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A Dilettante Bank Owner Reluctantly Sells Out

This love affair I'm having with South Boston promises to come to an end in the next quarter, and the reason for this is the auri sacra fames spoken of by the poet sometimes called Mantuvani. What they've done, they've sold my bank out from under me and left me impoverished.

For five or six years now, I've bragged about owning a bank, and I excuse myself from the folks gathered at the dump on the grounds that I must hasten to my directors' meeting. I ask people if they need a small loan at a modest rate, offering to write a check on the spot. I've had a great deal of fun living the life of a banker, and now it's back to second-hand pants and patches; they've shot my FDIC from under me.

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Truth is, I have been an indifferent banker. Let me elucidate the matter: Quite a few years back, on a page not far from this one, there began to appear a series of advertisements for the South Boston Savings Bank. The South Boston Savings Bank was able to care for my every banking need and offered me the chummy assistance of courteous clerks and the efficiency of the finest facilities. Then I would turn back to my escritoire and do something with my turnips. But it was edifying to have new bills close at hand, and I began to feel more like a banker every week.

I was also touched by this supportive gesture and began to believe bankers might also be worth knowing if you gave them a chance. I sold a hog and two bushels of green beans and mailed a deposit, thus coming to have a savings account with the South Boston Savings Bank. I knew nothing about the bank and nothing about South Boston, except the story about Republican Leverett Saltonstall when he ran against Democrat James Michael Curley. It goes like this: Since South Boston has a dominant Irish population, the city was considered in the pocket of Irishman Jim Curley, and it was said Saltonstall wouldn't "dare" to come down off his Beacon Hill and campaign toe-to-toe with Curley.

But Saltonstall did go to South Boston, and in white flannel trousers with a blue serge jacket he walked the streets of South Boston and shook hands. The people loved him. They said, "He's just like us! His coat and pants don't match!"

A short time later I had a pleasant letter from the president of my bank, saying there would be a sale of stock, and, as I was already a depositor, I would have a preferred place on the list of charter stockholders. I certainly rallied to that, and since then I have owned a bank, as I speak of the matter within my own circle of non-bankers. Until I owned my bank, a banker around here was a man who went to Nova Scotia and fished for cod.

Not too long after I bought stock, they split. This was a new expression to me, and I was alarmed that perhaps the institution was insecure and I was about to lose my shirt. I hurried to the waterfront and asked a yachtsman for advice and got that straightened out.

Next I was told by mail that when I got a dividend on my stock it was not necessary for me to spend it, but I could enroll in a purchase plan and every time I got a dividend, they would use it to buy me more stock. So that's what I've been doing for quite a few years. And while I pay no attention, my little mill is down there grinding salt day and night, and I don't lift a finger.

Once a year, I get the annual report to stockholders and I don't understand one word of it. With the report come my ballots to vote on policy and for officers. I always mark and return my ballots, and so far everything I vote for has been enacted. This is good, as I am well satisfied with most everything.

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However, I'm not so sure we should have sold out. A gentleman on the high-tax side of the harbor takes The Wall Street Journal, and he asked me one evening if I still had my South Boston bank stock. I made the sign of the dollar and replied in the affirmative, and he said he'd been wondering what I got for it. He knew that Bank of Boston, a competitive institution, had made an offer, and a decision was pending. I didn't know that, and I didn't know where to find out. But in a day or so our chairman, Robert E. Lee, who is in command of our troops, wrote to tell me all I needed to know.

Within the next few months I'll sell my bank to Bank of Boston and go out of business. This includes our 18 branches. This was the first I knew about owning 18 branches. If we have that many branches, I surmise, we must be prosperous. I'm beginning to wonder why we sold.

The excessive affluence that goes with owning a bank has been an annoyance to me. I've felt the constant urge to present a rich appearance and to patronize a tailor whose clothing keeps me looking wealthy. I used to be dowdy and shamefully unsartorial. I was slipshod, and often my tie and socks were not in harmony. Many's the day I would just jump up and go out to the hen pen to pick up the eggs without bothering to check the shine on my shoes. I was so disgracefully careless about such things that uncouth citizens would rail at me in the streets.

This changed when I became a banker, and my deportment, as well as my appearance and demeanor, became nicely compatible with my uplifted station in life. It did make a whole great difference in my ways - and coupled with my clean living and winsome ways, I was always respectable in public. Now that I've sold my bank, I fear I may lack that fine poise and degenerate into my former nonfiscal crudities. I shall be careful about that.

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