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Aunt Myrtle’s Feet


By Aunt Clara –

My mother’s sister Myrtle could milk two cows at one time. She would use her hands to milk the cow in front of her and her feet to milk a cow to the side. She was the best worker on the farm. Not only could she milk twice as many cows as any ranch hand but she could also work more hours without complaint.

The men may have been physically stronger than Myrtle but she would be darning socks long into the evening after all the boys had fallen asleep. “Women have to be stronger in ways different than just muscle,” Myrtle would say as she removed her shoes and began milking the cows. “We women carry men in the womb and then carry them the rest of their lives,” she proclaimed.

No man dared debate Myrtle lest she challenge them to some feat in which she could use her feet as well as her hands. The men would test each other every spring in games of skill and strength but as soon as Myrtle stepped into the ring they all ran away. Log rolling was a game in which two combatants would stand on a large log on the water and spin the log until one fell off. Aunt Myrtle would take off her shoes and socks and climb on the log daring any man to challenge her. “Her feet are like large hands,” the men would complain, “I can’t compete with that”!

In defense of the men, Myrtles feet were rather large for a woman or a man for that matter and the toes were elongated and spread apart more than regular human toes. The big toe could move around to touch all the other toes. That was Myrtle’s strength. It was not that the toes were so dexterous but that darn opposable big toe made all the toes work together in harmony. Myrtle could grasp with those toes and that made all the difference.

Of course Myrtle also possessed the feminine power of working beyond tiredness, beyond hunger and never giving up. Women were created to be able to care for a child even when she herself was sick or exhausted. She would make sure her child had food even though she was starving. Myrtle had those powers and she could outlast any man on the ranch. She told me that she could see it in their eyes when they were ready to give up. A man could be too hungry or too tired to continue on but a woman had no such option. Myrtle knew this and she used it against them.

She would wait until late in the day, when the men were hungry and tired and then she would begin a job of mending a fence post. Holding the post with her hands, hammer secured by her feet, she would ask the new hires to hold the nails while she hammered them in. She would watch the light go out of his eyes and knew that she had won. She would have no trouble from that ranch hand for the foreseeable future.

Then later that evening Myrtle would mend the men’s socks and also work on socks of her own creation. Myrtles feet were the talk of the town, but her socks were what really got people talking. She knitted the socks so that each toe is individually encased the same way as fingers within a glove. Everyone who saw them laughed and laughed. If only Myrtle could have lived long enough to know that her “finger socks” would be sold in every store in America and that shoe companies even made running shoes that fit the finger sock mold. Well I always knew Myrtle would be a footnote in history!


Bigfoot in Grafton


by Aunt Clara –

When Obadiah Spittle was born to Elizabeth and Barton Spittle in Grafton in 1795 he came out feet first. On first seeing those feet it is said that the midwife fainted and the local doctor requested a stiff drink. It was not so much that the feet were strangely shaped and covered in hair, it was the unnatural size of the things that caused such a stir that day. It was the fact they were adult sized and not just regular adult size but fairly large adult size.

The doctor was at first concerned that the entire baby would be large and just as he was contemplating just how to get such a huge baby out in one piece the rest of Obadiah shot out and shockingly was a regular seven pound baby. In fact, in comparison to those feet the rest of the infant looked quite tiny.

By the time the midwife had come to her senses and the doctor had consumed enough Blackstrap Whiskey to face the fearful town citizenry, Barton Spittle was already working on making a crib large enough to contain Obadiah’s feet.

As the years went by the rest of the boy grew at a normal rate, but no matter how much he grew it was said he would never catch up to those huge feet. As one would imagine finding shoes for those feet was a continuous endeavor. Barton first went to the local blacksmith for makeshift shoes, but the boy could not walk with his feet encased in those huge metal caskets.

The local seamstress worked with the family and made three-ply socks and the carpenter added a wooden bottom sole and the boy was able to at least go outside and work on the farm and go to school. Those huge feet covered in billowy cloth and the awkward clomping around on those wooden bottoms left poor Obadiah open to much ridicule.

Enter Oliver Ward, a corporal in the Massachusetts militia and hailed from a founding Grafton family of no little fame. Upon seeing the poor Obadiah with his uncommonly large feet and watching the boy being mercilessly ridiculed by the local juvenile delinquents, Oliver felt he must take action.

Oliver examined those huge boats that Obadiah was forced to lug around and realized that there was only one solution. Meeting that evening with a good friend (who was known for animal husbandry) Oliver decided to open his own shoe factory. Once he had his financing, and his tanning supplier was on board, Oliver searched all over Massachusetts for the best and brightest Cordwainer he could find.

Oliver worked day and night until the very first shoe factory was established in 1809. Because of Obadiah’s huge feet, and because of the caring ingenuity of one of Grafton’s finest citizens, Grafton qualified as the first town in Worcester County to manufacture shoes for export to the general public. And Obadiah Spittle qualified as the first Massachusetts citizen to receive shoes from this factory. The first factory was named after Obadiah and at its peak Grafton produced nearly 600,000 pairs of boots and shoes a year and employed 550 men and 300 women. And all of this because one little boy was born in Grafton with feet that were ten sizes too large.

One thing about Obadiah when he said he liked to sleep in his socks he really meant he liked to sleep in his socks. Instead of cutting the grass Obadiah’s parents sent him outside barefoot before they cut his toenails.

Obadiah finally grew up and became a cobbler as he was destined to do. One day the local physician came in with an old pair of shoes and asked him to look them over and see if they are worth repairing. Obadiah, being an honest man, examined the shoes and told the doctor they were not. To the doctors consternation Obadiah began writing up a bill. “You can’t do that,” stated the incensed physician, “you never even did anything to the shoes but look at them!” Obadiah quietly pulled out a bill he had received for his yearly physical. The doctor, knowing he was beaten, accepted the bill and promptly paid.


Love for the ‘paper book’


by Aunt Clara –

Aunt Clara loves to go to the library, a place where the old and musty pen and paper books are housed with the newfangled computers, music CDs and reading devices. Although these reading devices have their place, Aunt Clara’s heart will always be with the old fashioned paper edition of any book.

Aunt Clara’s test for books is beach, bath, and bed. Paper books certainly are far superior to any electronic device in the bathtub. Many Graftonites will remember many years ago that Sally Trustman got badly burned while using a curling iron in the shower. Aunt Clara does not like to tell tales out of school, but there was one schoolteacher back in the day who was badly burned when his electric razor fell into the toilet. What this man was doing is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that the man was never the same.

When going to the beach the paper book is also superior as one can leave it on a chair while swimming knowing it will be there when one returns. If the book gets a little wet while Aunt Clara is drying off it is none the worse for wear. With an electronic gadget it would behoove one to keep it dry and away from sand.

In bed an electronic edition of any book can be read and most e-readers have a built in backlight for reading in the dark. However there is something to be said for curling up with a book that you can smell and feel and one that allows you to turn the pages. You also would not have to worry about your batteries running out or finding an electric outlet.

Of course the content of the book also matters and I am sure that my dear readers will agree that they do not write books like they used to. Aunt Clara read the best-selling book, “The Girl on the Train” while riding on a train to Boston. This book deals with an alcoholic young lady who becomes entwined in the lives of a young married couple who she does not even know. Besides putting the reader through public displays of inebriation the book also deals with murder, mayhem and misogyny.

Not a book any young lady from a good family should be seen reading. Aunt Clara supposes that this is one benefit of the e-reader. Strangers on the train will not know if one is reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” or the Bible. Teachers, nuns and mothers could all be reading the most salacious material all while appearing as pious as a priest.

Back at the library, Aunt Clara finds most of the patrons are using the computers while she browses through stacks of books. Thoughts go back to time spent searching through the card catalog or “prehistoric Googling” as it is now called. The card catalog has been replaced by a computer catalog of books and one can search for any book in the whole state of Massachusetts. If the Grafton Library does not have the book on the shelves then a request will go out and the book will arrive within a few days. One would suppose that is progress of a certain sort.

The library used to be a place for a boy to meet a girl and fall in love over a good book. Now the kids at the library are either on the computer or on their phones. Aunt Clara wonders if they really feel that the virtual reality in hyperspace is more interesting than the reality right in front of them or are they missing out on experiences and life that were so much a part of our formative years back in the day?

Aunt Clara remembers sitting with a book at the Grafton Library when Tommy Sutton came up and said those words every girl yearns to hear, “If you are a book you must be overdue because you are so fine.” Now that is better than a text message any day.


Video games vs. Erector Sets

Erector Sets

by Aunt Clara –

Aunt Clara has some very elderly friends. In light of our existence in the 21st century (and the popularity of video games) she is no longer going to speak about age in terms of years. From now on, dear reader, it will behoove all of us to refer to years of age as game levels. The game of life! I now have a friend who is just defeated level 94. Now that is an accomplishment. She also has many of her health points left. The local teens are always bragging about how many levels of some game that they have defeated, but in the game of life they are only on level 15 or 17. Not much of an accomplishment considering that so many people have defeated level 70 or even 80.

And will any of these low level life gamers ever become architects or scientists? Hard to imagine when they are spending their hours playing games about killing reanimated human cannibals and racing in cars that they will never be able to afford. In Aunt Clara’s day, young boys played with Lincoln Logs, invented by the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which tells you that young minds in the early 1900s were much more active. Frank’s son was using his time in creating something that would last for many generations. Children of today only create YouTube videos that are forgotten 10 minutes after they are loaded onto the world wide computer web.

Lincoln Logs are notched so that logs may be laid at right angles to each other to form rectangles resembling buildings. Children who played with them were learning geometry and how to put things together. Children who play video games learn only how to destroy and annihilate. Over time Lincoln Log sets became more elaborate and led to the inventions of Tinker Toys and Erector Sets.

The child who played with Lincoln Logs became the pre-teen who worked with an Erector Set, which consisted of various metal beams with regular holes for assembly using nuts and bolts. Other mechanical parts such as pulleys, gears, wheels, and small electric motors were also part of the system. What distinguished construction sets like Erector, was the ability to build a model, then take it apart and build something else, over and over again. A child’s natural curiosity and imagination was all that was needed to build many elaborate structures using the Erector Set.

Bill Sewell was one such curious boy. Having built every conceivable model using his set (and then being admitted to the Yale School of Medicine) he built the first artificial heart, which, in 1949, he used to bypass the heart of a dog for over an hour. After being chased out of Yale by the dog’s owner (who was also Bill’s anatomy and physiology professor) he went on to create the precursor to the modern artificial heart. He could not have done that playing Atari 2600 or Nintendo.

Give a child a video game and they might be happy for an afternoon, let a child explore and create using Lincoln Logs and an Erector Set and that child will find lifelong happiness and one day move out of your basement.


Reflections of the last ‘blood moon’


by Aunt Clara –

Aunt Clara was so excited to be in Grafton during the recent “blood moon” experience. So many of our friends and neighbors were out with their cameras and telescopes. The last time Aunt Clara experienced the “blood moon” was the summer of 1982. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, a gallon of gas was 92 cents and you could buy a home in Grafton for $40,000. In 1982 nobody would have believed that the son of the current vice president, George Bush, would one day become president.

It was in 1982 Burt and I went to see the Stephen Spielberg film, “E.T.” In the film an alien being that loves Reese’s Pieces, finds friendship in America and tries to use a phone to get home. One interesting thing about the candy used in the film is that Spielberg wanted it to be the popular chocolate coated treat, M & M’s.

The Mars Company refused to let their tiny alphabet candies be part of such a strange movie so instead the Hershey’s company agreed to let the film use their brand new peanut butter creation. The local cinemas filled their shelves with Reese’s Pieces so that children could enjoy eating the candy in their seats with the alien character in the film. In this way E.T. became the first interactive film and a precursor to our 3D films of today.

In 1982 the common commercial of the day on television was “Raid kills bugs dead,” Nike shoes had their first television advertisement, and Fred the Dunkin’ Donuts baker said, “time to make the donuts” for the first time. Burt became addicted to the brand new Weather Channel, and we saw the first ever compact disc player show up at the local RadioShack. The first disc Burt bought was a recording from 1979 of Claudio Arrau performing Chopin Waltzes. Oh how Burt loved those waltzes.

In Time, for the first time ever, their man of the year was not a human but a computer. Over 2 million computers were sold in America. The magazine discusses the new Apple computer coming out called “the Lisa.” For $10,000 (about $25,000 in today’s dollars) you could own it, which also included the first mouse. Of course all computers of that time had a big floppy hat disc. Somehow the words you would see on the computer screen were all kept on that disc; at least that is what Burt told Aunt Clara.

Burt did buy himself a Commodore 64 computer in 1982 and for the life of Aunt Clara she never understood why. Burt would sit at the ugly looking thing for hours poking and pecking out what he called code, finally making a ball bounce across the screen. Burt would jump with glee as he would call the neighbors over to see his work of genius. Too bad Burt did not live to see the World Wide Web computer of today.

All the young kids were wearing Deely Bobbers in 1982. The Deely Bobber was a headband to which was affixed two springy protrusions resembling the antennae of insects. Most kids would have pom-poms or light emitting diodes on their Deely Bobbers. Unbelievably these things were patented and they made someone a millionaire. Just goes to show people were just as silly in the 1980s as they are today.

Aunt Clara has done a lot of living since that “blood moon” of 1982. She owns a smartphone that is smarter than most people she knows as well as a state of the art computer with a mouse and everything. Remembering passwords is easy mcbreezy for this grande dame. Aunt Clara’s password is always “incorrect,” of course, that way as she gets more forgetful her computer tells her “your password is incorrect.”