One time I was on a train and a gentleman came to share my seat. As we fell to talking, he said he owned a good business that processed jams and jellies and other products to be sold to hotels, restaurants, and bakeries. He said he packed a great deal of raspberry jam. When he was first in this business they left the seeds in raspberry jam, but because so many customers said the seeds got under their false teeth, they began removing the raspberry seeds and just packed the jam without.
Then he said great numbers of customers found fault because there were no seeds in the raspberry jam. The seeds, he was told, prove the raspberries are authentic, and there must always be seeds in raspberry jam. As a consequence, his company looked about to find seeds it could add to the seedless raspberry jam to convince customers the jam was the real thing. The seeds from a certain kind of millet were found to be the best substitute. Since that time, every 20-pound container of his raspberry jam has 14 ounces of millet seed added, and the public is satisfied.
Many years after this informative, if chance, railway colloquy, a strange gentleman from some far place bought a certain piece of property not far from us, facing the immediate sea with an expansive view of the Azores and a tax you wouldn't believe. He and his attractive (it turned out) wife sent printed invitations to the surrounding community suggesting we pop in for a get-acquainted (2 to 4) gathering.
It is always good fun to meet these folks who come to summercate and help us with our public-school debt, so we all tidied up and attended, finding this couple to be affable and sincere. They were from some place the other side of Bennington, Vt., where, I presumed, they were in the cattle business. But when I inquired about his spread and asked for his enumeration, the gentleman said no, he grew field crops. I said that had been my specialty, too, and we had a row of tomatoes, a row of sweet corn, two rows of dry beans, and two rows of green, and left the rest fallow where we grazed two sheep. Then he told me he grew 10 acres of millet for raspberry seeds.
I offer this parable to show how things in this world sweep into circles, and stray bits of casual information can often make you blink at the understanding involved. Had it not been for that train ride that particular morning, I would never have known about growing millet for jam, and I would have looked at my seasonal neighbor that afternoon and said, "Huh?"
If I may repeat an ancient tale to make a point, I will remind you of the man who lived in Lubec, Maine, and wore a handsome long beard of white that came down to his belt. On stormy winter days he would button it inside his pea-jacket to fend off the weather. One day his granddaughter asked him if, when he slept, he had his beard under the quilt "comfortable" or over the top. He laughed and said he didn't know, he had never paid any attention to this. He simply went to bed every evening, and whether he had his whiskers in or out he just didn't know.
But the question stuck in his mind, until he, too, wondered which way things were. So that evening, when he went to bed, he was careful to take notice, and in a sudden burst of awareness he realized he didn't know how he arranged his beard for the night.
He tried it with his beard under the covers, but this seemed awkward and he decided that was not the customary way. So he shifted and left his whiskers out on top. In turn, this was uncomfortable, and he switched back to under. Then followed several changes, in and out, until he was completely bewildered and hadn't the slightest notion which way was his usual way. After several hours of sleepless shifting back and forth, he got up, lit a light, and shaved off his whiskers.
The next morning he came forth to breakfast, and nobody in the family knew who he was.
SOMETHING of the same thing happened to my Uncle Soper, who hadn't a hair on his head. Fact was, he was so bald on top that everybody called him Curly. When Uncle Soper was in the city one time, he went into a wig shop and bought a red-haired wig, which was marked down. When he got back home that evening and walked into the kitchen, his wife, Aunt Martha, thought he was a burglar and put the stove poker to him. When her mistake was brought to her attention, Aunt Martha said, "But why red?"
He said it was on sale.
I believe that the moral we must accept is merely that things happen with an irrational fluency that keeps a great many things up in a heaval until we don't know what we should do next. There is no reason that because a man takes the seeds out of raspberry jam I should waste your time telling about my Uncle Soper who had a red wig.
One time, my father came home from a haircut at the village, and as he came into the house he asked my mother, "Did Lennie Footer bring some tinker mackerel?"
My mother said, "The shed light bulb blew out."
My father, riding his one-track mind, said, "Did you get some mackerel?"
Mother said, "I guess you didn't hear me: The shed light blew."
My father said, "What's that got to do with mackerel?"
She said, "It couldn't be more logical! I went to get a pail to put the mackerel in, and the bulb blew when I flipped the switch. What's the matter with you?" My father said, "So help me! Someday I'll buy a red wig!" But he never did.