Nuggets of Wisdom Kept by a Gentleman

IN my salad days as a youthful journalist on a small weekly paper in a small town, I came to know G. Allen Howe. Mr. Howe was a lawyer, and shared offices with Senator Ellis Aldrich, who was also a lawyer. The two were nothing alike. Squire Aldrich had, indeed, served in the Maine Senate, but failing for reelection satisfied himself with his title, which traditionally is for life. I was taught that there is no such thing as an ``ex-senator.'' Squire Aldrich liked to appear in court, and for $25 he would defend you against a speeding ticket with more stagecraft than the combined Barrymores could work up for a Cecil B. DeMille epic. There was something ironic when Senator Aldrich would present a stirring appeal in behalf of a lowly clam digger who got caught with a hod of shorts and lose the case.

Lawyer G. Allen Howe seldom appeared in court. Rather, he adroitly kept out of court, saving his client money and woe, or he sat at his desk and prepared cases for other lawyers. Squire Howe had played behind-the-scenes for just about every trial lawyer in Maine, including the Great William R. Pattangall who became chief justice on a reputation built somewhat by G. Allen Howe.

I became well acquainted with G. Allen Howe as a reporter who could walk in without knocking, and if Squire Howe wasn't too occupied I could sit and we'd talk. He was a great source for stories I could use to fill the paper when there was no news. About all I had to do was catch him alone and say, ``I need a yarn.'' Indeed, he somewhat assumed a duty as my assistant, and sometimes he'd have a story ready before I asked.

One morning I stepped in and Squire Howe said, ``Been waiting for you. Got something you can use.'' He handed me a restaurant diner's check with a recipe on the back and said, ``Last week the wife and I had supper at the Tide's End Inn down to Phippsburg, and they served the best clam chowder I ever stuck a tooth in. I got you their recipe so you can print it in the paper.''

I used the recipe on our household page the next week, and took something of a ribbing from the readers. The recipe started, ``Take fifty gallons milk ...''

Lawyer Howe had a mind like a steel trap, and retained every nugget of knowledge that had come his way. He was the true intellectual gentleman who ``prides himself on nothing.''

One year Bowdoin College decided to give a general information test to its entering class, and the assignment of preparing this test was given to Professor Charles T. Burnett, who was chairman of the department of psychology. Professor Burnett enlisted the aid of the faculty, and came up with an even hundred words the entering freshman was to ``identify and define.'' As nearly as such a thing could come, the test touched on all phases of knowledge - does anybody remember that Dr. Doolittle sported the degree T.E. - Thoroughly Educated? A freshman who could score 75 out of 100 was to be regarded as well prepared.

A week or so after this test had been given I got my hands on a copy, and was told that the highest score had been 78. There was one word on which the test backfired - mosaic. As Professor Burnett was grading the papers, he came upon one that defined mosaic as ``a disease.'' Marking that wrong, Professor Burnett continued, and shortly came upon another paper that said, ``a disease.'' Thinking perhaps the first student had guessed and the second had cribbed from him, Professor Burnett continued, but when he found the seventh ``disease'' he went to the dictionary.

Enlightened, he then found that all seven students who had set down ``disease'' came from Maine's Aroostook County, where potatoes are the principal crop and the mosaic viruses cause a certain pattern on the leaves of the vines. Professor Burnett hadn't known that. He corrected his presumed errors.

I took my copy of this test the next time I called on Squire G. Allen Howe, and as I read off each word he gave his answer - he scored 100 out of 100. Long before half-o'er I was hoping for a word that would stick him. On most words, he would add a remark not called for, and I remember chiding him about ``volunteering information'' - which a lawyer is not supposed to do. On ``coracle,'' he added, ``That's a good question! Shows if the boy has read `Treasure Island.' Very good question!''

On ``mosaic,'' he hesitated. ``Well,'' he started at last, ``with a capital letter it refers to Moses, his laws, and with a small `m' it would mean a pavement or the like. Still - up in Aroostook County....''

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