Monday, March 30, 2009

The Deacon's Masterpiece, or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay

I first came across this poem in fifth grade, in a class taught by a wonderful "old-school" teacher, Miss Diana Hill (it was always "Miss" never ever Ms.). A woman who didn't just grow old gracefully, but exuberantly. She was well past sixty when I had her for English, History, Homeroom, and I count myself lucky to have known her. Silver-haired, clear eyed, with a tongue like an adze, a mind like a razor, and a zeal and zest for teaching. If you picture the heroine from "Titanic" as the old woman, combine her with the best of Peter O'Toole's "Mr. Chips," and add a dash Puck, that was Miss Diana Hill. When I was in 7th grade I took oil painting lessons, and Miss Diana Hill was another student in the artist's class, still trying new things.

We say "kids these days don't know what it was like way back when;" a trite expression, but I truly regret my daughters never got to hear from her what WWI was like to a teenager, or how families came both together and apart in the great depression, about letters from former students from Anzio, and Truk, and Iwo, about Lindburgh and Apollo, and the first time a television came to town, and being faced with a mimeograph with no instructions--talk about the terrors of technology. So much of our past is vision that can't be shared; bright, personal images that are fleeting as soap bubbles.

Anyway, this poem has been running through my head as I've cut trees, planed "white wood that cuts like cheese" and tried to get into the head of a 14th century joiner, whilst using 21st century tools. Enjoy...
HAVE you heard of the wonderful one-hoss-shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it--ah, but stay
I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,
--Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
Georgius Secundus was then alive,
--Snuffy old drone from the German hive;
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss-shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot,
--In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,--lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,--
Above or below, or within or without,--
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do),
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou,"
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'n' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it couldn' break daown!
--"Fur," said the Deacon, "t's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;
'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,
--That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees,
The panels of whitewood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum,"
Last of its timber,--they couldn't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew."

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren--where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss-shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED;--it came and found
The Deacon's Masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten;
--"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came;
--Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it.--You 're welcome.--No extra charge.)

FIRST OF NOVEMBER,--the Earthquake-day.
--There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay--
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn't be,--for the Deacon's art,
Had made it so like in every part,
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whippletree neither less nor more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore,
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss-shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson. --Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday's text,
--Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the--Moses--was coming next.

All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill--
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,
--And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half-past nine by the meet'n'-house clock,
--Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!

What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,
--All at once, and nothing first,--
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss-shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'm baaa-aack

So, I've basically been napping for a month, and the mostly completed dog-cart sprang into being suddenly after a major headache, like Athena.


I swear remodeling looks soooo easy on the DIY shows. When we bought our house 8 years ago shortly before our wedding I 'guesstimated' a five year renovation plan. Despite being a lifelong conservative there must be some Bolshevik in me as I haven't come close to meeting any five year plan yet. Sigh.

The house had a very large 2.5 car garage. When we moved in I started out putting the McKennawerks in the garage, since it had nice 10' ceilings; but Gen, bless her, kept bugging me to move to the much larger basement area, even though it has a lower ceiling, insisting I would need the room. She was right, of course, as she almost always is. Having the extra floor space was needed. According to McKenna's Shop Law: the workshop always expands to fill the available space. This inevitably left a 25'x 26' garage to do something with.

A few years on we found a beautiful leaded glass front door with side lights and a palladian window at lowe's for $500, one tenth it's list price. It had been returned twice for being too large. When we spotted it on yet another Lowe's run Gen innocently said, "I wonder how much they want for that?" I logically responded, "Waaaay more than we can afford, that thing's at least 3 grand, new." Despite my impeccable logic Gen went off to ask the manager how much. His response was, "If you promise not to bring it, back how does $500 sound?" Score!

Of course, even with 10' ceilings it was too tall, so emergency crash remodel project # 473 rip out 16' steel garage door, frame new opening, and reframe rafters to install a cathedral ceiling to clear the 11.5' palladian window. The decision was made to go with a "morrocan" decorating theme, and in fits and starts we've added storage, a raised section of floor enclosed for a laundry room and half bath, installed a wood burning stove, new wiring, new high "E" windows, ad exhausteum.

But now we've finally gotten close enough to finishing that Gen has declared that she wants one room totally, completely, absolutely, done -- or I walk the plank.

Anyway, to save life and limb I've been putting a lot of time into finishing the "Peacock Room," named for the subject of a huge beautiful stained glass window I brought back from Tijuana. In the course of the last month, between trying to get the dog-cart ready for Kingdom A&S I've been plumbing, wiring, installing track lighting, painting, taping sheetrock, and getting ready to venetian plaster the ceiling preparatory to tiling the floor (the tile has been 'aging' gracefully in storage since about a month after we bought the house--it was on sale at another Lowe's closing sale for about 10 cents/sq.ft.).

On the dog-cart project, much was done, but until about the last 9 days much of it was "more of the same." The second side pole was cut, shaped, steamed, and fortunately didn't split, the wheel hubs dressed, and parts cut for later assembly. Then once laundry room mostly done, and with deadlines fast approaching I declared that since the washer and dryer were once again working I was off to the McKennawerks--hold my calls.

After a marathon of flying sawdust I had only the paperwork left to do, and at the last minute the #&^$ing computer swallowed my file folder of documentation without a burp. S*%#!

Despite having to hand write something totally inadequate on the drive up, and printing out a copy of the blog to this point, I managed a second, so it's on to Kingdom A&S in May, even though the pent went down the toilet.

Now that I can finally breathe again, it's time to transfer all the pics from the camera to the computer, and catch this thing back up. This would be a lot easier if I could touch-type...

Rather than one reaaallly long post that will take me a week to write, tomorrow I'm going to start posting a buncha small, probably disjointed, entries.

See ya,