Small World: Politics from the pedestal

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

I was out for an evening stroll up by the Civil War monument not long ago when I heard a voice say, “Howdy.” An old man’s voice, cracking from disuse.

I looked around. The streets were empty. Suppertime for most Bridgton people.

“Up here,” the voice chuckled.

Up there was the metal Civil War soldier from the monument, the furled flag lying next to him. He was sitting on its granite plinth, legs crossed and chewing tobacco. He spat. “Keeps the flowers watered,” he snickered. “Need a bit of R&R with this job. Been doing it for over a century with precious little relief.”

HP: For how long?

SOLDIER: Since 1910, if you want to be persnickety about it. I think it was the Cleave family from down the street put up the money. I wished they had saved a few dollars and not included the flag. Gets hard to manage in a windstorm. Or when I have to attend to my pressing duties.

HP: What exactly is your job that keeps you so busy?

SOLDIER: Why keeping Bridgton safe — as you would expect a member of a “well regulated militia” to perform. These days, especially. Our senses and good sense are afflicted by the bile flowing from the crowd of presidential candidates. A bunch of fear-mongering, hate-seasoned, frequent liars. If I see one of them coming down Main Street past the public library, I let them have a taste of my musket. POW! POW! So far, the fear they monger has taken them speedily out of town.

HP: Are you kin to the Tin Man of Wizard of Oz fame?

SOLDIER: You insult me. Kin to that scoundrel, who hung out with a cowardly lion and a limp scarecrow and tramped down a yellow brick road behind a mere girl! Main Street Bridgton is paved with more gold than Oz ever was.

HP: I don’t suppose that you, being bronze, are troubled by rust as the Tin Man was. He was, in fact, iron dipped in tin.

SOLDIER: That’s right, not a speck of rust on me. You know, speaking of metal figures, there’s an exhibition of bronze statues from ancient Greece and Rome in Washington now. Seems we are quite rare, because the usual thing was to melt them down for weapons of war. So the ancient ones you see now were mostly found buried or in shipwrecks.

HP: You’re lucky. Two world wars and countless smaller ones, and you’re still solid.

SOLDIER: Not so much luck as surplus. There’re a couple of canons down the street if they need them and plenty of other armaments to be found here and there. Second Amendment applies, you know.

HP (skillfully changing the subject): You must be an authority on the current question whether to change the names of streets and colleges that honor Civil War proponents of slavery or abusers of human rights.

SOLDIER: Why, yes, I am, having given the question much thought as I stood guard over the years. It seems to me that we should honor those figures from the past whose personal qualities — loyalty, integrity, hard work, selflessness and such — can teach useful lessons to succeeding generations. General Robert E. Lee would be on the preservation list, while Jefferson Davis would not.

HP: What about Woodrow Wilson, who discriminated against African-Americans while president?

SOLDIER: Certainly Wilson. More than Teddy Roosevelt, he was the father of American liberalism. Gave us the progressive income tax. Without that our democracy probably wouldn’t have survived. We would have had a revolution as the poor turned against the rich. Same as in Russia.

HP: Are you in touch with your colleagues, the other Civil War monuments around the region?

SOLDIER: Not much. I’m higher, you know. They have to look up to me. Doesn’t exactly make for fellowship.

HP: I don’t envy your life. Sounds pretty lonesome. Perhaps pigeons offer company.

SOLDIER: Not the case at all. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to man the watch. I hear some state officials may be coming into town. Almost as bad as those presidential candidates. Embarrassing. Laughable. Not the material for a monument.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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