Miss Williams and the Ice Man
PROBABLY NO ONE under the age of fifty will have any appreciation of what I mean when I say that more gas and electric refrigerators were sold by ice men than by appliance salesmen. Not that they were trying to sell refrigerators – far from it. But to the housewife, mechanical refrigeration, when it became available, was not just a convenience, it was an escape from the tyranny of the ice man. And make no mistake – the ice man was a tyrant. To suggest that he wipe the mud off his feet before tracking across your kitchen or that piece of ice he was putting in your box was somewhat less than the 50 pounds you were paying for was to invite disaster. He wouldn’t pay any attention to you anyway and on the next really hot day he had a very effective reprisal – he just “forgot” you entirely. Result, soured milk and spoiled food. If you really bugged him (which was fairly easy to do) he would “forget” you on Saturday. With no Sunday delivery, you were in trouble, sure enough. The smart housewife learned to accept the ice man as one of the crosses that must be borne in this life and generally suffered in silence. But Miss Williams* was made of sterner stuff.
In the first place, you must understand that even in the early years of this century, Miss Williams was a holdover from a bygone day. She was a Lady, and if you ever saw her walking down the street, head erect, hatted and gloved, a narrow band of black velvet at her throat, and her full skirt – only an inch or so above the pavement – swinging to the rhythm of her slow step, you would know it. Actually, no one was more aware of it than Miss Williams herself. She had had Advantages and to her this meant that she had Obligations – noblesse oblige – she believed in it and lived it. She felt herself obligated, not only to set an example in all things, but also to instruct those whose parents had failed to teach them properly, and above all, to see Right done.
One summer morning my mother sent me to Miss Williams on an errand and that’s how it happened that I witnessed her encounter with the ice man.
While I was delivering my mothers message a helper from the ice wagon came up to the back porch with a piece of ice in his tongs. “Young man,” said Miss Williams pleasantly, “I put my card in the window for 50 pounds.” The boy looked a little uneasy, “Yes’m, this is what Mr. Cooke gave me,” he said. In her quiet way Miss Williams said, “Please tell Mr. Cooke to weigh the ice and see that I get a 50 pound piece.” The helper departed but almost immediately was back with the same piece of ice and word that “Mr. Cooke says this is 50 pounds.” Now any other woman on the block would have read the storm signals flying and would have realized she was heading into trouble. But remember, Miss Williams was a Lady and she was obligated to see Right done – that she was the injured party was incidental. “Please tell Mr. Cooke I want to see him.” Quietly and politely said, it was, nevertheless, a command. The helper, recognizing it for what it was, hurried away.
In less than a minute, under a full head of steam, Mr. Cooke came charging fiercely around the corner of the house. “Now whadda you want?” he demanded with a cigar clamped fiercely in his teeth. If Mr. Cooke thought to intimidate Miss Williams he had made a bad mistake. First, the lesson in manners he needed: “Mr. Cooke, I am too old a woman to be spoken to in that way. Take off your hat and take the cigar out of your mouth while you are talking to me.” As much to his own surprise as to mine but not, I am sure, to Miss Williams’, Mr. Cooke snatched his hat off with one hand and grabbed the cigar from his mouth with the other.
Now for the business in hand: “Mr. Cooke, I cannot afford to pay for what I do not get. When I ask for 50 pounds I expect to get it just as you expect to get paid for it. Will you please see that this does not happen again?” It was an unequal contest. There was something regal about Miss Williams that came through even to a clod like Mr. Cooke and it was too much for him. All his bluster was gone. He even accepted defeat, now that it had come, with a measure of grace.
“Yes’m, Miss Williams,” he said with no hint of argument, “Yes Ma’am!” And still with his hat in one hand and his cigar in the other, he retreated around the corner of the house with what dignity he could muster.
Then as though it were nothing to have withstood, like Gray’s “village Hampton,… the little tyrant” of our block, she turned to me and said kindly, “Now Robert, what was it your mother wanted?” But I was nonplussed by the scene I had witnessed and before I could gather my wits sufficiently to answer her, the helper staggered up on the porch with what surely must have been the largest 50 pound block of ice sold in Washington that summer!
* Miss Alice B. Williams (no relation) moved into the house next door to my family in 1908. Until she died, more than a quarter of a century later, she was our dear friend and good neighbor. During my formative years, except for my immediate family, no one had a greater influence on the development of my character and personality than she. – Bob Williams
Copyright 1970 by Robert S. Williams, Jr. All Rights Reserved.
Another Word About Lost Men of American History
When I first read Lost Men of American History I was so delighted with it that I wrote the Macmillan Company only to learn that the author had died. They offered however, to forward a letter to his widow. Accordingly, I wrote Mrs. Holbrook and enclosed a copy of my review. I had a very gracious reply and word that Lost Americans is still in print! This will be good news to some of our readers, I am sure.
In Maryland, Where We Know Him Best, Mr. Agnew Just Can’t Hack It!
It is regularly reported that Mr. Agnew, with his alliterative abuse, has raised another zillion dollars for the GOP War Chest. Last night’s Evening Star (Wasington, D.C. October 16) carried a story stating that during the past week he had added more than half a million dollars to the Republican party treasury in just four days in Texas, Delaware, and Florida.
Well, Mr. Agnew may be big in Amarillo but on his own turf, here in Maryland, it’s a different story. Either we don’t have as many fat cats or else our fat cats are unwilling to put their money where his mouth is. On September 18 the Vice President spoke at a $500 per person affair (that’s right, $500 a head). It was intended to raise half a million dollars for the state’s Republican candidates. The actual take was just over $100,000 and that included contributions from some Republicans who stayed away – and at the price, who could blame them? After it was over a Republican spokesman said, “We would have done better with Martha Mitchell or Nelson Rockefeller. Agnew’s got a hell of a lot more clout in Salt Lake City than he has in Maryland.” Another was quoted as saying, “What I really think is that Agnew is not the fund-raiser we thought. Too many people remember him when he was president of the PTA.”*
How did he get elected governor if he isn’t popular?
In 1966 Maryland voters were faced with what can only be described as a “least worst” choice. George Mahoney had won a three man Democratic primary with substantially less than 40 per cent of the vote and a blatantly racist appeal. Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least two to one but they weren’t having any of Mr. Mahoney. But let Robert Goodman, who handled Agnew’s advertising, tell it: “We put out a fear campaign. We mutilated billboards with ‘Come to the aid of Maryland.’ But we didn’t win that campaign for Agnew – my office boy could have done it. Mahoney won it for Agnew.”**
Normally, the number two man on the national ticket is supposed to carry his state for the party. Mr. Agnew was unable to do it in 1968 and he won’t do it this November. We’re just not very proud of Mr. Agnew here in Maryland.
* The Washington Post, September 30, 1970.
** Newsweek, October 19, 1970, Vol. LXXVI, No. 16, p. 37.
THE RESPONSE to My Word! Has been both gratifying and flattering. Lousie and I are very appreciative of the many cards and letters sent us. (To tell the truth, I thought The Shell Game was pretty good myself. If Louise keeps this up I’ll have to change the name to Our Words!) It is very soothing to the ego to learn that there are readers who like your work. Some readers even wrote that they liked my version of The Esquimaux Maiden’s Romance better than the original. Better than Mark Twain? That’s pretty heady stuff!
My Word! (and welcome to it), an amateur journal wherein, from time to time, some very definite opinions are expressed, is published – at irregular intervals – for distribution to the members of the National Amateur Press Association, to some other friends, and to selected members of the United States Congress. Of each issue approximately 500 copies are printed. Occasionally we hear of a copy being read.
The Silver Shell Press
Robert S. Williams, Jr. Chevy Chase, Md. 20015