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The Mill


     Just in case you didn't know, 3-foot thick stone walls store their cold well into June but manage to lose that cold the first warm day in July. There are laws of thermodynamics at work here we have yet to comprehend. Fireplaces in mills are built to burn chaff, and are most definitely not built to heat foolish people who think they can stay warm by them.


     After the night I slept in my wool coat and cap, my wife bought electric blankets - which, mysteriously, did not impress our children particularly, as they continued to run about in their skivvies without raising a single chill bump. And who were oblivious to the absence of orders for custom furniture. We were 40 miles from even a moderately-sized city, on a curvy country road, without funds for advertising, and perplexed about the absence of business.


     One friend, however, an attorney who had extricated me from a fairly minor scrape over the rightful ownership of some desperately needed stove wood, ordered a cherry dining room table. Our circumstances were such that - to put it delicately - Harold had to buy the cherry. I stopped by his office so he could approve his investment, and took it home to shape into a drop-leaf table.


     We had, at the time, a variety of household livestock, which included a young bitch recently gone into heat. Since we were somewhat short of fencing resources, she stayed in the mill with me, and slept in the shop, making a bed of the sawdust. I guess it's obvious by now that my shop and our living quarters were all one mill, separated by a board wall which democratically shared shop dust with living room, dining room, and kitchen - our great-room arrangement under the massive mill beams.


     My shop space was O.K., but it lacked room to spread a ten-foot drop-leaf table out for finishing, so with the dog sniffing each move I shoved a few chairs aside and spread the table in the open area beneath the balcony. Proper finishes require several coats, and drying time between each coat. I urged the family to avoid flying about and stirring up the ubiquitous mill dust, and I cautioned the children about flinging dirty laundry down the balcony opening as a short cut to the washing machine.


     I was ready. Each coat of finish added depth and luster to the table, and I watched with pride as a rich, gleaming table emerged from the raw cherry. Daily, I rubbed and polished, and then the dog and I would retire to the shop to attend to other shop tasks. I was thus engaged - sharpening a chisel, I believe - on a day when the table was very nearly finished, when I heard a drip-splat, drip-splat coming from the other side of my shop wall. Dripping faucet? Wrong rhythm. Leaky roof? It wasn't raining. So I went to see.


     The dog, in desperation, had relieved herself on the upstairs balcony, and the result was puddling on the new, pristine finish of Harold's table. I was, as you might imagine, frantic. I called Harold and postponed the delivery date, and I refinished that table top 3 times. Even then, if I leaned over and checked the surface against the light, I could see a tell-tale mark.


     We sold our Victorian dining room table and its 8 chairs, and I bought more cherry and built another table. The dog's maternal possibilities were no longer a concern of mine, and she was banned from the mill. The family crept about in tremulous silence, and I finished the second cherry table. I spread out both tables, and Harold and his wife were invited to inspect their new acquisition. I wanted them to fully understand my dedication and honesty, so I told them the full story.


     Harold circled both tables, peering at the finishes, nodding and chuckling.


     "This one," I said, patting it, "is yours."


      "No," he said. "I want this one, the one the dog peed on."


     I looked at him, stunned. "But it's marked!"


     "I know," he said. "It makes a better story."

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