Aunt Sally pushed the door open and promptly dropped all her parcels. “My grief,” she gasped. “We were only trying to even off the legs,” said Jimmie eagerly. “You said you …

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 3, 1942.

“It’s time,” uttered Jimmie Frise, “that we quit thinking that machines were going to win this war.”

“You must admit,” I pointed out, “that airplanes and tanks and machine tools are playing an important part.”

“Nothing,” declared Jim firmly, “nothing but brains will win this war and it is time we woke up to that fact. Machines are all very well. But look at them. All over the deserts of the world, all over the jungles, the beaches, the mountains, the machines are strewn in tangled and rusty wreckage. And where are we? Just about where we started. Both sides. Machines nearly won the war in 1940 when the Germans overran France and just about blitzed Britain to pieces. But nearly isn’t enough. Something bigger than machines beat them.”

“Was it brains?” I inquired bitterly.

“No, it wasn’t brains,” admitted Jim, “but it was the next thing to them – the human spirit. The blind human spirit, which needs only brains to make it supreme over fate itself.”

“The best brains in all countries,” I asserted, “have been devoted to the production of machines as being the winning factor in this great struggle.”

“It occurs to me,” stated Jimmie, “that it was not the best brains of all countries but merely the most highly paid brains of all countries that filled us full of this machine war stuff. I imagine the biggest paid brains in the world, in Germany, France, Britain and America, were these hired by the machine making industries of the world before the outbreak of war. The minute war loomed, these bimboes immediately saw the opportunity for themselves as well as for their industries. So they put on a powerful campaign to convince us that their machines would win the war for us.”

“I must admit,” I confessed, “that there was a decided similarity in the early stages of the war between propaganda and big business advertising. After all, you would hardly expect the board of directors of a big machinery industry to sit back and let moujiks win the war with clubs and pitchforks.”

“We let the wrong kind of brains,” declared Jim, “lead us into this war and the wrong kind of brains are still selling us machinery. The Japs only use machinery where 1,000 or 10,000 human lives won’t do the job better and cheaper. We go on the theory that a $50,000 machine is cheaper than one human life.”

Hypnotized by Machines

“Isn’t that so?” I demanded indignantly.

“Yes, it is so,” said Jim. “But meanwhile will it win the war? My own idea is that nobody above the rank of foreman should be allowed to have any further share in the war thinking. Let us get rid of all presidents, chairmen of the board, general managers, managers and even superintendents. To date, in all countries, these have loused things up good.”

“It is merely silly,” I declared, “to think that it is not a machine war. What gave the Germans command of France in 40 days in 1940? Simply this: that they had 11 armored divisions and we had only one.”

“If we had had any brains,” countered Jim, “we could have starved and gunned those 11 divisions into eternity in 10 days. All we had to do, about May 15, 1940, once we saw what those 11 armored German divisions were doing, was to bring ashore a British admiral.”

“An admiral?” I protested.

“Yes, a British admiral,” said Jimmie, “and appoint him generalissimo of the Allied forces. Because we knew by May 15 that all that was happening was that 11 flotillas of battleships were loose in the land. A British admiral would have figured the thing out in one night. By noon of May 16, the British army would have been converted into a seagoing institution. The artillery of the British army would have been converted into tank hunters – as they are in Libya today – and the British infantry would have been converted into an organization to serve the guns. There would not have been a German tank in France by May 30.”

“You’re very wise after the fact,” I snooted.

“All we did,” declared Jim, “was spread our infantry out, as in the Boer or Crimean war, and put our artillery back of them to support them. It was pie for tanks. All we had to do was to turn our infantry into a tank-seeking force whose only other job, after locating the tanks, was to act as horses, mules and human tractors, to drag those guns to where they could shoot tanks. It was that simple. But nobody could think simply. They were hypnotized by machines.”

“I’m willing to bet you,” I informed him, “that it will be a machine – a new, astonishing. revolutionary machine, that will win this war.”

“What will win this war,” retorted Jimmie, “is more likely to be something as simple and homely and old-fashioned as Aunt Sally’s cranberry pie.”

“Cranberry pie?” I exclaimed.

“We’ll be at Aunt Sally’s,” said Jim glancing at his wrist watch, “in five minutes. And within five minutes more, I bet you we will be sitting at the kitchen table eating a quarter of a cranberry pie each.”

“She keeps them handy?” I suggested,

“From now on,” said Jim dreamily, “Aunt Sally always has cranberry pies in the pantry. She makes them with the open face you know: with strips of pastry across, instead of the usual lid on a pie. It’s a great wonder to me that cranberry pie is not equally popular in Canada with blueberry pie. The cranberry is an even more widely distributed berry than the blueberry. You find cranberries from coast to coast and right up to the Arctic Circle. And, boy, do they taste good, with their queer, tangy, wild flavor!”

“They’re the perfect autumn flavor,” I agreed. “I bet a cranberry has more vitamins in it than alfalfa.”

“It is my private opinion,” declared Jim, “that wild ducks, robins and geese and all the birds that have to fly to the Gulf of Mexico, eat a few cranberries before setting out. And that’s what gives them the pep to go that awful journey through space and storm.”

And in less than five minutes we were in Aunt Sally’s side drive and rapping at her side-door.

“Mercy, Jim,” she cried when she opened the door. “It’s you, and I haven’t a cranberry pie in the house!”

“Nonsense,” said Jim, heartily, “it wasn’t for cranberry pie we came to see you. We just happened to be passing this way…”

“It’s a queer thing,” said Aunt Sally, taking our hats and coats and pulling out kitchen chairs for us, “but you never happen past my house except in October and November.”

“Nonsense,” laughed Jimmie.

“I’ll go out right away,” said Aunt Sally, “and get some cranberries. I’ve got to go out and do a little shopping anyway…”

But before she went she had to sit down and chat for a while. She had to get all the family news from Jim since last November, almost.

Aunt Sally is one of those ladies who talk best while resting their elbows on the table. And in chatting with her, it is best to rest your elbows on the table too. It is the natural attitude for the kind of intimate. easy gossip of which Aunt Sally is mistress.

“Drat this table,” exclaimed Aunt Sally, as she rested her elbows. “It’s got one short leg and it keeps wobbling around.”

“Put a bit of paper under the short leg,” said Jim.

“I do, but I sweep it up when I’m redding up,” said Aunt Sally, stooping over to examine the defective leg.

“All tables,” stated Jimmie, “should have only three legs. No table needs more than three legs. But they always put four legs on a table, and in the course of time one leg warps and you’ve got to joggle in it.”

To Cure the Wobble

So we all three rested our elbows on it, which held it more or less solid except when one or the other of us lifted our weight for a minute, and then the table interrupted the flow of whoever was talking at the moment by giving a sharp little tip and making a bump with its shortest leg.

“Drat the thing,” repeated Aunt Sally, rising and getting her hat. “I’ve been going to nail a little piece of shingle on that short leg for the past 10 years. Now, boys, I’ll only be 15 minutes. And when I come back you can sort the cranberries while I mix the pastry, and it won’t be half an hour before we have a cranberry pie. And a fine pot of tea.”

And she bustled off, without Jimmie even offering to drive her up to the corner in his car.

“I figure,” said Jim, when she slammed the door, “we can fix her table for her while she’s out.”

So he opened the pantry drawers and found a hammer, saw, a tin of assorted nails. And after exploring around the back kitchen and the yard, we found a small piece of a cigar box lid which had been used to cover a knothole in the back fence.

“We’ll use this,” said Jim. “I remember nailing this piece of cigar box on that very knothole 30 years ago. It was to keep a lot of little girls who lived next door then from spying on our Indian camp we had here in Aunt Sally’s yard.”

We turned the table over, with its legs in the air, and with my sharp penknife whittled the piece of cigar box into a disc just the right size to fit over the defective leg of the table. By testing carefully, we had determined it was the northeast leg that was short. With two small tacks we nailed the disc on the leg and then reversed the table to its normal position.

“Worse than ever,” declared Jim, as we tried the table. It joggled now in three directions instead of one. Now it has three short legs.”

So we turned the table over on its back again and studied the problem.

“Let’s,” I suggested, “cut a thin slice off all three other legs, to bring them to the same length as the warped one.”

“Why didn’t we think of that at first?” cried Jim, seizing the saw.

“Careful to get it flat across,” I warned, holding the leg while Jim worked the saw and got it to start its bite into the old dry wood of the table leg.

After one slice, the others came easy. A saw is like that. It soon understands what you require of it. And we took a neat slice off the three legs and reversed the table in to its feet again.

We touched it and it teetered like a seesaw.

“Good heavens,” I said.

“We must have cut the short one by mistake,” worked out Jim.

It was obvious, on examination, that that is exactly what we had done: for now we had one very long leg, two medium long legs and one very short leg, which had been the short one.

“Okay,” said Jim, upturning the table again, “we’ll measure them this time. We’ll do it scientifically.”

With the broom-handle we measured the shortest leg, marked the length with a pencil, and then checked off an equal length on the three other legs, to get them all the same.

“Make it snappy,” I warned Jim. “Let’s have it done before Aunt Sally gets back.”

Jim sliced off the three discs in record time. And we turned the table back on its legs feeling sure the problem was solved.

“Heck,” said Jim heatedly.

For there was a worse wobble than ever. From whatever side you touched the table it teetered.

We got down on hands and knees and studied the situation.

“I think,” I offered, that you’ve got them on the slant. You can see each leg is sort of standing on tip toe.”

“It still shouldn’t wobble,” said Jim, giving it a nasty push.

“Measure them up again,” I said resolutely. “This time let me do the sawing. I’m shorter. I can see what I am doing better than you.”

Again we upturned the table. And after carefully measuring the leg lengths with the broom-handle, marking the length of the shortest leg on each of the others, I set to work and sawed off, net a thin wafer, as Jim had tried to do, but a good substantial chunk.

“We’ll have enough for croquinole.” muttered Jim, anxiously, as he watched me at work.

When Dee Dee, Aunt Sally’s little dog, scratched at the kitchen door we knew we were in for it. Aunt Sally pushed the door open and promptly dropped all her parcels.

“My grief,” she gasped.

“We were only trying to even off the legs,” said Jimmie eagerly. “You said you…”

“It isn’t the legs,” cried Aunt Sally brokenly. “It’s the top that has warped. You would never get them level by sawing the legs even.”

“Well, who ever would have thought of that?” exclaimed Jimmie indignantly. “Anybody would imagine that a table that wobbled had a short leg…”

“It’s never a short leg,” snorted Aunt Sally angrily. “It’s always a warped top. Anybody that knows anything about tables would know that.”

“Which teaches us,” I chimed in, “never to meddle with things we don’t know anything about.”

“Like tables?” said Jimmie. “Then what do we know about?”

“Oh, wars and things,” I sighed, putting the saw back on its hook in the pantry.

So we sorted the cranberries while Aunt Sally, with many a backward look at the sorely stunted table, mixed the pie crust on the cupboard edge.

And while the two pies were in the oven Jimmie and I went three doors south to Mr. Dimmick, the carpenter and cabinet-maker, and arranged with his wife for him to come up after supper and organize four new legs for Aunt Sally’s kitchen table.

Editor’s Notes: Moujiks are a term for Russian peasants.

“Redding up” is an old term meaning to wash up, or tidy.

Croquinole, or Crokinole, is a disc flicking board game from Canada.