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The last town bench

THE fair city of Rockland, here in Maine, continues to amuse us with its fine art of government, and the current haw-haw concerns a sidewalk settee. A bus station has had a bench out front on the sidewalk where folks could take their ease while awaiting a ride, and along comes the City Manager to say the bench has got to go. Infringement on public property, and folks sitting quietly are a definite detriment to the smooth flow of pedestrians.

People have rightly taken sides, mostly on the side of the bench, and we folks who don't have to live in Rockland hope the furor will entertain us well into the fall.

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It was some years ago, now, that Dr. Plummer bounded into our kitchen one morning to gain our rocking chair by the window, and he commenced the morning seminar with, ``John, do you realize there's no place to sit down now?''

The Doc, who was then in his 90s, was still taking a house call now and then, and when he had one out our way he would stop at our place on his way home to exercise our rocker and philosophize in a manner that, over the years, nurtured many a piece right here. Have another one:

Home delivery carrier routes had lately been put in service, and village people no longer had to go to the post office to get their mail. This meant an end to the general assemblies every morning, and the post office lobby had no further need for benches where ``patrons'' could wait for the mail to be ``put up.'' They were taken away, and the size of the lobby was reduced to give more elbow room for the postal clerks. Dr. Plummer, and everybody else, immediately missed the sociability of the morning witan, and he took notice with dismay that the town's last sitting place was gone.

The little schools had been consolidated, and schoolyard benches were gone. Our town, surrounded by farms and timberland, had never provided parks. The two one-time ``sody'' fountains had become snack bars and a new generation wasn't interested in sedentary conversation. The old ``hose house'' was now a safety and rescue facility, and loitering was untidy. This was so, and when the post office took out the benches, the town was bereft indeed. The Doc was right -- he and all others now had no place to sit.

The Doc gave thought to this, and there was some talk of an article next town meeting to provide a public bench. I don't recall what happened, except that nothing happened -- probably somebody felt this was not a proper use of public funds.

In the end, Dr. Plummer engaged a carpenter, it seems to me he got the manual training class at the high school to do it, and paid for having a bench made, which was placed between the library and the fire station, under a maple tree, and was used for several meditative summers with The Doc as principal tenant.

As you can readily surmise, the day came when our community no longer included anybody with a penchant for sitting and talking and resting, and I guess my moral would be that if the City of Rockland still has a bench, and people to occupy it, the world is not yet doomed, and they'd do well to endow it.

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Does anybody remember the time two men had a bench built just for themselves, a bench exactly like those in New York's Central Park, and they took it to the park and sat on it until a policeman came by? Then they stood up and carried the bench off, and the policeman arrested them for stealing a bench. A bill of sale in good order merely proved, as hath been sung, that when constabulary duty's to be done, a policeman's lot is not a happy one.

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