It was around 1943 that my Swedish immigrant father left the paving quarries in St. George and found employment building big boats in Sample’s Boothbay Harbor shipyard. We moved into nearby government housing and instead of being the only one in my class in a one-room school, I found myself in a cosmopolitan second-grade classroom on the East Side of Boothbay Harbor. I have fond memories of being terrorized by fourth-grade boys, of sitting on a plank and sliding on the ice, of Ziney’s barbershop and of being sent upstairs to amaze the older students with my reading ability.

I could read long before I developed critical thinking skills. When I read Charles Lamb’s “Dissertation Upon Roast Pig,” I believed that the Chinese really had discovered cooking when a house burned down around a pig. And then there was Cy Nye’s settin’ hen who was fed hemlock sawdust mash. Eleven chickens that she hatched all had wooden legs. That might bring to your mind Sam’wel Doubl’yer Strout, another Holman Day character: “Once I seen him lug a rock, with fairly mod’rit ease, so hefty that at ev’ry step, he sunk above his knees.” I had the reasoning power of a 7-year-old. There it was in print. Why should I doubt it?

Luckily there was no internet with its conspiracy theories 80 years ago. What would have happened to a little boy who could believe that chicks could hatch out with wooden legs?

As a child you might have learned to parrot many words or strings of sound without having any idea of what they meant. Before the days of television, one heard a song on the radio: “This history might be askew, but one fact is very clear … That when you want a better brew, time for Dawson’s ale and beer.” It was many years before I ran this old song through my head and realized that when I memorized it, I had no idea what “a scew” was.

And then there was Spike Jones. My friend Richard and I would listen to Spike Jones records over and over and we’d laugh. But the words had no meaning and were no more than a string of sounds.  “Hey I’m a simian a monkey ahh!” If you stop to think about it, learning your native language entails a lot more than being able to read aloud or repeat the words.

One of the good things about stories by Holman Day or Charles Lamb is that they clearly illustrate to an adult that you can’t believe everything you read. This presents a credibility challenge to the rest of us who might tell an unbelievable story, like the one below, that is absolutely true. The location has been changed to protect the author’s source.


It was a dark and stormy December morning on the coast of New Hampshire, and concerned parties in several locations were preparing to attend a military funeral a bit upstate at the veterans cemetery. It had started to snow before daylight. By setting out early, the funeral director, the pastor and a member of the military in full uniform had managed to establish themselves at the gravesite, but it was determined by cellphone that the family was already snowed in. Trying to get through would be dangerous. Another interment had been imprudently planned for the next hour, and our friends in the little group were told they had to move along.

This they did, each in his own vehicle. But, by then, there raged a wicked blizzard and for an hour they’d all been stamping their feet in fresh snow. So it was not surprising that each and every one of them stopped at the first place that promised hot coffee – a Kentucky Fried Chicken. You can imagine that while lined up at the counter, they continued their conversation where they left off. Someone mentioned that it was too bad that the family would never have the memory of a service for their loved one. They had a cellphone. Why couldn’t they call the family and hold the service right there? The director called the family and asked if they would mind doing the service over the phone. Yes, that would be nice.

So the pastor said his words, the military man played his recorded trumpet sounds and the family was comforted. You can believe that the only other KFC customer, who had witnessed all this from behind a newspaper, went home and, with shaking voice, told his wife that a dangerous cult with military backing had come to town, never suspecting that he’d seen something that changed the world.

You’ve already guessed what that was, and today, if you drive through a certain town in southern New Hampshire, you might see a sign that proudly says, “Kentucky Fried Chicken. Home of the First Virtual Meeting.”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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