MAGAZINE advertising tells us that Leonardo da Vinci is now helping GM to build bucket seats, and it certainly is high time. One of the things to know about Lennie (I've always called him Lennie, and he calls me Yoo-hoo) is that hardly any of the things he took up, such as styling bucket seats, ever got any attention in his own time. This was because, contrary to good advice (see Habakkuk 2:2), he wrote things down left-handed, hindside to, and from right to left, and nobody knew how to read his notes. That is why they never had airplanes, moon shots, and bucket seats in Italy in the 15th century, and about all we have of da Vinci is ``La Gioconda,'' ``The Last Supper,'' and doodles like the St. Jerome. Think what a difference if the Renaissance had given us Empire State Buildings, Hoover Dams, and bucket seats! In the small town where I grew up, our authority on bucket seats was Prosperity (Prossie) Morrison, who was a town charge. He lived on a perpetual grocery order, which means he got what he needed at the store and the town paid for it. No frills -- storekeepers were trusted by the municipal officers to maintain bounds, and Prossie didn't get frivolous things like marshmallows and guava jelly. If he asked for something (in those terrible days storekeepers waited on their customers!) that the storekeeper felt was too rich for town charges, the storekeeper's stock reply was, ``Sorry, Prossie, but on that -- I'm fresh out.'' But Prosperity did get all he needed and managed to stay happy. His house was no mansion, but it was tight and it was home, and he didn't pay any taxes on it. He made his bucket seats in his parlor.
Those were barrel days, and I suppose in our time we forget how important the barrel once was. Making barrels was big business. The first industry in Maine, and perhaps the first in what is now the United States, was pipemaking. A good stand of white oak was essential, and ere long most of our good stands were fed through the sawmills. Pipes came in various sizes, but standard for packing fish in brine was the two-hogshead size, about 120 gallons. Pipes made for liquids had to be tight, and so were those for flour and sugar. Rougher staves were used for apple and potato barrels, nail and trawl kegs. Then there were firkins and piggins and buckets made in the same style -- staves, hoops, and headers. It was Prosperity's pleasure to cadge any kind of a barrel that was empty and roll it home to his parlor, where he converted it to a kind of armchair. Whenever anybody who needed a bucket seat saw Prossie rolling home a barrel, he would say, ``Want to fix it up for me, Prossie?''
Prossie made a profit on molasses barrels. No matter how well the storekeeper pumped and drained, there was always a residue of molasses, and Prossie would recover this and save it until he could take a jugful back and sell it to the storekeeper -- amusing when you know that the storekeeper never charged Prossie anything for the barrel in the first place. On the other hand, Prossie had trouble with vinegar barrels. They weren't favored for bucket seats, because they never lost their aroma of acetic acid, and anybody who sat in one a short time would smell like a pickle. But Prossie was able to contrive a restful seat from about any kind of barrel, being limited in output only by the number of barrels he could cadge.
He would cut away part of the barrel so a human form could be inserted in a sedentary posture, and leave staves behind for a backrest. The bottom of the barrel was filled with hay, and then Prossie upholstered with a jute grain bag, usually with the motto prominent -- ``LAY OR BUST.'' He also fitted a comfortable bag of hay to the backrest. The finished bucket seat was then delivered, and Prossie would collect 25 cents. Just about every home in town had one or more of Prossie's barrel divans, and they were pleasantly relaxing. They were used in barns and on porches, rather than in the houses, because they were not an elegant product suitable for a parlor, like a da Vinci painting. Each was certainly worth the 25 cents.
But nothing comes in casks and pipes now, and GM will do well to stick with Lennie and not hunt up Prossie. Prossie never left any notes -- he couldn't write at all. And while he didn't make all that many hay-filled woolsacks in his time, Prossie did leave a tin can full of quarters on his parlor workbench. The selectmen counted them and gave them to the Red Cross. Prossie was one of the few paupers who left an estate.