Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rachel Hedman: So I was sitting on a plane one day. . .

I am always anxious to know who may be my neighbor when I fly on the plane.

Or rather three neighbors.

For my trip from Salt Lake City, UT to Johnson City, TN on July 12, 2009, not only would I take one plane, but I would take three.

It was the neighbor who "stole" my window seat who I loved best.

An older retired-looking man with beshoveled whiskers turned away from the window and towards me when I came to the row. I asked, "Do I have the right seat?"

He seemed reluctant to speak, as if he knew the guilt. I had to smile. He slightly fidgeted like a kid who snuck the last bit of chocolate chip ice cream from grandma's freezer.

He replied, "My eye sight is not that good, and I can never figur' out where those letters [A, B, C, D, E, or F] belong to." He said this with his grumble-like-a-bear voice had such a soothing nature that I could fall asleep and stay awake at the same time.

It was a rich enough voice that I nodded my head and responded, "You're good. You're good."

That started our first exchange of conversation at 9:30pm. We would not get to Las Vegas until about midnight. A red-eye flight was in store beyond that one for me.

Suddenly I realized that this man, who had the appearance that he liked to keep to himself and avoid talk with strangers, suddenly became a storyteller. My mind applauded as I knew this would be an enjoyable ride.

Eventually he learned that I was a professional storyteller, but that was about it. I wanted to be the story listener.

I had my "delighted-to-listen-to-you" face on and encouraged with the occasional "Oh!" or "Really?" to keep him going.

There was no way I wanted to interrupt his narrative flow.

That was when I learned that his name was Harry. Harry from Oregon.

A furniture-maker by trade, he was really an inventer at heart. (I could add story-inventor, too.) His ideas came more to life when working with his favorite hardwoods like oak or ash.

He chuckled about his endeavors, "Someone is always building a bigger mousetrap."

I have heard this saying before, though his experience with creating small things the size of a mousetrap to huge kitchen tables, made me even curious to the story behind it.

Harry may have shared the most common part of that saying, but the full saying comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door."

Perhaps Emerson was aware that when James Henry Atkinson created the wooden base trap with the spring wiring in 1897, that many people who submit patents for similar and bigger versions.

A New York Times article by Edmund Andrews said, "The world is still seeking a better mousetrap. Even with thousands of mousetrap designs, ranging from spring-loaded jaws to glue snares to poisoned cheese, a new mousetrap patent appears every few weeks." Only about 20% of these patents have seen "real" money. posted, "To build a better mousetrap means to achieve an ideal, to reach a pinnacle achievement, or to create the best possible device in an imperfect world."

Back to Harry, my neighbor.

One time he went to a quilt show one time--out of curiosity--and was perplexed to see that these quilts that were sometimes hand-stitched and represented hours and hours of loving hands and hearts, the quilts were hung on the walls with nails. He returned to his workshop to come up with a solution: quilt compression bars.

Harry exclaimed, "Then I hit it on the nail!"

Being that he had previously mentioned nails as the source of the problem, I had to laugh when he used that common saying to explain his triumph or "Eureka!" moment.

The original saying was "hit the nail on the head" and refers to "a properly placed and forceful point that was made". For Harry, he used the saying to show how his invention made the women rave at the quilting shows. Of all the things he invented, quilt compression bars have been the most profitable.

Depending on the person, the saying could mean to do the right thing with the most effectiveness and effiecieny. Now that is what Harry did.

I asked for his website as my mother-in-law went to quilt shows all the time and would be interested, too.

That was when I heard a lot of "You betcha!" from him.

Our conversation--or should I say his stories--twisted and turned until, through the windows, we could see the Las Vegas lights. The plane was about to land for its first part of the trip from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas.

One of the most popular activities in Las Vegas: gambling. The "bet" from "betcha" was amusing to hear from Harry. The ending "a" of "betcha" is a shortened version of "ya" also known as "you". So literally, Harry said, "You bet, you!" as in "You can count on it."

In times past, people gambled money or stock or land, but the most binding of all was when you gave your word for something. In a sense, you bet you. There was a time when these promises did not have to written as legal contracts. People could rely on whatever you said.

As for Harry, it was as if his mind either consciously looked for moments to share sayings appropriate to the topic or proximity to a place, or that he was so bright that his subconscious figured the sayings out on his own.

Whatever the reason, there was a feast of words to behold and to savor.

Perhaps a seat being "stolen" is not such a bad thing. It may make way for some stories.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

(801) 870-5799

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