Untangling Little Joe

THINGS may not be the same all over, but as for me, I would not know where to take a pair of shoes to be half soled. Is the village cobbler a gone goose? And having, indeed, a pair of used shoes that need repair, I chuckled in recollection of Joe Lefebre, who was the cobbler of my choice well over a half century ago, and whose tales of his Canadian boyhood were well worth the wait it took to hear one. Joe's broken French-English mustn't be attempted in print. He came from a small town on Quebec's North Shore - which is the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. A place named St. Something.

He had come down to Maine during the days of recruiting weavers for our cotton mills in those little Quebec communities, but as he had done some cobbling he soon left the mill and set himself up as his own boss. His stories took a long time as he struggled with his English, but another delay came from the nails in his mouth. Cobblers do - or did - that. He'd tip a package of nails up and dump a supply in his mouth, to push them one by one through his lips to thumb and finger. Then he'd go around the sole of a shoe with his little flat hammer, but he couldn't talk until his supply ebbed, and then he'd have to stop talking again when he replenished.

So when I took a pair of shoes to Joe, I'd have to sit on his visitor's stool and get his yarns a bit at a time. His stories were all good, and his best one was about the time he became a contortionist.

One day, in the little town of St. Something, the people heard that a circus would come. Not to that town, but to St. Whatever, a few miles downriver toward Tadoussac, so attending would be a bit of a ride for the Lefebre family, of which Joe, 6, was the youngest.

But Father Lefebre decided a circus was novelty enough to go, and excitement ran high. There was little money, but enough pennies so each of the 10 children might have a sugar cone, and then they could all get inside the tent on a family ticket. Mother Lefebre and the girls made a basket of lunch, and on the glorious Saturday off went the Lefebres to the circus in the two-seater, the horse trotting pleasantly as thank-you for a holiday from farm work.

The circus was wonderful! They saw the animals do their tricks, fed scraps of their sandwiches to the elephant, and there was a fire-eater and a juggler and a lady on a swing - and a contortionist. Joe, my cobbler, remembered the contortionist best all the days of his life.

Because the next day was Sunday, and the Lefebre family had to get back on the two-seater and ride in the other direction to St. Otherwise - to church. But Little Joe had enjoyed altogether too much circus Saturday, and come Sunday morning he expressed a willingness to stay in bed and forgo church. His father and mother looked at him, and it was decided Little Joe should stay home because of his surfeit of circus, so he pulled the covers back over his head and went to sleep. As he dozed off he could hear the horse and the two-seater on the dooryard gravel, and then all was silent in the big farmhouse and Little Joe was alone. He dreamed about the juggler and the lady on the swing - and the contortionist!

Ah, that contortionist! How did he do it? Little Joe came awake, and he wondered how the contortionist did that. So he put one knee up behind his ears and looked out from under his own feet, and Little Joe could see that it wasn't all that hard. He got himself all rolled up like a ball of yarn, and then he walked around on the bed on his hands - just like the contortionist. Nothing to it!

Except that when Little Joe decided he had played contortionist long enough he couldn't unwind himself. Strain and strive with all his might, and he couldn't get his foot out of his armpit and his knee was stuck behind his ear.

There was Little Joe on the bed when the Lefebre family returned from church, all rolled up in a ball on the bed, helplessly tied in a knot. Mother Lefebre began to cry. Father Lefebre hurried from the grisly scene to reharness the horse and ride again to St. Otherwise to fetch le m'edecin. When the doctor came he gave Little Joe a gentle push that sprung him loose. Then the doctor and all the Lefebres had breakfast and everybody made a lot of fun of Little Joe for trying to be a contortionist. That made him feel he was something of a hero.

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