Rocking Cradles

WHEN the telephone rang I made answer, and Joe Novick, my only friend, indicated a certain perturbation of anxiety by assuring me there was little time to waste. Joe is methodical and it is not like him to wait until the last minute, so I braced for a calamity. He opened a certain line of thought. He told me somebody he knew was about to have a baby, and he wanted to make a cradle. News of this impending population statistic had eluded Joe because he was at his camp on Kennebago Lake all summer seeking the Salvelinus f. fontinalis, so now he must hurry. Reference was to a so-called Moses cradle that is a hand-me-down in our family, and we lent it to Joe and his Jo Anne when they had reasons to borrow it back along. Joe neglected to take off measurements before he returned it, and would I rapidly oblige?

Joe has the replica finished by now and it is probably in use. The origin of the family cradle is long lost, and the word ``Moses'' is an error. The best authority is Exodus 2:3 according to King James, where Moses was craftily deployed by his mother - the word ``cradle'' is not used there: ``... she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.''

So when did some smart father, biding as fathers do, whack out the first child's cradle and have it ready when the time came - artfully fastening rockers to the thing and shaping a hood to shield the baby's eyes from too much light? It was a dry-land vehicle, never waterproofed, and it had but a remote touch with Moses:

When Pharaoh's daughter went down to the water,

Faith, there was young Moses a-swimmin' around,

Wi' his pap all so handy and a stock o' sweet candy

To keep him from cryin' until he was found.

Our cradle was made, as nigh as we can guess, in The Highlands or on Prince Edward Island for my great-great-grandmother, and it has slept all of us since, as well as the babes of friends and neighbors who suited their accouchements to our priorities. I doubt, though, that the first rocker-cradle was made by a Scot. Scots babies are too young for comfort.

I suspect the rolling, lulling, motion was an original thought of a Frenchman - basing my opinion on the way our French-Canadians love their chaises `a bascule. Staid Anglo-Saxons suffered their postures to straight-backs, comfort being a sacrilege, and for the Puritans the canny Shakers made chairs so austere it was better to stand.

But when the first Canadians came down from The Beauce to ``shop'' the trees in the Maine woods, each one of them first found a board and shaped rockers to fasten on his bunkhouse chair. All the Yanks sat straight up, but all the Frenchmen rocked away until the bunkhouse vibrated. Chaise `a bascule means ``see-saw chair.''

Somewhere in one of the old schoolbooks it said that Benjamin Franklin invented the rocking chair. I think not. I saw a true rocking chair in the city museum of Vend^dome, part of a 14th-century kitchen of the region, and there is a rocking chair in the Acadian Museum at Bonaventure, on the Gasp'e, that a sister there assured me was in use before B. Franklin was born.

My guess is that sly old Ben was sent to Paris as No. 1 ambassador for the brand new United States of America, and when he saw a rocking chair he thought it was just dandy and he brought one home. Being a Bostonian born he would never have seen one as a child, but being a convert to Philadelphia he liked the thought of relaxing. Give him credit, but not for inventing the see-saw chair.

SO it's easy to suppose that after designing the rocking cradle to quiet the fretful infant, the maker reflected on his success and reasoned that what's good for the kid is good for me. So while everybody was in the parlor going kitchy-kitchy-koo at the new baby, he was out in the shed nailing rockers on a chair. Old Ben, I surmise, had no more to do with the Moses cradle than did Moses.

I've heard that modern experts hold that the Moses cradle amounts to child abuse, and a prudent mother will not expose her youngster to its vacillations lest in later life there be an induced inability to make decisions, and the adult will be flighty. The Moses cradle, by such tragic effect, could ruin the human race.

This may be so, but it might also be a good thing. My Uncle Pete, who was rocked in our cradle long since, turned out that way and could never keep a job. As a boy, he was harvesting in Saskatchewan and he just up and quit. He went to the Klondike, and after three years he sold his gold mine and was one of the 10 richest men in Canada.

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