Father Wasn't The Suing Kind

EVERY time I read that a jury has awarded a fat judgment to somebody who sued a conglomerate, I wonder what my father might have won when he found a carpet tack in his cookie. But my father was not the suing kind. And ours was a happy home where a store-bought cookie was so unusual that Dad picked this one up, looked it all over, and said, ``Where'd you get this?'' Then he bit into it. My mother made our cookies. Dad's question was therefore a kind of accusation and eager to keep the record straight my mother responded with an injured tone, ``Addie Prosser brought it to sewing circle.'' The ladies had come to our house that Tuesday to tack a quilt, and each had brought her snack for general purposes. Addie had gone to the store and paid good money for ``baker's'' cookies. We children knew baker's cookies only by reputation - we never had any at table and never in the pantry. So just then my father let out a yip and picked a carpet tack from between his teeth and stood looking at it in disbelief. ``How,'' he asked, ``would a tack get into a cookie?'' Tacks and cookies should be poles apart. Mother looked at the tack and shook her head.

In those days any boughten cookie we would see in Maine was made by the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, which had a huge brick factory near the railroad tracks in Boston's North End. Anybody who rode the steam cars from Down East into Boston was familiar with the building and the long sign: Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company - The Thousand Window Bakery. There may have been a thousand windows, and the sign tactlessly drew attention to the fact that none of the windows had been washed in decades. Inside, the bakery undoubtedly met all sanitation requirements, but from the train things looked, well, trackside. So his curiosity urged him, and my father wrote a letter to the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company.

``Sirs: [it said.] My curiosity is piqued by finding a carpet tack in one of your cookies. How could this happen? If you can't give me an explanation, will you accept my suggestion that if you wash your thousand windows the bakers may be better able to see what they're doing. Yours, truly, etc.''

A week or so later I came home from school, hove my books on the end table, and went to the henhouse to do my evening chores and pick up my 4-H Club eggs. I found my father and a dressed-up young man in the grain room, and my father was telling the other the essential differences, and relative purposes, of bran, shorts, and middlings. The young man, wearing the only necktie our hens ever saw, seemed perplexed, even baffled, and was most uneasy. My father said, ``Oh, here's my son John, he was there when I bit the cookie.'' Thus informed, the young man shook my hand vigorously and said he hoped we might become warm friends.

That young man was a lawyer who had been sent up from Boston by the Loose-Wiles people to sweeten my dad and forestall the big lawsuit they fully expected. This was probably good strategy considering the general disposition of the public, but Loose-Wiles didn't know my Dad. He wasn't that sort. He loved everybody, and an attorney for a presumptive adversary was just another person to know. About 10 o'clock that morning (I would be at school until three) this chap had arrived, introduced himself, and Dad asked him in to sit. At noon Mother fed him, and she gave him his first cry-baby cookies. Those are sugar cookies with raisin filling, or sometimes mincemeat with chopped walnuts, and Loose-Wiles never heard of them. For fun, now and then, one cookie in the batch will be filled with red pepper, and the unlucky child who gets it must go under the table and be a footstool. The young lawyer was glad to hear about that. The only mention of anything relating to an impending lawsuit was when Dad asked how a tack got in the batter and the lawyer said he didn't know, and the subject was dropped. After lunch - dinner, that is - Dad asked the lawyer if he'd like to see his peach trees, and they had reached the henhouse by the time I was home from school. Dad had given the lawyer a dozen of his beautiful, brown Dominique eggs to take back to Boston. He had also figured that the lawyer was related to the Pott's at South Harpswell. One of the Pott's, Simon, had married Nora Foster, who was a cousin of ours, away back. Almost anybody was related to my father. There was never any lawsuit.

When the lawyer got back to Boston he had a case of cookies sent to my father. Mother used to stick them in our lunch buckets for school, and we gave them all away to the other kids.

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