HALFWAY back on our farm, a good mile from the house, we had a Rock of Ages that had been cleft for great-grandfather Jacob. I figure I was 11 the year my grandfather walked me up into our woods to show me the bear's den, and on the way back he let me hide myself in the Rock of Ages. The bear's den wasn't much. Uncle Jedediah, my grandfather's uncle, had gone up into the woods to cut some cedar fence posts, and when the time came he opened his lunch pail and ate. As it was a warmish February day in the sun and in the lee of the knoll, he then set his back against a stump and took a snooze.
He woke to find a black bear sniffing his feet, and beyond the bear he could see the little cave from which it had de-hibernated. A bear coming out like that is barely awake, so Uncle Jed was in no great danger, but he was all the same surprised and cautious and he made no rash moves. He tensed and let the bear sniff, and in a moment the bear moved away. Then Uncle Jed went one way and the bear went another.
That was long ago and by my time the den had tumbled in so there was just a depression in the knoll. But the cleft in the Rock of Ages hadn't changed since the days of great-grandfather Jacob.
Great-grandfather had also gone up into the woods to cut some trees, and was hard at it when he sensed a change in the weather. A hovering silence settled over the wood lot. The birds fell quiet and not a leaf on a tree stirred. Then, quickly, the sky darkened. It was ominous.
Surrounded by high trees, great-grandfather couldn't look off to see what was making up, but he correctly judged a windstorm. Here in Maine we do have hurricanes now and then, and once in many years a good one, but the cyclone and the tornado are not common.
This windstorm which bore down on great-grandfather Jacob was later termed a tornado, but as this was back in the early 1800s and Maine was little populated, it did its damage by knocking down trees.
Dropping his ax, great-grandfather ran for the cleft in the rock. This was a boulder, some 12 feet high, that the distant glacier had exposed. It had been split by the centuries so it stood there in two pieces, just the cleft apart.
Great-grandfather had just gained this sanctuary when the howl of the tornado struck and a thumping great oak came down to settle over the rock to emphasize his good judgment and his good fortune. Other trees were crashing down all about. My grandfather told me that his father said the tumult lasted maybe 15 minutes.
Great-grandfather Jacob had to pick his way through downed limbs to get out, and was well aware that the cleft in the rock had saved his life. When he stood again in the open he looked down the slope of the hill at the devas-tated corridor the tornado had left. The tangle of uprooted trees would give him many months of hard work before he reduced it to firewood and saw logs. For a generation the path of the tornado was a scar across our farm.
My grandfather told me all about this that day, and he had me crawl in and hide myself as small as I could. Everybody in the family had done this, and those coming along would do it. Fine family feeling to experience the security that had saved our ancestor. And the Rock of Ages.
My grandfather often took a youngster on his knee and boomed into song with his Civil War favorites - ``Tramp, Tramp, Tramp'' and such. So I knew he could sing, sort of, and now as I huddled inside the boulder, I heard him let go:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee...
I knew the hymn well enough, but until now it had been just another hymn.
Now it was our own, special, family hymn. Here was the very rock itself, split as the words said, so that great-grandfather could hide himself and be saved.
Grandfather took all my cousins in turn so they could hide in the Rock of Ages, and then I took our children, and the grandchildren, and it's interesting that over the years every youngster has made somewhat the same remark as he squeezed in. Namely, that great-grandfather must have been a small man to get into a niche barely big enough for a child. I said it to grandfather the day he took me there, and I remember how he laughed.
``Great-grandfather Jacob couldn't have been very big to get in here,'' I said.
Grandfather said, ``Maybe he was more scairt than little.''