Wally “Really Finds Out If Everything”

[Wally] was always getting into difficulties because he was experimenting. He was always trying something new. One time he decided that he was going to do something to really find out if everything. . . .

Burning Suitcase, Will MartinHe filled a suitcase with straw, you know, excelsior. And then he put an electric bulb in there, attached to the wire, to then the ceiling, and turned it on. He forgot all about it and he came upstairs and we had supper. All at once we smelled smoke and here was this suitcase burning. ‘Course the electric bulb was on fire, you know I mean, was lit. It burned all that suitcase full of straw. Why we didn’t get a fire, I don’t know. Why we didn’t get burned out!

[Barb]: He was only a little guy when he did that, wasn’t he?

Well, he wasn’t much bigger than Taylor. So I don’t like to have Taylor here while we’re saying these things. I don’t like to make any suggestions.

Well, that was one thing he did.

[Barb]: What was the. . . . You told me a story about the man who—your memory is so much better than mine—the little man that said Wally was ingenious. What had Wally, he done?

Oh, that was my landlord in the house, you know we showed you the house where we lived upstairs. Well, we lived in the whole house, but I think there was somebody upstairs we showed you.

Wally was always, he was never. . . . I could never be sure that he was going to be home. As soon as he had opportunity, he disappeared. He was always going to the railroad. The railroad was not far from the back of us. Where we lived there was a big fence and then the railroad ran right there.

Anyway, he went up to Mr. Jones’s house. He used to play with the fish, the gold-fish. And the watering was, I don’t know what you call it. Where it had. . . .

[Barb]: Aquarium.

Well, it was sort of aquarium, but it was out-of-doors, you know.

[Barb]: A little pond?

It had a place. . . . It stood, oh maybe, 4 or 5 feet high.

[Barb]: I can picture it, I think. One of these out-door. . . .

It had an opening. It was a few goldfish were in there and he’d play up there. I cautioned him about going up there. He had no business up there. Then he played and he knocked the whole thing over and of course the fish all died.

He was a very smart kid. He used to go up to Mr. Jones’s house. There was a man there named Joseph that used to help Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones owned 4 or 5 houses there and he would go round and make repairs. Wally always was following after him to, you know, kind of. . . . He was interested in this fellow. He used to call him “Usle.” His name was Joseph. How he ever got that name, but I don’t know, but anyway.

[Barb]: Maybe that’s where Wally picked up his talent to repair things.

I wouldn’t be surprised because he was always following after this man. He was wishing him in Halifax because he picked up his tools, you know, and played with them.

partial transcription of Virginia’s life story as told to Barbara Duncan (Wally’s wife) in the summer of 1987, courtesy of Barbara Duncan

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • To which home is Grandma referring?
  • Taylor was 7 or 8 years old in 1987 when Grandma was telling this story. She thinks Wally was no older when he lit the fire. Anybody know exactly how old Wally was?
  • How old was he when he knocked the thing over and killed the fish?
  • Does Lee remember Mr. Jones or Usle/Joseph? What does she recall?
  • Setting fire to things seems to be family theme, at least among the boys. Do we have stories of Paul doing that? Steve? Can you tell it/them?
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