Anna Myrberg / Black Mask, “Charlie Linnaeus”
from Swedish Hist’ry Told Real Quick by the Southside Kid Willy Anderson (Stockholm, 1923)
Willy Anderson in the film of the same name, made in 1929
Charlie Linnaeus was a cool little kid with a light curly do, though he was born in the darkest part of Småland, an’ his thoughts were so smart that he was always sittin’ ’n’ playin’ with his ol’ lady’s flower pots in the windows, and when they poked a pacifier at ’m, he got so mad he threw it across the kitchen floor n’ grabbed a carrot to suck on instead.
In case a geranium popped a flower, Charlie was there right away pickin’ it to pieces and hangin’ it up to dry. ’N if he got into the flowerbeds, they had a heckuva time findin’ him in the evenin’ when it was time for bed.
When he was a little bigger, he rambled ’round in the bush pickin’ dandylines, ’n box trees, ’n squirrel seeds, ’n hedge hogs, ’n big granite stones, ’n then he pressed all the stuff between his ol’ man’s thick sermon books ’n wrote names on everythin’, ’cuz in those days they thought a hedge hog was a for’in cactus ’n a hawthorn bush was a coconut palm.
One Sunday, when Charlie’s ol’ man, who was a preacherman, was yellin’ his head off in church, a big granite rock rolled out of the book o’ sermons and hit an ol’ lady on the head who was sittin’ right under there, snorin’ away. Jeez, did the ol’ lady ever wake up fast! After that she never dared to doze off in her pew, ’cuz everybody thought it was punishment for her sins she got, and the preacherman told ’er to look out fur the wrath ’o heav’n.
When Charlie got to school the teacher had a heckuva time getting’ ’m to catch on, ’n’ he finally tol’ Charlie’s ol’ man that the kid was a first-class numbskull ’n’ they oughta try ’n’ edjicate ’m t make traps for rats or ta shov’l snow off roofs instead, ye know? “That turnip for a head o’ his jus’ goes roun’ and roun’, the teacher wrote on his report card, cuz all he wants ta do is traipse around the countryside ’n’ pick up all sortsa junk." The ol’ man had a cow, ’cuz he was thinkin’ the kid would be a bishop, ’n’ the ol’ lady bawled, ye see, but Charlie he chirped: “Take it easy, huh? Yer lookin’ at a guy who’s not worried. If I don’t become a preacherman, I can sure be a homyopath or nature teacher.
Then he headed for Växjö to go to high school, so the walls almost came tumblin’ down, ’n’ then he took off for Uppsala, tho’ he had to borrow some bread, ’cuz he was low on cash. First thing he did was walk up to the the Professors at the University ’n’ started pullin’ a buncha junk ’n’ potted plants outa his pants pockets. “Know what this is, gents?” he asked ’n’ took a live crab out of his left pocket. “Sure, that’s a swallow,” one of ’em grunted. “Not a chance, you nitwits, have ye seen one these fly through the air with a split tail? You blew it,” the kid grinned and put it back in his pocket.
“But guess what this is” he hollered ’n’ pulled out a juniper bush from another pocket. “That’s spinach,” said a bigshot professor with goggles ’n’ a big beard. “Yeah, I bet,” said Charlie Linnaeus. “Eat this spinach ’n’ your gut’ll be in shreds. Darned if you know which way’s up” he said, ’n’ ran out ’n’ yanked up a larch tree by the roots ’n’ carried it in to ’em ’n’ shrieked: “I’ll betcha don’t know if this here’s an ivy or a Christmas tree.” “Have you been out in our garden, you cur, and pulled up our pear tree that we were cultivating arty-chokes on?” gasped a big ol’ professor. Charlie guffawed and slapped his knee, but the learned ol’ men wer mad at ’m, ’cuz they thought he was jist makin’ it all up, ’n’ they told ’m in a sharp tone of voice that if he wanted ta get through the university he’d better not study nature but oughta take chemical joggraphy ’n’ anatomical hist’ry ’n’ cultural mathematics instead.
The kid felt bad ’n’ went out ’n’ hoed a little in the garden, where he found a wolf’s-bane that he took a gander at. Then somebody smacked his hand ’n’ said: “What kinda heathen are you, stealin’ our potted plants?” ’n’ then he held out a fever thermometer toward ’m. Charlie was sweatin’, ’cuz he knew it was Celsius himself ’n’ his temperature was high, so he said he was sorry ’n’ said he was jist tryin’ ta extraminate the wolf’s-bane. Celsius was only jokin’ with the kid, so he smiled ’n’ offered ’m a cig, ’cuz he understood that Charlie had nature-researchin’ in his blood, ’n’ then he promised he’d get ’m into the university first thing, ye see, ’cuz Celsius was an OK guy.
Then in jist a few weeks Charlie Linnaeus was so full o’ learnin’ and wisdom that he planted turnips ’n’ made hedge hogs all over the place, ’n’ went around with ivy gowin’ roun’ his arms ’n’ legs, ’n’ the professors at Uppsala got shown up, ’cuz he got real famous ’n’ all covered with medals ’n’ a three-cornered hat, ’n’ when he took a bath he had to have a flower in his buttonhole. The Swedes have made a statue of ’m, that’ll never wilt, ’cuz they wanna remember their illustrious persons.