Time Is Relative; And, Speaking of Relatives...

When I reviewed the affairs of last year to tot up my minuses and pluses, I was much put out to find last year had ended three months ago. I mentioned this to my wife, and she said, "It did? I didn't know that!" Then again, there is the story about Uncle Tiddly Bucker, who was always frantically active and lived in constant fear the day would never be long enough.

He was always up and about at the crack of dawn. It was his custom to bake a pan of buttermilk biscuits for his breakfast. As he lived alone, this was a quantity sufficient to handle dinner and supper, and a lunch if he felt the need between times. Uncle Tiddly would mix the biscuits first and let them set while he chored at the barn, and they'd be ready to bake off whilst he was separating. Uncle Tiddly's hot biscuits were light as a feather.

But one morning Uncle Tiddly got crossed up somehow as he began his day. He was late getting in from the barn, and his oven wouldn't heat, and what with this and that he got behinder and behinder the more he hurried. At last he looked up at the clock wagging on the wall, and said, "Half past four already! Where has the forenoon gone?"

I never was too much like Uncle Tiddly. It always seemed to me a wag-on-the-wall clock had an urgency about it that kept time in a dither, causing everybody to hurry when everybody should be leaning against the wall to enjoy something. There is always something to enjoy. Why push?

Long years ago, I went to New York City. I was to call on somebody who had an office there, and I got to it by an elevator. So when the man who was running the elevator opened the door, all the people who were standing around me trotted like a flurry of guinea hens into the elevator. When they got disposed, I stepped in with my countrified face hanging down and stood with my back to the door, looking folks over. I had to wonder whatever possessed them. And the man who was running the elevator grinned at me and said good morning. I shook hands with him, and he said, "You're from the country!"

I said yes, I was, and could he use a bushel of turnips. He said, "I can tell!"

He said all the people who rode in his elevator were city people except the ones who didn't run to get in.

He said, "Connecticut?"

"No, I'm State o' Maine."

He said, "Glad to make your acquaintance. I'm from Noank." That's the only time I ever shook hands with anybody from Noank. It made the trip worthwhile.

One time a salesman from the city thought he might be able to sell something or other to the Plaistead boys, who had a farm up at Gollywoggle Gore and were always full of business, like Uncle Tiddly Bunker. He came driving up in a rooty-toot big car one morning at 8 o'clock and thumped on the door to ask if he could see one or the other of the Plaistead brothers. Mrs. Jim Plaistead said, "Gracious, no! They're hooked up and long gone!"

So he asked what would be a good time to catch them, and was told any time before breakfast. He came back the next morning at half-past 6.

"Gracious, no!" he was told. "They're long gone!"

The salesman said he'd come again the next day, a bit earlier.

And the next day he was there at 5 o'clock, and again he was disappointed. The Plaistead boys had hooked up and were long gone. Mrs. Plaistead said, "They waited for you half the forenoon, but you didn't come!"

TIME is relative. In the ancient practice of literature, there was the constant fuss over unities. A play must have a single place, a single message, a single time. Everything happened the same day at the same place. Failure to observe the unities was sloppy craftsmanship.

We had a writer of much talent here in Maine in times gone by, a country boy named Holman Day. He is remembered best for his verses about home, 'longshore, and forest, but he did several good novels of robust quality about lumbering.

One of his novels had the supreme unity of time. The entire action takes place after the cook strikes the gong for dinner and the lumber-camp crew sits down at the table. Out of curiosity, I have timed this, and it is about like a bunch of New Yorkers getting into an elevator, except quicker. The first man through the cook-shack door yells, "Please pass the beans!" Then they sit down. Once, in getting into an elevator in the city, I called out, "Please pass the beans!" and nobody even turned to look at me.

What city people need to notice is that there is always another elevator soon, and that there is no great indignity in taking the next trip. Not that it ever bothered me, anyway.

I don't remember that I ever missed anything by taking my time. Why don't I tell about Mrs. Pearson, who came up from Florida on the Greyhound one spring to do the pastry cooking at Kennebago Lake Club? She was 88 and had been pastry cook for years. Went to Florida every winter. Bus stopped by her doorstep, and somebody met the bus on the Maine end. This time, the bus was met, but Mrs. Pearson wasn't on it. A police alert in 10 states couldn't find her. Where was she? She came on the next day's bus, having decided she got tired riding and would stay over in New Haven. "Why the fuss?" she said. "What's a day more or less? My sakes!"

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