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My Mallet Don't Ring
Topic: Trying (Futilely) To Keep Up
Posted by Everyman - 13:25:43 EST

As he so often does, and does with consummate skill, Sippican offers up today's metaphor worth dwelling on.

boat builder

You can see the skein of unspun cotton in the picture as the man works it into the seam with a "crease iron" and mallet. He has all sorts of irons for all the various places on the hull, but the crease iron is for long straight runs. He works the cotton into the seam by rocking the iron, which looks like a wide chisel, back and forth, and hits it at the opportune time to set the cotton in the seams.

There was an expression then. "His mallet rings." It was a sign of respect for a man whose easy familiarity with his task and his tools manifested itself with an audible clue. The sonorous, metronomic ringing of the wooden mallet, wielded expertly on the rocking iron, marked you as a man who knew his business.

My mallet doesn't ring. I have spent my life trying to manufacture with my effort and my mind what my hands do not give me naturally. In a way, it is like manners. If you don't have them, you can pretend that you do; it is essentially the same thing in practice.

But I know it, just the same; and in a quiet moment it rankles.

Sippican, besides being a fine writer, is a man who takes pride in the work he does with his hands.

I suspect that it also rankles that perfection is elusive, and hard to achieve, that the wood with which he works so lovingly and well has a mind of its own, and the ability to determine whether the work done ends up as well as the man with the tools would have it.

Sometimes - albeit rarely - exactly that, and no less.

And then the rankle is replaced by a small smile of the satisfaction and pleasure that comes from a job well done.

Sippican knows those moments, too, knows them often and well . . .

I'm pleased - pleased for him - to be able to say.


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