd-pa! Don't you want to be a good boy and keep a chart?"

"Get away from me," shouted Grandpa Parding. "Get away from there, the both of you."

A week later Mr. Parding, who had been attending the Annual Zoo of the Kings of the Jungle at Atlantic City, returned home. He was happy and full of enthusiasm, for the Annual Zoo had unanimously passed a resolution creating ten new titles to be distributed by each local Jungle to the ten who turned in annually the best cards in connection with the new Fifteen Scents, and Mr. Parding was quite sure the end of the year would see him a fully qualified Duck-Billed Platypus, if not, indeed, a Three-Toed Lemur. As he entered the house he fully expected Mrs. Parding to greet him with some cheery word regarding her successful progress in the Tool Shed, but he saw at once that some awful catastrophe had happened.

"Edward!" Mrs. Parding cried, and threw herself in his arms.

"My dear!" he exclaimed. "What is it? Did you find a dandelion on the lawn? Has George been put out of the Boy Pioneers? Hasn't Amelia obeyed the Ship's Articles of the Girl Voyagers?"

"No! Not that!" wailed Mrs. Parding. "It's grandfather."

"Not -- dead?" asked Mr. Parding in a hushed voice.

"No, he went away. He packed a few things and stole away from us in the night," stabbed Mrs. Parding. "For days and days we heard nothing from him, and we were so worried, so upset!"

"I should think so!" said Mr. Parding. "And is he back again?"

"He's never coming back," said Mrs. Parding in a broken-hearted whisper. "He's married the Willoways' cook."

For a moment Mr. Parding stood with his lips tightly compressed, trying to control himself. He felt like saying something bitter, but he managed to be calm. "I think," he said, "my father has acted rather ungratefully. The trouble with father is that he was not a King of the Jungle. If he had been, this would not have happened. Scent Four, of the Fifteen Scents, adopted by us in convention at Atlantic City, reads, 'I promise to be grateful for all things.' Who is this woman he has married? I did not know the Willoways had a cook."

"Edward," said Mrs. Parding, wiping her eyes, "I know absolutely nothing about the woman. The children say she is fat. Mrs. Willoway says she was a widow. Aside from that, I only know that our cook says she is a Royal Queen Elizabeth of the Second Degree, of the Order of the Imperial Queens of the World."

"And what, may I ask, is that?" asked Mr. Parding.

"It is an organization," said Mrs. Parding, "for the Improvement of the Home by Inculcating Better Habits in Wives and Husbands."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:20:33am USA Central
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