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Essays from John Gould

(Page 2 of 6)



My grandfather used to plant his flower garden along with his vegetables Gladioli mingled with carrots; dahlias were hung with pole beans; asters were revealed when the frost wilted pumpkins and squash; and nasturtiums entwined with the cucumbers. I doubt if anyone in town ever asked him why he, as if he couldn't tell the difference, thus mixed up his seed. It isn't usual, certainly. Had you asked him, he would have said he spent most of the summer among his garden sass, and that was where he had to have his flowers if he were to enjoy them. But nobody on the Ridge ever gave the hodgepodge second thought. Time and again there has been evidence that our neighbors are willing to indulge each other in whimsey.

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I have really wondered, lately, if this tolerance isn't a remote desideratum among other people. Are we peculiar in our private belief that a man's own inclination is to be indulged? Haven't other people taken too much stock in the belief that all activity must be rationalized – and that the reasons ought to be sensible? I mean, apparently sensible to others? Hasn't conformity to rules of behavior taken a lot of snap out of life? Who dares to paint his steps yellow, simply because he likes yellow? What housewife dares to hang the wash on the front lawn? It just simply isn't done – is it?

Well, I suppose I've got the only inlaid black walnut buck-saw in the world.

The missing fork

1959

It's the little things that count, and if somebody will just tell me where I can catch a three-tined kitchen fork, about so big and so long, things may improve about the old homestead. We've lost ours.

You would expect if the roof blew off the manor, or the foundation settled under the parlor, some degree of consternation would set in, but the simple loss of a three-tined kitchen fork might be borne up under with some fortitude. This is not so, for the progress of our domestic program has gone to pot, and unless I can find a fork soon the future is gloomy and unpromising.

"I've misplaced my little fork," she said, one day, I suppose it was a month ago. I was meditating on some abstruse hypothesis at the time, and didn't pay much attention, but a few days later she said "I wish I could find my little fork!"

After a few more times I said, "What's with this little fork stuff?" "Why," she said, "the little one with three prongs, the one your mother gave me. And it didn't go out with the swill!"

We still say "swill" around here.

Things do go out with it. Every time I clean out a hog pen I find artifacts long supposed gone forever, and all of the things a hog has no use for. She said she had gone down and looked.

I did, too, and I also poked around on the compost heap, and gave the duck pen a scrutiny, throwing the ducks into a tizzy. But the fork could not be found and we had constant moan over the disappearance. Not one bit of housework can be done, right that is, without that fork.

I remember my mother did give it to her. My mother was ever the practical one. It was an antique of sorts, something long in the family somewhere, sort of an old wives thing. It was approximately the size of an ordinary dinner fork, with a riveted wooden handle, and it had only the three tines. It was steel instead of silver, and the tines had a bit more upward bend to them than an ordinary fork. Made it more grasping.

When we set up housekeeping Mother contributed several smallish items like that, the kind of things wedding guests and the social set wouldn't think of – or give if they did. We had 17 table lamps and 33 pickle dishes, but Mother said, "I couldn't keep house without one of these," and she gave us the fork. It didn't get put on the table with the fancy things – nor did it get put in the barn after the ceremony.

It was a "utility" fork, of course. It would spear the brisket right out of the boiled-dinner kettle, and nothing would turn bacon so well. It could flip rolls out of the tins, stir scrambling eggs, and filch an olive right out of the bottle.

So, we exhausted the chances, and still didn't find it. It must be gone. Every time I go into the kitchen I hear the lamentations. Everything is harder without it, so much more clumsy.

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