Woodworking: Pranks make for delicious fun, especially when tables are turnedPranks make for delicious fun, especially when tables are turned April Fool’s Day is coming up, so I dedicate this column to Zebulon Harnden.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
Pranks make for delicious fun, especially when tables are turned
April Fool’s Day is coming up, so I dedicate this column to Zebulon Harnden.
Zeb was my hometown’s rural mail carrier back in the 19th century. He was such a character that old-timers were still talking about him in Swenson’s barbershop when I was a little kid with big ears.
My favorite story about Zeb happened when he pulled up with his horse and buggy to Mrs. Schaefer’s farm yard to deliver the mail.
Zeb noticed that Mrs. Schaefer was washing clothes and had a big iron kettle bubbling as was the custom back then.
Zeb saw that the fire under the kettle had spread along the lawn and that the west wall of the Schaefer manse was aflame. Mrs. Schaefer, unaware, kept stirring the pot.
So Zeb said, “Mrs. Schaefer, your house is on fire!”
Knowing Zeb’s proclivity to practical jokes, Mrs. Schaefer replied, “And you can go to hell. You’re not making a fool of me, Zeb Harnden.”
“Apparently not,” replied Zeb. “The good Lord, he’s already done the job.”
He then calmly drove his buggy out of the farm yard, leaving Mrs. Schaefer to fight the fire on her own.
Fondness for April Fool’s pranks stayed with us into the 20th century. When I was a wee lad, I remember that every April 1, my mother served pancakes to my father and Leroy, the hired man.
While they were out milking, she was busy with cheesecloth and a pair of shears. She cut circles of the cheese cloth the size of pancakes.
When the men sat around the oil-clothed table, she’d pour batter on the griddle, then carefully lay the cheese-cloth circles into that batter, cover them with a bit more batter.
My father would smear his hotcakes with butter, then syrup made from brown sugar and water, then dig in. The hotcake would bounce around like a Mexican jumping bean. And then everyone would have a good laugh.
My mother did it every year and my father never caught on, probably because he never remembered it was April 1.
Our luncheon group at the Little Wagon was always playing pranks.
One of my pals, Steve, was extremely paranoid. He always figured that Annabelle, the waitress, gave him the worst plate as we all huddled around a tiny table.
If our cheap little steaks were good, his was tough. If our corned beef and cabbage came with just-boiled potatoes, Steve always thought his potatoes came out of a tin can.
One April 1, Duane, another one of the luncheon group, stopped at Lund’s grocery store and bought five pricey filets mignons. He then asked the butcher to carve a hunk of cheap brisket to look like a filet mignon.
Later, we all congregated at the table and asked Annabelle what looked good in the kitchen.
She replied “Oh, the new steaks are just wonderful, really tender.”
So we all ordered the new steaks. Of course, the one Steve got was the cheap brisket.
We were carving our steaks with table knives and Steve was sawing away as his hunk of meat bounced around on the plate and off the plate.
“What’s wrong, Steve?” we chorused. “These steaks are delish.”
It was an expensive prank, but it also made Minneapolis culinary history. It was the only time in 60 years that the Little Wagon ever served a filet mignon.
The best kind of prank comes when the prankee can get the best of the pranksters, and turn the tables as it were.
This one didn’t happen in April, but I wish it had.
That year I had a beautiful garden by the side of our house in south Minneapolis. One day I received an official letter from the zoning director at City Hall.
It said, “Pursuant to Ordinance 5132.09, we have found that your garden size exceeds the maximum allowed by 200 square feet. You are ordered to plow under that space and re-seed with the ground cover of your choice. If this isn’t done within four days, the city will do it for you at the rate of $100 per hour.”
Something was fishy. But I let it go.
The guys at the table began to get nervous. What if I plowed all that garden under? Worse, what if I complained to City Hall and they found out that Frank, a Little Wagoneer and a city employee, had stolen the stationery from the zoning commissioner’s office?
Oh, how delicious it was! Every luncheon for a week, I watched them squirm.
Finally, one of our number finally called my wife to ask if I’d dug up the garden.
She just said, “Oh, that explains why he bought a new spade.”
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.