BOSTON — Maine has a number of townships named for various whimsies, and one is named Hope for a preposterous reason.
In the beginning, we're told, the surveyors ran the township's lines and set their witness stakes as they went, each stake with a letter on it: A, B, C, etc. And it chanced the four corner stakes spelled E, H, 0, and P, HOPE. Immediately, for sure, some wag put up the logical sign: ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE! And today Hope is a pleasant community of blueberry fields, apple orchards, and high taxes. Made a town in 1804, Hope was Maine's 155th.
Some other Maine towns with similar names are Liberty, Unity, Union, Harmony, Freedom, Friendship, Industry, Amity, Prospect, and Misery. Nobody lives in Misery, I'm told, as it is an
unorganized wilderness place surrounded by scenery. (The few people who live in such townships as E, a surveyor's designation, usually say "Letter E." Then you know where you are.)
Many years ago, now, I thought of a pleasant little feature for a newspaper, and I stopped in our town of Unity and hunted up a town official. He was friendly, and when I asked him if Unity happened to have two brothers who dwelt together he said, "What's their names?"
I said it didn't matter, just so long as they were brothers and dwelt together in Unity.
He said something about ask a foolish question and you get a foolish answer and went back into his shingle mill. It took several years before I did locate Unity brothers. My picture of them was made with a Kodak Brownie, and behind them stood their house where they dwelt. It was printed in Grit, and memory insists Grit paid a dollar. Then I got a tut-tut letter from a reader in Indiana who kidded me for making light of the Scriptures.
You may have heard, too, of a Maine town named Fraternity, but that one is spurious. Ben Ames Williams, the short- story man and novelist, was born in Mississippi but came to Boston to find work.
He quit journalism when his first novel appeared, and he summercated in Searsport, Maine, the home of deep-water masters, and became a native. As background for his stories he chose "Fraternity," which was mostly Searsport. More than a few readers supposed that Fraternity was just another Maine town like Friendship, Harmony, and Misery.
For some years, my uncle had the country store in Harmony, which included a hotel and livery stable in the area of less poetic-sounding towns such as Athens, Brighton, Wellington, and so on, and the folks who came into his store would make fictional Fraternity squirm.
One esteemed citizen of Harmony brought a ladder and positioned it so he could adjust some small problem with an upstairs window on his big house. And the ladder slipped, somehow, and punched out the glass in the window.
Frustrated furious by this mischance, the old fellow grabbed the culprit ladder and went all the way around the house, slamming it against the upstairs windows until there wasn't a pane left whole. And at the point of beginning he slammed the ladder into place and shouted, "There! Now see if you can stand up without breaking something!"
Then Uncle Ralph would tell how he caught the thief who was stealing peanuts. He had a customer he called Fiddle Skinflint, who'd come into the store and sneak his pockets full of peanuts from the barrel, but he never bought a peanut.
So Uncle Ralph thought to teach old Skinflint a lesson. He set a mousetrap and gently placed it an inch or so down among the peanuts, right by the small sign that said "Fresh Roasted Peanuts."
And that afternoon an unearthly scream rent the complacency of the store, and Uncle Ralph said it was enough to peel a grapefruit at two miles. He had caught his wife, Auntie May, who was displeased. I mention this to skew the harmonious nature of affairs in Harmony.
Uncle Ralph had a Reo automobile that was rebuilt to make him a delivery truck, and one day it had a flat tire and Uncle Ralph walked over to Bob's Garage to ask Bob to fix his flat. He found Bob on a mechanic's creeper under an automobile with a huge wrench, struggling to start a fitting. Uncle Ralph scootched to see what was going on, and then said, "Bob, for 4 cents I'll toll you what you need to know."
Bob looked up and said, "I wish you would!"
"Well," Uncle Ralph said, "That's not a threaded nut that you can unscrew. It's a fitting locked on by a collar. Put your cold chisel to the collar and break it, and what you think is a nut will fall off in your hand. Then, for 4 cents you can buy a new collar and put things back."
So Uncle Ralph said that's what Bob did. He put the chisel in place, whacked it a smart clip, and everything fell off in his hand. And what happened is ample evidence of the serenity enjoyed by the well-tuned folks who live in Harmony. And all the other towns so happily named Unity, Freedom, Friendship, Hope, Amity, and so on.
Bob the mechanic looked up at Uncle Ralph and said, "Where were you all day yesterday?"
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society