Some people asked why he didn't just buy a good watch
FAITHFUL John Chase, retired postmaster at 04556, seems to have ''wintered,'' and sends his report on the snowstorms. He says the big wet one that ushered out March was the best, and came up to 10:30 on his sundial.Skip to next paragraph
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I have mentioned our A.W. Plummer, MD, before in several connections. He was the GP in the little town, but his interests ran far beyond his profession, and he was a scholar in every direction. He was also a Henry George single-taxer. Spare, lean, he was distingue with a small goatee, a true civis mundi, and a living demonstration of the adage that a true gentleman never specializes. He was ''rounded.'' He could expound on the technique of Praxiteles or defend the philosophies of Rousseau with equal knowledge, and in town meeting he would debate a sewer appropriation with the cadence of Cicero. He was well in his 90s the morning he came bounding into our kitchen to say, ''John! There's no place anymore to sit and talk!'' He'd been on a call up the road, and paused on his way home for a doughnut and discourse.
And it was so. Times had changed. The post office, where folks gathered to await the sorting of the mail, had set up house-to-house delivery. The lobby had been shortened and the deacon seats by the window removed. The groceries had gone to chain-markets, where managers had no interest in crackers, cheeses, potbellies, or discussions. The electric trolleys had disbanded, and the railroad had stopped carrying passengers - the town had no waiting room with benches. The village school, which had fair-weather benches under a tree, had been consolidated at a distance, and the building was now a fix-it shop with secondhand items piled up in the playground.
That next summer Dr. Plummer passed the hat and some of his cronies joined in buying a settee which the selectmen permitted to be placed by the firehouse. It was there for many years, long after the doctor had ceased to use it.
When he became interested in sundials he told me, and some others, what he had found out about them. There are many kinds - vertical and horizontal, then equinoctial, polar, declining, and so on. Designing one for a particular spot calls for careful computations. You don't just set one up. He was amused when some people asked him why he didn't just go and buy a good watch, and all his friends began greeting him with ''What time is it, Doc?'' Meantime, he did his computations and had the face made with its lines setting off the hours, halves, and quarters, and one day he got Charlie Coombs to come and help him mix mortar. Then he laid up a brick foundation for his sundial - at the edge of his garden and in full sunlight.
For a few days after that Dr. Plummer discoursed on masonry, and told a number of people how the Parthenon at Athens had been laid up without mortar, the stones having been cut in the quarry so precisely that they never budged from their places. He also mentioned the bricks of bondage, made without straw, and how they must have been extremely difficult to handle. All the same, there were enough folks around town who didn't know the doctor was looking into sundials - enough so the story began going around.
Minnie Little first mentioned it. She was coming home from washing dishes after the Grange supper, and was scairt stiff to see a white ghost gallivantin' around on Dr. Plummer's lawn! 'Course, she knew there's no such thing as ghosts, so when she caught her breath she looked, and there was ol' Doc Plummer in a Cal Coolidge nightshirt, barefooted he was, and squirtin' a flashlight around like, seems-if, he was picking four-leaf clovers. Poor ol' Doc! Others had seen this, and there was wagging of heads. Somebody should do something about it. Maybe the selectmen. . . . After three nights of the doc's midnight shenanigans, and the talk about it, somebody told him he was the subject of wonderment, and he was greatly amused.
''The reduction to a single point,'' he told me, ''requires two celestial bodies in different parts of the sky, and the spherical trigonometry involved is intricate. Then I had to compute true north from the deviation of the needle and the sighting of Polaris. I never supposed that would create a community crisis.''