Our Deep-Thinking Doc Minded His 'P's' and 'K's'
Our learned local sage in all directions, as well as the settled physician, was A.W. Plummer. I would manage sit beside him at public suppers to gain knowledge and understanding from his generous fount.
One evening between the soup and the remove he told me he always knitted his own mittens. The venerable doc did everything else, so this didn't astonish me, but he added, "self taught." He said when he was a young man and first in practice, he got a call to a baby case up at Webster Corner, and with his mare and his doctor's gig he soon arrived to find that he was quite some time too early. He considered and decided he might as well stay and wait.
Accordingly, he arranged a rocky chair in the cozy comfort of a sunny window, having tethered his mare to a tree. Before sitting down, he looked about the isolated farmhouse for something to read. He said, "The house had but two books. The Holy Bible and a book of knitting instructions. I was fetched up in the rigorous religious climate of the true Separatist, and knew my Bible well enough, so I took the book on knitting and began to learn how to knit."
I, myself, never mastered knitting, but I was following Doc's tale with attention, and with awed respect for the catholicity of his interests. A set of knitting instructions is much like tackling the Rosetta Stone in the Choctaw dialect. Knitting consists of "k" for knit and "p" for purl, and a purl is a knitting stitch made backward. That is, everything reads runningly (see the Bible, Habakkuk 2:2) if you mind your "k's" and "p's." Thus you come to know what k6 p4 k6 p4 k8 p6 k8 p6 means, and if you become proficient, you can turn out a sweater, keep up a conversation about making chowchow, and at the same time look out the window to see if anybody is coming.
The doc smiled in reminiscence about this, and said replenishing the earth was delayed until late that evening, and he drove home to have supper and then to cast on a pair of fox-and-geese double knits. He said his mother was able to finish a mitten in two hours, but he never got anywhere near that fast.
Relating this makes me think of the time our town thought Ol' Doc Plummer had slipped his marbles, and as the error shows how he'd go off on intellectual tangents I may as well include it in this report.
The village concern began when Mr. Baumer, boss dyer in the mill, was coming home about 2 in the morning, and as he passed the doc's house he saw a flashlight gleaming in the backyard garden. Thinking somebody was hooking some of the doc's tomatoes, or cucumbers, Mr. Baumer tippy-toed up across the lawn and found that Dr. Plummer, himself, was prowling about in his own sass, lighting his way in the dark, which Mr. Baumer felt the doc had every right to do in his own garden. Mr. Baumer continued on home and went to bed. It was only after several others had spoken about seeing a light in the doc's garden, at various times of night, that Mr. Baumer corroborated that it was the doc, fully clothed in his nightshirt, behind the flashlight.
Successive reports convinced everybody that Doc Plummer had had it. When this got back to Dr. Plummer, he assured his neighbors that he was still sana mens, but was adjusting his new sundial so the angle of elevation met the astronomical requirements of celestial juxtaposition.
He said it was an exceedingly delicate thing and had to be done with the cooperation of the Polar Star, and it might take him a few more nights before he'd get it right. He said he was having trouble interpolating his logarithms. Nobody in town knew what he was talking about, but they all knew Doc Plummer and decided if he said so, it was a good thing. Doc said he wasn't sure, but he thought the geometry of Stonehenge demonstrated the sundial principle, and he was reading about it.
One evening at an Eastern Star supper, Doc told me he had just read again the Bible story of the burning, fiery furnace that the king had set up. He thought the big point in the whole yarn was lost on the public. It came when the three victims told the king that their God would save them, and to go ahead and do as he pleased. "That's when they told the king off," he said. "Told him off in no uncertain terms. Told him point-blank to go run up a length of rope. Told him even if their God didn't save them, they still wouldn't bow down and worship his stupid graven image. That was really playing with fire! Took spine, that did! Go fly a kite! This is extra good squash pie we're getting tonight."
One evening as I walked up to bring Molly, our milker, down from the pasture for the night, a silly wee moth of some sort buzzed up in glee and dove into the tunnel of my right ear. I saw it coming, so I knew what it was. I bumped my ear with one hand and presumed I had dislodged the visitor. But in a minute the wee moth decided to protest. Deep in my personality, it fluttered its dainty wings, and in the proximity of friendly contact it sounded like the cannonade at the Battle of Balaclava. I returned to earth, and my wee friend whirley-birded again. It was the closest I had ever listened to anything.
For my only professional visitation to A.W. Plummer MD, I asked him to load his squirt gun and shoot down the B-56 in my ear. He shortly told me I had caught a lepidopterous, crepuscular, variety of great scientific value, and we should send it to the Smithsonian. I said I would go right back and get another one, under the same pine tree. "That's the place," he said. "Pinus Strobis L."