How to Find What You Weren't Looking For

The rule is dependable. If you seek something you can't find, let it go. It will be the first thing you see the next time you are looking for something else you can't find. I have accordingly found the musket ball while looking for my blotter.

Few, I ween, have been going about of late looking for old blotters and musket balls, so I will elucidate at once. I have sent the musket ball to grandson Tom, who is named for his great-grandfather Tom who carried the musket at Gettysburg in 1861 and gave it to me 77 years ago. Grandson Tom is the likely descendant to have it and he cherishes it in spite of having recently wed a charmer of the Old South, a rebel who keeps calling me Yawl.

When my grandfather brought the musket home after the war, he used it on the farm as a varmint gun, but he used shot for his loads and had no need for balls. He had a supply of balls, all the same, and by my time the few he had left were loose in a drawer on his gun rack.

He made a small ceremony about "passing down" his Army gun. I was 10, and the date was July 4, 1918. I had already fired the gun - the first and only time - under his coaching a year earlier, and the recoil had flattened me in the dooryard dust. He told me the gun had done exactly the same thing to him 16 times on the first day of Gettysburg.

Along with the musket, he gave me that day his bayonet, ramrod, powder flask, and some shot, and he went to the gun rack and found one musket ball, which was Army issue. It was this ball that I couldn't find when, in turn, I gave the musket to grandson Tom. I had to depend on the rule for lost objects and the ink blotter of Mr. Putney.

I have two diddy boxes on the top shelf of my bookcase. I've been told one was made from wood salvaged when they rebuilt the USS Constitution the first time, and the other was made with wood from an old beehive. I don't know which is which. In one I kept valentines the girls had sent me when we were in the first grade, also a lot of blotters, and for some reason the musket ball from Grampie's gun. The other box has all the wrenches.

Not long ago I wanted to find something in Hiawatha and I found it after moving my Westphalian separator tools. I must tell you about that. Made in Germany, the separator had metrics, but for models to be shipped to America, the company provided wrenches for English fittings. So the wrenches that came with our Westphalian separator wouldn't even fit our separator.

Blotters used to be big business. Before the ballpoint, fluid ink needed to be sopped up after any penmanship, and the paper mills all made an absorbent stock that was finished on one side so an advertising message could be printed, and then the advertiser would give away blotters to promote his business. Mr. Putney was foreman for the Freeport Press, a job printing shop, and in 1924 he ran off a lot of blotters advertising the Freeport Press. I wanted to find one and give it to the Freeport Historical Society. At the moment, I wasn't thinking about the musket ball at all.

Mr. Putney was the victim of prosperity. The town of Freeport, Maine, until world war time, had been industrially quiet. A couple of shoe factories kept modest hours, and there was a paper- box factory that made paper boxes to sell shoes in. The building of wooden ships had languished, and the granite quarry had closed down. The Freeport Press, which never published a paper, continued to print labels for boxes of shoes, but the proprietress, Miss Helen Randall, was obliged to turn to painting in oils to make a living.

Mr. Putney, as foreman, was seriously thinking of moving on, and had queried a printing plant in Vermont. But now perked up a Main Street storekeeper named Leon L. Bean, who decided to try mail-order sales. And when he needed more room he bought the building where Mr. Putney was languishing. Mr. Bean had no notion of evicting the printing office. He was going to need catalogs. By the deuced millions. Mr. Putney roused and had a conference with Miss Randall, easel and all. In truth, this unexpected burst of possibility never bloomed into full flower. Miss Randall did invest in a Kelley automatic rotary press, and early Bean catalogs did get turned out by the Freeport Press. But the Bean business grew too rapidly, and typography techniques kept superseding each other, and the building was too small.

Just as Mr. Putney was getting out some new blotters to coax additional customers, Mr. Bean was using printers in Evansville, Ind., and such-like. Kip Goldrup, who had learned to run the Kelley, went off on a bread route selling cookies, biscuits, and pies, and Mr. Putney finally went to Vermont.

Myself, who knew some of the story as a Freeport lad, got interested in girls, making money, culture in general, and lost touch. But I had tucked away one of Mr. Putney's blotters, and it would lead me to the musket ball.

Mr. Putney said, "We prints anything; everything except postage stamps and money." He listed booklets, bill-heads, catalogs, cards, envelopes, enclosures, folders, flyers, labels, and on and on and on. All in addition to his first offer - blotters. And then his telephone number: Freeport 55-11. To call Mr. Putney to order some blotters you cranked the magneto, and when Central said, "Number please!" you said, "Hi, Gladys, want to ring me the Freeport Press?" Then Gladys would plug in the 55 line and she would ring one long and one short.

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