Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


The squeak

By John Gould / September 27, 1985



MEMORIES respond to nudges. This morning I ran up the lift door on the front of my wood-working shop, known locally as The Kindling Wood Factory, and the piercing squeal told me it was time to oil the rollers. The instructions that come with such a door suggest occasional oiling to keep things working freely, but if oil is withheld the door will tell you about it soon enough. I brought the squirt can and applied liberally, so tonight when I close the door it shouldn't give the shivers to the neighborhood, and I remembered my lost youth when the livery stable door brought me daily from sweet slumber to the realities of morning.

Skip to next paragraph

My cozy little attic room had one window which gave onto the rooftops in the direction of the village, and Harry Merrill's livery stable was in the village. This was then a good thing, whereas today with all our restrictions and zonings and requisites and no-no's it would be a bad thing. It was a good thing because a well-operated livery stable was important to the community, and the keeping of horses next door to somebody or something was not construed as environmentally hazardous.

And Harry Merrill did keep a good stable. He was assisted by Secretary Harris and Baby-Joe Matthews, neither of whom had ever been considered for the presidency of Harvard but who both might have done well in that position when native intelligence, rather than education, was needed.

Some few townspeople who ``kept'' driving horses stabled them with Harry, paying so much a week for feed and care and storing the buggies. The physician's mare was one such, ready on a moment's notice day and night, and ``driving the doc'' was an honor Secretary and Baby-Joe took by turns. Then Harry had an assortment of horses for hire, and his big days were Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when the ``drummers'' plied our territory.

These traveling salesmen would arrive on the morning train, five or six on Tuesday and another half dozen on Wednesday, walking from the depot up to Carrie Fisher's boardinghouse for breakfast. Then they would go to the livery stable, where Harry would have their horses and buggies ready for the day's calling on trade (sleighs in wintertime). Off the salesmen would go, a caravan until they separated on their different routes. In the afternoon each would return, pay Harry, and await the evening train to the next town, which had a hotel that offered ``commercial rates.''

There would be, also, some casual business, as when somebody now ``from away'' would come home to see the folks and needed a ride out to the farm. Harry had a two-seater for that, and either Secretary or Baby-Joe would sit up front to drive while the passenger in the rear could study the crisscross of the suspenders on the back of the shirt up front. This accommodation was available at 50 cents for the first four miles.

So the livery stable was a busy place, and it had a double rolling front door. The track, bolted across the front of the building, allowed half the door to move aside to the right and half -- you guessed! -- to the left. The building had been erected, the track attached, the door (with rollers) installed in 1805, and since that time no lubrication of any kind had been applied. Opening and closing the door, with the shrill shrieking squeal of the dry rollers and track, had accordingly become a matins and

vespers for our community. Vespers didn't bother me in my room, but the matins came through my little attic window in a piercing wail that brought me bug-eyed from my pillow, my hair a-twitch, and my toenails retracted.

Then, the door opened, Secretary Harris would swing the great stable broom to sweep out as a prelude to a busy day, and he and Harry and Baby-Joe would make harangue about who gets the roan and who the bay. This all came to me, along with their opinions about town affairs, true and not so true, and I would hear horseshoes on planks as the first victim of the day's business was brought forth to be rubbed down and harnessed. Harry and Secretary and Baby-Joe did murder sleep. So I oiled my door and remembe red these things.

Since boyhood, I have been an early riser.