Sitting surrounded by my children and fortified by many tons of coal at $20 a ton against the northern winter, it pleases me to look back upon the days of my youth. Back and back, as the flames flicker, I seem to gaze upon those very first moments of my literary career, and the years give up a certain name to be pondered upon—the name of a companion of my youth, now, like me, a white-beard grown old in the service of letters—his name, Donald Ogden Stewart.
How well do I remember our first meeting! It was at a dinner of Sidney Strong’s at the University Club.2 Donald Ogden Stewart said:
“How do you do?”
And quick as a flash I answered.
“Very well thank you.”
With these first words we seemed to understand that there was a kinship between us. We were not monkeys, but MEN. There was no doubt about it. We could talk, we could laugh, we could shimmee—
Ah, the old days! Those quaint old fashioned dances like the shimmee— How different from the rough boisterous steps I see performed by the youngsters of today. But I depart from the subject; the old man’s mind is feeble and it wanders.
The first thing he said to me, I think, was: “Let’s commit a burglary!”
Oh, the simple hearts of those days, the pleasures!
Then he wanted us to break the windows of an undertaker just established on Summit Ave.3 I remember the smile of amusement that this quaint old idea aroused. But that was Don—innocent, trying always to see things for the best. After that, I remember him at a party. He caused to be thrown on a white screen, upside down, a picture of a religious revival in South Africa, and in his naive and gullible way he thought, he believed, mind you, that this was the photograph of the reunion of a certain family well known in St. Paul. He believed it! And of course everybody was laughing at him. Nobody believed it was that family. Why, the people in the picture were upside down. It was absurd.
Then at another party he pretended that he was a ventriloquist. That’s what he told everybody. And anybody who was at the party could see that he was not. All it took was common sense to see that he wasn’t. The doll that he was supposed to have in his lap was not a doll. It was a real fellow. How he thought he’d get away with it, I don’t know. Everybody that came knew it wasn’t a doll even when it moved its mouth and head. So they gave poor Don the laugh as usual and made a guy of him. He felt pretty cheap after that.
How cheerful was St. Paul while he was here. He made all the women feel beautiful and all the men feel witty. He went to the opening of a “one-building university” down in southern Minnesota, enrolled as a freshman, made the football team and was initiated into the Delta Omicron Psi fraternity. Then his vacation was over, and he came back to St. Paul to his position—putting up telephone wires or tearing them down or something.
When the snow came he would throw snowballs against my window about midnight, and we would stroll out Summit Ave. wondering if we had the nerve to call on Father Barron4 and start a small-hours discussion as to the ascetic ideals of the 13th century or whether, after all, we hadn’t better break the undertaker’s window to assert the sacrosanctity of Summit Ave. against the invasions of mortuary commerce.
Sometimes, when the snow-covered boulevard was deserted, we would give his favorite Colgate college cheer—“Comes out like a ribbon, lies flat on the brush”5—or he would speculate as to how he could inject his synthetic gin of humor into an imitation vermouth party that promised to be awfully dull.
It’s not the same town without him—so say many of us. A scandal is only a scandal, but he could turn a Sunday School picnic into a public holiday. But we were all young then. And as I look around at my white-haired compatriots I wonder that the old days have gone. Ah, that was away back before the arms conference, when Fatty Arbuckle6 was still respectable, when bobbed hair was considered daring. Sic transit. The author of A Parody Outline of History7 and I are old men. I realize at last that our work is behind us and our day is done.
1. Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980), American humorist whose friendship with Fitzgerald began in St. Paul before the publication of This Side of Paradise.
2. In St. Paul, Minnesota.
3. The principal residential street in St. Paul.
4. Joseph Barron, a priest who was Fitzgerald’s friend in St. Paul.
5. This joke depends on confusing Colgate College with Colgate toothpaste.
6. Movie comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887—1933) was banned from the movies after he was tried for—but acquitted of—rape.
Published in St. Paul Daily News newspaper (11 December 1921, City Life Section).
Illustrations by ?.