What comes down must go up

Grammie Benck frequently said that if the lightning ever struck she didn't want the firemen to find she kept an untidy attic. I think it wasn't lightning, but when the Benck house did have a blaze, years later, the firemen in their usual manner brought down things from Grammie's attic, including 10 bales of Old Farmer's Almanacs, each bale with a neat note saying, "Some Duplicates." Wasn't it Homer Richardson who cleaned out his grandmother's old attic and found a box with the label, "Pieces of string too short to use"?

Every respectable home, suitable to be lived in, had two attics: the house attic and the barn attic. Domestic management distinguished things for this one and things for that one, but as I recall there was no provision for disposing finally of either. Mrs. Howard Irish said one time, "Oh, our house is so old our attic moved downstairs years ago."

I know not why 17 was the magic number, but the adage ran that if you kept a thing 17 years you'd find a use for it. This proved to be true. Our uncle was seeking blackberries one August and wandered up into the Gillis pasture, where the Gillis children did some skiing in the winter. One of the Gillises had broken a ski and left the other one on the slope. So Uncle came back from blackberrying with a 16-quart pail of beautiful berries and one odd ski. He stood the ski by the barn door and said to our father, "If you know a one-leg-ged man wants to go skiing, here's his cha-r-nce!"

You might suppose a single ski would be difficult to put to work, which may well be why the Gillis boy left this one on the slope. But my Dad was fetched up in a good Down East manner, and he believed that where there's smoke there's fire, that it never rains but it pours, and that if you keep a thing 17 years you'll find a use for it. He stood the widowed ski up in the barn attic beside the retired soft-soap leech board and the high chair with two missing legs, and began to wait.

Now, we were a rural family, and we always kept a pig, often two. In the culture of a shoat, a swill barrel is essential. Swill, in those days, was not a word to be prettied into "garbage." Swill was table orts enriched with middlings and shorts, lubricated with skimmed milk from the family cow, and stirred in a 60-gallon barrel until it was fit to feed to the porker, and don't you believe he didn't like it.

Anything reasonably edible made pig slops, and at each feeding time the feeder would dip into the pig's "barl" and dump nourishment into the pig's trough. Oh! how the wee little piggie would squeal and grunt with delight, and how swiftly he increased his heft.

So things were, and behold how the swift seasons labored and pigs came and went, and the steel hoops that held our slops barrel together rusted and gave way, and after 17 years the staves fell apart, and you should've seen what a mess that made!

For 25 cents, you could go to any grocery store and get a 60-gallon oak barrel, retired from the molasses and vinegar trade, remove the head, and have a new slops reservoir for piggie. Such came about at our sty-side, and my father went up in the barn attic and brought down the sorted ski to use as a new paddle. Dad said, "I have no way to check it out, but I think it's just 17 years to the day." So it must have been blackberry time (August).

Our house attic was, as most were, "open," meaning it had never been finished off. The timbers and boarding prevailed, there was a gable window on each end that couldn't be opened, and on a hot summer day it was unwise to go up there. And wouldn't you know? There was some downstairs desire to get something "up attic" for immediate use.

Whatever it was, Mother said, "Oh, there's one up attic!" Then, in meditative pose she added, "I wouldn't know where to find it!" It was, she knew, in one of the barrels behind the tied-together parts of great-grandmother's loom, but while she could see the thing plain as the nose on your face, she couldn't hazard a guess as to which barl. I helped hunt for it in all that summer-attic heat, but we didn't find it. We found everything else, however.

ONE year, after spring housecleaning, my mother decided to clean out and "organize" the house attic. Everybody front and center! In those days we had no town dump, and people didn't need one. If you had anything that would go to a dump today, the thing to do was put it up attic and wait 17 years. So my mother's notion to tidy the attic had a certain aspect of whimsy. If you brought something down from the attic and felt it was no longer worth saving, what did you do with it?

So we all turned to, cleaned out the attic, and at day's end we had it bare, swept clean, and the loose floor boards scrubbed. Nobody knew our attic was so big! And as we sorted things Mother kept saying, "Frank, what's this here?" My dad, who was Frank, sometimes knew, and once he said, "Well now, here's an old Ingersoll dollar watch! Remember when you could buy an Ingersoll dollar watch for $1? You never took one to be repaired; you just tossed it and bought a new watch." My mother said, " And tossed the old one up attic."

At last Mother said, "There! I guess we've sorted everything. You menfolks can put the junk back up attic."

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