Spare the Rod, Make a Fer(r)ule

LOOKING in the dictionary for something else, I paused at "ferrule" and found it doesn't mean what I thought. I was never the boyhood victim of my kind of ferrule (rightly spelled ferule) and I never saw one used. It was a stick kept on purpose on Teacher's desk for corporal persuasion in the direction of deep-seated culture. That is, it makes you smart. A ferrule would be about 2 feet long, a couple of inches wide, and an inch thick. The corners were rounded, so it was ovalish. Its use had declined by m y time, but 'twas said that venerable Harvard taught its upcoming schoolmasters the virtue of strong arms. Martial, in his time, wrote:

"Your blows raise that horrible noise!"

But somewhere 'tween Martial and me the notion prevailed that a dull ass will not mend his pace with beating, and teachers were told to lay off rather than lay on. So my education was docile enough. It was during my sixth grade that Mrs. Wellington inherited a reluctant pupil whose academic management made her say, "My gracious, Llewellyn - I swear you need an old-fashioned ferrule!"

I say, "inherited."

It was just about that time that outlying rural schools began coming up with too few pupils to warrant a teacher's salary - about $300. In district after district the school would close, and the few bereft scholars were transported to open schools in other districts - often into town. This brought "busing" into our educational lexicon - and budget.

Llewellyn Fauncedeppler, who thus came to study with Mrs. Wellington, was much older than we resident scholars and some mornings wouldn't shave, but he made up for his shyness with books by a tendency toward business acumen. Being transported at public expense, he acquired a horse and buggy (sleigh in season). He transported not only himself but two children from the Applegore district, and he picked up the Morris twins (Pete and Repete) at Kilby Corner. Being thus paid for five, he made money going to s chool, but he was very slow at arithmetic and "joggerfee." It was his numbness that drove Mrs. Wellington up the wall.

"You'll make me get a ferrule yet!" she'd state in a simple, declarative sentence.

Manual training had been introduced in our school just before that. It was taught by a normal school graduate who called it "sloyd." Whatever it was, Mr. Butterfield was at a disadvantage in our town, where a shipbuilding business of long standing let us boys know a hawk from a handsaw before we went to school. We could shingle a barn or strake a sloop, and even carve trailboards, so it was comical when Mr. Butterfield showed us how to tell a ripsaw from a crosscut. Fact is, my pal Blookie at that time h ad a saw-filing business and was getting 25 cents apiece, and a dollar when he made a house call, to do a band saw. Many's the time we'd wait for Blookie to finish a saw before we started a ball game. He played third.

But when Mr. Butterfield heard that Mrs. Wellington had wished for a ferrule to impart wisdom to Llewellyn, he suggested in jest that Llewellyn might ingratiate himself with the good lady if he turned to and made one for her. Then he said making a ferrule would be a useful stunt for all of us. There was scrap lumber in the corner, and all at once we had 12 boys making ferrules for Mrs. Wallington. Most of us used mahogany, but Llewellyn found a piece of teak.

Understand, in those days our school shop had no power tools. We sawed and planed and sanded with hand tools, and theoretically we learned from Mr. Butterfield's instruction.

First we shaped our billets with our saws, planed them (learning to set the blade!), and then tediously rubbed sandpaper to a smooth finish. Varnish, rubbed down with pumice stone and oil, gave a glassy finish. Our single-minded seriousness about these ferrules attested that Mr. Butterfield was a better teacher than we thought.

Nothing happened, really. Confronted with 12 beautiful ferrules, Mrs. Wallington insisted she had spoken only metaphorically, and she sent Llewellyn to Webster to look up metaphorically and read the definition to the class. After she spelled it, he found it. But on that kind of a ferrule, Webster is silent.

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