On telling it like it is and listening to it

Along with one or two others, perhaps, I continue to wonder about the state of our Union, and I have some remarks. Am I the only survivor of Spartacus, the gladiator? Perhaps I should refresh your memories. Spartacus was born a Thracian and became leader of a band of robbers that bided in the crater of Vesuvius and fared forth at times to plunder and annoy. Captured by the Romans, Spartacus was sent as a slave to Capua to learn the art of the gladiator, a professional murderer who entertained the populace in the arena.

The day came when he overcame an adversary and found the man he was about to slay was his dearest childhood friend. This distressed him, and he began organizing the gladiators for a revolt, which led to the Servile War, or the Gladiators' Rebellion. The Great Pompey, himself, quelled this in 71 BC, and Spartacus was eliminated.

But in AD 1854 a Congregational minister down in Maine named Elijah Kellogg wrote an oration for speaking contests based on what Spartacus may have said to the gladiators the day he slew his boyhood playmate. "Spartacus to the Gladiators" was memorized by just about every Maine schoolboy. For a couple of generations, about every speaking contest had it on the program. Kellogg's speech is in classical form, resounding in the surge and thunder of composition. It makes Cicero look amateurish.

Now as to the state of the Union, I'm not much of a football fan. I was fetched up in the days of musical chairs and button-button. I'm not conditioned for the joyous fun of a sport where the hero intercepts a pass and has his shattered tibia shoved into his left ear. I'm able to see that football is no more than the classical savagery of gladiatorial combat prettied up for our more delicate viewing.

So the evening we were to listen to last year's State of the Union address, a gentleman said to me, "Wouldn't you think TV would have a football game on at least one channel so we wouldn't have to listen to that stuff?" Where are you, Spartacus, that you don't orate about the state of our Union? A football game opposite the President?

You may also like to hear about Pierre-Marie Cloutier and the time the wangan sled went through the ice at Seboomook Dam. About 1928, I think it was. Pierre-Marie was a river-drive boss, and he'd brought about 50,000 cords of spruce wood over Canada Falls on the South Branch, past Pittston Farm, and into Seboomook Lake. He was waiting for the wangan sled, driven by Romeo Tardiff, before starting to sluice Seboomook Dam.

The wangan is supplies, from an Abnaki Indian word. To Pierre-Marie, it meant everything for a 35-man crew of river hogs downriver to Millinocket.

So Romeo Tardiff arrived with the wangan and drove over a weak spot in the ice. Horses, gear, groceries, hay and grain, dry firewood, and the traverse-runner "two-sled" went under and ceased to be important in this narrative, but Romeo jumped to safe ice and walked into camp to tell Pierre-Marie all about it.

Pierre-Marie then sent the chore boy on foot over the corn-snow of spring to Pittston Farm to call the main office in Bangor and ask what he was expected to do. The chore boy returned the next morning to report that he had reached the company offices in Bangor, and they had asked about the condition of Romeo Tardiff, the driver of the team.

I must explain that this story involves a lot of what is called Madawaska French. It's a patois of old Acadian in which I am competent with both hands. When the chore boy had reported about his phone call, Pierre-Marie sat in thought for a time. Then he said - so that he was clearly heard in St. Come, Quebec, 70 miles away - "I'm got here t'irty-fi' mens, no wangan, no horse, no not'ing, an' dey t'row Romeo Tardiff at me! You go for tell dem Romeo h'all right, but 'ee got two wet foots!"

This, you see, was a report on the state of the Union, and it was clear, concise, adequate, and not ambiguous with misdirections. Its language was firm and to the point, and it meant what it said.

While we're on this subject, I think you should hear as well the plight of Capt. Murray Bibber of the brig Union Forever, which had trouble off Seguin Light in 1854. This, too, is a poignant tale applicable to our subject. The Union Forever sailed with the tide from Winter Harbor with a full cargo of dry pine lumber, and was on her way to San Francisco. It would take 96 days, if the passage through the Strait was good. It frequently was not. The lumber would have ready sale in the gold rush market, and Captain Bibber was content. On the return voyage he would load good cargo at Chile and be home by Christmas. All was well!

But off Seguin Light his ship collided with a tide-walker and was stove. A tide-walker is debris that floats with the tide and is hard to see. This one was big enough to rip the planking, and the brig took on water. Captain Bibber ordered all hands to the pumps, and for two days and nights the labor was punishing.

But the Union Forever was brought into Portland Harbor and grounded out alongside a shipyard. Repairs began next morning. Then, the excitement over, Captain Bibber had time to reflect that with all that dry lumber aboard, the Union Forever couldn't have sunk anyway. Class is dismissed.

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