by Carl Sandburg
Part of his 1922
collection Rootabaga Stories
Jason Squiff was a cistern
cleaner. He had greenish yellowish hair.
If you looked down into a cistern when he was lifting buckets of slush
and mud you could tell where he was, you could pick him out down in the
dark cistern, by the lights of his greenish yellowish hair
Sometimes the buckets of slush and mud tipped over and ran down on
the top of his head. This covered his greenish yellowish hair. And
then it was hard to tell where he was and it was not easy to pick him
out down in the dark where he was cleaning the cistern.
One day Jason Squiff came to the Bimber house and knocked on the
"Did I understand," he said, speaking to Mrs. Bimber, Blixie
's mother, "do I understand you sent for me to clean the cistern
in your backyard?"
"You understand exactly such," said Mrs. Bimber, "and you are
welcome as the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la-la
"Then I will go to work and clean the cistern, tra-la-la," he
answered, speaking to Mrs. Bimber. "I'm the guy, tra-la-la," he said
further, running his excellent fingers through his greenish yellowish
hair which was shining brightly.
He began cleaning the cistern. Blixie Bimber came out in the
backyard. She looked down in the cistern. It was all dark. It looked
like nothing but all dark down there. By and by she saw something
greenish yellowish. She watched it. Soon she saw it was Jason Squiff's
head and hair. And then she knew the cistern was being cleaned and
Jason Squiff was on the job. So she sang tra-la-la and went back into
the house and told her mother Jason Squiff was on the job.
The last bucketful of slush and mud came at last for Jason Squiff.
He squinted at the bottom. Something was shining. He reached his
fingers down through the slush
and took out what was shining.
It was the gold buckskin whincher
Blixie Bimber lost from the gold
chain around her neck the week before when she was looking down into the
cistern to see what she could see. It was exactly the same gold buck-
skin whincher shining and glittering like a sign of happiness
," said Jason Squiff, wiping his fingers on his greenish
yellowish hair. Then he put the gold buckskin whincher in his vest
pocket and spoke to himself again, "It's luck."
A little after six o'clock that night Jason Squiff stepped into his
house and home and said hello
to his wife and daughters. They all began
to laugh. Their laughter was a ticklish laughter
"Something funny is happening
," he said.
"And you are it
," they all laughed at him again with ticklish
Then they showed him. His hat was popcorn, his mittens popcorn and
his shoes popcorn. He didn't know the gold buckskin whincher had a
power and was working all the time. He didn't know the whincher in his
vest pocket was saying, "You have a letter Q in your name and because
you have the pleasure and happiness of having a Q in your name
have a popcorn hat, popcorn mittens and popcorn shoes."
The next morning he put on another hat, another pair of mittens and
another pair of shoes. And the minute he put them on they changed to
So he tried on all his hats, mittens and shoes. Always they changed
to popcorn the minute he had them on.
He went downtown to the stores. He bought a new hat, mittens and
shoes. And the minute he had them on they changed to popcorn
So he decided he would go to work and clean cisterns with his pop-
corn hat, popcorn mittens and popcorn shoes on.
The people of the Village of Cream Puffs
enjoyed watching him walk
up the street, going to clean cisterns. People five and six blocks away
could see him coming and going with his popcorn hat, popcorn mittens and
When he was down in a cistern the children enjoyed looking down into
the cistern to see him work. When none of the slush and mud fell on his
hat and mittens he was easy to find. The light of the shining popcorn
lit up the whole inside of the cistern.
Sometimes, of course, the white popcorn got full of black slush and
black mud. And then when Jason Squiff came up and walked home he was
not quite so dazzling to look at.
It was a funny winter for Jason Squiff.
"It's a crime, a dirty crime
," he said to himself. "Now I can never
be alone with my thoughts. Everybody looks at me when I go up the
"If I meet a funeral
even the pall bearer
s begin to laugh at my
popcorn hat. If I meet people going to a wedding they throw all the
rice at me as if I am a bride and a groom all together.
"The horses try to eat my hat wherever I go. Three hats I have fed
to horses this winter.
"And if I accidentally drop one of my mittens the chickens eat it."
Then Jason Squiff began to change. He became proud.
"I always wanted a beautiful hat like this white popcorn hat," he
said to himself. "And I always wanted white beautiful mittens and white
beautiful shoes like these white popcorn mittens and shoes."
When the boys yelled, "Snow man
! yah-de-dah-de-dah, Snow man!" he
just waved his hand to them with an upward gesture of his arm to show he
was proud of how he looked.
"They all watch for me," he said to himself, "I am distinguished
am I not?" he asked himself.
And he put his right hand into his left hand and shook hands with
himself and said, "You certainly look fixed up."
One day he decided to throw away his vest. In the vest pocket was
the gold buckskin whincher, with the power working, the power saying,
"You have a letter Q in your name and because you have the pleasure and
happiness of having a Q in your name you must have a popcorn hat, pop-
corn mittens and popcorn shoes."
Yes, he threw away the vest. He forgot all about the gold buckskin
whincher being in the vest.
He just handed the vest to a rag man
. And the rag man put the vest
with the gold buckskin whincher in a bag on his back and walked away.
After that Jason Squiff was like other people. His hats would never
change to popcorn nor his mittens to popcorn nor his shoes to popcorn.
And when anybody looked at him down in a cistern cleaning the
cistern or when anybody saw him walking along the street they knew him
by his greenish yellowish hair which was always full of bright lights.
And so--if you have a Q in your name, be careful if you ever come
across a gold buckskin whincher. Remember different whinchers have