Booty from Christmas Past

Cross-posted from Livejournal


Shut up, you deviants. I mean Jack Sparrow-type booty. Arr…

In 2010, a chest o’treasure arrived in me mailbox from a pretty wench in a far-off land. A whole bundle of silly, fun things: most useful, all appreciated.

The tie was the most interesting of all. To look at, it’s just a nice Christmas-themed cravat (since I only have one other, this will be a fine addition next Yule season.) But on closer examination, there are bits and snatches of words running through the candy canes.

I could tell the writing extended through the candy canes onto the blue background, but it was impossible to see in normal light, especially with the reflection from the shiny silk. So I scanned it, hoping to bring out a bit of detail.

With a little contrast and gamma manipulation, I was able to get the words to come out a bit more (this is just a small section, and my working image was much larger):

What jumped out at me was “The Christmas Joy”, “around the year”, “spot”, and “frozen”. Doing a Google search on these words came up with one – and only one – hit, a poorly-scanned copy of Down Durley Lane and Other Ballads by Virginia Woodward Cloud, published in 1898(!), and illustrated by Reginald Bathurst Birch which included this poem, “Old Christmas”:

It’s a long way round the year, my dears,
A long way round the year.
I found the frost and flame, my dears,
I found the smile and tear!

The wind blew high on the pine-topp’d hill.
And cut me keen on the moor:
The heart of the stream was frozen still,
As I tapped at the miller’s door.

I tossed them holly in hall and cot,
And bade them right good cheer,
But stayed me not in any spot,
For I’d traveled around the year

To bring the Christmas joy, my dears,
To your eyes so bonnie and true;
And a mistletoe bough for you, my dears,
A mistletoe bough for you!

What a delightful, hidden, and serendipitous message!

Miraculous it was that these words were even clear in the transcription, because it was a raw optical-conversion, and much of the text came out as garbage. What’s more, Virginia Woodward Cloud is a rather obscure poet, not unlike Grace Noll Crowell, (whose works I had hunted for over a period of 40 years, only having success last year thanks to another deep internet search). So the odds of finding one of Cloud’s poems on a Christmas tie are pretty slim.

A bit more digging found a beautiful online, zoomable copy of the book – “Old Christmas” is on page 99.

And all this because I gave the wench a stale crust of bread…

The Old Wolf has spoken

Funny, Funny Mother

It’s Christmas, and if you haven’t ever seen this you deserve to. We all deserve to. I first heard this read at an office Christmas party; the reader, one of the loveliest people I have known, read this with an absolute deadpan delivery – and they almost had to carry me out on a stretcher.

I have no idea who the original author is, despite exhaustive searching. If anyone knows, please leave a comment and I’ll add the appropriate credit.

Funny, Funny Mother

See Mother, see Mother laugh. Mother is happy.
Mother is happy about Christmas.
Mother has many plans. Mother has many plans for Christmas.
Mother is organized. Mother smiles all the time.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother smile. Mother is happy.
The shopping is all done. See the children watch TV.
Watch, children, watch.
See the children change their minds.
See them ask Santa for different toys.
Look, look. Mother is not smiling.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother sew.
Mother will make dresses.
Mother will make robes.
Mother will make shirts.
See Mother put in the zipper wrong.
See Mother sew the dress on the wrong side.
See Mother cut the skirt too short.
See Mother put the material away until January.
Look. Look. See Mother take a tranquilizer.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother buy raisins and nuts.
See Mother buy candied pineapple and powdered sugar.
See Mother buy flour, and dates, and pecans, and brown sugar,
bananas, and spices, and vanilla.
Look. Look. Mother is mixing everything together.
See the children press out cookies.
See the flour on their elbows.
See the cookies burn.
See the cake fall.
See the children pull the taffy. See Mother pull her hair.
See Mother clean the kitchen with the garden hose.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother wrap presents.
See Mother look for the end of the Scotch tape roll.
See Mother bite her fingernails.
See Mother go. See Mother go to the store 12 times in one hour.
Go, Mother, go. See Mother run faster. Run, Mother, run.
See Mother trim the tree. See Mother have a party.
See Mother make popcorn. See Mother wash the walls.
See Mother scrub the rug. See Mother tear up the organized plan.
See Mother forget the gift for Uncle Harold.
See Mother get hives. Go, Mother, go. See the far-away look in Mother’s eyes.
Mother is disoriented.
Funny, funny Mother.

It is finally Christmas morning. See the happy family.
See Father smile. Father is happy. Smile, Father, smile.
Father loves fruit cake. Father loves Christmas pudding.
Father loves all his new neckties.
Look. Look. See the happy children. See the children’s toys.
Santa was very good to the children.
The children will remember this Christmas.
See Mother. Mother is slumped in a chair. Mother is crying uncontrollably.
Mother does not look well. Mother has dark ugly circles under
her bloodshot eyes.
Everyone helps Mother to her bed.
See Mother sleep quietly under heavy sedation.
See Mother smile.
Funny, funny Mother.

Merry Christmas!


The Old Wolf has spoken.

Love Came


Love came,
and became like blood in my body.
It rushed through my veins and
encircled my heart.
Everywhere I looked,
I saw one thing.
Love’s name written
on my limbs,
on my left palm,
on my forehead,
on the back of my neck,
on my right big toe…
Oh, my friend,
all that you see of me
is just a shell,
and the rest belongs to love.

-Shahram Shiva

Published in Hush Don’t Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi, Jain Publishing

Found: The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha


For decades, I’ve had a snippet of a poem running around in my head:

“Simple math and shrubbery pruning, checkers, lunch and water polo.”

This comes to mind often when I consider the un-challenging slate of classes for which I see many college freshmen sign up.

Today someone posted something on Facebook – which, thanks to the lack of a search function I can no longer find – that made me think of it again, and despite earlier searches on Google coming up poor, this time I got a hit.

The link took me to a page in the Gainesville Sun from August 10, 1985, in a column by Bill Henderson. He credited the source thusly:

“To honor the coming season I would have you read an ode to the football player himself. An ode I stole some years back from some fellow hack that I would acknowledge if I could remember his name.”

Having seen the full text of the poem again, I was pretty sure the original appearance of the poem was in Mad Magazine, of which I was a faithful and voracious reader through the 60s and 70s. A bit more Googling, and I had located the source: Mad #100, January 1966: “The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha” – with apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha.”

So here, for your gratuitous enjoyment, is the full text of the poem as it appeared in Mad. Be warned – this is politically incorrect for our day and age, and needs to be framed in the mindset of the 60s.

Edit: With thanks to commenter Dave Meek who pointed out that a line was missing in the first stanza. A search for verification led to a discovery of the entire issue of Mad #100 online in PDF format, enabling me to add the image above, as well as an entire stanza that was also missing.

The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha
Text: Tom Koch / Art: Don Martin.

By a pond in Minnesota
Near the stagnant Green-Scum-Water
Stood the campus of Nokomis,
Rotten football school, Nokomis;
Sent forth players weak and gentle:
(Mostly horticulture majors.)

Then one autumn thru the pine trees
Through the black and gloomy forest,
Strode the freshman, Hiawatha;
Strong with limbs like reindeer sinew,
Signed to play for Memphis Normal,
He was lost and asked directions.

“Shut my mouth,” drawled Coach Kowalksi,
‘Ya’ll are here; the South awaits thee,”
Hiawatha gazed in wonder
At the snow up to his armpits.
“This is Dixie?” thus he mumbled,
“Stupid Redskin,” joshed Kowalski.

So it was that Hiawatha,
Son of Ishkoodah, the comet,
Donned his new Nokomis beanie;
Huddled in the bunk assigned him.
“Geez, it’s cold!” wailed Hiawatha.
“Hush, my fullback,” cooed Kowalski.

Soon the young brave, Hiawatha,
Found himself matriculated;
Signed for classes that befit him;
Simple math and Shrubbery Pruning,
Checkers, Lunch and Water Polo,
(Perfect course; wrong institution.)

In their quest for football players,
All the frats sought Hiawatha
‘Til they studied close his features,
Then, as one wheel aptly put it,
“I dunno, Could be an Injun’
Yet to me, he still looks Jewish.”

One by one did Hiawatha
Learn to know the campus creatures;
Erickson, the hot rod owner,
Nippersink, the brooding Commie;
Best of all, he soon discovered
Emmie Sue, the Chi Omega.

“Ee-wa-voom!” yowled Hiawatha,
(Football practice now forgotten),
I was taught by wrinkled Grandma
How to woo the elk and otter,
Speak of marriage to the pine cone.
THIS the old crone failed to mention.”

Days of torment quickly followed
For the harried Coach Kowalski,
Left with three men in his backfield
While the fourth played hanky-panky
Out behind the pipestone quarry;
Fiendish plans engulfed the mentor.

On that frigid autumn evening,
Emmie Sue, the Chi Omega,
Listened with a wide-eyed horror
As the coach, most confidential
Warned her darkly of “the nut who
Thinks he’s living now in Memphis.”

Came the dawn and grieving Emmie
Sought the help of Doctor Swinehorst,
Dean of studies Psychiatric
At the Med School of Nokomis.
“All’s not lost,” the Doc assured her,
“If you think you can afford me.”

Soon the young brave, Hiawatha,
Lay upon the couch of Swinehorst,
Lay there fearless as the birch tree,
“Tell me of your childhood trauma,”
Said that Doc with notebook handy;
“What of Mom and Dad and siblings?”

Hiawatha answered calmly,
“Daddy was a white-fire comet;
Mom a songbird in the willows,
I had many forest brothers:
Brown bear, moose and timid rabbit.”
“Ach du Lieber!” cried out Swinehorst.

Emmie Sue, the Chi Omega,
Heard the tragic diagnosis.
“Crazy as a loon,” said Swinehorst,
“Even thinks the loon’s his sister,
I’d suggest you drop this savage;
Date instead my son, the dentist.”

Hiawatha, brokenhearted,
Now without his love beside him
Turned his thoughts at last to football;
Learn what meant the mumbled signals
Of the quarterback, Wochowicz;
Scrimmaged ’til his bridgework rattled.

Happy then was Coach Kowalski,
Dreamed he in untroubled slumber
Neath the full moon, Nu-see-wah-goo,
Of Nokomis, undefeated;
Dreamed of glory soon to come on
New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

Only Gitchee-Goomee Teachers
Hated rival of Nokomis,
Barred the path the coach envisioned,
Waiting tensely for the kickoff,
Hiawatha eyed the bleachers;
There sat Emmie with the dentist.

“Aush-wea-ecch,” moaned Hiawatha
As the pigskin bounced before him,
Caromed off his furrowed forehead
Toward the goal where Gitchee-Goomee’s
Tackle grabbed it unmolested,
Scored the first of 14 touchdowns.

With the Dean on Monday morning,
Hiawatha got the message:
“F” in Math and Shrubbery Pruning.
“Memphis pledged I’d pass,” he bleated.
Roared the Dean in tones like thunder,
“Memphis! Buster, you’re in Flunksville.”

Quiet reigns now in Nokomis.
Gone is Emmie; gone the dentist;
Gone the mob lynched Kowalski.
All that’s left; a voice heard faintly;
Hiawatha, college dropout,
Back home chatting with the chipmunk.

I can now present you with the original in all its glory, accompanied by Don Martin’s hilarious illustrations (click each image to enlarge):

Hia1  Hia2  Hia3  Hia4

You’re welcome.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Where the sidewalk ends

I share this because it pleases me. No other reason. There.


Over at reddit, user /u/corilee93 posted this picture, and /u/kilroylegend provided the reference. I have always loved the work of Shel Silverstein:

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Shel Silverstein

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Life and Times of Maud Müller

While perusing a children’s book which once had belonged to my wife’s stepfather (I was checking it out to see if it was worth keeping, but it was too badly deteriorated), a scrap of paper fell out – an old newspaper clipping. Old and wrinkled, it was almost like cloth, and turned out to be a humorous poem about a young lady named Maud Muller.

Maud Miller on Skates

What I discovered was that the original was written by John Greenleaf Whittier, which includes the famous tag line, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’ ” It appears that the others I have found are the equivalent of “fan fiction,” but I share them with you anyway in the spirit of fun.


by: John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

MAUD MÜLLER, on a summer’s day,
Raked the meadows sweet with hay.
Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.
But, when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast–
A wish, that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse’s chestnut mane.
He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees, to greet the maid,

And ask a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.
She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.
“Thanks!” said the Judge, “a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed.”

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;
Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her briar-torn gown,
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;
And listened, while a pleasant surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away,
Maud Muller looked and sighed: “Ah, me!
That I the Judge’s bride might be!

“He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.
“My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a painted boat.

“I’d dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.
“And I’d feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door.”

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

“A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne’er hath it been my lot to meet.
“And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

“Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay:
“No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

“But low of cattle, and song of birds,
And health, and quiet, and loving words.”
But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,
And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.
But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well,
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.
He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth’s bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go:
And sweet Maud Muller’s hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;
And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms,
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,
“Ah, that I were free again!
“Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay.”

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.
But care and sorrow, and child-birth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,
And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through the wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein,
And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;
The weary wheel to a spinnet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned;

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o’er pipe and mug,
A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, “It might have been.”
Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;
And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!

(One Hundred Choice Selections. Ed. Phineas Garrett. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing Co., 1897.)


John Gast, artist, after J.G. Brown

“Mr. Whittier’s statement of the origin of his poem “Maud Müller” is thus given. He was driving with his sister through York, U.S.A., and stopped at a harvest field to enquire the way. A young girl raking hay near the stone-wall stopped to answer their inquiries. Whittier noticed as she talked that she bashfully raked the hay around and over her bare feet, and she was fresh and fair. The little incident left its impression, and he wrote out the poem that very evening. “But if I had had any notion that the plaguey little thing would have been so liked, I should have taken more pains with it.” To the inquiry as to the title, Maud Müller, he said it was suggested to him, and was not a selection. It came as the poem came. But he gives it the short German pronunciation, as Meuler, not the broad Yankee, Muller.” (From Parodies of the works of English & American authors, Volume 5, p. 240)


Maud Muller on a winter day
Went out upon the snow to sleigh.
Beneath her high heeled number six
Were a foot of hay and four hot bricks.
Singing she slode, and her merry glee
Shook the snow all off the tree.
“Wait till the clouds roll by!” she howled.
And as she passed the people scowled.
On her dexter side sat a fresh young dude
With his arm out of place as they sweetly slude.
But her howling died, and a vague distress
And a quart of snow filled the back of her dress.
For the reins were held in a careless hand,
And the basest drum in a parade’s band.
Went boom, bum, boom! And one cold day
A tandem left with an upturned sleigh.
Alas, for the dude! three cheers for the sleigh!
And hurrah for the chestnuts that ran away!
The saddest words at hier father’s door
Were these, “You needn’t cone back no more.”
The livery bill when he hied him thence
Was seventeen dollars and fifty cents.
-Boston Globe.


Maud Muller, on a winter’s day
Went forth to learn to skate, they say –
Went forth did Maud with hopeful heart
To learn this graceful, joyous art;
I might as well distinctly state
She ne’er before had tried to skate.

* * * * *
This little row of twinkling stars
But mark the passage of the hours
That Maudie spent upon the pond
Since shortly after morn had dawned
The day was doen, the evening gloan
Was gathering as Maud rode home
Aboard a well-filled trolley car
That sped along with bump and jar;
Maud stood suspended from a strap;
She lacked her usual pep and snap;
Her skating cap was cocked awry –
A weary look was in her eye;
Her hair was in sad disarray
And she seemed neither blithe nor gay;
A gentleman who sat quite near
Looked up and saw the pretty dear;
He noticed she had skating been,
Also that she was quite all in’
Then up he rose on both his feet
And said, “Sweet creature, take my seat.”
Maud pulled a weary little sigh
And languidly she did reply:
“No thank you – keep your seat I pray –
I’ve just been sitting around all day!”

[Being the only genuine sequel to “Maud Müller”)
By Bret Harte

“Maud Müller, all that summer day,
Raked the meadow sweet with hay;

But when he came, with smile and bow,
Maud only blushed, and stammered, “Ha-ow?”

And spoke of her “pa,” and wondered whether
He’d give consent they should wed together.

Old Muller burst in tears, and then
Begged that the Judge would lend him “ten;”

For trade was dull, and wages low,
And the “craps,” this year, were somewhat slow.

And ere the languid summer died,
Sweet Maud became the Judge’s bride.

But on the day that they were mated,
Maud’s brother Bob was intoxicated;

And Maud’s relations, twelve in all,
Were very drunk at the Judge’s hall.

And when the summer came again,
The young bride bore him babies twain;

And the Judge was blest, but thought it strange
That bearing children made such a change;

For Maud grew broad and red and stout,
And the waist that his arm once clasped about

Was more than he now could span; and he
Sighed as he pondered, ruefully,

How that which in Maud was native grace
In Mrs. Jenkins was out of place;

And thought of the twins, and wished that they
Looked less like the men who raked the hay

On Muller’s farm, and dreamed with pain
Of the day he wandered down the lane.

And looking down that dreary track,
He half regretted that he came back;

For, had he waited, he might have wed
Some maiden fair and thoroughbred;

For there be women fair as she,
Whose verbs and nouns do more agree.

Alas for maiden! alas for judge!
And the sentimental,—that’s one-half “fudge;”

For Maud soon thought the Judge a bore,
With all his learning and all his lore;

And the Judge would have bartered Maud’s fair face
For more refinement and social grace.

If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, “It might have been,”

More sad are these we daily see:
“It is, but hadn’t ought to be.”

(From Parodies of the works of English & American authors, Volume 5, p. 240)


Happy Anniversary to me.


I am told that today is my 4th anniversary as a registered WordPress user, although I’ve only been keeping up this particular blog for just under a year now (I began on the 26th of April, 2012). I’ve appreciated the responses and input that I have gotten from my readers and look forward to continuing in the same vein, and perhaps even expanding my reach.

I have many  more essays percolating in the back of my mind, and will pour them out when they are ready. Actually, a lot of them are like cowboy coffee:

  1. Add 1 lb. coffee to a bucket of water.
  2. Set on the fire to boil.
  3. Toss in a horseshoe.
  4. When the horseshoe floats to the top, it’s ready.

Which reminds me of a poem that I have known for about 40 years. I will share with you here, for no other reason than that it occurred to me:

The Indispensable Man
(by Saxon White Kessinger)

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Lamplighter


Photo copyright ©2012 Jan-Edward Vogels



Lamplighter, Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, 1928. Photographer Unknown

The Lamplighter

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!
-Robert Louis Stevenson

This poem, one of my favorites in A Child’s Garden of Verses, refers to the days when lamplighters would come around the streets of Edinburgh, lighting the gas lamps. As a child, Stevenson was an invalid (hence the reference to “when I am stronger”), and looking out of the window to see the lamplighter would be a bright spot in the lonely child’s day; to be noticed and nodded to would be exceptional.)



A Child’s Garden of Verses, Platt and Munk, 1929, illustrations by Eulalie

In a book that I wish everyone in the world could read, because it is filled with goodness and sadness and love and despair, and the kind of language that Eudora Welty and O. Henry and Walter Van Tilburg Clark knew how to use, language which not only conveys a message but which also fills the mouth – language which, like a finely aged beef or a vintage wine, deserves to be rolled around on the tongue and savored – William Saroyan wrote:

THE LITTLE BOY named Ulysses Macauley one day stood over the new gopher hole in the backyard of his house on Santa Clara Avenue in Ithaca, California. The gopher of this hole pushed up fresh moist dirt and peeked out at the boy, who was certainly a stranger but perhaps not an enemy. Before this miracle had been fully enjoyed by the boy, one of the birds of Ithaca flew into the old walnut tree in the backyard and after settling itself on a branch broke into rapture, moving the boy’s fascination from the earth to the tree. Next, best of all, a freight train puffed and roared far away. The boy listened, and felt the earth beneath him tremble with the moving of the train. Then he broke into running, moving (it seemed to him) swifter than any life in the world.
When he reached the crossing he was just in time to see the passing of the whole train, from locomotive to caboose. He waved to the engineer, but the engineer did not wave back to him. He waved to five others who were with the train, but not one of them waved back. They might have done so, but they didn’t. At last a Negro appeared leaning over the side of a gondola. Above the clatter of the train, Ulysses heard the man singing:

“Weep no more my lady, 0 weep no more today
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home far away”

Ulysses waved to the Negro too, and then a wondrous and unexpected thing happened. This man, black and different from all the others, waved back to Ulysses, shouting: “Going home, boy-going back where I belong!” The small boy and the Negro waved to one another until the train was almost out of sight

Then Ulysses looked around. There it was, all around him, funny and lonely-the world of his life. The strange, weed-infested, junky, wonderful, senseless yet beautiful world. Walking down the track came an old man with a rolled bundle on his back. Ulysses waved to this man too, but the man was too old and too tired to be pleased with a small boy’s friendliness. The old man glanced at Ulysses as if both he and the boy were already dead.
The little boy turned slowly and started for home. As he moved, he still listened to the passing of the train, the singing of the Negro, and the joyous words: “Going home, boy-going back where I belong!” He stopped to think of all this, loitering beside a china-ball tree and kicking at the yellow, smelly, fallen fruit of it. After a moment he smiled the smile of the Macauley people-the gentle, wise, secret smile which said Hello to all things.

-William Saroyan, The Human Comedy

Apparently the profession lasted a lot longer than I had realized; the picture in London below is purported to have been taken in 1962, found at /r/historyporn.


Today as in the past, little children with their hearts full of innocence and wonder wave to the big people passing by; the delight that illuminates their faces on the rare occasion when someone takes the time to notice them, and wave back, or nod, or smile, or say hello, is large return on a small investment. Here’s a perfect modern example:

Notice the children.

The Old Wolf has spoken.