My first bank served both fishermen and sharks

If you've not given attention to the financial pages lately, you may not know that I have bought another bank. I have just written to the chief executive officer of my acquisition to ask him what he's done with our pool table.

This fiscal reminiscence begins in 1918 when I was 10, a new depositor with Chesuncook National Bank, and needed 25 cents to buy my fishing license. I had won some honor or other as a 4-H Club member, and my prize was $1 donated by the Chesuncook National Bank in the form of a savings-account passbook credited to me in that generous amount.

I approached the bank to withdraw 25 cents. At that time, a Maine Resident inland angling license was 25 cents, but it was good as long as the holder lived in Maine. And while Maine has long since welshed on its lifetime promise, I still have that first fishing license. It reposes in the fishing-tackle box of my granddaughter-in-law who has twice shown it to wardens who never saw one before.

Now, the manager of the Chesuncook National Bank at that time was Lawson John MacLaren, who was doubly involved in my immediate transaction. As manager of the bank he would give me 25 cents, and since he was also town clerk he would take my 25 cents and issue me my license.

Mr. MacLaren was an important man in our town. He was tax collector and chairman of the school committee. He was clerk of the parish, taught the mens' Bible class, directed the choir and sang bass, brokered baled hay, sold magazine subscriptions, tuned pianos, did surveying, and taught violin. He also blew a horn in the town band, sheared sheep, was chairman of the Republican Town Committee, collected for Family Insurance Co-op, shod horses and tinkered, did gunsmithing, kept a small greenhouse, trained hunting dogs, painted signs, stuffed birds, varnished buggies, and did a few other things he worked in, like making weather vanes and selling frankfurts at the Gun Club turkey shoots.

As our town banker, he was our best pool shooter. He owned the only pool table in town. Let us say the bank did. The bank was in the old office building for the butter factory, a single room off the sidewalk with basement reached by a winding staircase. A sign pointing down the stairs said:

VAULT

POOL ROOM

If a customer thought this meant swimming, the click of billiard balls dispelled this presumption. Mr. MacLaren was a pool shark. Everyone who came in to bank was welcome below, and would run off at least one rack. I was then too young to be invited, but I grew up with the click of billiard balls in my financial ears. When I went in that day to get 25 cents and my fishing license, Mrs. Linscott, the cashier, fixed me up with a quarter and said Mr. MacLaren would be up to issue my license as soon as the game was over.

The old Chesuncook National Bank, like all banks, shortly went into consolidation and combination and all the other fancy names for conglomerating and became part of a chain. Every 15 minutes they'd change the name on the sign out front, and there wasn't a bank where you could get a fishing license or shoot pool. You didn't need a bank anymore, you just put it on your Visa card. I lost touch, and for many years had no notion of whatever became of Mr. MacLaren's pool table.

At the same time, the banks learned to get along without me. Being no great shakes with a cue, I supposed I was not cut out for a banker and I perfected myself in the more honored profession of journalism. And one day I was reading in print what I'd submitted for publication, and I saw an ad alongside that pleased me. The South Boston Savings Bank was seeking new depositors close enough to my effort so I could hear the pool balls again and the voice of Lawson John MacLaren from the pool room, "Six in the side!" Click. Click.

So I sold some turnips and made a deposit in gratitude for proximity. And the president of the South Boston Savings Bank wrote me a pleasant letter, assuring me he cared, and he said as a depositor I could buy shares of stock at a special price. All I knew about South Boston was that the chief of the Ancient & Honorable Order of Hibernians plays Paul Revere on a horse every Patriot's Day and rides to Concord shouting, "Twarms! Twarms!"

SOON I was notified that my stock had been split. Then I was asked to send my proxy about selling my bank to Bank of Boston. In this way I heard about Bank of Boston, which to that moment had escaped me. Next, it seems to me, the Bank of Boston split. They said 2-for-1. It was really 1-for-1, but I didn't question this because I had apples to pick. The latest information I have is that my Bank of Boston is joining with Fleet Bank to form gigantic Fleet-Boston and become the country's eighth-size bank and row-de-dow! Which is where you may have missed the thrust of the matter when you were reading the financial pages.

You see, our old Chesunook Bank, long ago, merged with Sagadahoc Trust, and that merged with Skowhegan Fidelity, and that with Penneseewasset Trust, and that with Aroostook National and Presumpscot Savings & Loan, and finally these all became Fleet Bank. So Fleet Bank, as far as I know, has Lawson John MacLaren's pool table. We've merged it; where is it?

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