On Loafing

The Skidmore Standard stayed out of politics, generally, but weighed in specifically on things like town improvements, manners in church, the cleanliness of streets and the presence of enough hitchracks in town. The paper also seemed to view the question of the long evening hours kept by town merchants as an issue of morals, more or less — an issue of family values. We have further evidence of this on the front page of the November 30, 1900 Standard. Clearly, the sort of loafing and tale telling and speculating that happens around general store fires in the late night hours can cost a farmer plenty (not to mention getting those tales repeated to men who will put them in the paper).

A Joke In Which There Was a Jug of Whisky.


Now that the long evenings are here, when loafing around the stoves in the grocery stores is at its best, many yarns, more or less true – and amusing – are swapped nightly. There is some indefinable something about night loafing which appeals very strongly to the average man – once he has tasted it – so to speak – and he will wade through snow or mud a foot deep to get there. The more he goes the stronger the habit becomes, and even a scolding wife cannot keep him away.


Many a poor fellow who loves peace better than almost any other thing in the world – unless it be his tobacco or loafing – has made a mental resolve time and again, after he has returned from his nightly visit to the grocery store and found his wife in a scolding humor, that he would spend his evenings in the bosom of his family thereafter. A solemn promise is probably given to the partner of his joys and sorrows to this effect. Peaceful sleep usually settles upon him when he has thus courageously resolved to do this. But next evening when he lights his lantern and goes for the evening mail, the old desire comes over him with such overpowering force that he cannot resist going just for a few minutes; and he is soon at his favorite haunt, astride a soap box, or sitting on the counter with his feet hanging over, and his good wife and good resolutions are forgotten amid the pleasures of smoking, chewing and swapping yarns.


They are all there by half past eight o’clock, Bill, Jim, John, Henry, Bob, Tom and Joe. There is no trade usually after that time. Perhaps some one drops in occasionally to buy a pound of coffee or a quarter’s worth of sugar, but the grocery man generally has but little to do except to sit around and keep the fire going. Bob pulls out his plug and his knife, turns the plug around two or three times so he can decide just where he wants to cut it, carefully measures off a good-sized mouthful, then a little pressure on the “keen-kutter” and he has his “chaw;” the knife blade is swiped across his overalls and replaced in the pocket. “Pass yer terbaccer, Bob,” says Jim who is in the midst of a story. Bob passes the plug, each one takes a “chaw,” and the story goes on. The company breaks up anywhere from eleven to twelve o’clock; and each one goes to his home secretly hoping that his spouse may be sweetly slumbering instead of sitting up awaiting his return.


We hope none of our readers will infer that Bill, Jim, Bob, Tom and Joe live in Skidmore; we did not intend this as a description of anything that occurs here. Loafers there may be in Skidmore, and loafers there probably are, because some of our merchants keep open until ten and eleven o’clock – and perhaps later; but they may be selling goods. Neither do we venture to say that there are any scolding wives in our town. But be that as it may, the following joke was related the other evening by one of our townsmen who used to operate a threshing machine.


The joke is on one of our most esteemed citizens who, at the time the incident occurred, was farming on a large scale. His wheat crop was especially good that year, and after a part of the crop had been threshed, he concluded that he would have, in all, 400 bushels. The threshing machine man told him he was placing his figures a little high. Now as all men know, this was a chance for a speculation, and the two men in question knew this too; so each backed his opinion with a wager of a jug of “Old Rye.”


As the work progressed, the farmer thought that it would be very close; and, determined to win the bet, he slipped up to the man who was measuring the grain and told him to give the register an extra click once in awhile and make it go four hundred bushels. Of course the farmer won the whisky; but the other fellow had no kick coming because the extra clicks made the register show 100 bushels more than had really been threshed and he was getting 4 cents per bushel for the threshing.