The Vice President And Maine Crybabies
A READER asks what a crybaby is, and I may have dallied with a localism. I thought everybody knew, but a crybaby may be limited to just a part of Maine. It's a filled cookie, a sugar cookie rolled and cut with a 3-inch cutter - a circle on the bottom, a dollop of raisin sauce, and a covering circle.
Maybe somebody saw one as a means of quieting a sobbing child. I know one keeps me happy at bedtime with a glass of cold milk. And wasn't the hush puppy meant to shush a beagle's bugle? Sometimes a crybaby has mincemeat instead of raisins, and lucky be he who finds chopped walnuts and devious dainties. Sweet and gentle as a crybaby cookie is, there is a dark side to it all the same, and I'm thinking of the old Youth's Companion.
Somewhere along the line that respected and eminent periodical printed a story titled ``When Hannibal Hamlin Got the Jonah.'' It was one of the ``Old Squire'' tales of C. A. Stephens, a writer from Maine whose popularity helped lift the circulation of the Youth's Companion toward a half million a week. Not to be sneezed at. Published in Boston, the magazine prospered for a century, merged with American Boy in 1927, and then ceased. Its stable of writers included names like Kipling, Walpole, Tennyson, Jack London, Dickens, Stevenson, Mrs. Stowe - even Woodrow Wilson! And C. A. Stephens. At one time the Companion commissioned Thomas Hardy to do them a manuscript, but he didn't pass the stiff literary requirements of the magazine, and his offering was never printed.
Maybe more people will relate to the old Youth's Companion if I mention Perry Mason. Perry Mason Company was the publisher (201 Columbus Avenue), and when Erle Stanley Gardner created his lawyer-detective he snitched that name - Perry Mason. Gardner grew up in Boston.
The gentle back-country tales spun by C. A. Stephens kept him the mainstay of the Companion's talent for 60 years. A good many were set in the Oxford hills around Lake Penneesseewassee, and a recurring character was ``the Old Squire.'' I shan't try to repeat the name of the lake, but it was and is in crybaby country. On the day in question, the Old Squire and his lady were off on a legal errand to the shire town and the youngsters were home amusing themselves in the dooryard. A horse and buggy approached, and the gentleman holding the reins inquired for the Old Squire. The plot thickens.
The children answered that the Old Squire was over to the court house at Paris, but was expected home shortly, whereat the visitor decided he would tie his horse and wait. The children, having no inkling as to what this gentleman might be, were properly instructed in their polites, so they tied the horse to the dooryard fence, brought a snatch of hay from the barn to toss before the animal on the ground, and asked if the visitor would care to sit on the porch out of the sun.
Thus the stage was set, and the reader of the Youth's Companion was well into the pleasurable narrative of another Old Squire adventure.
As noonin' approached and the Old Squire had not yet returned, the children held powwow and, knowing well the Old Squire's insistence on hospitality, they asked the visitor if he would join them for dinner - dinner being the Maine word for the noontime meal, even if just crackers and milk. The visitor was delighted, and adjusting himself to the ages of his tablemates he became for the moment one of them and took his place.
The visitor was, in fact, the vice president of the United States of America, Hannibal Hamlin. After one term under Lincoln, Hamlin, a Mainer, was bypassed in favor of Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, for political reasons, and that was Maine's closest call to having a son in the White House. On that day, Hamlin had come to ask advice of the Old Squire as to some pending action in the Senate. And that was the day the children were having crybabies for dessert.
Always, one crybaby in a batch was different - instead of raisins it had mustard, vinegar, and dill, and that odd one was ``the jonah.'' The child who got the jonah paid a forfeit - he went under the table to be a footstool for all the others. So Hannibal Hamlin got the jonah.
When the Old Squire arrived home, he found Vice President Hamlin under the table.