Yesterday in one of our bookcases I stumbled across a limited-edition retrospective on Joel Chandler Harris. The book was put together by some of Harris’s friends shortly after his death and includes a sunny biography, a few anecdotes, and the eulogy given at his funeral.
I liked this story, recounted by Forrest Adair:
Mr. Harris was alone in his house working on an editorial, when a ring at the door disturbed him. He answered the bell, and a rather genteel-looking, middle-aged man saluted him, offering toilet soap for sale at “ten cents a cake, or three cakes for a quarter.” Annoyed by the interruption, Harris said rather brusquely that he did not need any soap.
“But I am on the verge of starvation,” said the man.
“The idea!” laughed Mr. Harris. “Why, man, you are wearing a better coat than I have!”
“You would not talk so,” he replied in a tremulous voice, “if you had seen how hard my poor wife rubbed and brushed my coat this morning so that I would present a respectable appearance.”
Harris then saw that the coat was old, almost threadbare, but exceedingly clean and neat. He glanced again at the man’s face.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I was very busy when you came, and spoke thoughtlessly. Now that I think of it, I do need some soap. Fact is, I am completely out.”
“Thank you,” interrupted the man. “Here are three cakes for a quarter.”
“Nonsense!” said Harris. “Here is a five-dollar bill. I will take it all in soap. Got to have it—couldn’t do without it—always buy it in five-dollar lots.”