Stories Worth Rereading: One of Father’s Stories

When children, nothing pleased us more than to listen to father’s stories. Mother Goose melodies were nothing beside them. In fact, we never heard fairy stories at home; and when father told of his boyhood days, the stories had a charm which only truth can give. I can hear him now, as he would reply to our request for a story by asking if he had ever told us how his father tried to have a “raising” without rum. Of course we had heard about it many times, but we were sure to want our memories refreshed; so we would sit on a stool at his feet or climb upon his knee, while he told us this story:—

“My grandfather, George Hobbs, was one of the pioneers of the Kennebec Valley. He had an indomitable will, and was the kind of man needed to subdue a wilderness and tame it into a home. He was a Revolutionary pensioner, having enlisted when only twelve years of age. He was too young to be put in the ranks, and was made a waiter in camp. When I was a boy, I can remember that he drove twenty miles, once a year, to Augusta, Maine’s capital, to draw his pension. Snugly tucked under the seat of his sleigh was a four-gallon keg and a box. The keg was to be filled with Medford rum for himself, and the box with nuts and candy for his grandchildren. After each meal, as far back as father could remember, grandfather had mixed his rum and water in a pewter tumbler, stirred in some brown sugar with a wooden spoon, and drunk it with the air of one who was performing an unquestionable duty.

“Grandfather was a ship-carpenter by trade, and therefore in this new country was often employed to frame and raise buildings. Raisings were great social events. The whole neighborhood went, and neighbors covered more territory than they do now. The raising of a medium-sized building required about one hundred and fifty men, and their good wives went along to help in the preparation of the dinner. The first thing on the day’s program was the raising, and not a stroke of work was done until all had been treated to a drink of rum, the common liquor of the day. After the frame was erected, one or two men, whose courage fitted them for the feat, had the honor of standing erect on the ridge-pole and repeating this rhyme:—

‘Here is a fine frame,
Stands on a fine spot;
May God bless the owner,
And all that he’s got.’

Men would sometimes walk the ridge-pole, and sometimes one, more daring than the others, would balance himself on his head upon it.

“Then followed a bountiful dinner, in which meat and potatoes, baked beans, boiled and fried eggs, Indian pudding, and pumpkin pies figured prominently. Often as many as one hundred and twenty-five eggs were eaten. After dinner came wrestling, boxing, and rough-and-tumble contests, in which defeat was not always taken with the best of grace.

“This was before the subject of temperance was agitated much in the good old State of Maine. The spirit of it, however, was awakening in the younger generation. My father was enthusiastic over it, and announced his intention of raising his new house without the aid of rum. To grandfather this was no trifling matter. It was the encroachment of new ideas upon old ones—a pitting of the strength of the coming generation against his own. To his mind, no less than to father’s, a principle was involved, and the old soldier prepared to fight his battle. With some spirit he said to father, ‘It cannot be done, Jotham; it cannot be done.’ But father was just as sure that it could. It was grandfather’s task to fit the frame. He went industriously to work, and father thought that he had quietly yielded the point.

“The day for the raising came, the first in that part of the country to be conducted on temperance principles. There were no telephones to spread the news, but long before the day arrived, everybody, far and near, knew that Jotham Hobbs was going to raise his new house without rum. The people came, some eager to help to establish the era of temperance, and some secretly hoping that the project would fail. A generous dinner was cooking indoors; for the host intended to refuse his guests nothing that was good. The song of mallets and hammers rang out, and the timbers began to come together; but the master framer was idle. Over by the old house door sat grandfather. He positively refused to lend a hand to the enterprise unless treated to his rum. For a time the work progressed rapidly; then there came a halt. There was a place where the timbers would not fit. After much delay and many vain attempts to go on with the work, father asked grandfather to help; but he only shook his head, and grimly replied that it was ten to one if it ever came together without rum. There were more vain attempts, more delays. Finally, father, seeing that he must yield or give up the work, got some rum and handed it to grandfather. The old man gravely laid aside his pipe, drank the Medford, and walked over to the men. He took a tenon marked ten and placed it in a mortise marked one. The problem was solved. He had purposely marked them in that way, instead of marking them alike, as was customary. With a sly twinkle in his eye he said, ‘I told you it was ten to one if it ever came together.’

“But the cause of temperance had come to stay, and grandfather met his Waterloo when Squire Low built his one-hundred-foot barn. Three hundred men were there to see that it went up without rum. Grandfather and a kindred spirit, Old Uncle Benjamin Burrill, stood at a safe distance, hoping to see another failure. But section after section was raised. The rafters went on, and finally the ridge-pole. The old men waited to see no more. They dropped their heads, turned on their heels, and walked away.”

These events occurred between 1830 and 1840. Since then the cause of temperance has made rapid progress.

In the State Capitol at Augusta, Maine, is a petition sent to the legislature in 1835 by one hundred and thirty-nine women of Brunswick, Maine. It is a plea for a prohibitory law, and is, probably, the first attempt made to secure a legislative enactment against the liquor traffic. One paragraph, which is characteristic of the whole document, is worth quoting:—

“We remonstrate against this method of making rich men richer and poor men poorer; of making distressed families more distressed; of making a portion of the human family utterly and hopelessly miserable, debasing the moral nature, and thus clouding with despair their temporal and future prospects.”

This petition met with no recognition by that legislature. There were many customs to be laid aside, many prejudices to be overcome, and it was not till 1851 that Maine became a prohibition State. Since that time her health and wealth have steadily increased, in greater proportion than other States which have not adopted temperance principles; and public sentiment, which is a powerful ally, is against the liquor traffic.