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Arthur Chapman's "Christmas Shopping at Cactus Center"

Updated on October 31, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Christmas Shopping at Cactus Center"

Chapman's "Christmas Shopping at Cactus Center" dramatizes a humorous story featuring a "drug store toilet set," the new school teacher, and a free-for-all that she did not appreciate.

Chapman's cowboy Christmas poem features a narrator who speaks "cowboy," a fascinating dialect that adds spice and sparkle to this genre of poetry.

Christmas Shopping in Cactus Center

Women's scarce in Cactus Center, and there ain't no bargain stores
Fer to start them Monday rushes that break down the stoutest doors;
But we had some Christmas shoppin' that the town ain't over yet,
Jest because of one small woman and a drug store toilet set.

She was Cactus Center's teacher, and she had n't left the stage
'Fore she had the boys plum locoed—and I don't bar youth nor age;
She was cute and smart and pretty, and she might 'a' been here yet
If it had n't been fer Dawson and his drug store toilet set.

It was old and scratched and speckled, for 't was in his case for years,
But ol' Dawson, sharp and clever, put a whisper in our ears—
'Lowed he'd sell that set at auction, and he says: "Now, boys, you bet
This 'ill make a hit with Teacher—this here swell new toilet set."

Well the biddin' stated lively, and it got to gettin' hot,
For every mind in Cactus on that single thing was sot;
Purty soon I'd staked my saddle, worth two hundred dollars net,
Jest to own fer one short second that blamed drug store toilet set.

It was then began the shootin'—no one seems to know jest how—
And 't was lack of ammunition that at last broke up the row;
And thirteen of us was hurted, but the worst blow that we met
Was in findin' that some bullets had gone through that toilet set.

But we plugged the punctures in it, and we plugged the wounded, too,
And agreed we'd arbitrate it, and the bunch 'd see it through;
So we sent a gift committee, but they came back sorer yet—
Fer the teacher'd fluttered Eastward—so we've got that toilet set.

Commentary

First Stanza: "Women's scarce in Cactus Center, and there ain't no bargain stores"

Women's scarce in Cactus Center, and there ain't no bargain stores
Fer to start them Monday rushes that break down the stoutest doors;
But we had some Christmas shoppin' that the town ain't over yet,
Jest because of one small woman and a drug store toilet set.

The narrator describes his little western town of Cactus Center as being scarce of women, and with the lack of women it logically follows that there "ain't no bargain stores." Thus, this little town does not experience those big sales events that cause the ladies to "break down the stoutest doors."

But once upon a time, there was "some Christmas shoppin'" that caused such a ruckus that Cactus Center "ain't over it" still. And this particular shopping spree involved one small woman and a drug store toilet set.

Second Stanza: "She was Cactus Center's teacher, and she had n't left the stage"

She was Cactus Center's teacher, and she had n't left the stage
'Fore she had the boys plum locoed—and I don't bar youth nor age;
She was cute and smart and pretty, and she might 'a' been here yet
If it had n't been fer Dawson and his drug store toilet set.

The woman in question was a new schoolteacher who, even before she was completely settled in, became the talk of the town.

Both old and young men went "plum locoed" over her. The narrator reckons that she would still be there if it had not been for that drug store toilet set.

Third Stanza: "It was old and scratched and speckled, for 't was in his case for years"

It was old and scratched and speckled, for 't was in his case for years,
But ol' Dawson, sharp and clever, put a whisper in our ears—
'Lowed he'd sell that set at auction, and he says: "Now, boys, you bet
This 'ill make a hit with Teacher—this here swell new toilet set."

The toilet set had been in Dawson's drugstore for years, and "it was old and scratched and speckled." But sharp and clever Dawson sent out a buzz that he was going to auction off the toilet set, and he encouraged the teacher's admirers to believe that whoever presented the toilet set to her as Christmas gift would find favor in her eyes.

Fourth Stanza: "Well the biddin' stated lively, and it got to gettin' hot"

Well the biddin' stated lively, and it got to gettin' hot,
For every mind in Cactus on that single thing was sot;
Purty soon I'd staked my saddle, worth two hundred dollars net,
Jest to own fer one short second that blamed drug store toilet set.

The narrator describes the blow by blow that went down after "the biddin'" got underway. He says, "it got to getting hot." Every one of those smitten cowboys was determined to win that gift for the schoolmarm.

Even the narrator admits that he "stake[s] [his] saddle" on it, and the saddle was worth $200.00—a lot of money for a cowhand back then. And he exaggerates that all this for just one short second of owning that "blamed drug store toilet set."

Fifth Stanza: "It was then began the shootin' -- no one seems to know jest how"

It was then began the shootin'—no one seems to know jest how—
And 't was lack of ammunition that at last broke up the row;
And thirteen of us was hurted, but the worst blow that we met
Was in findin' that some bullets had gone through that toilet set.

Suddenly, an outbreak of "shootin'" begins; nobody knew why or how firearms got into the act, but if they had not run out of bullets, the melee would have lasted longer and with unpredictable, but probably negative, results.

Thirteen cowpokes "was hurted," but even worse news was that bullets had managed to pass through that "blamed toilet set."

Sixth Stanza: "But we plugged the punctures in it, and we plugged the wounded, too"

But we plugged the punctures in it, and we plugged the wounded, too,
And agreed we'd arbitrate it, and the bunch 'd see it through;
So we sent a gift committee, but they came back sorer yet—
Fer the teacher'd fluttered Eastward—so we've got that toilet set.

The good news is that they were able to "plug[ ] the punctures" in the toilet set, and they also were able to get those thirteen wounded cowboys bandaged up.

They then had to decide what to do with the toilet set, and they concluded that they would form a gift committee to take the set to the teacher.

But sadly when the gift committee returned, they all felt "sorer yet" because the teacher had hightailed it back Eastward. Seems the rootin' tootin' western town of Cactus Center was not this eastern schoolmarm's cup of tea.

Arthur Chapman's Cactus Center

Source

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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