Sunday, 1 July 2012

1885 - When I Grow Up

          The following  conversation among some Hamilton boys appeared in the Hamilton Spectator of July 24, 1885.
Some of reference made by the boys may have been well-known to Hamilton readers of the day but may need a little explanation for those not of that time or place.
Priests’ Field was a full block of then-vacant bounded by James, Young, Hughson and Forest. It had been purchased by the Roman Catholic Church as a possible location for a cathedral. .
General Grant is American Civil War General, and later United States.
President Ulysses S. Grant who have died the day before the article appeared.
“Mash one de Queen’s daughters” meant to court and marry a daughter of Queen Victoria.
General Middleton was Major-General Frederick Middleton who at the time was leading the troops in the Northwest Rebellion.
Hanlan refers to Ned Halan, a very famous athlete of the day, a rower.
Finally, the Clippers were one of Hamilton’s professional baseball teams of the day.
“When it grew too dark to see the ball, the boys who had been playing on the ‘priests’ field’ last evening, sat down on the grass nursed their feet, and talked. Said one of them, a boy in knickerbockers: “Say, it must be great to be a man like General Grant, and have such a fuss made over you when you die.”
        “Wot difference ‘ud it make to you wot dey say about you after you wuz dead?’ quiered a young red-headed philosopher.” I’d like to mash one de Queen’s daughter like dat prince feller, and marry her, an’ live widout workin’ and have a soft time.”
          “I’d like to run a candy store,” ventured very small urchin, with a very small voice. “I’d give ‘em away to the boys free.”
          Then each boy confessed what he’d like to be when he “grew up.” One said he’d like to “build houses” like his father; another that he would prefer above all things to be an ice cream manufacturer; another that he’d like to run an excursion boat; another that he would be pleased to be Governor-General; another chose Hanlan as his model, and one sturdy urchin remarked that he wanted to be “a great general like, Gen. Middleton.”
          A little apart from the group sat a bare-footed youngster with a very dirty face and unkempt hair that protruded through the broken crown of his straw hat. With a defiant air, he smoked a cigar stub that he found on the sidewalk, and had lighted with infinite difficulty. He took no part in the conversation, but sat silently pulling up the grass with his toes, and expectorating copiously through his closed teeth. At last, one of his comrades turned to him differentially and said, “Say, Slithery, what ‘ud you like to be when you grow up?”
          It was beneath Slithery’s dignity to reply at once. Without giving any token that he heard the question, he took two or three long draws at his cigar stub, blew the smoke slowly upwards, expectorated freely, and then, closely inspecting the half-inch of a stub, regretfully threw it away. During the process Slithery’s comrades watched him admiringly, and waited patiently for his answer. He was plainly an oracle among them. Their suspense was at length relieved. Slithery deigned to speak. He said, contemptuously: “Yous fellers is chumps. You don’t know nuthin’ – none of you don’t. When I grow up, I want to be manager of de Clippers or else a boss pitcher, and pitch double curves – dat’s wot I’m goin’ to be.”
          Having thus delivered himself, Slithery slid down the little slope to the sidewalk, and walked away whistling shrilly through his teeth and trailing his baseball bat behind him. And each of the boys communed with himself for awhile and silently but deeply realized that Slithery had chosen the better part.”

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