Shenanigans at Sugar Creek Chapters 5&6

We last left off with Poetry and Bill running as fast as they could to intercept Mr. Black before he could find the snowman they built. Once again, I do not get why this is a big deal. They are not on school property, they are not breaking any rules. What could Mr. Black do to them? Making a funny snowman like that might hurt Mr. Black’s feelings, but the boys don’t seem too worried about that.

I want to be encouraging, because this is like, the first sign of an actual plot with tension, and really a good place to end the chapter… And that’s about all the good things I can think of to say about it.

Bill and Poetry are running, freaking the fuck out… and then we get this paragraph. And it’s bad, because it breaks up the tension the author had going.

In a few minutes Poetry and I were so out of wind that we had to stop and walk awhile, especially because I had a pain in my right side which I sometimes got when I ran too fast too long. “My side hurts,” I said to Poetry, and he said, “Better stop and stoop down and unbuckle your boot, and buckle it again, and it’ll quit hurting.”

“It’ll WHAT?” I said, thinking his idea was crazy.

“It’ll quit hurting, if you stop and stoop down and unbuckle your boot and then buckle it again.”

Well, I couldn’t run anymore with the sharp pain in my side, so even though I thought Poetry’s idea was crazy, I stopped and stooped over, biting off my mittens with my teeth, and laying them down on the snow for a jiffy and unbuckling one of my boots and buckling it again while I was still stooped over; then I straightened up, and would you believe it? That crazy ache in my side was actually gone! There wasn’t even a sign of it.

I panted a minute longer to get my wind, then we started on the run again. “It’s crazy,” I said, “but it worked. How come?”

“Poetry Thompson’s father told me,” he said, puffing along ahead of me, “only it won’t work in the summer-time. In the summer-time you have to stop running, and stop and stoop down and pick up[Pg 33] a rock, and spit on it and turn it over and lay it down again very carefully upside down, and your side will quit hurting.”

Right then, I stumbled over a log and fell down on my face, and scrambled to my feet and we hurried on, and I said to Poetry, “What do you do when you get a sore toe from stumping it on a log—stoop over and scrape the snow off the log and kiss it, and turn it over, and then—?”

It wasn’t any time to be funny, only worried, but Poetry explained to me that it was the stooping that was what did it. “It’s getting your body bent double, that does it.—Hey! Look! There he is now!”

They’re running to stop bad things from happening, and then they stop in the middle to explain what to do if you have a cramp.

This is realistic, but realistic doesn’t always work in fiction. This entire paragraph except the last line should be eliminated. It could possibly be shoe-horned in elsewhere, but it’s really not necessary to the plot and it doesn’t develop character, so, probably not.

As to whether or not the technique works,  well, I’ll just have to try it sometime.

Mr. Black is at Bill’s house. He tips his hat to Bill’s mother, and then rides off.

Bill and Poetry run down the hill to the snowman.

“You get The Hoosier Schoolmaster, Bill, and turn it around and stand it up against the Hoosier schoolmaster’s stomach.” Poetry ordered, “so I can get a good picture of it,” which I started to do, and then gasped…. There wasn’t any Hoosier Schoolmaster! The book was gone. “It’s gone!” I said to Poetry, and it was, and there was a page of yellow writing paper, instead.

They were going to put the book on the snowman’s stomach? That seems like a terrible idea. Wouldn’t it ruin the pages?

In any case, this is one of the reasons why leaving your book in the arms of a snowman is a bad idea.

“Hey!” I said, “There’s something printed on it!” Sure enough, there was. The piece of yellow writing tablet was standing up on the two sticks, leaning against the snow man’s stomach, and was fastened so the wind wouldn’t blow it away, by another stick stuck through the paper and into the snow man’s stomach.

Half this paragraph could have been eliminated. The reader is not going to sit there for hours wondering how the paper didn’t blow away in the wind. The entire paragraph could be eliminated and changed to:

“I took the piece of paper off the stick that had been used to hold it on the snowman and read….”

This book would have benefited from a very very good editor.

So, what’s written on the paper? Poetry’s poem, of course.

The Sugar Creek Gang had the worst of teachers, And ‘Black’ his named was called, His round red face had the homeliest of features, He was fat and forty and bald.

Sounds like Mr. Black is aware of what the boys think of him. And he’s fucking with them. So far, except for the whole “hits students with beech whips” part, I haven’t found a reason to dislike this guy. We really aren’t shown very much about him. What we do know, we are told. Apparently his horse is a very fine dresser, either that or the horses saddle was wearing a fancy jacket, I couldn’t really tell which.

There’s some discussion about who put the poem there. It couldn’t have been one of the gang because they all went home after visiting old man Paddler. Sound logic, right there, I mean, you never saw them go home.

In any case, other than the gang members, Shorty Long is the only one who knew about the poem.

Remember who Shorty Long is? Me neither.

Fortunately, the author doesn’t expect us to.

“Shorty Long!” I said, remembering the newest boy who had moved into our neighborhood and was almost as fat as Poetry and who had been the cause of most of our trouble with our new teacher and had had two or three fights with me and had licked the stuffins out of me once, and I had licked the stuffins out of him once also, even worse than he had me, almost.

I copy and pasted this paragraph direction from Project Gutenberg. I’m not honestly sure whether the lack of punctuation is due to an error in scanning/copying for PG, or if it appears in the original book as an honest to god run on sentence.

Shorty Long found out about the poem from Dragonfly.

 I remembered right that minute that Dragonfly and Shorty Long had been kinda chummy last week and we had all worried for fear there was maybe going to be trouble in our own gang which there’d never been before, and all on account of the new fat guy who had moved into our neighborhood and had started coming to our school.

Why does the kid’s weight matter? Jeez! And why was it a terrible thing that Dragonfly was making friends with the new guy? Why don’t these children like Shorty Long? Maybe this is something I would know if I had read previous books. In any case, it seems like Shorty Long is getting blamed for “trouble,” whatever that means.

As Poetry is about to take the picture of his snowman, Bill notices hoofprints and footprints in the snow around them.

“I’ll bet Mr. Black took the book, and wrote the poem and put it here.”

“He wouldn’t,” I said, but was afraid he might have.

Why wouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t Mr. Black have done this? It’s not hard to imagine he would’ve found out about the poem.

Poetry takes a picture, then the two boys destroy the snowman, which feels a bit anticlimactic because it’s a little late. They already know Mr. Black has seen the snowman, so what’s the point? It would have been better if they had discovered the footprints/hoof marks after they knocked the snowman down. Then we’d still keep some of the tension (We’ve got to knock it down before Mr. Black sees!) only to have the relief replaced with horror as the boys realize that Mr. Black has already seen it.

God, the editor in me just wants to take a red pen to this and see what happens. I predict that, once I cut the fat, this would be nothing but a short story. Perhaps this entire series should just be nothing but one big book of short stories about the Sugar Creek Gang.

They walk back to Bill’s house, trying to decide whether or not it was Mr. black that had done it. Bill thinks to himself that perhaps little Jim was right, and that they shouldn’t have made fun of Mr. Black for being bald, because it’s not his fault he’s got no hair.

Poetry is worried about how his parents will react over the missing book, and I sympathize a little bit. Forgetting a book somewhere sounds like something I would do, but not where it could just fall into the snow and get ruined.

But then these boys’ parents seem a bit more spank happy than mine were. Mine would’ve just made me pay for the book out of my allowance.

When they reach the house, Bill’s mom tells him and Poetry that Mr. Black has been by twice today. Bill asks why.

“Oh he was just visiting around, getting acquainted with the parents of the boys. Such a beautiful brown saddle horse,” Mom said. “And he was so polite.”

Mr. Black is a beautiful brown saddle horse. No wonder he’s having problems teaching.

This is also beginning to sound a bit creepy. Notice that Bill’s mother said the same thing about Mr. Black that Mrs. Poetry said about Mr. Black. Word for word, almost. In a better novel, this would be on purpose and would signal that Mr. Black is some kind of space alien. Or….something.

Poetry asks if the horse was polite, but Mrs. Bill’s mom ignores this and tells the kids that Mr. Black wanted to take some pictures. He took one of the barn, the cat, the horse. He wanted some of the boys playing on bumblebee hill, but the boys had already left.

It sounds like Mr. Black has a hobby.

In any case, Mr. Black found The Hoosier Schoolmaster in the arms of the snowman, figured the boys had forgotten it, and brought it back up to Mrs. Bill’s mom. Which is probably what I would do if I found a book in the arms of a snowman, especially if I lived in 1947. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that books were not so easy to get ahold of in that time period, particularly for people in rural towns.

Bill’s mom tells Poetry that she’s sent the book along to Mrs. Mansfield, and that Poetry’s mom called and told him he’s to go home to finish the chores so they can go to bed early and get up early for church.

“Do you suppose he really took a picture of himself with that poem on his stomach?” Poetry asked. “And if he did, who on earth put it there?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but what would he want with pictures of all of us and our parents?”

I would say that this is creepy. However, he also wanted pictures of barns and cats, so I’m going to guess photography is just a hobby of his.

Just that minute Pop called from the barn and said, “BILL, HURRY UP AND GATHER THE EGGS! IT’LL BE TOO DARK TO SEE IN THE BARN AS SOON AS THE SUN GOES DOWN! POETRY, BE SURE TO COME AGAIN SOME TIME,” which was Pop’s way of telling Poetry to step on the gas and get going home right now, which Poetry did, and I went back to the house and got the egg basket to start to gather the eggs, wondering what would happen next.

This is where the author ends chapter 5. Are you on the edge of your seat, waiting excitedly to turn the next page and find out what happens next? Me neither. Let’s do it anyway.

Chapter 6

We open the chapter with Bill’s mom telling him that little Jim’s mom has the flu, so they have to pick him up for church tomorrow too.  That means they’re picking up Little Jim and Little Tom Till, which Bill thinks is going to be fun. I don’t see what’s so fun about getting up early but whatever.

Bill goes to the barn to gather chicken eggs, and decides to climb the ladder to the cupola. He blathers on and on about how “there’s the spot where X happened” multiple times, and it’s very boring we’re gonna skip it. Hope you don’t mind missing out on this riveting action.

Oh but wait, in the middle of this action scene, we get some clue as to how old the gang members must be! We are told that Big Jim is old enough to have some facial hair. Which would make him, what, 14-16? These boys are older teenagers?

It’s very important to give some clue as to how old your characters are, especially if they are children. This is the first clue as to anyone’s age, and we’re at the haflway point in the book.

We also get this, and I kind of want to punch Bill in the face.

I was thinking about what had happened that afternoon, such as the trip we’d taken through the cave to Old Man Paddler’s cabin, and the prayer he’d made for all of us, and especially for Old Hook-nosed John Till, which Little Tom had heard, and it had made him cry and want to go home. Poor Little Tom, I thought. What if I had had a pop like his, instead of the kinda wonderful pop I had, who made it easy for Mom to be happy, which is why maybe Mom was always singing around our kitchen, even when she was tired, and also why, whenever Pop came into our house after being gone awhile, Mom would look up quick from whatever she was doing and give him a nice look, and sometimes they’d be awful glad to see each other, and Pop would give her a great big hug like pops are supposed to do to moms. Poor Little Tom’s mom, I thought.

I’m probably not supposed to interpret this the way I am interpreting this… but I am absolutely interpreting this the way I am interpreting this.

Then we finally come to the reason this scene is relevant to the plot.

Well, while I was still not thinking about finishing gathering the eggs, I looked in the last direction I hadn’t looked yet, which was toward our house and over the top of the spreading branches of the plum tree and over the top of our gate which Dragonfly had had his ride on, and on down toward Bumblebee hill where we’d coasted and had fun and made the snow man of Mr. Black, but say! right that second, I saw something moving—in fact, it was somebody’s cap moving along just below the crest of the hill, but all I could see was the bobbing-up-and-down cap, and right away I knew whose cap it was—it was the bright red cap of the new tough guy in our neighborhood whose name was Shorty Long, and right away I knew who it was that had written Poetry’s poetry and put it on the sticks into Mr. Black’s stomach….

I’m…. not sure this follows. He sees Shorty Long over by Bumblebee Hill, many hours later, therefore, he was the one who put the poem on the snowman. Um, ok? Is this supposed to be a reference to the Bible verse which states that a fool always returns to the scene of his folly?

We get a small paragraph about Bill’s angst about Monday, and again, I can’t think why. They did not build the snowman on school grounds, they did not build it during school hours, and they are not breaking any school rules. Is Mr. Black that much of an asshole that he’d punish them anyway?

While I was up there in that cupola, I made up my mind to one thing, and that was that no matter how much we didn’t like our teacher, and no matter what ideas Poetry and I had once had in our minds to find out whether a board on the top of the schoolhouse chimney would smoke out a teacher, I, Bill Collins wasn’t going to vote “Yes” if the gang put it to a vote to decide whether to do it or not…. No sir, not me.

 

Well. You’re no fun.

It’s actually a pretty good thing to decide. I mean, Mr. Black now knows you’ve read The Hoosier Schoolmaster. If you try and smoke him out, he’s going to put two and two together and come up with beech switches.

Bill’s pop comes and calls for him to finish all the chores before supper, and we get some paragraphs about pop milking a cow.

“I’ll take the milk on up to the house, Bill,” Pop said, and also said, “You follow me up to the back porch, Mixy—you can’t have fresh milk tonight—and also, only a little raw meat, because there are absolutely too many mice around this barn. Any ordinary hungry cat ought to catch at least one mouse a day, Mixy, and if you don’t catch them, we’ll have to make you hungry, so you will. Understand?” I looked at Pop’s big reddish-blackish eyebrows and he was frowning at Mixy, although I knew he liked her a lot, but didn’t like mice very well.

What was that you were just telling us, Bill, about your wonderful pop? I think he sounds like an asshole.

Yes, we are told that Pop likes Mixy a lot, but what is this paragraph showing? This paragraph is like that game my dad and I played when I was little where we said things like, “I love you!” In an angry screaming voice and then said, “I hate you” in a loving voice as we gave each other a hug. Dad was trying to show me that you can tell someone something all you want, it’s what you show that matters.

Bill takes the eggs into the kitchen, and accidentally overhears this.

All of a sudden I heard Mom saying something in a tearful voice, and I stopped cold—wondering what I’d maybe done and shouldn’t have, and if Mom was telling Pop about it, so I started to listen—and then was half afraid to, so I started to open the door and go out when I heard Pop say something in a low voice, and it was, “No, Mother, whatever it is, I know one thing—our Bill will tell the truth. He’d tell the truth right now if I asked him, but I’m not going to. I’m going to wait and see what happens, and see if he’ll tell me himself.”

I strained my ears hard to hear what Mom would answer, and this is what she said, “All right, Theodore, I’ll be patient; but just the same, I’m worried.”

Bad parenting alert bad parenting alert bad parenting alert!

First off, bad writing alert because I have zero idea what Bill’s pop is going on about, but I think I’m supposed to.

Second off, what kind of parenting is this? I get wanting your child to come to you if they did The Thing, but what if said child not only didn’t do The Thing, he has no idea The Thing was even done or what The Thing is? You, as a parent, are going to be unable to sleep at night worrying, while your kid is just going to live his life totally unaware that you’re worried about him. This will result in the parent becoming increasingly frustrated with the kid for not coming forward, which leads to the kid wondering what the heck you’re frustrated about. Just fucking communicate with your kids, man, jeez.

I don’t think this paragraph could possibly be referring to the snowman incident, because I can’t see why that would worry his mother to the point of tears.But this is a Christian novel, so I wouldn’t be entirely surprised.

Pop tells mom that a boy’s heart is like a garden. All you gotta do is plow it and water it with love and it will turn out all right in the end. This makes Bill like his pop a lot (can’t think why) and his mother reminds his father that weeds grow in gardens without anybody planting them.

Bill pictures his heart as a garden overgrown with Jimson weed, and I snicker because if Bill’s pop had a bit of that, he might chill out a little.

We get a flashback to Bill’s pop telling him you must kill the weeds when they’re small, because that’s much easier, and Bill goes to give Mixy the same advice about mice, telling her to kill them as babies, because that’s really easy. How protective are mother mice of their babies? Mixy might just do better going after the adults.

Mixy gets affectionate with Bill, probably because she’s looking for food.

“I’m glad you like me Mixy, even if no one else around here does.”

Awwww poor kitty! You know what would make her really like you a lot, Bill? Giving her food.

There’s a small paragraph about Charlotte Anne being “a swell baby, despite being a girl” and an even longer one about saying grace at their table, despite the fact that no one ends up saying grace in this paragraph. It’s just a really long pointless paragraph about saying grace when all of a sudden, the telephone rings! Bill and his mom fight over who will get it, his mom winning. She comes back to the table smiling, saying that Mr. Long won’t be home tomorrow so Mrs. Long is able to go to church, and isn’t that wonderful?

I spoke up then and said, “How about Shorty? Is he going too?”

I don’t know what there was in my voice that shouldn’t have been, when I asked that question, but Mom said in an astonished tone of voice, “Why, Bill Collins! The very idea! Don’t you want him to go to church and Sunday School and learn something about being a Christian? Do you want him to grow up to be a heathen? What’s the matter with you?”

I have read Christian books that treat their non Christian characters like crap, but I have never ever seen it called out this bluntly.

I have read children’s books from a wide variety of time periods, and I don’t recall any of them being quite this blatant about it.*

Bill starts trying to tell his mom about how awful Shorty Long is to the gang when Pop interrupts him so they can pray and eat.

For some reason, when Pop finished, I seemed to feel like maybe I didn’t actually hate our new teacher, not very much anyway, and I thought maybe Shorty Long, even if he was a terribly tough boy, would be better if he had somebody pull some of the weeds out of him….

He can pull the weeds outta hisself.

The chapter ends with Bill falling asleep, then waking up, thinking about what a wonderful day it will be at church!

That’s just how I woke up every Sabbath morning… really…. don’t you believe me?

 

*Except perhaps that one scene in one of the Little House on the Prairie books where teenage Laura expresses disinterest in the upcoming revival, and Nellie Olsen gasps and says, “but people who don’t go to revivals are atheists!” She says atheist in the tone Bill’s mother says heathen, so, atheists were not looked on kindly. The Little House books were written circa 1930-1940.

 

 

 

 

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