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Folklore for sale -- cheap

Our state university has been researching Maine folklore, and has fed the "get" into a memory bank. (The "get" is a Maine fisherman's word for what he catches when he goes fishing.) Now a button is about to be pushed and a computer will write a book; I have just seen a portion of the printout and foresee sensitive spirits joining them in a rising gorge.(Emerson Bullard, up to Denmark (Maine), was about to name his farm Rising Gorge,m but was persuaded not to by several thoughtful neighbors.) There is an illusive quality to folklore -- the manners, customs, legends of a people -- that resists capture even by tender study, and to clap it forthwith under electronic scrutiny seems rash. The University of Maine should pause and consider well this proposal.

The thing about folklore is that it floats along calmly with the tide, and it keeps its place pleasantly until some busybody tries to pick it up and look at it. Psychology has long taught that when you analyze an emotion you lose the emotion; when you try to study folklore it fades, dissolves, and there you stand , a kind of academic failure with your PhD askew. The professors from Midwest universities who come to Maine every summer to devote their grants to folklore seem not to know this, and become the victims of jolly old folklore characters who have been practicing their eya's all winter. You see, when you break out of a tape recorder and ask a Mainer to talk a mite of native, he ceases to be his normal and rational self, and becomes a Clark Gable. "Eyah," he says, "Finest kind!" and he play-acts with the contrived routine meant to entertain the summercaters. Last year some fifty professors went home to Indiana alone with Dobbie Metcalf's rendition of:

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"Where does this road go?"

"No place -- stays right where we built it."

But Chub Wentworth prefers:

"Lived here all your life?"

"Not yet."

I assure you that it is possible to live in Maine a long time without hearing either of those doozies in the flow of natural lore, Mainer to Mainer. But if somebody "from away" appears with a clipboard he will get one or both from the first 10 men he approaches. In this way evidence grows with every sabbatical that Maine folklore runs 185 percent to saucy rejoinders to tourists --and that tourists like that. That figure is statistically high; it's about 160 percent.

Some years ago, when he was a young man, Wash Libby was haulin' out by Halfway Rock, and along comes a stinkpot piece of summer mahogany that is clip-topping the swells, and Wash is some old hornswoggled when it fetches up, swings alongside, and hails him. Wash assumes (which turns out to be correct) that he's met some Marblehead jokers kiting down to Bah Hahb'h for the weekend. "My good man," says a cockatoo in a yacht-bonnet, "might we purchase some lobsters?"

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Now, according to Wash, he'd found 'em crawling goo-ood that morning, and he was thinking in the neighborhood of three kentals for the gang, maybe more, so if this fancy wants lobsters, Wash has 'em. "Boy lobsters or girl lobsters?" says Wash.

"Does it make a difference?'

"That depends," says Wash.

"Depends on what you're going to do with 'em."

"How so?"

"Boilin', boys; but for a stew, no."

"We expect to have them boiled."

"Boys it is, then," said Wash, and "how many?"

Wash said when it came to paying, he had to guess at the weight, having no scales aboard, but that didn't matter, and the man said, "How much?"

"Well," said Wash, "they's one-fifteen a pound at the Cove, but away out here I'd have to get one-thirty."

When Wash would relate this, he'd say, "Well, what was I to do? They was expecting me to make like Maine, so's they'd have so 'thin' to quote and laugh about, and that's easily worth fifteen cents a pound cents a pound. Maybe if I'd had more time to reflect, I'd-a got 'em up to a dollar and a half."

Can you compute that?

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