HARRIET’S PARK BENCH- As Told By Larry

It was the summer before Godfrey and I met, he was very young, penniless, and wishing to sit under a shade tree and talk, for he would talk to anyone, talk of anything but beets. I have never actually been to the park where so much occurred, we do not get over to the mainland much, and his feelings were hurt for quite some time at being called, “A Nuisance”.  Stories still roll in though, all of them dear to his memory.  

Larry, “Free Advice Gentleman ” writes, “What turned Harriet bitter?, it’s not likely she was born mean, perhaps teachers hit her, perhaps her parents harbored anger over hard times, or Harriet was scarred by something nasty she had seen.   Harriet had a husband , he wore a hat and coat and had the same job all his life, left same time every morning, came home half past five, never spoke to me, when he walked the yappy dog that Harriet adored, in the park past where I sat neath the shade tree.  “Free Advice”, reads my sign, free advice from Larry, now and again I have my photo in the paper as a “Quaint old Nuisance”, or “Iconic Character of The City”.

One veteran reporter once even asked after Godfrey, he was a good friend to me.  “Godfrey would talk to anyone, talk of anything but beets, that summer neath this tree, Godfrey and his table were taken away, but old Myra Hughes and I chose to stay”.  “Mrs Harriet Bridges-Shlunder still complained regularly, but those in authority oft brought coffee and donuts to Myra and me”. “They even, now and then, accepted my advice, after all, it was free”.  “Harriet had a full head of tall, white hair, she hit her nephew Bentely about the head with a shoe, she had the disposition of a hungry polar bear, but Bentely did what his Auntie told him to.”

“We saw several generations of yappy little dogs, and years of Harriet yelling at us cross the fence from her groomed lawn, then came a day stormy, thunder, lightning, hail, and word that Harriet had finally quit complaining about everything and had passed on”.   “The dog was still walked, three times a day, not two, then one mid-morning came along a city work crew”. “They stood about and chatted, they measured the ground, left for lunch, came back and stood around, spoke loudly of concrete, bolts and size of wrench, five watched as two men installed a nice, new park bench.”

“We gave the bench a try, Myra and I, it was placed to face the tree, it was easy on the old, arthritic back, Harriet’s husband came out next morning, with power drill, and a brass plaque”   “I watched as he carefully bored four holes, and screwed the plaque down with glue and rivet, when he was done we crept over to look, it said- HARRIET’S BENCH- SHE LOATHED THIS PARK AND EVERYONE WHO SET FOOT IN IT.    ” It had not been easy for me, to accept Godfrey’s advice all those years past, and give up the Wino ways that had been ruining my life”. “But I did, and with pride I have lived to see a small victory”.  We used a flat stone, cement we purloined, and a “loan” of tools, in Scrabble Tiles spelled his name”. “We set our plaque higher, Myra judged that a Great Dane could aim, and if you wander through this park, rest on Harriet’s Bench a minute, look up into Godfrey’s tree, our plaque reads- HE DISLIKED BEETS- HE LOVED THIS PARK- AND EVERYONE WHO SET FOOT IN IT.

MAUDSLEY HOSENBOLT- Only Spoke In Song Titles- From Worzel

Miss Maudsley Hosenbolt on a park bench she sat, with the Vagabond Godfrey, enjoying a chat.   “I do not like beets”, he told her cordially, “I only speak in song titles”, replied  Maudsley.

“May I refer to you as Maude? “have you been labeled odd?”         “Always,” “Crazy”, said she, just a “Girl on a Road”, “Ive’ Got To Be Me”. “What fun, I truly agree, laughed Godfrey.

It was the summer he had his table in the park- summer of song and poetry that he met Maudsley.   “The times they are A Changing”, Godfrey, “The Rain in The Park and Other things”, to “My Home On The Range”, soon “I’ll Fly Away”, “Remember Me” when “Autumn Leaves” fall, “All Things Must Pass” for us all.

Eunice, the artist sat by the campfire, drawing the song titles spoken by Maudsley. Old Myra Hughes, whose home was the park, slurped tea with a frown of worry. Larry, The Free Advice Wino, tapped a Scrabble Tile, a C. “Larry, said Myra, I need your advice, though Maudsley is annoying I wish her to stay”.What do you advise? “let It Be’, shrugged Larry..

“Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow”,” Long Ago and far Away”, “But it’s All Over Now,”sang Maudsley, soon I will touch “The Green, Green Grass of Home”, my “Feelings” no longer “Midnight Blue”, “My Favorites Things” will be “Remembering You”.

“Maudsley, dear Maudsley, how unique you be, brought mirth to our group here neath the shade tree, thanks from Godfrey.

“Rare is the poet who speaks in song titles, and dislikes beets as passionately”.   In lieu of a suitcase, Maudsley carried a pail, of all she owned, with a tight lid to seal it.  Sturdy and practical in all weather, made a handy chair, and no one was likely to steal it, wrote Godfrey.

“One last evening we camped out at the shade tree, “Red, Red, Wine”?, asked Larry of Maudsley”. Eunice said, “I Drew A Picture of Me without You”. “Do you Know Where you’re Going To?”, Myra inquired.  “This Land Is Your Land”, Myra, said Maudsley, “I was “Born Free”. “Que Sera, Sera”, replied  Myra.

“So Long, it’s Been Good To Know Ya”.  “It was rarely serious under the tree, as later on The Media  made it out to be….where are you now, Miss Maudsley Hosenbolt? since that long ago summer of poetic infamy…

BENTLEY SHLUNDER TELLS HIS STORY- In a letter to Worzel

The summer of poetic infamy, it came to be known over the years, as his legend was formed. Godfrey never set out to “Create A Nuisance”, it was the summer before I met him, he had landed in Canada after a long sea voyage, and wanted to sit in the shade and talk..so he did. Mr Bentley Shlunder surprised me with his account of the events.

We knew each other briefly, and so long ago, but I never forgot him. I will not glorify the memory, or say in some large way it changed my life, was an inspiring or profound experience. I am thankful for the wisdom though, I carried home end of that long ,hot summer to Paducah, from Godfrey I learned to see life lived from both sides of the fence.

I recall that he disliked beets, set up a table neath a tree in a park, with a sign inviting anyone to sit and talk for free. My Auntie Harriet Bridges-Shlunder was owner of the tree that so much talking took place under.

Down beyond the yard across the fence, she complained that “The poetry I hear all day is utter nonsense” They have a table in the shade, and oh the music they have made!! There’s a kettle boiling on the fire, there is laughter, there is Scrabble being played.

I was only twelve that year, to Worzel wrote Bentley the nephew, I had just discovered music and was forming my own world view. I’d be packed home to Paducah in a heartbeat if Auntie only knew, that there was poetry inside me and I disliked beets to.

It was never a large group, never rowdy or loud. All ages I recall, Aunt Harriet considered them an “Unsavory Crowd”..A grizzeled Wino sat beneath the tree, and a girl not much older than me sprawled on the grass creating art. A hippie couple dispensed free hugs, a public display of affection muttered Auntie, there was a shabby old woman, her belongings in a cart..there was the odd young man, Godfrey.

He sat playing Scrabble, chin in hand, sun bleached hair long, tied back with a plaid band. He plays intently with “The Free Advice Wino”, Larry, focused on the word he has just spelled- BEEFLY- “use it in a sentence I hear Larry laugh. “Beefly, the cow paused in thought on the zig of her cow path”. Proudly read Godfrey.

Nobody missed me when I climbed over the fence, and crossed the cool, wet grass on bare feet to talk with the vagabond Godfrey…Aunt Harriet left a strip of pure white down one side of her acutely dyed red hair, she could, if she wished to, appear quite tall, not truly mean, she did have a pinched tight, when annoyed, Persian Cat glare.

Godfrey called over the fence to her, the tree is rooted your side of a fence, but on the shady side we have music and dance. “Will you join us for talk and tea? I am cooking Haggis tonight, my old Ma”s recipe. I stayed late at the table, they shared dinner with me, was at dawn the cops came, they took Godfrey away, ending the summer of poetry and song.

Beyond the smoke that rose and swirled, the last song that I heard was one of hope and courage for a tattered world. Yes I was very young, and was packed home to Paducah, I remember the big old house though, two blocks from the sea, recall the sweetness of the homemade popcicles Aunty made for me. And I remember to an odd young man, he disliked beets, sitting at his table neath the shade tree.