The subtle art of the 'snedrick'

Mention of "snedricks" caused some readers to write, "What are 'snedricks'?" It is tragically true that movies, radio, and TV have impoverished our down-Maine lingo by ridding us of many descriptive gems that once embellished and beautified our speech, until today we talk like ordinary people. Nowadays we hear things like "snedricks" less and fewer. Perish the thought, but probably "Eyah" and "Daow!" are goners, like "forsooth" and "methinks." A snedrick is a snide trick with primary reference, methinks, to a hoss-swap, as follows:

Horace Jordan had an experienced senior plug he thought he could pass off on "Featherstitch" Starbird, and he gave it a try. Featherstitch had a curious way of walking, and as he came zig-zagging down the street, his paces reminded of the featherstitching of a seamstress. Things were like that in those days. A moderate man would be known as "Speedy," and Rod Blake, who was bald as a rooster egg, was known as "Curly."

So Horace Jordan, who was crooked as a ram's horn and was called "Scrupulous Hod," was careful in his choice of words when he offered his mount to Mr. Starbird at a greatly reduced price. He said, "I admit this noble steed don't look so good, but he's sound in wind and limb, clever, and gentle." Thus desire was kindled, and Featherstitch Starbird bought the horse. The next day he came back to see Scrupulous Hod, and he said, "You cheated me! The horse is blind!"

Deeply offended by this unkind remark, Horace Jordan said, "Now, now! I certainly did not cheat you, sir! I distinctly told you the horse didn't look so good!" That is a snedrick.

Attention is now directed to Winter Harbor, a town on Maine's Penobscot River a few miles seaward from Bangor. In the old days of sail, Bangor was the important port for shipping lumber, but the harbor often froze over. Being in a more favorable location, ice didn't form at Winter Harbor.

This explains the name, and during the winter the vessels used Winter Harbor. Winter Harbor seldom froze over, but one winter it did. Among the vessels caught in the ice was the brig Nelly Guptil, commanded by Capt. Hosea Sewall and already loaded with pine and spruce consigned to San Francisco.

Captain Sewall's remedy in this situation was to send for an icebreaker to come from Bangor and open the ice so he could sail. The set fee for this was $500. But Captain Sewall was given to snedricks, and he knew the Port of Bangor also had a water boat that would come to fill a vessel's fresh-water tanks before she put to sea.

Captain Sewall had already filled his water tanks, but he sent again for the water boat. The set fee for the water boat was $200, but to reach the Nelly Guptil the water boat had to break the ice. With the afternoon tide the Nelly Guptil sailed for Frisco, and Captain Sewall saved his owners the difference. Don't ever knock a proper snedrick.

As your reward for rapt attention so far, I'll offer another Winter Harbor tale. This one has no snedricks. Tobias Mantur was mate on the Thunder Beacon, barkentine, and she was ready with a cargo of lumber to sail for Australia. As usual, the crew was in a waterfront meditation center, waiting for the call to stations, and Mate Mantur was telling his usual whopper with gestures, every eye upon him and every ear attuned.

Just then the side door opened and a call-boy shouted, "Thunder Beacon sails on the tide! All hands aboard!" Mate Mantur and his crew leaped to their feet, raced for the door, and ran to the wharf. The sails were "filled to the No'th," and in 10 minutes the Thunder Beacon was out of sight and on her way to Australia. The voyage would take maybe three years.

In her time, the Thunder Beacon made many voyages to Australia and she was accounted "lucky" as a moneymaking investment, although her career did come to an unfortunate end. On her last voyage she came down the Penobscot River as usual, loaded with pine and spruce. But before bursting into the open sea she sliced off her keel and most of her planking on a coastal ledge not clear on the chart.

She began to fill, but her captain didn't realize how badly she was stove, and he gave an order to man the pumps and head for a shipyard at Portland. Speed was greatly reduced, but the Thunder Beacon reached Casco Bay and was beached out by a shipyard. The crew, working the pumps night and day, had saved her from sinking, but the hands were exhausted.

Examination revealed her damage was too great to warrant repairs, so that was the end of the Thunder Beacon. Examination also revealed that with a cargo of lumber, the vessel wouldn't have sunk anyway, and the crew had pumped the Atlantic Ocean over-side for naught.

But that came later. On our particular voyage to Australia there were no incidents, and in about three years the Thunder Beacon returned home safely.

The usual courtesies with the customs officers were pleasantly completed. Mate Mantur had made his paperwork to master and owners, and now he went ashore and his steps took him to the very same resort he had left so abruptly three years ago. He sat down in the very chair from which he had leaped when the call-boy shouted, "All hands aboard!"

Lifting a hand in a gesture, he said, "As I was saying...."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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