Tin ceilings and a taxing situation

An odd item in a stray newspaper says the tin ceiling may be about to stage a comeback, and this made me think pleasantly of Jackie Hawes. Thoughts of great thinkers like me fluctuate in devious ways, and you must make allowances. I have every right to presume you will understand why I think of Jackie whenever you mention a tin ceiling. In the same way, I always think of my ancestor Joseph when I pay taxes, which is always just about now. More about Joseph later.

Tin ceilings became popular in Victorian times and were probably the first construction novelty, followed hard by beaverboard, plywood, prefab windows and cupboards, and then the complete precut mansion that comes on a trailer and all you do is plug it in.

The sheet metal was stamped with a pattern at the mill, and came ready to nail in place as wall and ceiling finish in homes. It did away with laths and plaster, paint and wallpaper, and many hands. A crew came to nail it in place, and the sheets overlapped and left no seams. It was all made in one pattern, so if you saw one bedroom you'd seen 'em all.

Jackie Hawes lives in Union, Maine, an average small town somewhat famous for the Union Fair, one of the few old-time annual exhibitions that are real harvest-home festivals, not just hosstrot and midway. More than 30 years ago, the fair added the Maine Blueberry Festival to its attractions.

Each year, a Miss Blueberry is chosen and support developed for the wild blueberry, which is an important Maine crop. The folks interested in this festival held a kickoff supper at the Union church, and as a committee member, Mrs. Jackie Hawes baked the hot biscuits. Agriculture Commissioner Newdick said he'd never stuck a tooth in a better biscuit and would like to meet Mrs. Hawes and get her recipe. Thus Jackie gained some fame, and ever since has reigned as the best biscuit baker in Maine.

Now, this church in Union has tin walls, and a sign in the vestibule says the church was "steeled" in loving memory of so-and-so. It's the only instance I know about where a tin ceiling does the duty of a memorial stained-glass window. Consequently, I thought about Jackie Hawes.

As to Ancestor Joseph, he comes to mind whether I think of hot biscuits or anything. He came to America about 1613 to settle at New Meadows River in Maine. The fisheries station there was a growing community, and he expected to do well as a carpenter.

He was a jointer by trade, but to avoid confusion he called himself a "housewright," to make it clear he was not a shipwright in a boat-building area. When the community came to want a church, he was hired to build it and did, giving the parish a good deal of free labor with public spirit.

He also made the pews as a donation. The pews were plain, but he ornamented the aisle ends with carvings of family names, revealing artistry in good taste. When the church was dedicated, his kindness was acknowledged. He was thanked, and he was called upon for a few words.

At this ceremony, the established parish took over the affairs of the new church, according to the laws of Massachusetts, and a dual membership prevailed. One could be a member of the parish but not the church, and the parish owned the church, while the church that met there did not.

This left Joseph in a curious situation. He was a member of the parish by law as a fact of residence, and he was a member of the church by preference. So the parish officers assigned the pews and assessed pew rent to each family, and Joseph got a bill for rent on the pew he had donated. Something about this displeased him, and he mentioned it to the parish officers.

Joseph thus learned the first great lesson of democracy: You can't lick city hall. He was told to pay up or stop attending services. So he stopped going and was kicked out of church for nonpayment of pew rent. It's in the history book, and I've always been a bit proud of the old reprobate. Principle!

By the way, this Joseph is the one who got fired up in later life and wanted to go to Canada with General Wolfe to fight in the Indian wars. They told him he was too old and couldn't go unless he took his son along to see that he didn't get hurt. So the son went, too, and he didn't pay attention, and Joseph was wounded in the leg on the Plains of Abraham. At the time, the son was 76.

It has nothing to do with hot biscuits or tin ceilings, but I will add that Stephen, the son and also an ancestor, did get his father off the battlefield and treated the wounded leg. Then, after months of recuperation at a friendly farm home, Stephen began leading his daddy through the wilderness toward the coast of Maine. It was a long walk, and there were many times when it was difficult to travel more than a few miles before they made camp so Joseph could rest.

There was a well-used trail over the route, as laid out by native Americans coming down the short route from the St. Lawrence to the sea, but the area had no homes. At times things were lonesome, but the two plugged along and one day walked into the driveway back in New Meadows.

Joseph got his per-diem stipend from the Queen for militia duty, a matter of six pounds four and seven, but there was no provision for Stephen. He never got a shilling.

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