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Cling, clang!

02/12/04 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(Host) Commentator Joe Citro likes to collect stories about eccentric events and characters. Recently he ran across one that features not only an unusual fellow, but an unexpected means of transportation.


(Citro) Today I want to revisit one of my favorite populations: those 19th century gentlemen of the highway. Not robbers and cutthroats, but benign souls who wandered anonymously from town to town.

These once-familiar vagabonds have all but vanished from the New England landscape, but today I'd like to recall another especially colorful individual.

He was known only as "Cling-Clang." The name reflected his profession: selling and repairing pots and pans. His merchandise clanged as he moved, announcing his arrival at remote farms or villages.

Cling-clang traveled the coastal towns of Maine and New Hampshire. His habits were typical of this vanished breed: he'd never sleep in anyone's house. If invited for an overnight, he'd curl up in the barn or shed. If no invitation was forthcoming, he'd find a comfortable spot near a stone wall, or under a tree.

However, he'd routinely accept a meal in exchange for a service. Cling-clang had an odd mode of eating. He'd finish one item before tackling the next.

First, he'd eat all of his potato, then all his vegetable, then his meat. He'd eat bread, then eat the butter. If there was gravy, he'd lap it directly from his plate. Somehow, farmwives saw this as a gesture of appreciation.

If coffee of tea followed, he'd drink it straight. Then he'd eat two spoonfuls of sugar.

After dinner, Cling-clang would remove an old barrel head from his pack. He used it as both a seat while he worked, then later as a pillow when he slept.

His many idiosyncrasies included a terrible aversion to the sound of a rooster crowing. If a farmer had a rooster, Cling-clang would meekly request that it be covered so it wouldn't crow in the morning.

Needless to say, mischievous boys often made use this weakness to torment the old man. He'd react by screaming and running away.

But the truly unique thing about Cling-clang was his mode of locomotion. He traveled by "poling" himself along. He had two long, brass-tipped poles that he grasped near the top.

He used them to leap, or pole-vault, making rapid 10 to 12 foot jumps that allowed him to travel 6 or 7 miles an hour. He easily sailed over fences, creeks or other obstructions, making an awful racket!

Cling-clang's wanderings came to an end when someone found him one winter's day beneath an overturned boat in Sullivan, Maine. When he didn't respond to a gentle nudge, they discovered he was dead, frozen solid, his face resting on his barrel head.

That was old Cling-clang, the vaulting peddler. And this is Joe Citro.

Copyright 2004 Joseph A. Citro. Joe Citro is a novelist and native Vermonter who lives in Burlington.

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