Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Rapo-genus Christmas Ball

Today I am posting The Rapo-genus Christmas Ball, a Christmas Poem written by my uncle, George Bessey. The symbolism of this poem is amazing. The river drives on the Kennebec, Piscataquis and other Maine waterways were legendary, and an integral part of Maine's logging history. The men who worked these drives were brave and hardworking, and when they had cause to relax and socialize, they were still 'men's men', as evidenced in this classic poem.

My grandfather, Arthur Bessey, was memorialized in John Gould's 'Maine Lingo' as a 'picker of the rear', a boss man whose crew often cleaned stray logs from the eddies and logans (small coves of still water, derived from the Scottish 'lochan') after the main drive had passed downstream. I clearly remember the last river drive on the Kennebec. The drives were halted in order to protect the ecosystems of our rivers. The down side of that decision is that all lumber from that day forward has been conveyed from forest to mill via log trucks or railway. I understand the decision to change the mode of transport from our rivers to our roadways, but I feel a sadness at the ending of such an amazing tradition, nonetheless. Here, in humorous and colorful poetry, is an excellent analogy of those long-gone drives, performed by some of the men who were real participants. Real men.

Back in the 'good old days'


There had been no social doings since the drive had passed the flume,
And the section from Seboomook to the Chutes was rather blue;
So the folks at Rapo-genus, where there’s rum enough and room,
Arranged a Christmas function and invited Murphy’s crew.
The folks at Rap-genus hired Ezra Hawson’s hall.
And posted up the notice for “Our Yearly Christmas Ball.”
Now Murphy’s crew was willing and they walked the fifteen miles,
And arrived at Rapo-genus wearing most benignant smiles.
The genial floor director waited near the outer door,
And pleasantly suggested they remove the boots they wore.
He said that Rapo-genus wished to make of this affair
An elegant occasion, “reshershay and debonair;”
So it seemed the town’s opinion, after many long disputes,
That ‘twas time to change the custom and exclude the spike-toed boots.
He owned ‘twas rather drastic and would cause a social jar
‘Twixt Upper Ambejejus and the Twin Depsconnequah,
“But, ‘tis settled,” so he told them, “that nary lady likes
To do these fancy dances with a gent what’s wearin’ spikes.
So I asks ye very kindly, but I asks ye one and all,
To leave your brogan calkers on the outside of this hall.”
“This ‘ere is sort o’ sudden,” said the boss of Murphy’s crew,
“Jest excuse us for a minute, but we don’t know what to do.
We’ve attended social functions at the Upper Churchill Chutes,
An’ the smartest set they had there was a-wearing spike-sole boots.
Excuse us for the mention, but we feel compelled to say,
‘Tisn’t fair to shift a fashion all of a sudden, this ‘ere way;
An’ the local delegation, when it came with the invite,
Omitted partunt leathers in its mention of tonight.
So I guess ye’ll have to take us with these spikes upon our soles,
We can’t appear in stockin’s, cause the most of us have holes.”
But the genial floor director guarded still the outer door
And declared that “gents with spikers weren’t allowed upon the floor.”
He said ‘twas very awkward that special guests should thus
Be kept in outer darkness, and he didn’t want a fuss.
But as long as Rapo-genusites had issued their decree
He hadn’t any option, “as a gent with sense would see.”
So he passed his ultimatum, “Ye must shed them spike-soled boots!
For we hain’t the sort of humstrums that ye’ll find at Churchill Chutes.”
Then up spoke Smoky Finnegan, the boss of Murphy’s crew,
Said he, “The push at Churchill sha’nt be slurred by such as you.
We’re gents that’s very gentle an’ we never make a fuss,
But in slurrin’ folks at Churchill ye are also slurrin’ us.
We have interduced the fashions up at Churchill quite a while,
An’ no Rapo-genus half-breeds have the right to trig our style.
If ye’ve dropped the vogue of spikers at the present Christmas ball
We will start the fashion over, good and solid, that is all!
So, mister, please excuse us, but ye’ll open up your sluice,
Or God have mercy on ye if I turn these gents here loose!”
Then the genial floor director shouted back within the room,
“Ho, men of Rapo-genus, here is trouble at the boom!”

But even as he shouted, with a rush and crush and roar,
Like a bursting jam of timber Murphy’s angels stormed the door.
Then against them rose the sawyers of the Rapo-genus mill,
Who rallied for the conflict with a most intrepid will,
But by new decree of fashion they were wearing boughten suits
And even all the boomsmen had put off their spike-sole boots.
So that gallant crew of Murphy’s simply trod upon their feet,
And backward, howling, cursing, they compelled them to retreat.
The air was full of slivers as the spikes chewed the floor,
And the man whose feet were punctured didn’t battle anymore.
“Now, fellers, boom the outfit,” shouted Finnegan, the boss,
His choppers formed a cordon and they swept the room across;
The people who were standing at the walls in double ranks,
Were pulled and thrown to center at the order, “Clear the banks!”
Then they herded Rapo-genus in the middle of the room,
And slung themselves around it like a human pocket boom.
All the matrons and the maidens were as frightened as could be
When Finnegan commanded, “Now collect the boomage fee!”
At a corner of the cordon they arranged a sorting-gap
And one by one the women were escorted from the trap,
And without a word of protest, as they drifted slowly through,
They paid their toll in kisses to the men of Murphy’s crew.
And at last when all the women had been sorted from the crowd,
The men were “second raters,” so the boss of Murphy’s vowed.
“We will raft them down as pulp-stuff!” and he yelled to close about,
“Now, my hearties, start the wind-lass,” ordered he, “We’ll warp ‘em out!”
Through the doorway, down the stairway, grim and struggling thronged the press,
--All the brawn of Rapo-genus fighting hard without success,
They were herded down the middle of the Rapo-genus street,
--If they tried to buck the center they were bradded on the feet;
They were yarded at the river; Murphy’s peavies smashed the ice,
Though the men of Rapo-genus couldn’t smash that human vise
That held them, jammed them, forced them! When the water touched their toes,
Then at last they fought like demons for to save their boughten clothes.
But as fierce as Murphy’s hearties, and their spikers helped them win,
For they kicked and spurred their victims and they dragged them shrieking in.
Then with water to their shoulders there they kept them in the wet
While they gave them points on breeding and the rules of etiquette.
And at midnight ‘twas decided by a universal vote
That the strict demands of fashion do not call or vests or coat;
That ‘twixt Upper Ambejejus and the Twin Depsconnequah
Shirts of red and checkered flannel are the smartest form, by far.
And that gents may chew tobacco was declared in all ways fit
If they only used discretion as to when and where they spit.
And above all future cavil, sneer or jeer or vain disputes,
High was set this social edict: “Gents may wear their spike-sole boots.”
Then the men of Rapo-genus and the men of Murphy’s crew
They dissolved their joint convention--they were near dissolving, too!
And to counteract the action of the water on the skin
They applied some balmy lotion to the proper parts within.
Then they danced till ruddy morning, and their drying garments steamed,
And awful was the shrinkage of those seven dollar suits!
And the feet of Murphy’s woodsmen gashed and slashed and clashed and seamed,
Till a steady rain of slivers rained behind those bradded boots.
--And all disputes of etiquette were buried once for all,
At that Christmas social function, the Rapo-genus Ball.

George Allen Bessey 1926-1976

Top photo courtesy of Frost Pond camps, www.frostpondcamps.com and was taken at the Ripogenus Dam.


  1. Heh...I love the old poems - compliments the pictures. Speaking of which, the river drive photo: 'brogan' - the guy with the pole is wearing shoes that could be classed as such (brogues...just like my dear old mammy made me wear to school.)

    Great poem.


  2. Ah, Jack. You've always got something to teach me, don't you?

    I didn't know that about the 'brogans' but--as always--I bow to your superior knowledge of footwear (and just about everything else, darn it).


    Thanks for stopping by, my friend.