The next time you see an antique pot belly stove, remember this marriage satire. It describes a frustrating domestic chore that we no longer deal with. Thank goodness!

Putting Up A Stove Pipe
by James Montgomery Bailey
(a.k.a. the “Danbury News Man”)

Putting Up a Stovepipe

Putting up a stove is not so difficult in itself. It is the pipe that raises four-fifths of the mischief and all the dust. You may take down a stove with all the care in the world, and yet that pipe won’t come together again as it was before. You find this out when you are standing on a chair with your arms full of pipe, and your mouth full of soot. Your wife is standing on the floor in a position that enables her to see you, the pipe and the chair, and here she gives utterance to those remarks that are calculated to hasten a man into the extremes of insanity. Her apron is pinned over her waist, and her hands rest on her hips. She has got one of your hats on her head, and your linen coat on her back, and a pair of galoshes on her feet. There is about five cents’ worth of pot-black on her nose and a lot of flour on her chin, and altogether she is a spectacle that would inspire a dead man with distrust. And while you are up there trying to circumvent the awful contrariness of the pipe, and telling that you know some fool has been mixing it, she stands safely on the floor, and bombards you with such domestic mottoes as, “What’s the use of swearing so?” “You know no one has touched that pipe.” “You ain’t got any more patience than a child.” “Do be careful of that chair.” And then she goes off, and reappears with an armful more of pipe, and before you are aware of it she has got that pipe so horribly mixed up that it does seem no two pieces are alike.

You join the ends and work them to and fro, and to and fro again, and then you take them apart and look at them. Then you spread one out and jam the other together, and mount them once more. But it is no go. You begin to think that the pieces are inspired with life, and ache to kick them through the window. But she doesn’t lose her patience. She goes around with that awfully exasperating rigging on, with a length of pipe under each arm and a long-handled broom in her hand, and says she don’t see how it is some people never have any trouble putting up a stove. Then you miss the hammer. You don’t see it any where. You stare into the pipe, along the mantel, and down on the stove, and off to the floor. Your wife watches you, and is finally thoughtful enough to inquire what you are looking after, and, on learning, pulls the article from her pocket. Then you feel as if you could go outdoors, and swear a hole twelve feet square through a block of brick buildings; but she meekly observes: “Why on earth don’t you speak when you want any thing, and not stare around like a dummy?”

When that part of the pipe, which goes through the wall is up, she keeps it up with the broom while you are making the connection, and stares at it with an intensity that is entirely uncalled for. All the while your position is becoming more and more interesting. The pipe don’t go together, of course. The soot shakes down into your eyes and mouth, the sweat rolls down your face, and tickles your chin as it drops of, and it seems as if your arms are slowly but surely drawing out of their sockets.

Here your wife comes to the rescue by inquiring if you are going to be all day doing nothing, and if you think her arms are made of cast-iron; and then the broom slips off the pipe, and in her endeavor to recover her hold, she jabs you under the chin with the handle, and the pipe comes down on your head with its load of fried soot, and then the chair tilts forward enough to discharge your feet, and you come down on the wrong end of that chair, with a force that would bankrupt a piledriver. You don’t touch that stove again. You leave your wife examining the chair, and bemoaning its injuries; and go into the kitchen, and wash your skinned and bleeding hands with yellow soap. Then you go down the street after a specialty man to do the business, and your wife goes over to the neighbors with her chair, and tells them about its suffering from your abuse, and she drains the neighborhood dry of its sympathy long before you return.

Return to Short Stories to Read Online from Putting Up a Stove Pipe