Uncle Fudgy cranks up the economy

A man named Cotton is said to have invented the knitting machine, but the only knitting machines I ever knew about used wool to make socks. There was a crank to turn, once you got the thing set up and ready to go, and as long as you turned the crank and supplied the wool the machine would keep going on the straightaway. The cook's wife at Chesuncook Dam boomhouse had a knitting machine on the wall of the hallway, and every woodsman coming in to eat would give the thing a few cranks. That's how-come they had a sock at Chesuncook Dam that was 37 feet long. But the knitting machine couldn't ``cast on,'' ``turn the heel,'' and ``finish off.'' In that respect it was just like Uncle Fudgy Coombs.

When Uncle Fudgy had to retire time was heavy on his hands and he began to be something of a nuisance. His loving daughter, Geraldine Farrar Coombs Lovejoy, accordingly taught him to knit as a way to pass the time, and he would sit in the rocking chair by the kitchen window as happy as could be, clicking the needles for fair. But Uncle Fudgy, capable as he was on the straight stuff, never mastered casting on, turning the heel, and narrering-off. His daughter wrapped butter in the butter factory, so wasn't always at hand or in the mood to do these things when Uncle Fudgy needed her.

So Uncle Fudgy made arrangements with the Widow MacIver over on the Blueberry Road, and they set up a business that proved profitable as well as saving their idle hands from mischief. To get this business off the ground, Uncle Fudgy het up the shop stove and spent most of the winter making knitting needles from straight-grained maple he found in the woodpile. He had a slew of them. In the spring he took them to the Widow MacIver and they came to terms.

She would cast on and knit one row, and then put the needles in one of two big-size potato picking ``barskits.'' Uncle Fudgy would carry the basket home and knit the sock down to the row where the heel was to be turned. He'd carry the basket to the Widow MacIver, who had meantime cast on another basketful.

Then she would turn all the heels, and after Uncle Fudgy did the feet she would narrer-off. This went on for years, and a common sight was to see Uncle Fudgy trudging over to the Blueberry Road with a basket. Purely business, too - the Widow MacIver never let Uncle Fudgy in her house, and when she came to the door to find him on the doorstep with a basket, he would lift his hat.

Farmers in that whole township sent their fleeces to the Sheehey Woolen Mill and sold their yarn to Uncle Fudgy for better money than they could get any place else. Then L.L. Bean would buy every sock they turned out, and Uncle Fudgy and the Widow MacIver split the profits down the middle.

But this lift to the economy was by no means the best part. The best part was having something to do with their hands, to hold boredom at bay and cheat the time, and not only were Uncle Fudgy and the Widow MacIver cheerful, but their children and grandchildren had no cares and worries about them. Solomon Coombs, one of Uncle Fudgy's grandsons, said one time that he realized money isn't everything, but even so Grampy Fudgy was making more money than he was - and he was a welder at Bath Iron Works. After taxes and union dues, this may have been so.

Then the Ladies' Garment Workers brought a class action against the competition of home industry, and this put Uncle Fudgy and the Widow MacIver out of business. Some 37 ``counts'' were listed in the suit, and Uncle Fudgy and the Widow MacIver were taking food out of the mouths of honest working people and undermining the foundations of the Republic. The Supreme Court had just ruled that yellow tennis balls are not unconstitutional, and so was ready for this one - citing this precedent the justices found against Uncle Fudgy and the Widow MacIver. They had to quit. L.L. Bean then found that nobody amongst the lady garment workers knew how to knit socks, and things were certainly in a pucker.

Thus the knitting machine such as the cook's wife had at Chesuncook Dam became a nefarious instrument of subversive interests, used in clandestine fashion to put the economy on the blink and encourage the communists. Ladies who arranged to have one to hang on their walls and add a few cents to their pin money were enemies of democracy and worse, and people who couldn't cast on, turn a heel, and narrer-down looked upon them in disfavor and disdain. Tension was encouraged, and the country hasn't been the same since.

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