Charlie’s Bench, a holy place

Author Randy Randall and his faithful sidekick Scout enjoy some late summer sun on Charlie’s Bench. Photo courtesy Randy Randall

October/November 2022

By Randy Randall

The “liar’s bench” is a feature of many small towns in New England and elsewhere. Found in front of the courthouse, or the post office, or the crossroads store, or beside a weather-worn fish shack, or the local gas station; the liars’ bench is the gathering place for the village oldsters. A bench in Central Park serves the same purpose: a place to rest, be with old friends and swap the news, some of it not entirely factual.

The liar’s bench is a long-lived small-town institution, and we carry on that tradition with Charlie’s Bench. We didn’t name it until after Charlie died. No one else sat there as long and as often as Charlie Quentin. Charlie was a neighbor, a machinist and a customer. After his wife died and he sold his boat, Charlie developed a summer routine. After his breakfast he’d wander down to the marina and sit on the bench in the morning sunshine. He’d stay until his stomach told him it was time to go home for lunch and a short nap. He’d return in the afternoon.

Charlie was the quiet type, but friendly, and he greeted customers as they came and went from their boats. He became such a fixture people thought we had hired him or that he owned the place. After he died, we nailed a plaque to the bench that simply said “Charlie’s Bench.” I’ve been sitting on the bench a lot lately. It’s a pleasant place to pass a summer afternoon. More than anything I enjoy hearing the stories people tell about their day on the water; the fish they caught or lost and the fantastic broad reach they sailed across Saco Bay. The children tell wide-eyed tales about the seals they saw, and the eagle soaring above their boat, and the minke whale swimming. The fishing guides stop at the end of a long day and drink a soda and talk about their clients. Friends sit on the bench and wait for more friends before they hug and kiss and head off to their boat.

I hear a lot of grumbling from guys on the bench. If it’s not the high price of fuel, it’s the cost of bait, or the heavy traffic on the river, or the lousy forecast that predicted seas two to three feet but they had four to six out on the bay.

Our bench is well worn. It’s been a part of our deck since we built the new office thirty-five years ago. I’m very aware I’m sitting where so many old timers sat before me: guys like Charlie, and my dad, and the McNally brothers, and Bill Marston, who started this business; and Joe Garland, one of our oldest customers, and literally a hundred more old timers.

The bench has history. Even the President, Mr. George Bush (#41) stopped and sat for a few minutes one summer day. “Nice place you got here,” he said. “Thank you, Mr. President,” I said.

People ask me where I get ideas for my stories and articles: Well, a lot of them come from Charlie’s Bench. Just watching and thinking and listening. Sitting there on a brilliant July afternoon brings a sense of gratitude – thankful to be here, to see the blue sky, the white clouds, the green trees: feel the ocean breeze, watching the rolling river and all the boats floating on the tide. I know some people sit on benches inside a church and have the same feelings; so, I guess you could say our bench is holy. Amen to that.

Frequent contributor, correspondent and friend. Randy Randall is co-owner of Marston’s Marina in Saco, Maine, and a dreamer and waterman of the first order.