FICTION

Grandpaw Foglesby’s Leg

LESLIE McFARLANE September 15 1940
FICTION

Grandpaw Foglesby’s Leg

LESLIE McFARLANE September 15 1940

THE STORY of how Grandpaw Foglesby broke his leg has often been told in Wakeville, and if you live in Wakeville there is no sense in reading any farther, because you are probably pretty sick of hearing about Grandpaw Foglesby by now. And about his leg. But if you don't live in Wakeville, it isn't likely that you have heard the details. It didn't get into the city papers because it wasn't important enough. The story, I mean—not the leg.

Young Henry Hooper, the Wakeville Planet reporter, wrote it up and sent it to a Toronto paper, but the editor said he couldn’t use it because people are always breaking their legs here and there all over the country and nobody cares much except the person who owns the leg. He would put it in the paper, he said, if the Prime Minister broke a leg. He would put it on the front page with a headline. For both legs he would put out an extra. But Grandpaw Foglesby’s leg was not important.

Henry Hooper wrote back that it was important to Grandpaw Foglesby, but let it pass. Skip it, he said. But just wait until that editor broke his leg. Or even his neck. Just wait and see, said Henry Hooper. The Wakeville Planet wouldn’t run a line about it. That was what Henry Hooper wrote to the editor, only he didn’t mail the letter because, as he said, he might want a job on that paper some day and what was the use of antagonizing the man, especially over Grandpaw Foglesby’s leg. But it was a very smart answer. Grandpaw Foglesby said he wished he had brains enough to think up an answer half as good, but he simply didn’t have the head for it.

He was always a great admirer of Henry Hooper, was Grandpaw Foglesby, and he was a mighty pleased old man when Henry took so much interest in his leg and put it in the Planet. The account about it, I mean. Grandpaw Foglesby sent copies of the Planet to all his relations so they could read about his leg, and he carried a clipping of it around in his pocket and showed it to everybody until it got so worn out he had to throw it away. The clipping, I mean. Not the leg.

He had another clipping framed, and he hung it up in his grocery store where everybody could read about it while they were waiting for their beans or sugar, or whatever they went there to buy. And if they didn’t get away in time, Grandpaw Foglesby would tell them all about his leg anyhow.

So that is what I meant when I said that if you live in Wakeville you probably won’t want to hear about it.

It was the only time in his life Grandpaw Foglesby was ever in the newspapers, unless his parents put in a birth announcement when he was born, but that was seventy years ago and he didn’t remember.

In fact, taking it all round, I don’t think I ever knew of anybody who got so much pleasure out of a broken leg as Grandpaw Foglesby. It did your heart good to see the wholesome, innocent enjoyment that old man got out of such a simple thing as a broken leg. I would say it added years to his life, because it gave him a new interest and something to talk about. It had the weather beat all hollow. A groceryman gets very tired of the weather, because all the customers talk about it and they expect him to speak up and agree with them. By the end of the day it becomes very monotonous.

I remember during the summer of ’36 when we had that long hot spell, Grandpaw Foglesby looked so peaked and worn after about three weeks of that weather that I thought it was getting him down. People would come into the store and say, “Is it hot enough for you, Grandpaw?” Or they’d say. “By golly, it’s another scorcher, isn’t it, Grandpaw?” And for a couple of weeks Grandpaw Foglesby would answer back right smart and maybe be reminded of the hot spell back in ’95 that was a lot worse; I mean he would talk about the weather as if it interested him. But after about three weeks he got so he would just look sad and nod at you in a discouraged sort of way. I can see now that it wasn’t the heat that bothered him. He was just clean tuckered out talking about it. He had said all any human being could say about that weather, said it over and over again, and there wasn’t any more left in him.

But after he broke his leg he was all right again. You should have seen how he perked up. It gave him a new interest in life, as I said. After all, the weather is everybody’s weather. But it was his leg. There is nothing like a little personal interest in a subject to make a man enjoy talking about it.

I don’t know how it happened that Grandpaw Foglesby’s store was eight yards outside the corporation limits. I don’t suppose anybody knows. Grandpaw Foglesby came to Wakeville a long time ago, and he bought this grocery store from a man named Wivvle—a long, tired-looking man with a glass eye and a watch chain that looked big enough to tie up a bulldog. He was a bachelor and sang in the church choir; it was never the same after he left. But he didn’t know very much about the grocery business, and after the novelty of his glass eye wore off, people stopped coming to the grocery store just to look at it. So he got discouraged and sold out to Grandpaw Foglesby and went away and was never heard of again.

Mr. Percy Niblett, the Wakeville town clerk, thought he saw Mr. Wivvle riding on the ferris wheel at the Toronto Exhibition one night about ten years ago, but it might have been somebody else. Percy Niblett waved to him, but Mr. Wivvle didn’t wave back. So probably it wasn’t Mr. Wivvle after all. Anyhow, Percy Niblett was on the merry-go-round at the time and travelling pretty fast, so maybe Mr. Wivvle didn’t even see him waving. If it was Mr. Wivvle. I never took much stock in the story because you know how it is at the Exhibition—you are always seeing people you think you know and when you gallop up hollering, “Hi, Jake!” or, “Well, if it ain’t Emma MacTavish!” they turn out to be somebody else. It has happened to me often. I usually keep right on galloping and pretend I’m hollering at somebody behind them. Ozzie Satchell, who works at the cannery, had a very odd experience in that line when he was attending a lodge convention in Montreal one year. On the very first day of the convention a man came up to him and mistook him for a Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield, Quebec.

“I am sorry,” said Ozzie, “but you have made a mistake. I am not Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield, Quebec. I am O. O. Satchell, of Wakeville, Ontario.”

“That is your story,” sneered the stranger, “but you cannot fool me, Theodore B. Garfinkle. I met you at a convention in Vancouver eight years ago.”

“But I was never in Vancouver,” insisted Ozzie Satchell. 

“I throw the lie back in your teeth, sir,” said the stranger. “You are Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield, Quebec, and if you are masquerading under an alias you are an impostor and it is my duty to expose you.”

So then this stranger went all over the place telling people that Ozzie was really Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield, Quebec. Ozzie couldn’t walk past a crowd of conventionists in the hotel lobby but what he would hear this man sing out: “Look! There goes Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield, Quebec.” The stranger would come up behind him in the convention hall and push him into a whole mob, saying: “Boys, shake hands with Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield, Quebec.” And before Ozzie knew it, everybody would be shaking hands with him and saying, “Glad to know you, Mr. Garfinkle.” 

By the time the convention was two days old, everybody was calling Ozzie Mr. Garfinkle and there wasn’t anything he could do about it because as soon as he would try to tell anyone he was really O. O. Satchell, of Wakeville, Ontario, they would laugh and tell him he had a great sense of humor. So finally Ozzie quit arguing about it. But when the convention was all over, Ozzie was checking out of the hotel and saying good-by to everybody and singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and he was just stepping into his taxi when the stranger came up. Everybody was hollering. “Good-by, Theodore,” and “So long. Garfinkle,” but the stranger looked Ozzie right in the eye and said: “Maybe you think you got away with it, brother. Maybe you think you fooled everybody at this convention by passing yourself off as Theodore B. Garfinkle, of Westfield. Quebec. But you didn’t fool me; not for a minute. Your name isn’t Garfinkle, you fake. It’s O. O. Satchell, and you come from Wakeville, Ontario. I never forget a face.” So perhaps it was just another case of mistaken identity when Percy Niblett thought he saw Mr. Wivvle on the ferris wheel.

When Grandpaw Foglesby bought the grocery store, naturally he thought he was buying a store in Wakeville, even if it was at the very end of South Maple Street. It never entered his head that Mr. Wivvle might have a deceitful heart as well as a glass eye and a gold watch chain. But it was not until he went to Councillor Snead and Mayor Popham and asked about having the waterworks put into his store that he discovered the truth.

“I am sorry, Mr. Foglesby,” said the mayor, “but the waterworks are only for the ratepayers of Wakeville.”

“If you will go back and read your deed carefully,” said Councillor Snead, “you will find that you are in Wapahoosis Township.”

And they sat there and smirked at him, especially Councillor Snead, who was a thin man with a face like a horse, and indigestion. Mayor Popham said it was too bad, and he showed Grandpaw Foglesby the maps. Sure enough, there was no getting away from it, the store was eight yards outside the town limits.

“I have been swindled,” said Grandpaw Foglesby sadly. He could hardly believe it of Mr. Wivvle. It was the glass eye fooled him, he said. He could always tell if a man was honest, he claimed, by looking him in the eye, but he must have been looking in Mr. Wivvle’s wrong eye when he made the deal, and it confused him and ruined his judgment.

So there it was for poor old Grandpaw Foglesby; but he went back to his store and made the best of it. And as it turned out there was a bright side to the affair, because Wapahoosis Township had a very low tax rate, so that he saved money in the long run. The people on South Maple Street bought their groceries from him anyhow. They didn’t care if he lived in Wapahoosis Township or not. It was the only grocery store in that part of town.

That was the way it went on for a long while. Grandpaw Foglesby made a fair living out of his store and became very bald and grew a little white beard like a goat. Once a year he would show up at the council meeting and ask them to do something about the waterworks. The Township Council of Wapahoosis said they didn’t care; they’d fix that map in five minutes, they said. They’d make Wakeville a present of that extra eight yards of land along with the grocery store and Grandpaw Foglesby too, for that matter, and welcome. You could always depend on Wapahoosis Township to be big and broadminded about matters like that. There was lots of land in the township anyhow, acres and acres of it so what was an extra eight yards more or less? It was neither here nor there, they said.

Whenever I think of some of those countries in Europe that will even go to war over a measly little bit of land along a boundary line, I am proud of Wapahoosis Township. You wouldn’t catch Wapahoosis Township going to war over eight yards of land. If somebody came along and wanted eight yards of land, Wapahoosis Township would say: “Go ahead. Take it. Who wants to fight over eight yards of land? Help yourself. There’s plenty more where that came from.” For that is Wapahoosis Township all over—obliging and friendly. But when they tried to give Wakeville that eight yards of land on the end of South Maple Street, they were snubbed.

“No," said Wakeville "We don’t want it.”

And that is what Wapahoosis Township got for trying to be friendly. Wapahoosis Township never felt the same toward Wakeville after that.  It was all Councillor Snead's fault, of course. It was Councillor Snead said no to the proposition.

“We would have to give Grandpaw Foglesby waterworks in his store.” Councillor Snead pointed out. And he stroked his chin and folded his hands over his stomach and shook his head.  It would cost money, he said.

Councillor Snead was one of those men who could say, "It would cost money,” like a judge passing a life sentence. There just wasn’t any comeback. Whenever he said it. Mayor Popham would look around at the councillors and clear his throat and say: “Well, gentlemen, I imagine that disuses of that!”

Mayor Popham always agreed with Councillor Snead. He wasn’t much of a mayor, He got in by accident one time when somebody nominated him by mistake instead of his cousin, the Popham who ran the cheese factory. After a while we got used to him and I suppose he got used to being mayor, for it just went on and on. We had him for years. He was more of a habit than a mayor, I guess. We often wondered why we put up with him, but nobody ever ran against him. It wouldn’t have seemed right, somehow.

So, between Mayor Popham and Councillor Snead, poor old Grandpaw Foglesby didn’t get those waterworks. He never gave up trying, you had to say that much for him. Year after year he would land up in front of the council asking for his store’s waterworks. And year after year they'd say no.

People used to think he would get discouraged and give up. But he never did. Grandpaw said it was an old saying in his family that the only way to discourage a Foglesby was to shoot him.

One night in the late spring Grandpaw showed up at council meeting and asked for the waterworks again. He was getting on in years, he said, and there wasn't much time left for him. But in the meantime it would be a big convenience to have them, what with him living over the store and having to tote water by the pail from the well in the back yard.

“Mr. Foglesby,” spoke up Councillor Snead, who was getting tired of being asked for waterworks by this time, “you are wasting your breath. We have told you time and time again that it can’t be done. We cannot extend our waterworks into Wapahoosis Township. It would set a precedent."

"It would, hey?” said Grandpaw Foglesby.

“Yes, sir, it would set a precedent.”

Grandpaw Foglesby didn’t know what a precedent was, but the way Snead said it he thought it must be something pretty dangerous and maybe liable to blow up and cause a lot of trouble.

“I didn’t know that,” said Grandpaw Foglesby. “Well, we don’t want none of them things around, gents. Maybe you’ll give me the waterworks next year. I’ll be back.”

He never argued much whenever they turned him down and this year he didn’t argue at all. Just moved off and hobbled down the aisle. He was almost to the door when he turned around and said:

“Well, look here, gents—how about fixin’ up the sidewalk in front of my store? It hasn’t been fixed for years. Them boards are getting so rickety that the whole walk is liable to cave in one of these days.”

“But Mr. Foglesby,” said Snead, “surely you understand that we have nothing to do with your sidewalk. That is your sidewalk. Mr. Wivvle built it himself, the whole eight yards of it in Wapahoosis Township.”

Grandpaw Foglesby thought it over. You could tell that it had never even dawned on him that he owned eight yards of sidewalk.

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” he said.

“When you bought the property you bought the sidewalk too,” explained Mayor Popham.

“And if it is in bad shape, you’d better have it fixed up right away,” advised Councillor Snead. “Because if one of your customers fell through that sidewalk and got hurt, you would be sued for damages.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered again,” said Grandpaw Foglesby. And he went out of there talking to himself. Flannelfoot Foster, who was standing by the door, said he heard Grandpaw say that was what you got for dealing with people with glass eyes.

I DIDN’T see Grandpaw Foglesby break his leg. but young Homer Gillespie couldn’t have missed it by more than a minute or so. Homer came driving into town by way of Maple Street South, right after it happened. Homer had been out seeing his girl—one of the Shoop girls, of the third-concession Shoops, in Wapahoosis Township. She was one of Walter Shoop’s daughters. The tall one. They were a very fine family, the Walter Shoops, not like the other Shoops who lived down by the swamp. Nobody ever had much use for that other Shoop tribe. Her name was Nelly.

Homer Gillespie was driving along into town and thinking of the Shoop girl, when he saw Grandpaw Foglesby sitting on the sidewalk under the street lamp, laughing fit to bust himself. You could hear him a block away. He was having a high old time, just sitting there under the light with one leg in a hole in the sidewalk. So Homer got out quick and said :

“What’s the matter, Grandpaw?”

Grandpaw Foglesby was laughing so hard he couldn’t answer for a while. He would look at Homer and open his mouth as if he was going to talk, and then away he’d go again. But finally he calmed down a little and fished a handkerchief out of his pocket and dried his eyes.

“By jiggers, Homer,” he wheezed, “this is the funniest thing ever happened. Derned if it ain’t the best joke—the richest doggone joke—”

And then he started chuckling and snorting and snickering and giggling into his handkerchief, again, as if there was a lot of laughs left in him yet but he was doing his best to choke them off and behave himself.

“What happened?” asked Homer.

“I broke my leg!” whooped Grandpaw Foglesby. And then he exploded again. Homer said he never saw anyone as gleeful as that old man. Grandpaw Foglesby laughed and laughed. “And now I can sue ’em for damages!” he squeaked.

Finally he calmed himself and dried his eyes, and after a few more giggles that kept popping out as if he’d forgotten they were there, he told Homer to drive right down to the Town Hall.

“Go and get Councillor Snead and the mayor and bring ’em right back with you.” he said. “And if you can find young George Clayboume, the lawyer, bring him too. Gosh!” snickered Grandpaw Foglesby, ‘‘if this ain’t the happiest night of my life. I’ll sue the hide off them. Go and get ’em, Homer, right away.”

“Well, look,” said Homer, “you can’t just sit there. I’ll help you home first, and then I’ll go tell the town council.”

But Grandpaw Foglesby wouldn’t have it. “Not on your tintype,” he said. “You’re a witness, Homer, that the sidewalk that caved in is town sidewalk, not my sidewalk. And I’m sitting right here where it happened, so they can come and see for themselves. If I move away from here a minute they’re liable to work some slick trick on me and try to prove it happened on my sidewalk.”

So away went Homer. The council was still holding its meeting when Homer galloped in and told them Grandpaw Foglesby had gone and bust his leg on municipal property.

I wasn’t there, but they tell me Councillor Snead went white as a sheet.

“Where did he bust it, Homer?” asked Snead, anxious.

“Right this side of the lamp post,” said Homer. “And he says he’s going to sue for damages.”

Everybody looked sick. Mayor Popham groaned. And the whole council room was hushed when Councillor Snead cleared a frog out of his throat and said in a feeble voice:

“Which leg was it, Homer?”

They all looked at Homer Gillespie, all fearing the worst. Nobody breathed. They waited. But Homer Gillespie didn’t answer right away. He looked thoughtful and then puzzled . . .

“Tell us the worst, man!” yelped Councillor Snead. He wasn’t able to stand it any longer. “Which leg did he break?’.’

Homer just shook his head. He snapped his fingers.

“By golly,” he said, “I clean forgot to ask him.”

HOMER always was a sort of rattlebrained lad. But it was just what you would expect of him—rushing up to the council to tell them Grandpaw Foglesby had broken a leg, and clean forgetting to find out which leg.

“Numskull!” hollered Councillor Snead at him, and he up and out the door as if he’d just been told his house was on fire, the other councillors and the mayor after him as if they’d been told their houses were on fire too. And into the mayor’s car they piled, and off toward Maple Street South, lickety split, a mile a minute, to find out which leg Grandpaw Foglesby had broken.

“There is a chance—just a chance, gentlemen,” said Snead, as they skidded around the Four Corners, “that it wasn’t the wrong leg.”

“Homer said he was laughing his head off,” the mayor said hopefully. “You wouldn’t think he’d be laughing if it was the wrong leg.”

“You bet he’d be laughing,” one of the councillors said. “The bigger the damage suit, the happier he’ll be.”

“I’m afraid so,” mourned Snead. “I’m afraid that’s why he was laughing. If the old goat has gone and broken the wrong leg, we won’t be able to settle for a cent under two thousand dollars.”

The very thought of paying out two thousand dollars of town money in a damage suit made the mayor quake so much he nearly drove into the ditch.

“Let’s hope for the best, Snead. Let’s hope for the best,” said the mayor in a quavery voice. “It won’t be so bad if he didn’t break the wrong leg. We’ll have to fix him up with a new leg, of course, or repair the old one—”

“No such luck!” said Councillor Snead in a gloomy voice. “In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion he did it on purpose. And if he did, gentlemen, you can depend on it he broke the leg that’s going to cost us the most money.”

He was a very mean-spirited man, Councillor Snead, and he thought most people were as mean as himself. After ward, he had to admit he misjudged Grandpaw Foglesby. Because when they reached the lamp post at the end of Maple Street South and piled out of the car, the members of the council found out that Grandpaw Foglesby hadn’t played a lowdown trick on them after all. It wasn’t like Grandpaw Foglesby to play a mean trick on anyone, and I always said so. It was his wooden leg that was broken. Not his good leg. You never did see such a relieved set of town councillors in all your life. Naturally they had hardly dared hope it would be the wooden leg.

“Thank heavens, Foglesby!” said Councillor Shead. “Thank heavens!”

“I’m supposed to be thankful, am I?” yelped Grandpaw Foglesby, mad clean through. “Is a man supposed to be grateful because you don’t keep your sidewalks fixed so a man can fall through them and bust his leg?”

“Thank heavens it wasn’t your other leg!” explained Snead.

“Maybe you won’t be so thankful when I go to law about this here leg,” Grandpaw shouted, still mad. “I’ll admit the other leg would have cost you more in dollars and cents, but don’t get the idea you’re going to get off easy. Wooden legs don’t grow on trees, Mr. Snead. Leastways not good ones. This busted leg is the fault of a busted sidewalk and the busted sidewalk is the fault of the town of Wakeville. There ain’t a court in the land but won’t give me a verdict.”

Councillor Snead had been in a few lawsuits in his time. And the mayor had never forgotten what it cost Wakeville when the travelling salesman got hit by the plaster that fell off the ceiling in the town office. “Settle out of court” had been Wakeville’s motto for many a day.

“There’ll be no need of a lawsuit, Mr. Foglesby,” said the mayor in a soothing sort of voice. “The town will have to buy you a new leg. No doubt of that.”

“You’re dead right the town will buy me a new leg,” snickered Grandpaw Foglesby. “The best leg money can buy. I was mighty fond of that old leg. Got attached to it, you might say. Nothing but a jim-dandy of a new leg is going to make me forget that old leg. I was looking at one in a catalogue the other day. The leg people have been pestering me for years. They’ve got one there, slickest leg you ever saw, for eight hundred and fifty dollars—” Councillor Snead screamed like somebody had sneaked up behind him with a pitchfork.

“Eight hundred and fifty dollars!” he howled. “We’ll pay no eight hundred and fifty dollars for a leg. It’s robbery.” 

“You’ll buy me that leg,” said Grandpaw Foglesby, “or we go to law.”

THE MAYOR did a little figuring in the back of his head. He knew the court wouldn’t give Grandpaw Foglesby any eight-hundred-and-fifty-dollar leg. That was just plain foolishness. That sort of leg was nothing but a sinful luxury—probably studded with diamonds. But it wouldn’t do the town any good to fight that sort of case in court, and the costs would run into money. A lot more money than it would cost to put in eight yards of pipe for Grandpaw Foglesby’s waterworks.

“Now let’s be sensible, Grandpaw,” he said. “Maybe we can talk this over.”

“We can,” said Grandpaw. “Sit down.” So they all sat down on the sidewalk and had a council meeting right there under the lamp post. Everything came out fine. As soon as Grandpaw Foglesby knew he was going to get the waterworks, he became as reasonable as pie. They had to get him a new leg, of course. Councillor Snead did mention something about getting Grandpaw Foglesby a second-hand leg, but they voted him down quick. He settled for a nice plain leg, good quality but nothing fancy, that wouldn’t run into much money.

And the waterworks. All in all it didn’t cost the town more than a hundred and fifty in the long run, and we figured it was money well spent, saving a lawsuit the way it did. It certainly worked out good for Grandpaw Foglesby, especially since his old leg had been pretty nearly worn out and he had been saving up to buy a new one anyway. We didn’t know about that until after ward.

But it was a lucky thing for him that he broke the old leg in Wakeville instead of in Wapahoosis Township. Two more steps the other side of the lamp post would have done it.