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Pity I Didn't Set Down Everything the Feller Said

As the feller said, it likely rained four inches during the night. I never knew who this "feller" was, but in my youth he was quoted in my presence repeatedly, so I knew about everything he ever said. A great-uncle who was capable of original wisdom seldom said anything without "As the feller said ..." in preface.

In school, not too many years later, I read a George Eliot book and found the thing was full of pithy sayings of the "feller says" stripe. But come to find out, author Eliot wasn't quoting some homespun sage of the settled community; she made these things up as she went along. (Oh, Mr. Eliot was a lady.) So I began to wonder why Uncle Levi always gave credit to "the feller" when he might have spoken for himself and become another Poor Richard or even an Aristotle. George Eliot is in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations." Uncle Levi is not.

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And neither is "the feller." It wasn't only my great-uncle who quoted the feller. I don't know about other places, but here in Maine the feller has been quoted until everybody knows there is no feller at all. He exists only in fantasy. Somebody created him to take the blame for foolishness and the credit for wisdom. When Uncle Levi said, "It'll haul around cold, as the feller said," he was merely disclaiming all personal responsibility for the weather. And, in Maine, this is a smart thing to do, as the feller said.

Not so long ago I had a good letter from a gentleman who told me he originated the remark, "You can't get there from here." He said he heard it long since from a "feller" but it lay aslumber until one day he read that Reader's Digest was paying $25 for the short takes and repetitive encores it uses for page closers. He jotted the story down as the feller said it and sent it along.

The Digest, the feller told me, not only paid him the $25, but printed the thing with his name on it. Immediately the yarn became famous as a witty bit of Down Maine humor, and somewhere ever since, some feller or other quotes it as happening to him.

To which I can only add that my Uncle Levi used to tell the story as happening to a feller in North Dakota, Tomhegan's Misery, South Bristol, Minneapolis, Carratunk, New Bedford and/or Fall River, Mass., Dover, N.H., and down in Nova Scotia 17 years before Reader's Digest was founded. The feller said one time that 100 monkeys, left playing with typewriters, would by the laws of chance contrive to write all of Charles Dickens.

As the feller said, you can't get there from here, in giving highway instructions to a tourist (no doubt from Marblehead, Mass.). The feller tried several routes, and then said you can't get there from here.

As the feller said, you can't tell the depth of the well by the length of the handle on the pump. He also said you'll never know until you try, that cleanliness is next to impossible, that a full house is hard to beat, and that it never rains but it pours.

Uncle said he also remarked that a heifer calf is better than none at all, a crowing hen is hard to believe, and that there's small wool in shearing a pig. Hearing Uncle Levi all the time, as I did, it's small wonder I matured into such a scholar. It's a pity I didn't set down all the things the feller said.

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There was only once that the feller failed us. Uncle had walked to the village that afternoon to get a haircut (as the feller said, he got all of 'em cut while he was at it), and at supper he was telling us something or other. With respect for his years and admiration for his intellect we were, as usual, all ears (as the feller said).

And as he was talking along, he came to a good place in his well-told narrative and stopped. He said, "As the feller said," and simply stopped. Silence hung over all. We were quite a group at our house for supper, and we all turned to look up at Uncle Levi to see what had brought on this silence. (Such a silence, you must realize, can be seen!) There sat Uncle Levi, his fork at rest under a bit of apple pie, and he was looking at nothing in the direction of the sideboard with his mouth open where his voice had stopped. Then he shook his head and looked about the table, taking in everybody who was waiting to hear what the feller said.

UNCLE LEVI sat motionless a moment, then shook his head, and said, "He didn't say nothing!"

"No, sir!" he said. "He never spoke a word! He walked right past me and went right into Jack Collins's lunch room, and he never said a word! You'd think he didn't know me from Adam. I can't understand it. You don't suppose he's mad at me and ain't speaking? Could be I said something that hurt his feelings, but I don't know what. Anyway, as the feller said, it just goes to show you!" That's the only time I ever knew the feller to falter. Uncle Levi said, "Leaves me speechless!"

I can assure you that in Maine speech, this feller who so richly adorns our conversations is a pious and upright gentleman who is forever in good company at proper places. "A feller taking his singing lesson with me today was saying ..." Or, "Feller coming out of church told me ..." Uncle Levi liked to say, "When I went in to pay my Red Cross pledge, a feller said ..."

So this feller who so faithfully instructs and admonishes us should be encouraged. As the feller said, his word is as good as wheat and his mother is a gentleman in every way. We youngsters were glad to hear that the feller and our favorite uncle were able to mend their misunderstanding, whatever it was, and get back on speaking terms. As the feller said, they made up again into the best of friends.

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