Note: It is entirely in the realm of possibilities that the events recounted may have been slightly exaggerated. Nevertheless, it is all true.
Towards the middle of August on nice pre-autumn afternoon I was in the backyard minding my own business when, with a loud bang, something hit the garage roof. A second later, at the far edge of my peripheral vision, something whizzed by and landed with a sharp crack on the driveway. (Here it should be noted that the last time my vision was tested at the DMV office the agent said my peripheral vision was extremely good.) Whatever it was, it missed. Minutes later it happened again with the “missile” missing my head by just a few inches. It crossed my mind that it would be advantageous to take cover in the garage. When the barrage ended I collected the spent shot from the garage walkway and the driveway.
It was the Mockernut! Our hickory tree was throwing murder marbles at me! I was appalled. This is the tree that provides much-needed shade in the summer and gorgeous golden leaves in the autumn. This is the tree I always stop to give a pat to when walking by. It is solid, straight, true. And, apparently, a punk teenager.
The Mockernut hickory, Caryatomentosa, is a member of the Juglandaceae, the walnut family. Our tree is around 55-60 feet high and at least 40-45 years old. These trees don’t start producing murder marbles until they are 25 years old. That seems such a long ”childhood” until you learn they are both slow-growing and long-lived, with some trees reaching the age of 500 years.
As woodworkers are well aware, hickory wood is extremely hard and is an excellent wood for tool handles. The nuts are also exceedingly hard. People who enjoy hiking or camping in the forest and who have unfortunately lost their food supply to bears can enjoy a snack of hickory nuts if they happen to have brought along a sledge hammer. Try as I might, none of the many nutcrackers in the house could open a fresh Mockernut nut. Hickory nuts are an important food source for squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife, but how in the world do they get them open? Being much smarter than the average human they gather the nuts and wait. After a few weeks of aging the nuts are much easier to open.
Perhaps our Mockernut was feeling feisty after several “off” years and the beating it took last year. On a warm day in April 2020 we had what seemed to be a mini-derecho tear through our neighborhood. In just 15 to 20 minutes shearing winds tore thousands of leaves and small branches from trees. The wind was accompanied by hailstones the size of nickels and quarters. When the wind and hail stopped every surface was covered with ragged green leaves and the air was filled with a fog as the hailstones melted. Weeks afterward the damage inflicted on the springtime trees, especially to the crowns, was hard to miss. In our yard the Mockernut and Southern red oaks faired much worse than the white oaks.
Beyond the deep shade it provides in the summer the Mockernut is an important part of our yard’s ecosystem. It is home to myriad insects that provide food for several bird species. For many birds it is an intermediate stop and refuge on the way to the water bowls. The squirrels have made it their highway connecting their nesting trees to the yard. The Mockernut is also an important feature in squirrel parkour exercises and several branches are used as napping sites during the summer.
I have to admit the initial attack brought back childhood memories of the apple trees in the “Wizard of Oz.” It was upsetting to see an apple tree, mind you a talking apple tree, slap Dorothy and then pelt her with apples. Although there were days when there were so many nuts on the ground walking felt more like in-line skating, I made my peace with the Mockernut. Or so I thought. Just a few days ago we had a light rain followed by a nice breeze. I was in the yard minding my own business when suddenly, WHAPP! I was struck on the side of my head by a golden compound Mockernut leaf.
We haven’t given up on getting everything restocked in our store. Today I’m happy to say that our Lost Art Press Pencils are back in stock. These U.S.-made pencils are made to our specifications and come in a nicely printed box.
I don’t have good news, however, about restocking “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” Our Michigan printing plant had to shut down earlier this month for cleaning after a bad rash of COVID in the plant. Add to that some paper, cloth and staff shortages. While we hope the book will ship in early December, I wouldn’t bet money on it.
If you need this book for the holidays, check with our retailers, many of which have copies to sell.
True story, Word of Honor: Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island. I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?” And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.” And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?” And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.” Not bad! Rest in peace!
Not only do we once again have “Woodworker’s Pocket Book” in stock, on Saturday, Texas Heritage will post a batch of slipcovers in which to store the book on the inside of your tool chest. The slipcovers will be part of the company’s annual Small Business Saturday Sale. So if you want one, stick a Post-It note on your oatmeal tin or mirror as a reminder to visit the site on Saturday morning. (No pre-orders, as it states on the Texas Heritage site.)
Like all of the company’s offerings, this slipcase is handmade in Texas. It’s navy blue, 14-ounce waxed cotton canvas with hand-peened copper rivets and brass eyelets, and comes with slotted brass mounting screws. Both Christopher Schwarz and I have them inside our tool chests, so we can easily grab the book whenever needed.
NB: If you put one inside a Dutch tool chest, mount it sideways. I had one in my travel chest mounted so that it was right-side up when I opened the lid…but the 30° slant of the lid caused it to slip down to the front wall, at which point it became a lock of sorts. It was a struggle to get the chest open and rescue my book!
Across the studio, behind a grove of microphones on stands, the piano sat silent under a quilted cover like a sleeping racehorse. Calvin leaned forward in his chair staring at it, trying to strike an intense, artistic pose as Bubby read over his script. A figure in the hallway passed the small window in the studio door and Calvin whipped his head up painfully quick. He glanced at the clock. Bubby said they would have the studio to themselves until four. The chair creaked as he leaned back, shifting his pose to one of relaxed confidence—which would do just as well if Kathryn Dale Harper should happen by. But this pose quickly grew tiresome as well, and he leaned forward again to poke quietly at the saws, augers and gouges in his pasteboard box.
Bubby finally handed the script back to Calvin. “Okay. You need to write an introduction. You need to say who you are, what you’re doing, and who it’s for. You need say the title and set the stage. And you have to state that it’s a transcribed show at the beginning and at the end. That’s a federal regulation.”
“Do you want me to write all that now?”
“Nah, its just boilerplate to me. Same on every show, time-wise. Like the ending, it’ll be something like—
If you would like a measured drawing to make your own folding ladder of liberty, handy around the farm and home, just write to Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air, care of the National Farm and Home Hour, US Department of Agriculture, Washington 25, D.C. Be sure to include a three-cent stamp to cover the cost of duplication. This has been Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air, transcribed from Washington, D.C.
“So ‘Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air,’ that’s the title?”
Bubby pinched at a weeping blister on his left hand. “Hattersley’s suggestion, so I’d go with it, if I were you.”
“I thought it had a certain buoyancy about it!”
“Thought you’d like it.” He grinned at his friend. “Okay, after the close, you need a signature sign-off. Something that will stick with ’em.”
Calvin leaned over toward the sound effects table in the center of the studio as he thought. “How about:
This is Calvin Cobb wishing that, as you slide down that banister of life, all the splinters go in your direction!”
Bubby nodded enthusiastically. “Believe me, that’s not too corny.”
Calvin rubbed the canvas cover of the wind machine. “Nah! You know we can’t end each show with a Confucius-say joke about splinters in the ass.”“Well, it’s borderline. So, got any theme music?”
“This is very psychological, now. You need some old music that’s gone out of fashion, but that still has positive associations. Gotta pluck the right strings.”
Calvin stared at the piano and flipped through mental images of tattered sheet music. Willow Weep for Me?
Bubby shook his head. “It doesn’t have to have a wood reference.”
“Something by Bela-Bale, maybe, then.” He waved away his comment. “Sorry, uh, how bout Nola?” Bubby hummed the tune to himself for a second. “It’s bouncy.”
“Yes, but is it buoyant?”
“Buoyant enough for government work. Okay, Nola for now, and your first sound effect is what?” Calvin looked at the script. “The auger, I guess.”
Bubby wrote the cue on a notepad. “Right, okay, I’ll do peanut shells in a meat grinder for that.”
“I brought over an auger and a brace,” said Calvin, rummaging in his box of tools.
“Wouldn’t sound right. Okay, you got sawing here too. Let me hear you saw.”
“Rip or crosscut?”
“Both. And I’ll do Washington’s snoring since you’ll be doing the character voices over it.”
Calvin pulled his five-and-a-half point Disston No. 9 from the box and rip-sawed down the length of a pine plank spanning two sawhorses. Bubby made snoring sounds, striving for a comic asynchrony. He signaled Calvin to stop. “You know, if this was a union job they’d have to give me actor’s pay for the snoring. Alright, lets hear the crosscut.”
Calvin changed saws and began cutting across the grain. Bubby snored while studying the bouncing needle on a meter. He shook his head. “Get a thinner board so it’s a little crisper, and I’d better do the sawing too. I can make it funnier.”
“Right! Tell me how you can saw funnier than me.” Calvin plunked the saw blade with his thumb, making it ring with a “boing” sound.
“It’s all in the timing. And that ‘boing’ you just did is a perfect rimshot for the punchline.” Bubby reached with his toe to level the gravel in a big shallow box on the floor. “So, here’s your Hessian on guard duty.”
He stepped in the box, marched in place for a few steps, then swiveled and marched in place again.
“We’re going to be making history, you know that.”
“Well, it’s not very good history.”
Bubby frowned at him for a second, then grinned and slapped at Calvin’s script. “No, not your story itself! Just that it’s going to be the first recorded program ever on the networks.”
“You mean the second. You did the first. And what’s the big deal, anyway?” said Calvin, trying to shift the subject. “Unless there’s a scratch or a skip on the record, you can’t tell if it’s recorded or live—or is that the problem?”
“Oh, that’s what they say, but it’s just money.” Bubby leveled the sound effects gravel with his toe. “It’s like Rockefeller oil. Once you control the pipeline, you can strangle the little guys. NBC and CBS put all this dough into their wire networks. But if anyone bypasses them by mailing out shows on disks, there goes the hegemonic power of the dastardly duopoly.” He laughed. “I sound like Kathryn Harper.”
Calvin glanced at the window and stretched his arms over his head in an exaggerated show of nonchalance. “Are you suggesting that the voice of the American homemaker is a red?”
“Oh, she’s very in with that Popular Front jazz.” He tossed his head back, regarding Calvin through narrowed eyes. “Are you surprised?”
“Well, it is kind of an odd fit—slip covers and surplus value.”
Bubby shrugged. “Lots o’ radishes out there still—all stylishly red on the outside but white underneath. But me? I’ve got you some surplus value right here.” He reached into his jacket pocket and handed Calvin two blue tickets.
“Holy cow! Tommy Dorsey! How’d you get these?”
Making a show of adjusting his collar, Bubby affected a hoity-toity voice. “I’m a celebrity now, don’t you know? Such things come my way.”
“But don’t you want go?”
Bubby shook his head slowly. “The dance is out at Glen Echo, right next to the roller coaster. I’ve heard all the screaming I need to hear for a while.” He blew out a breath and sat on one of the sawhorses. “I just burn my hands trying to pull some stupid girder and the next thing you know my name is in the paper and everybody’s being nice to me!” He stood, taking control of his breathing before reaching into a bag beneath his table and pulling out a head of cabbage. “So here’s when your Kraut gets clubbed.” He whacked the cabbage with a short billy club, let a half second of silence pass and grunted “Unhh!” A sequential flopping of his elbow, forearm and fist onto the tabletop made the sound of a body hitting the ground. “Trust me, it’s perfect when you can’t see it.” Bubby nodded slowly as he looked in his little spiral-bound notebook. “Okay, we got the prison door.” He leaned over and patted the chain-festooned iron firebox door standing on a short wooden frame. “Got the tunnel.” He patted the empty trash drum beside him. “Got your wood gouges, creaking gridiron and unfolding ladder.”
Calvin took up the challenge and pointed to a yellow balloon on the cart. “All right. Thumb dragged across the balloon for the creaking gridiron. Where’s the folding ladder?”
Bubby picked up a short cedar box with a paddle-shaped cedar lid. He held the lid handle and rubbed it down the edge of the box to make a squeaky opening and closing sound. “Its a turkey call.”
Calvin nodded appreciatively. “And the gouges?”
Bubby took up a serving spoon and swept it repeatedly across the tabletop, slowly rolling its point of contact from the bowl of the spoon to finish the sweep with its edge. He bounced his eyebrows in happy triumph and popped Calvin on the shoulder with the spoon. “We’re going to be on a tight schedule, so I’m going to give you a production calendar for the whole summer. Enjoy the dance, ’cause you sure won’t have much time for a social life once we get going.” He glanced up at the wall clock. “Ah! Let’s get this place cleaned up.”
“I thought we had until four o’clock!”
Bubby crossed the studio to retrieve a broom. “When the piano man speaks, all must obey. He wanted to start at three.”
Calvin held a sheet of paper on the floor as Bubby swept the sawdust onto it. “Is Brockwell privy to Miss Harper’s pink persuasion?”
“Couldn’t be. He’s the bone they had to throw over the right side of the fence.” Bubby removed the quilted cover from the Steinway grand and began rearranging the microphones. “Some of his stooges in congress invoked the public interest provision of the Communications Act of 1934. As a balance to talking about social security, they say we have to let Brockwell share his helpful hints about blood, soil and der volk.” He handed the piano cover to Calvin and nodded toward the props table. “He’s been trying to get his own radio program for years now.”
“What’s been stopping him?”
“Stay and listen.”
Calvin finished tidying the props and wandered slowly to the booth. He let himself in and began thumbing through the record collection in the dark corner.
Bubby, still in the studio, switched on a microphone so that his voice came on the speaker in the booth. “You may be stuck here for an hour or so,” he warned. “We’re going to rehearse and then we’ll cut one.” He made a farting noise. “Or maybe two.” He made another.